Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Theatre of the Absurd: The Top 10 Oddities of Batman

Comic Book Superheroes present a world of imagination unbound from the limitations of the real world.

Virtually anything and everything is possible in the universe of fiction. From time travel to alternate dimensions of reality to superpowers and alien civilizations; if you can dream it, it can be conceived and created whether it's in the pages of a comic book or in the adapted productions of Hollywood.

But every once in a while an idea comes along that is so outlandish, so wild and so incredibly strange that even their presence in the realm of superheroes can't seem to explain or even fathom their crazy existence.

In the case of Batman, such absurdity seems to go one step further; after all the dark knight isn't a being from another planet or a warrior from an island of immortals but a man very much grounded in a more realistic drama of crime, mystery and intrigue.

While the character is very much suspect to flights of fantasy with villains such as Man-Bat or Clayface and, of course, the immortality of Ra's Al Ghul and his Lazarus Pits, there are some creations throughout his history both in print and on film that are outright bizarre.

Here are, in my opinion, Ten showcases of what I dub "The Theatre of the Absurd," in reference to "BATMAN" television star Adam West's interpretation of the kooky world of the caped crusader:


 10: Thomas Wayne - The First Bat-Man (from "Detective Comics" #235)  

In a Silver Age tale from 1956, it's revealed through an old diary that Bruce's father, the late Dr. Thomas Wayne, was actually the world's first Batman. While not necessarily a crime fighter, the story tells of a costume party in which guests are encouraged to dress as animals or craft that can fly and Thomas chooses the Bat for inspiration. Later in the story, hoodlums are told to have overrun the ball in search of a doctor to tend to Lou Moxon, a bank robber who had been wounded.

Through flashback it's speculated that Moxon may have hired Joe Chill (the man responsible for the murder of the Waynes in the pre-"Crisis on Infinite Earths" continunity) as a professional hitman after swearing revenge on Thomas for the testimony that put him away for ten years.

This concept of Thomas preceding his son with the Bat-motif has since been reiterated several times throughout the current Batman continuity. Even so, it's quite strange to consider how serendipitous it is.

 9: The Flying Batcave (from "Detective Comics" #317)

When a criminal case called for Batman and Robin to depart Gotham for Central City, the dynamic duo decided to better their chances of surveillance and investigation with a fantastic vehicle beyond comprehension; the Flying Batcave.

A mammoth aircraft carrier, the vehicle employed several of the computer devices and crime lab implements of the cave beneath Wayne Manor as it hovered like a behemoth over the city streets complete with smoke screen generators that could create a cloud coverage to conceal them during flight.

Unfortunately the size of the vehicle presented a fatal flaw in design with its constant need for refueling, which severely cut down on patrol time. As a result of its inefficiency, the Flying Batcave was retired.

A perfect example of an idea with good intentions but poor in actual practice.
8: Magpie (from "The Man of Steel" #3)

For every Joker, there's a Gearhead. For every Ra's Al Ghul, there's a Killer Moth.

For every criminal mastermind, there's a second or third stringer ready to try his or her hand, however meaninglessly, at besting the masked manhunter.

But when it comes to the bottom of the barrel in terms of Batman's rogues gallery, arguably no one takes the cake quite like the villainess known as Magpie.

Created by John Byrne in the height of his mid-80s resurrection of Superman with the "Man of Steel" title, Magpie is introduced as a Batman rogue with a distinctly obsessive fetish...over jewels. More specifically jewels named after birds. Uh huh...

In her background it's revealed that she was once the curator for a museum, but being surrounded by tantalizing baubles she couldn't own drove her mad.

Donning a silver and red outfit complete with glasses, fishnet stockings, hoop earings and, I kid you not, a tri-hawk (trio of mohawks running from the top and each side of her head!), she embarks on a ring of jewel thefts in which she steals a jewel named after a bird and replaces it with an explosive masquerading as a replica.

