The Untold, Retold, Ignored, and then Retconned Legend of the Batman

So last week, I mentioned that the current storyline in Grant Morrison’s Batman had elements that reminded me of another one of my childhood favorites, and since I’ve been on a roll lately with revisiting my earliest memories of the character, I figured I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about this one.

Ladies and gentlemen… The Untold Legend of the Batman:

 

 

Originally published in 1980, Untold Legend is a lot like the following year’s Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes: A mini-series that centered around a problem that could only be dealt with by the characters standing around thinking about their origins for three issues and occasionally punching somebody. With the Legion, it was a shocking tale of baby-daddies and secret identitites, but with Batman, things were a little more serious: Someone was destroying every aspect of the Dark Knight’s career, starting by stealing Thomas Wayne’s “original” Batman costume from the Batcave, setting it on fire and shipping it back to Bruce, and then moving on to carbombs and other assorted deathtraps.

Which brings me to an interesting point: Being 1980, this was the life story of Pre-Crisis Batman, and to say the least, it was a little complicated. There’s stuff in here about Batman being taken in and raised by the kindly Mrs. Chilton (who unbeknownst even to herself, was the mother of Joe Chill, the gunsel who shot Bruce’s parents), the story of how Bruce Wayne was actually the first Robin… there’s even shots of Alfred liberating concentration camps during World War 2. It’s forty years of crazy-ass Golden and Silver-Age storytelling, and this thing hits the high points in three issues.

Suck it, decompression. Suck it hard.

Another interesting–well, for me anyway–fact about this series is that I never actually had the comics until now. For a while, I thought I had the recently reprinted paperback version, but since I had it in color, I knew I was just confusing that with an MMPB of the X-Men fighting Arcade that was my first real taste of Marvel. No, as it turns out, I had the MPI Audio Edition, which came with a dramatized cassette tape version of the story, complete with sound effects and music.

Needless to say, that thing kicked ass.

I listened to it all the time–alternating, if memory serves, between that and the soundtrack to Follow That Bird–and I can still hear the narrator’s rumbling “Deep within the bowels of the city, a solitary dark-clad figure sits nestled in the shadows…

Now that I’m older, I realize that “nestle” is never a verb that should appear in a sentence about Batman, but at the time, it was pretty rad. And, you know, if anyone happens to have a digital copy that I could obtain through completely legal means, I’d appreciate a heads-up.

But anyway:

 

 

Written by Len Wein and an artistic clusterfuck of John Byrne and Jim Aparo, the first issue opens up with the aforementioned Costume Incident that introduces the premise:

 

 

Also, right there on page three, there’s a mention of Batman suffering a head injury in a warehouse explosion. Older Chris would recognize this as a clue, but Young Chris–in a move that would set the trend for all comics reading thereafter–pretty much just skipped over it to get to the fighting.

Sadly, the first issue’s pretty dry (outside of, you know, that whole “brutal murder of the parents” thing), instead focusing more on recapping the intricacies of Batman’s origin. There are a couple of nice bits, though, like when he talks about how he took the identity of Robin–in a costume that he describes as “a little bit fanciful“–to learn from master detective Harvey Harris.

As a sidenote, “detective skills” apparently include Steamboat Jumping…

 

 

…and High Stakes Clock Repair:

 

 

Also of note: the first appearance of the dreaded Bat-Melvin:

 

 

That was always one of my favorite pieces of art when I was growing up, with that dynamic action in the foreground and all the villains half-shaded behind them. Out of all the villains, though, my favorite in this piece was the Gentleman Ghost, because even a six year-old can tell that a floating monocle and top-hat are just badass. Or at least, badass enough to distract me from the fact that he’s right next to what I think is a Dr. Tzin-Tzin that’s the same color as Robin’s cape.

Jesus.

Anyway, it all builds up to Batman’s climactic confrontation with his parents’ murderer in another panel that just stuck with me all these years:

 

 

It’s such a great image, right down to Joe Chill’s tiny, almost imperceptible “no.” It’s barely there, and I’m pretty sure that there’s no way I noticed it on my first read back when I was a kid, but like the tiny “snap” of Gwen Stacy’s neck, it’s an important part of the scene. That’s a guy who’s absolutely terrified, not just because he’s dealing with Batman, but because he realizes in that moment that he’s dealing with a Batman who is more angry at him than anyone else in the world. It’s pretty awesome.

