Every now and then, I’ll run across a story that I am convinced is The Craziest Thing Ever Published.
It happened when I read the issue of Metamorpho where he fights off a two-foot tall galactic conqueror by using a guitar that shoots laser beams; it happened when I read about the little man with a radio that lived in Sun Boy’s ankle and spied on the Legion; and it happened–of course–in the story that brought us both Bizarro Computo and Hate Face. And each time, I found something that was even more nuts to fixate on for a few weeks.
But this time? I don’t know if anything’ll ever top this:
Why is Superman hanging with a bunch of Puritans and accusing Batman of consort with the Author of All Lies? Because Bob Kanigher. That’s why.
Yes, springing from the pen of madness itself with pencils by the late, great Ross Andru is 1969′s World’s Finest #186, wherein Kanigher apparently read The Crucible and decided that it just didn’t have enough super-heroes, a theory that a sixteen year-old Christopher J. Sims would later pose in Ms. McDonald’s 10th grade English class. Unfortunately, this one’s actually a two-parter that ends in WF #187, which I couldn’t find, but I think there’s enough here to be getting on with.
The whole thing gets started at–where else?–Stately Wayne Manor, where we find Bruce Wayne brushing up on his family history with a volume about Revolutionary War hero “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a choice of recreation that, by the sheer coincidence that made up a good three quarters of the storytelling back in the ’60s, is going to be important in about three pages.
In fact, no sooner has he finished reminiscing aloud about his famous Redcoat-hating ancestor than Commissioner Gordon gives him a ring on the hotline, asking him to guard a priceless bust that’s just been donated by an anonymous collector, because apparently, crime had been completely eradicated by this point in history. Of course, due to the fact that the businesses of Gotham City are staffed entirely by incompetent maroons, his services are rendered unnecessary when the curator drops the bust–which has been covered in a sheet and never seen by anyone, including the museum staff, before it went on public display–and shatters it into a million pieces.
Clearly, this is a job for Superman.
(Click for a larger image)
The way I see it, there are essentially two possibilities here: A), that whomever sculpted said bust went through the trouble of carving out an exact duplicate of Anthony Wayne’s head, then (somehow) made a Batman mask out of marble and managed to fit it over; or B), which will seem far more likely after the next few pages, that Superman’s just messing with Batman. Either way, the fact that Superman shows Gotham’s museum-going public that Batman looks an awful lot like Bruce Wayne underneath his mask is never brought up again.
Needless to say, this sparks Batman’s curiosity, so after Superman whips up a couple of Colonial outfits out of Wayne Manor’s drapes–no, really–it’s off on a trip through the Time Barrier to Colonial New England, which somehow manages to be slightly less historically accurate than, say, Colonial Williamsburg. No sooner have they landed, however, then they are immediately mistaken for British spies–probably because Batman’s drapes were made of a soft lavender, when everybody knows that earth tones were in during the summer of ’75–and attacked by “Mad” Anthony himself:
The World’s Greatest Detective, ladies and gentlemen.
Oh, and then Batman fights a horse:
During the scuffle, Anthony “Ol’ Stabby” Wayne manages to rip Superman’s Colonial outfit, and gets the idea from Superman’s red cape that he’s fighting a couple of redcoats, which leads Our Heroes to the completely logical conclusion that they’ll be far more inconspicuous if they just wander around in their super-hero outfits. The side effect of all this?
The Single Greatest Panel Of All Time:
“I’m going to play Hamlet! See? S For Shakespeare!“
Sadly, all copies of the Eighth Folio version of Hamlet, which included Laertes seeking vengeance as “a Bat-Man,” were lost to the ages.
The townspeople are pretty easy to convince, but to be fair, they’re a little distracted by the fact that they’ve got a witch trial going on, apparently completely oblivious to the fact that they’re actually living almost a full century after the famous Salem witch trials, but hey, they’ve got a long way to go before they get TV, and there’s got to be something to kill the time, right?
The lady in question–as is so often the case with this sort of thing–is actually completely innocent of witchcraft, a fact Batman is able to instantly determine from the evidence of her astonishing hotness.
Rather than let Sylvia–the soaking wet blonde in the previous image–die, Superman leaps into action faster than the eye can see, biting through the dunking stool in the hopes that the superstitious townsfolk will leap–however illogically–to the conclusion that she was freed by an underwater serpent. Seriously. That’s his plan. And amazingly, it works, although it doesn’t quite solve the problem of keeping a woman tied to a plank of wood underwater from drowning.
No, that’s the kind of thing that requires a Batman, and once he drags her to the shore and unties her, she rewards him with some good ol’ fashioned 18th Century makeouts, thus proving that every romance novel cover I have ever seen is 100% Accurate. Superman finds his attempts to get on some of that, however, totally shot down:
That is just how Batman rolls.
Superman doesn’t take this sort of thing lying down though, and while Batman’s off making time with Sylvia in a tavern, Supes sets out to have his best friend convicted of witchcraft and burned at the stake. How? By dyeing his costume and flying around on a broom and using Super-Ventriloquism to make it look like a black cat was talking to him, thus reminding us all that when it comes to Silver-Age Dicketry, nobody does it better than the Last Son of Krypton.
The townspeople immediately find Batman guilty and sentence him to be burned at the stake at noon the next day. Thus, Batman is left in the stocks to contemplate his impending death, and since he apparently forgot that he’s fucking Batman and could free himself from an 18th century pillory in less time than it takes me to make a sandwich, things are looking pretty grim for the Caped Crusader.
Is there anyone–anyone–who could help?!
Yes, Benjamin Franklin shows up, and hits on the brilliant idea of freeing Batman from the stocks by tying a kite to the lock and waiting for lightning to strike it. One can assume that after failing that, he would’ve attempted to spring Bats by burning him out with a pot-bellied stove, focusing light through a pair of bifocals, or banging a couple of French broads.
It doesn’t quite work out that way, though, and with Superman around to stop the lightning from reaching the lock, Franklin’s forced to call it a night and go back to founding the Post Office, leaving Batman to be burned at the stake in the next exciting issue.
But like I said, I don’t have that one, and after having my mind irrevocably shattered by the first appearance of the Batman/Ben Franklin team, I can only assume that everything works out okay. If I had to hazard a guess, though, I’d say that it involves a deception resulting in Anthony Wayne being mistaken for Batman, an appearance by Kryptonite that somehow pre-dates the explosion of Krypton, and the stunning revelation that Batman was making out with his own great great grandmother about five paragraphs ago.
Time Travel, folks: Never A Good Idea.