Magpie is noteworthy for being the very first villain in comics to be defeated by the combined efforts of both Batman and Superman when, of all things, her own obsession with jewels is exploited by the world's finest and she's all but done in by her own insanity.

 7: Bat Baby (from "Batman" #147)

Inspired by a time honored tradition past down by the story of the "Superbaby," "Batman" writers decided to hit their readers with an out of left fielder that fit the early 1960s like a glove.

Issue number 147 introduced fans to Bat-Baby!

Alongside the stories " Secret of Mystery Island" and "The Plants of Plunder," "Batman becomes Bat-Baby" tells the tale of a mad scientist named Garth who uses a strange device during an attempted bust by Batman and Robin. Bathing the caped crusader in a strange glow of radiation, the device shrinks him down and reduces him to the age of a four year old (not technically a baby, but whatever).

Even with the concept aside, here's a zinger for you.

Garth is the inventor of a machine that reverses the aging process and yet he's hanging out with a jewel thief ring. How ironic. The man's smart enough to invent this thing yet can't seem to grasp the idea of patenting the device and making billions as the man who invented virtual immortality.

Anyway, here's where it just goes nuts.

Back at the Batcave, Alfred and Robin run the pint-sized Bruce through various exercises and it's determined that in spite of what's happened, he's retained all of his mental and physical capabilities.

Yes. Bat-Baby still has the strength of BatMAN. Garth's machine turns them back into children but it allows them to maintain their adult-ness.

That's great, Garth. So all you did was make Batman a smaller target and THAT much harder to beat.

Granted this is the late 50s, early 60s Batman we're talking about but the premise to this one is just so out there!
6: The Whirly-Bat (from "Detective Comics" #257)


How's this for a bright idea.

Let's skip the Batmobile, skip the Batwing and go right for the most hackneyed and pointless vehicle ever created for the dark knight's arsenal of transportation.

Now I'm not denying that the Whirly-Bat is a classic; it has a visual flare all its own with its bat-winged curved design and there was even enough affection for it that Alan Moore included it in "The Killing Joke" as a token trophy in the Batcave.

But c'mon.

This is a single seat gyro that could only support the weight of the driver, which meant that on board non-lethal weapons couldn't even be included without rendering it incapable of flight.

Seriously, these things just remind me of those goofy balloon rigs that Ross Webster and his gal pals descend into the Grand Canyon in at the end of "Superman III."

While they WERE used to allow Batman and Robin the swiftness to chase Mr. Freeze in their debut tale, the Whirly-Bat is just not practical. Hell, "Arkham City" proved that NONE of the vehicles are that practical.

I'd argue that in favor of the Batmobile. The Whirly-Bat...not so much.

 5: Batzarro (from "Superman/Batman" #20)


What do you get when the Joker takes the concept of the Superman villain Bizarro and uses it as a foundation for creating his own version of a backwards dark knight?

Batzarro, the world's worst detective!

While the idea had existed in the pre-Crisis days (from 1966's "World's Finest Comics" #156, in which Bizarro created his own version of the Justice League - including a Bizarro Batman - to help defend the his cube-shaped planet), the character known by name as Batzarro was officially created for the post-Crisis continuity by writer Jeph Loeb during the "Vengeance" storyline in the ongoing "Superman/Batman" title in 2002.

Going by the alter-ego Wayne Bruce, Batzarro is a backwards iteration of the character in nearly every way. According to his origin, Batzarro gunned down his own parents and continues to do so on a nightly basis with couples wandering the streets of Crime Alley!

With his confusing backwards talk much like Bizarro, it's never clear whether Batzarro's intentions are to kill Batman or aid him; however the character is eventually murdered by the Joker when he takes a bullet meant for Batman, his self-proclaimed idol.

As it's revealed in the story, the character was created by the Joker for the sole purpose of allowing the Clown Prince of Crime the pleasure of at least killing A Batman if not necessarily THE Batman.