Of course, such knowledge is also a curse, and when Chill makes his escape into the next room and tells his henchmen that he killed Batman’s parents and now he’s out for revenge, they’re so mad at him for creating the Batman that they kill him on the spot.

This, of course, would be Young Chris’s first exposure to “poetic justice.”

And that, with the exception of an eye-rolling final panel–is pretty much the first issue. The second one’s more of the same, but it does have the distinction of having a cover by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez that prompted my first use of the word “kickass”:

 

 

How do we know Batman is awesome? Because that’s how he gets into his car.

And the interior’s even better. With one of his few mementos of his father–aside from a gigantic house and a vast personal fortune–in ruins, Batman hits the streets to get some information, and then totally loses his shit:

 

(Click to Aparo-Size It)

 

Jim Aparo, ladies and gentlemen. That man could draw a backhand like nobody’s business.

The third issue’s where it really picks up, though. After getting the origin stories for Batman, Robin and Alfred, this one shifts its focus to more ancillary members of B. Wayne’s running crew, although I have to admit that it’s a little weird that we get the secret origin of Jack Edison (the guy who builds the Batmobiles) before we get Jim Gordon. Seriously, Len Wein: Prioritize a bit.

Eventually, it even gets around to Batgirl, who manages to go from Nerd Hot

 

 

…to Nerd

 

 

…in the span of one page. To be fair to the Aparo, though, Babs actually does rock Princess Leia’s cimmaron rolls in her first appearance, so chalk one up for accuracy.

Anyway, Batman eventually figures out who’s behind all the hijinx and heads out to the old Batcave at Wayne Manor–the story taking place during the time when the Batcave was below Wayne Tower in Midtown Gotham–to deal with it. And just who could know all of Batman’s secrets and be using them against him so effectively? Who else?

 

 

That’s right: The head injury that was mentioned back on page three of the first issue has caused Batman to go completely insane and attempt to bump off his alter ego.

As to why Batman has a Crushing Wall Trap™ installed in his own basement, that’s never really addressed, but it doesn’t really matter in the end. Robin shows up dressed as Thomas Wayne and shocks Batman out of his temporary dementia, everything works out okay, and we all learn a valuable lesson:

The only man awesome enough to destroy the Batman… is the Batman himself.

And that’s real.

 

A tip of the cowl to Dr. K for tonight’s post title.

One Batman Too Many!

Last week, I took another look at one of my favorite comics from when I was a kid, and I gotta say: “Unintended Consequences” really holds up. Admittedly, it holds up more like a Road House than a Die Hard, but it’s still a fun, highly enjoyable story with a lot to like about it.

Unfortunately, not all of my childhood favorites can say the same.

 

 

Case in point: The two part saga of Tommy Carma that ran in Batman #402 and 403, by Max Alan Collins with Jim Starlin on art.

Obviously, these issues came out about two years before Batman started throwing car batteries around in #425–and they have the distinction of being the last Batman stories before Miller and Mazzucchelli showed up to drop Batman: Year One and make everybody else look like slackers–but I vividly remember reading “Diplomat’s Son” first. I might just be misremembering, but then again, there’s a shop where I live that has comics from three years ago on its new release wall, so who knows?

Point is: They are not very good, especially considering that they were written by man who created Wild Dog. Twenty years ago, however, I thought these things were awesome. Which probably has a lot to do with the fact that they’re probably the most violent comics you could get at the Ameristop convenience store in 1987.

 

 

Interestingly enough, the sound of Batman breaking someone’s neck is exactly the same noise that Curly Howard makes when Moe pokes Larry in the eyes.

Oh relax: It’s not actually Batman. And if that fact wasn’t made abundantly clear by the fact that he’s handing out the death penalty on Gotham City’s thriving mugger population, it should be a few pages later when the ersatz Dark Knight returns to his lair:

 

 

Even at six years old, I knew the real Batman did not rock a bright yellow pompadour.

So say hello to Tommy Carma. To make a long story short, Tommy here was an overzealous cop who idolized Batman and went right off the deep end when his wife and daughter were killed by a car-bomb meant to keep him from testifying. Cut to a few years later, and he’s roaming around the city in a Batman costume taking out every crook that crossed him while he was on the force.

Like I said, it’s by no means a good story, but it does make an interesting commentary on hero worship and the lines Batman–the real one–will and won’t cross in his vigilante war on crime.

Incidentally? While murder’s right out, that line completely allows for making someone think about their dead daughter and then punching the living shit out of them:

 

 

It’s just how Batman rolls.

And the second issue’s even crazier.

