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Literature / Northwestward

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The 61st story in the Black Widowers case files, Isaac Asimov wrote it for The Further Adventures of Batman (1989), an Anthology for Batman stories.

Trumbull is host tonight, and his guest is Bruce Wayne, the inspiration behind the character of Batman. Though Very Loosely Based on a True Story, Mr Wayne is an accomplished criminologist, collector of Batman memorabilia, and faithfully assisted by his butler, Cecil Pennyworth (Alfred’s nephew). While Rubin is grilling him, a mystery naturally reveals itself. The mystery is why Cecil told Mr Wayne he was going northwestward when he had arrived at the house in New York, rather than North Dakota.

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The story has been reprinted several times; Alfred Hitchcocks Mystery Magazine (April 1990), Tales Of The Batman (1995), Magic (1996), and The Return of the Black Widowers (2003).


Tropes that took the Northwest flight:

  • Based on a Great Big Lie: This story’s premise contains a Bruce Wayne who was an actual person assisting the police by solving crimes, creating the basis of the comicbook character from Batman. That is only true within the fictional world of the Black Widowers.
  • Exact Words: Henry requests clarification on if Mr Pennyworth said "northwest" or "northwestward" because one means a particular direction and the other has several possible meanings.
  • Fairplay Whodunnit: The clues are all presented during the grilling, and The Summation doesn’t start until the diners turn to Henry for advice. The only missing clue is that there used to be a popular airline company named Northwest Airlines.
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  • Fan Convention: Mr Wayne isn’t feeling well enough to attend as a guest for a convention in Minneapolis, so he sends his trusty butler Mr Pennyworth, instead.
  • Fancy Dinner: The Black Widowers club meets every month at the Milano, a fancy restaurant in New York City. Tonight, they’re served crableg cocktails, veal marengo, baked Alaska, brandy, and coffee.
  • Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue: Despite including a fair bit of activity by the characters and describing their food and drink, the Milano is left relatively bereft of description.
  • Framing Device: The Fancy Dinner and grilling provide a location and characters to hear about the mystery second-hand, allowing the deductions by Henry the waiter to be more impressive.
  • Idle Rich: Mr Wayne is retired, and describes himself as "very well off". Multiple houses are mentioned, as well as multiple servants and a museum of Batman memorabilia.
  • The Jeeves:
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    • Henry is as unobtrusive as ever, deftly serving baked Alaska and solving the mystery for Mr Wayne.
    • Cecil Pennyworth is the butler to Mr Wayne, and nephew of Alfred Pennyworth. His elliptical manner of mentioning his flight plan causes the mystery of the plot.
  • MacGuffin: Mr Pennyworth is carrying the most valuable part of Mr Wayne’s Batman memorabilia in a single suitcase. Although he doesn’t lose it, he does have a couple of close calls.
  • Mr. Smith: Mr Wayne reveals that he has a house in North Dakota, northwest of the convention in Minneapolis, where the people who care for the place in his absence know him as a 'Mr Smith'.
  • Non-Powered Costumed Hero: Invoked Trope, because Mr Wayne, tonight’s dinner guest, claims that the character Batman (of Batman) is "restricted to entirely human abilities" because of his insistence.
  • Phone-In Detective: The only information that the Black Widowers have is what Mr Wayne is able to convey about the mystery. This is quite enough for Henry to solve the problem.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Mr Wayne's mystery comes from his butler (as a servant) being well-mannered enough not to question why his master suddenly flew across the country for no explained reason, and Mr Wayne not asking for clarification when his butler failed to explain why he seemed to lie about his destination. Fortunately, Henry is present to clarify matters.
  • Proto-Superhero: Discussed Trope during the dinner. The as-yet unnamed guest argues that the hero Superman is an insult to the supernormal powers of previous heroes. He compares Hercules to Superman, and says there’s too much of an imbalance of power. Nothing can be exciting or suspenseful with Superman’s powers.
  • Satchel Switcheroo: We are informed of several offscreen attempts at robbery, as one or more people may have tried to steal/swap the suitcase containing Mr Wayne's emerald Batman ring.
  • Shout-Out: Dinner conversation, before the grilling, is focused around Heroes:
  • The Summation: Just before Henry goes into his summation of why Cecil Pennyworth didn’t explain his failure to to go North Dakota, he asks Mr Wayne for the Exact Words used by Mr Pennyworth. From there, he’s able to explain how a servant couldn’t question their master and why Cecil wouldn’t imagine why they’d need to apologize for worrying Mr Wayne.
  • Title Drop: When Mr Wayne restates his butler's intentions, he refers to the northwestward direction. Cecil, however, had said "northwest", as in the airline company.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: In-Universe, Bruce Wayne claims the comics and the television series are exaggerated versions of real events and people he encountered.

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