One of the perils of trying to come up with something entertaining to post every day is that I often have a pretty hard time figuring out what I’m going to write about on any given night. This may come as a shock to you, given that most people are probably not familiar with the nigh-Herculean effort it takes to scan one panel of Jimmy Olsen, write a joke about it, and hit “Publish,” but as Mark Hale will no doubt attest, I usually spend my evening muttering, gnashing my teeth, and complaining that I have nothing funny to write about.
This is because I’m an idiot, and I often completely forget that I have a whole bookshelf of black-and-white reprint books six feet from where I work.
Seriously, for today’s modern comics blogger, those things are worth their weight in gold, because you can pretty much just pick one up, flip to a random page, and start writing about what you read.
And that, dear friends, is exactly the process that led us here tonight.
From the pages of 1969’s Detective Comics #388, I bring you “Surprise! This’ll Kill You!” by Frank Robbins, Gil Kane, and Murphy Anderson–reprinted, of course, in the much-maligned Showcase Presents Batgirl v.1–and while I can’t really think of any reason why I wouldn’t stop to read about a story featuring a giant (?) Batman getting ready to shoot a miniature (?) Batgirl who was riding around on a disc of light, that’s not the panel that caught my eye. But I’ll get to that later.
The story itself–which has nothing to do with a gargantuan Batman, as it turns out–opens with Barbara Gordon being titillated by a personal ad.
No, seriously. See for yourself:
You know, you can take the nerd out of the library, but you just can’t take the library out of the nerd.
Incidentally, I also have a special offer for friendly red-haired girls, but that’s neither here nor there. All that matters for Barbara is living rent-free in Gotham City, but when she finally gets to the address in question, there’s a whole hallway full of friendly redheads in front of her:
Well, friendly for Gotham, anyway.
The competition, however, is short-lived. Each girl is briefly interviewed through the peephole and sent packing, until Babs gets her turn. No sooner has she gone up to the door, in fact, when it’s thrown open to reveal… BATGIRL?!
The ersatz Batgirl is actually Darlene Dawson, and as one should always expect when offered a rent-free apartment from a classified ad in exchange for just being a shapely redhead, there’s a catch. Babs suspects as much, though, and uses her finely-honed detective training to identify herself not as Barbara Gordon, but as Barbara Gorman. Good call, Babs. They’ll never crack that code.
Fortunately, the catch doesn’t seem too bad. See, Darlene’s a stewardess, and needs to attend both an awards ceremony/masquerade ball and her grandfather’s 85th birthday on the same night, and needs someone to double for her.
This does absolutely nothing to explain why she’s been wearing the Batgirl costume for the entire time that she’s been interviewing potential replacements, but whatev.
Considering that she was just going to put on a Batgirl costume later anyway, Barbara agrees, and then she and Darlene–the stewardess and the feisty librarian–spend a good five panels exchanging clothes and working out the terms of their apartment-sharing deal.
That, for the record, was the page that caught my eye, and also makes this the single greatest comic story ever printed.
Sadly, the fun times couldn’t last, so once Darlene’s back in her “air hostess” clothes, she bugs out and leaves Barbara to hang around and wait for her escort to the Airline Awards, who is of course dressed like Batman. Now I’ve mentioned before that I’ve never actually seen a costume shop in my entire life, and I think that has something to do with the fact that I’ve also never heard of anyone having an honest-to-God masquerade party outside of the month of October.
Were they really popular forty years ago? Did I just miss out on an era when you could bop down Main Street and buy a Batman costume so unerringly accurate that it could fool even his fellow crime-fighters? Will there ever be a time when–Huh? Oh, right: Fight Scene!
As it turns out, the Batman at the door is significantly less heroic than the standard model, and comes in swinging. Making matters worse, the whole thing with the free rent was just a set-up by Darlene to buy time while she skips town. Which still does not explain why she was wearing the Batgirl outfit while she was trying to find a suitable patsy to take the fall, but Babs has other things to worry about at the moment, like being kicked in the face by faux-Batman.
Clearly, there is only one way that this fight can end. Fake Batman…
And then he chucks her out a window.
Oh relax, she’s fine. In fact, she let him win so that she could get to the bottom of the mystery. Apparently, Darlene–who was completely honest with Babs other than the small matter of trying to get her killed–was smuggling diamonds for a gang of crooks dressed like super-heroes who appear to have been imported from the last-page reveals of EC Horror Comics:
Despite their skill at choosing costumes, the criminal masterminds present no real trouble for Babs, and once she tracks Darlene to the house where her machine gun-weilding ex-bootlegger grandfather lives and beats Fake Superman up some more, everything eventually works out okay.
Well, except for the fact that everyone knows she’s the real Batgirl and Darlene (who manages to avoid the hail of bullets issuing from her senile old man) has seen her face and knows her as “Barbara Gorman,” but aside from that, it’s all good in the ‘hood for Jim Gordon’s little girl.
No word on whether or not she keeps the apartment, though.