This time around, Collins is joined by Denys Cowan–of The Question–who opens the book showing Tommy in a full-on hallucination, battling Two-Face and the Joker with some of the worst one-liners of all time:

 

 

As bad as that is, I actually really like it. I mean, of course his fight banter’s not going to be any good: He’s not the real Batman.

Unfortunately for Tommy–and Barbara Gordon, Jason Todd, Sarah Essen and about six thousand other Gothamites–he’s not actually killing the Joker, but instead going crazy on a couple of orderlies at Arkham:

 

 

Thus, young Chris learned an intense distrust of men in sleeveless half-shirts that lasts to this day.

Anyway, Tommy pulls off the unheard-of feat of actually escaping from Arkham Asylum, which–in a coincidence that even young Chris thought was bullshit–is right next to Wayne Manor. And when Tommy finds a cave that he uses to hide from the cops, it ends up leading right to… oh, you know where this is going:

 

 

So yeah: From here on out, it’s pretty much the exact same story. Tommy’s dressed as Batman and on the streets looking for revenge and Batman once again shows that violence makes the most efficient problem-solver:

 

 

 

 

Batman is cooler than cool. And that’s ice cold.

And that’s all for Tommy Carma. Well, theoretically, anyway: At the end of the story, Batman walks off into the sunset with him and promises to get him some help. Which, now that I think of it, is exactly how he got into this mess to begin with, but as far as I know, he was never heard from again. And really, that’s a shame.

I mean, this might just be the nostalgia talking, but come on: That Grant Morrison story from a few months ago with the three evil Batmen who had been Gotham City cops before they went over the edge? That would’ve been perfect.

Unintended Consequences Revisited

Last week, commenter Jason asked if I was planning on doing anything to celebrate the one-year anniversary of The-ISB.com, and while the thought had occurred to me, I really didn’t think it was all that necessary. After all, I already celebrate the ISB’s Awesomeversary every year on January 6. I even buy a cake every year, and when you get right down to it, that’s just weird.

Clearly, pastries aren’t necessary this time around, but a full year of the New ISB ought to get some kind of mention, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to go back over a classic. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Single Greatest Comic Book Of All Time:

 

 

Yeah, I know: Not only have I talked about this comic before, but I tend to talk about it–or at least one scene–at every available opportunity. Still, the last time I actually went into detail about Batman #425 was more than three years ago, and even that post lacked the benefit of a scanner.

So let me set the scene here: Imagine that you’re six years old, and in addition to various hair and polo shirt-related issues, you have a problem. You’re spending the Thanksgiving break at your grandparents’ house in Ohio, six hundred miles away from your NES, and those guys don’t even have cable. So with boredom setting in, you wander across the street to the convenience store with your dad to get some comics to kill the time, and you see that thing up there along with the previous issue.

Now at this point, I’d read a couple of comics before, and I knew a little about Batman from Superfriends and the ’66 TV show, but that did absolutely nothing to prepare me for the mind-blowing I was about to receive. This thing was like a match to the powderkeg that was my brain, and believe it or not, it wasn’t just about the car battery. But we’ll get to that in a second.

So here’s the plot:

 

 

Someone’s kidnapped Jim Gordon and sent a letter to Batman demanding that he show up with Robin in tow and no police. Why? Because in the last issue Robin fucking killed a guy.

Oh, relax: He was a total cokehead scumbag who slapped around his girlfriend until she committed suicide, but thanks to his father’s diplomatic immunity, Batman couldn’t bring him down legally. So at the end of the story, Batman shows up to Fellipe’s penthouse to find Robin on the balcony looking down at Fellipe, who just took a 20 story dive to the cement, we get one of the few true moments of Jason Todd being a total badass:

 

 

Did I mention I read this story of domestic violence, drug abuse and vigilante justice when I was six?

Anyway, once the handy two-page recap’s out of the way, we find out that Batman recognizes the junkyard where they’re keeping Gordon from the one photograph–because, you know, he’s Batman–and thus he sets off to settle the score without telling Jason, who stows away Speed Racer style in the trunk of the Batmobile. And this is where it starts to get good.

Come to think of it, every story I’ve read about Batman going to a junkyard to save Robin is awesome. I mean, admittedly, there’s only two, but still. It’s nice to have a track record.

So Batman gets to the spot where Jose’s holding Gordon, and at this point, this issue totally turns into Die Hard In A Landfill, Starring Batman. And there is nothing about that that doesn’t sound awesome.

