The Weirdest Batman Comic Book Stories of All Time: An Addendum, Part 1
Originally published on The Solute
I recently wrote 4500 words on The Weirdest Batman Comic Book Stories Of All Time for Looper, which might seem like enough to cover the subject pretty exhaustively.
But oh no. There’s so much weirdness in those stories I barely had the space to even scratch the surface, and I probably wrote about twice as much as I published. Well, I believe in “waste not, want not,” so here’s all the best stuff I couldn’t quite cram in.
First, you have the also-rans. The ’50s and ’60s were would seem like fertile ground, but most of the stories I looked through exhausted their weirdness quotient on the basic premise (which is only natural, since they were written cover-first). Batman can’t live outside water, so you get ten pages of Batman in a fish tank. Batman turns into a giant, and you get ten pages of Batman as a giant. Batman turns into a giant gorilla, you get ten pages of Batman as a giant gorilla. And so on.
To start with, there’s Bat-Gorilla, a story that does exactly what it says on the tin — gorilla wanders into Batman’s cave, gets Batsuit, solves circus-based crime. There’s not much in “Bat-Baby” you can’t get from the cover, but this scene is unintentionally poignant given how much later writers have focused on Batman’s childhood trauma.
Also, this happens:
Then there’s Batman Jones, a child named after Batman — not Bruce Wayne, Batman — after the Dark Knight saved his parents from a car wreck. He appoints himself Batman’s new sidekick, and Batman and Robin treat him as an annoying hanger-on even though he passes all their tests and honestly, as Jon Morris pointed out, seems to be better at their jobs than they are.
I normally roll my eyes at everyone complaining about how Batman is Serious Business and this era “ruined” him, but it’s hard not to reach that conclusion with “Fatman,” in which Batman and Robin get their asses saved by a literal clown dressed up like him (aren’t bats and clowns natural enemies?). It’s easy to see how he became such a hit with zingers like this.
“The Rainbow Batman” is such a staple of articles like this that anything I wrote about it would have felt redundant, but I do want to mention the explanation writer Edmond Hamilton gave for all this nonsense: Batman wanted to distract from Robin’s limp arm, because apparently only one boy in Gotham is allowed to have one at any one time and if anyone saw it, it would blow Dick’s identity wide open.
“The Valley of Giant Bees” sadly doesn’t feature this scene from the splash page. But it does feature Batman chasing away the gigantic hive with a giant spider balloon left over from what Jon Morris calls “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of Phobias Celebration.”
I probably could have done this whole article with nothing but Bob Haney’s run on The Brave and the Bold, and I came close. To keep him from taking over entirely, I had to cut “How to Make a Super-Hero!” which starts with Batman stopping a bank robbery by somehow roping in a cop to dress up as an old lady and drop a hand grenade in the deposit box, because you can’t rob a bank when you (and presumably most of the bank) have been blown to shit. Then we learn that this isn’t the real Batman, since Bruce Wayne is out of the country and literally picked his replacement off the street when he finds Plastic Man has turned hobo. Then Plastic Man believes he really is Batman and comes under the thrall of the villainous Ruby Ryder thanks to the power of hypnotic lemonade.
The post-Haney issues of B&B offered some potential material too, like Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, and Jim Aparo’s Only Angels Have Wings, where Batman teams up with the Joker — yes, the Joker — t0 absolve him a crime he didn’t commit, never mind the couple of hundred he actually did commit. Add to that list repeatedly trying to murder Batman throughout the story, which he blames on “force of habit.”
I had to put a cap on how many Superman team-ups I included — this is supposed to the weirdest Batman stories, after all — which meant there was no room for the story of Bruce-El, in which Batman finds baby pictures of himself with Kryptonian powers that turn out to be faked by some weirdo astronomer who adopted the orphaned Bruce for like a week. Or all the times the supposed World’s Finest team turned on each other. These stories all seem to be based on the assumption that this was such a shocking concept that you’d just have to buy the book to see how it happened, somehow missing that it stops being shocking when you do it every other month. This subgenre of Superman/Batman team-ups (team-againsts?) include consecutive issues where they travel back to Puritan time and each try to convince the locals the other one’s a witch.
Or the oddly meta story where they’re forced to fight on another planet by what turn out to be, for all intents and purposes, space nerds arguing over who would win.
Or the “imaginary story” where Batman trusts Lex Luthor of all people when he says Superboy killed his parents and decides to declare war on Superman instead of war on crime.
Not to mention the psychosexual madness of Batman’s stint as Superman’s prison warden, where he seems to enjoy cracking an electric whip on his back a little too much.
I’m glad this project gave me an excuse to dip into Jiro Kuwata’s manga Batman and less glad I wasn’t able to find any way to work it in, even though “that time Batman was almost defeated by the power of bounciness” survived several drafts. Kuwata’s weirdness is more moment to moment than across whole stories. But oh what wonderful weirdness it is. (Remember this was written in Japanese, so it reads right to left. And then ignore that for this scene, which becomes about fifty times funnier if you read it backwards.)