The Weirdest Batman Comic Book Stories of All Time: An Addendum, Part 2
That time Batman met the Joker’s ancestor in medieval Baghdad
In one of their surely very responsible uses of Dr. Carter Nichols’ time machine, Batman and Robin go back to Baghdad “a thousand years” and meet a Joker predecessor called the Crier, who robs the city by making them cry over news of Caliph Harūn al-Rashīd’s death. The historical accuracy in this story’s about what you’d expect — never mind that Harūn al-Rashīd died a good 300 years before Batman’s nice round millennium ago, the “casks” the Crier loads up on his horses look suspiciously like modern oil barrels.
That time Superman saved Fake Batman and Robin from a Renaissance robot
Superman gets the call to save Batman and Robin from the past because, in the Silver Age, he was able to travel through time under his own steam because something something theory of relativity, something something yellow sun. Instead, he finds two crooks posing as the Dynamic Duo, Denny and Shorty, who take him out of commission with embarrassing ease. Denny explains Lex Luthor gave him “a pebble of kryptonite as a souvenir,” and wouldn’t you know it, the gang he joined up with in Florence had an alchemist — every gang in Renaissance Florence had their own personal alchemist, didn’t you know that? — who was able to use the pebble to synthesize enough kryptonite to KO Superman.
Denny and Shorty launch it at him with a catapult, then chain it to Supes’ chest and lock him in the castle they have for some reason. Robbing doges must be a growth economy. Why didn’t they just chain the kryptonite to Superman to begin with? Because there’s a catapult on the cover, that’s why!
As for the real Batman and Robin, Denny and Shorty steal their costumes and leave them chained to the ceiling of the warehouse they were robbing with a time bomb for company. Batman, apparently forgetting he’s not Superman, picks up an anchor with his ankles and throws it against the wall hard enough to let the high tide come in and drown the bomb, which somehow keeps them from getting blown up but blows their chains off the ceiling. Batman explains, “The water blanketed the full force of the explosion! But the wall near the bomb has collapsed!” We can think of several much more likely outcomes from this plan — you don’t just walk away from any explosion powerful enough to crack the ceiling you’re hanging from, not to mention that an underwater explosion is more likely to pummel them with a tidal wave or boil them like lobsters than “blanket the full force of the explosion.” But, unlike Batman, I’m not a scientist, so I’ll just have to take his word for it.
Then there’s this caption, which makes me wonder if writer Bill Finger needed the concept of “time” explained to him.
But wait, don’t Denny and Shorty know Batman and Robin’s secret identities? Well, as the bandits flee, they knock over some of the alchemist’s chemicals, meaning, in Batman’s words, “Great Scott! That freak chemical mixture created a gas that wiped out hours of their memory!” Look, Bill Finger only had half a page left to wrap this up, cut the man some slack.
I’d also like to take this moment to appreciate Jim Mooney’s art of Shorty smugly twirling Robin’s mask around after stealing it from him. Especially given how hard it must be to make someone look smug in that costume.
That time a rainbow monster turned Batman into Flatman
Each of the Rainbow Creature’s four stripes has a different power, but sadly, Bill Finger seems to have burned out after “flattening,” since the remaining colors are much more generic: red burns, blue freezes, and yellow disintegrates. Fortunately, he adds one memorably bizarre wrinkle: As the Rainbow Creature uses its powers, they burn out, turning the stripe in question white, and it has to reabsorb more color from elsewhere, at one point apparently sticking its hand straight in a fire to get more red.
If nothing else, “The Rainbow Creature” should give critics analyzing the geopolitics of superheroes a field day, since it opens with the president of an unnamed South American country thanking Batman and Robin for helping put down a revolution led by Diaz, who Batman insists is “nothing but a gangster and a would-be dictator.” Then again, the president looks suspiciously like Lenin, so maybe trying to put this story anywhere on the political spectrum is a fool’s errand.
That time Batman put Superman on trial because future apes said to
If this all sounds like a knockoff from the previous year’s “Planet of the Apes,” well, writer Leo Dorfman all but admits it: The scene that convinces Batman to betray his superfriend, Superman-shaped satellite and all, was actually a movie studio 2000 years in the future remaking the 1968 blockbuster. That’s right, Charlton Heston yelling about dirty apes will apparently have the staying power of the Bible, as long as you jazz it up with Superman-shaped satellites.
That time Batman and Wonder Woman fought a gorilla surgeon on a floating theme park
The villain of this one is Dimitrios, the “Golden Greek” shipping tycoon who is definitely not related to Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, no sir, at least not if any lawyers are asking. You know he’s a bad guy because he’s introduced reading a Marvel comic book.
At the story’s climax, Batman is apparently helpless, with a gorilla in surgical scrubs (see why this story was on the list?) about to cut him open. But it turns out he just needed to play possum to give Wonder Woman the adrenaline rush to break her chains. Yes, I know chains are Wonder Woman’s kryptonite, just roll with it.
That time Batman and Superman bonded over watching space-slug-screwing
“Somehow” Superman senses Batman needs a shoulder to cry on, so he flies his buddy off to the Fortress of Solitude, where Batman’s kind enough not to mention that Superman totally ripped off the life-sized dinosaur from the Batcave.
And then some meteors land outside that turn out to be spaceships controlled by weird, tentacle-covered slug things that promptly attack Superman and Batman with Supes’ collection of exotic weapons. But it turns out the slugs are actually there to collect emotions. There’s never any explanation for the fight scene except that this story needed some action.
That time the Joker became an ambassador to the UN
Ayatollah Khomeini appointing the Joker to the United Nations is still the weirdest part of A Death in the Family, but let’s not forget that comic book fans called in to demand the death of a child, which probably says some disturbing things about them we don’t have time to get into at the moment. The dark and tangled world of geopolitics gets treated with all taste and subtlety you’d expect, but at least Jim Starlin gives readers fair warning in time to jump ship by opening the first issue in a “kiddie porn warehouse.” What does that even mean? Just piles and piles of VHS tapes?
Starlin scored Jim Aparo, widely considered one of the great Batman artists of all time for this one, but Aparo seems more interested in completing the Joker’s transformation into Mac Tonight.