Really, though, you’ve got to wonder what the hell Jose was thinking here. Admittedly, he’s bereaved, but the guy’s a career diplomat and he’s trying to set a deathtrap for Batman. You’d think one of his pals would sit him down and explain that Batman wrestles a tiger while escaping a crushing wall trap before breakfast. But alas. Jose was… inconsolable.

So for the next nine pages, Batman just beats the living crap out of everybody he comes across, dispatching them with what I can only describe as cold enjoyment. And then this happens:

 

 

That’s it. That’s the moment. That’s where the ISB was born, although it wouldn’t actually show up for another seventeen years. You can draw a line straight to the comics I read today and everything makes sense: The way Batman casually looks around for something to use, the delight he takes in “getting improvisational,” the thug’s reaction and the grin Batman’s got in the shadow, the way the guy just crumples. You don’t hear a whole lot about Mark Bright, but man. That is a beautiful page.

But here’s the thing: The way I talk about the car battery and how much I love it, you’d think that was the climax of the fight scene, but it’s not: That’s the second guy. There’s nine more thugs before Batman even gets to Jose and his bodyguards.

So let’s see how it works out for them:

 

 

Ah, the ol’ make-em-shoot-each-other trick. What’s interesting about this one, though, is that Batman’s pulling off a six foot vertical leap. That’s like two feet higher than Jordan! What, did he spend a season with the Harlem Globetrotters when he was traveling the world to learn his Batman skills?

Of course he did. He’s Batman.

Next.

 

 

The dreaded Bat-Backhand, with Aparo Effect.

Next.

 

 

Oh man, this one is awesome. Three guys, all armed with Uzis, and Batman just takes them out like it’s nothing. I mean, that’s a right-left-right-left ya toothless. And then you say “Goddamn, he’s ruthless.”

In fact, I’m pretty sure I did say that. And that Ice Cube wrote that line about this comic.

But the most awesome thing about this one? Look closely and you’ll see that Batman has knocked out the third guy before the first one hits the ground.

Next.

 

 

Whoops! Dart in your neck!

And that’s all of them. After that, all that’s left is to confront Jose and his team of bodyguards. Of course, I should note that through this entire sequence, Batman is completely chilled out. Even when Jose’s got a gun in his face, his narration is “This won’t be easy at close range. I’ll probably end up taking a bullet or two.” It’s so matter of fact that Batman kicking the hell out of these guys is already a foregone conclusion.

Fortunately, taking a bullet isn’t necessary: Robin shows up to provide a distraction, Batman frees Gordon with a couple of Batarangs and takes out the bodyguards–who go down about as quick as you’d expect–and then, for some reason, Batman decides to climb up a stack of cars.

Why? I don’t know. He’s Batman. Just roll with it.

Thus:

 

 

And you know what? Until I re-read it this week, I never realized that the sound of a stack of automobiles crashing down on a man is “KAR-TUNKK!!”

Truly, this is the comic that keeps on giving.

 

Special thanks to BitterAndrew for help with this one.

The Unmitigated Radness of the Londinium Larcenies

If you don’t like the 1966 Batman TV show, then guess what? You’re a moron.

A pretty harsh judgment, I know, but I’m pretty sure that if you ask my less-angry peers–or even my frequently more angry–the response is going to be the same: Batman is stone cold awesome, and that is a fact.

Because after all, this is the show that brought us the undeniable beauty that is Surf Jams Joker.

 

 

Surf Jams Joker, people. Seriously.

But that’s not what brings us here tonight. I’ve recently been re-watching the series–through Completely Legal Means, which is no mean feat since, with the exception of the movie, it continues to be shockingly unavailable on DVD–and the first episodes I went for were the ones I liked the most as a kid: A three-parter where Batman and Robin head across the pond to Merrie Olde England! Uh, I mean… Londinium!

 

 

I’ve mentioned some of the more awesome aspects of the episode and its hand in my adolescence before, but what surprised me here was that unlike a lot of stuff that I’ve gone back to after my childhood, it was even better the second time.

Probably because I get all the sex jokes now.

Anyway, the whole thing gets started with a series of daring robberies in fogbound Londinium, including the theft of Her Majesty’s Priceless Snuffboxes, that end with the culprits getting away in a man-made fog. Clearly, this is the sort of problem that the conventional law enforcement of 1968 was ill-equipped to deal with, and so venerable Ireland Yard puts in the call to Gotham City, request the aid of Batman, and before long, the cast is on its way to the Olde Country.

 

Actual Quote: “What a pleasant surprise to find you and young Dick among our fellow passengers!”

 

Incidentally, despite Comsisioner Gordon’s reference to others, this appears to be the sum total of the ship’s passengers. And yet, they still can’t figure out Batman’s secret identity. No wonder they needed a super-hero.

Once the Dynamic Duo are across the sea and ashore–and sequestered in a rented manor house that happens to have its owns subterranean lair, complete with skeleton–it’s time to investigate our Special Guest Villains for the evening: Lord Marmaduke Ffogg and Lady Penelope Peasoup, of Ffogg Place, Ffoggshire.

 

 

Slightly of note is the fact that Lady Penelope is played (awesomely) by Glynis Johns, who’s probably better known for her role as Winifred Banks, the neglectful suffragette mother from Mary Poppins.

Of far more interest to a young Chris Sims, however, was the fact that Fogg Place doubles as a “posh girls’ finishing school,” in which the young ladies are actually trained as delinquent shopliftresses under the leadership of the blonde, accented, and be-miniskirted Lady Prudence:

 

 

Further explanation on that point should not be necessary. What matters, though, is that after about three minutes of Burt Ward’s overtly masculine charm, Prudence breaks down and reveals the whole sordid story behind Lord Ffogg’s school of shoplifting, while Batman’s elsewhere, having elected to take a tour of the school’s Judo studio and rare African Death Bee hive.

That’s right, folks: Delinquent martial artist schoolgirls and their deadly bees are a major plot point in the show I used to watch for at least an hour every day after school. Is it any wonder I turned out this way?

Anyway, after a minor altercation with the Ffoggs’ domestic help, wherein Batgirl makes her first butler-kicking appearance of the saga, Batman starts to suspect that Lord Ffogg might have a hand in the robberies. The truth, however, is even more terrifying, as the enemy is revealed at last to be…

 

 

Who else? Hippies!

Thus, one hippie-thrashing later, Batman emerges to find that Robin has been set upon and kidnapped by the Ffogg School Shoplifting Crew–who are consistently and slightly creepily referred to by the narrator as “the pretty little student bodies“–and while I know this is a bad thing to say this far into a post, this is where things start to get interesting.

Why? Because this is where we get our pretty much mandatory scene of Batgirl in bondage.

 

 

Okay, okay, hold on a second. Before you go running off to report me to When Fangirls Attack for being creepier than I actually am, allow me to point out that in and of itself, this isn’t the part that’s so interesting. Especially since, you know, that sort of thing happened to Babs pretty much every day back in the ’60s. No, it’s actually what it leads to that’s so awesome.

So here’s how it goes down: As you might expect, Batman eventually shows up to save the day, and while Robin’s dealing with the twin perils of death by bee-sting and collar-ruffled seduction…

 

 

…Batman sneaks into the dungeon to rescue Batgirl, and gives us the greatest fifteen seconds in televison history. This one’s going to work better if you actually see it for yourselves, so feel free to hit play and queue it up to 2:45 to witness the majesty.

 

 

For those of you who don’t want to watch, I’ll explain: In order to free Batgirl, Batman whips out his handy bat-file, gives her what is probably the most hilarious sex face of all time, and then essentially just starts fucking the shit out of the chain until the camera cuts away a few seconds later. Special Bonus: Watch closely as Yvonne Craig struggles to contain her laughter, then responds with a comedically seductive look of her own.

Truly, it is a beautiful thing.

And that’s pretty much all there is to it: Robin reveals that allowing himself to be stung by the African Death Bee was all part of his master plan to get back to the student bodies’ dorm room and gives them a stern dressing-down that causes them to change their ways, and eventually he, Batgirl and Batman punch enough people so that everything works out okay.

Thus, we all learn a valuable lesson: Batman and Robin are stone cold pimps.

And that’s real.

Surf Jams Joker!

 

 

Surf Jams Joker!

 

 

SURF JAMS JOKER!

 

 

SURF JAMS JOKER!!!

 


 

BONUS FEATURE: The Two Coolest Dudes On Earth

 

 

Left to Right: Buzzy, Duke, Some Hot Girl

Pop Quiz

Tonight’s Subject: Great Moments In Sidekickery.

In 1967, Batman, Robin and Batgirl traveled to Londinium, where Robin was almost immediately set upon by a team of delinquent finishing school girls, who then held him hostage.

In their bedroom.

 

 

The rare African Death Bee is also involved.

Is this Awesome? Show your work.