From his upside-down emblem and fangs to his chains and use of firearms, Batzarro is a polar opposite so striking that it had to take his being conceived by a twisted mind like the Joker's for his existance to even make a lick of sense.

4: The Rainbow Creature (from "Batman" #134)


Magpie was a doozy, but that was post-Crisis lore.

When it comes to the no-holds-barred landscape of pre-Crisis, you're talking about an entirely different ballgame.

And of all the crazy foes and monsters that Batman and Robin were faced with during the period, perhaps none were as garish and insane and out of this world as the beast called 'The Rainbow Creature.'

Spawned out of a volcano (huh?!), the Rainbow Creature is a monstrosity that's being exploited by a South American Revolutionary named Diaz to terrorize the populace of his country.

According to the story, it's red stripe can burn through objects, it's blue stripe can freeze anything, it's yellow stripe can turn things into mist and, most peculiar, it's green stripe can transform and flatten people into a two dimensional state!

When all of the power of any stripe is spent, that stripe turns white and the Rainbow Creature must replenish itself by stealing color.

There are no words, ladies and gentlemen.

Discovering that Diaz has no actual control of the beast, Batman and Robin force the Rainbow Creature to create so much energy output that it uses all of its colors and subsequently disintegrates into dust. No idea how they figured that would work, but's Batman after all.

While 'Crisis' rendered the story non-existant, several points in current continuity HAVE alluded back to the Rainbow Creature with the very clever explanation that it, along with all of Batman's 50s adventures to space and battles with aliens, was the result of Bruce Wayne's training...which included building resistance and physical immunity to hallucinogenic drugs such as Scarecrow's Fear Toxin.

 3: The Shark-Repellant Bat Spray (from "Batman: The Movie" (1966))


Even outside of comics, Batman wasn't without his zaniness and the 60s Television Series and Movie was the most prime of examples.

Key among such was the now infamous opening action sequence of the feature film, in which Batman and Robin embark on a daring mission to rescue Commodore Schmidlapp after receiving a tip that the Yacht transporting him and his Big Ben Research Laboratory device to Gotham has been threatened.

Now of course the strangeness of the scene gets going quickly, starting off with the Yacht being nothing more than an elaborate illusion meant to catch Batman in a trap.

But it's the trap itself that throws us a whopper, as Batman is mistakenly lowered into the ocean only to be hoisted back up with his leg clamped in the jaws of a Great White Shark (!!!)

Side note, notice the look on Robin's face when this happens. Dear god, it almost looks like the Boy Wonder was in on it and intentionally lowering his mentor to a watery grave!

After a few attempts to overcome the Shark with stomach punches (really, Batman?), the caped crusader calls on his sidekick to hand him down a can of...yes, you guessed it...Shark Repellant Bat Spray.

And there it is, standing alongside repellant canisters designated for Whales, Manta Rays and Barracudas.

Of course. For all those cases where Batman might find himself in dire need of having to mace sea life.

In the end, the repellant triumphs (right in the eyes, no less. Low blow, Batman!) and the Shark lets go of his prey...only to fall back into the water and explode. What's that spray made out of, napalm?! (NOTE: I know the Shark was rigged to explode by the Penguin but the joke wrote itself).
 2: Bat-Mite (from "Detective Comics" #257)


Oh, Bat-Mite.

No way this list was going to be written without you popping up.

This little Imp, conceived in the same mischevious vein as Superman's resident pest Mr. Mxyzptlyk, is a token from the Batman comics of the 1950s.

Seemingly possessing unfathomable magical power, Bat-Mite is in all actuality the manifestation of advanced technology hailing from the fifth dimension; his is an existance too awesome and highly progessive for our third-dimensional minds to comprehend however, so naturally he's indistinguishable from magic.

Donning a tiny Batsuit in honor of his heroic idol, complete with floppy ears and pixy bat-wings, the little rascal frequently popped in on Batman and Robin, usually bringing trouble along with him just so he could get the chance to watch his hero in action.

Much like the Rainbow Creature, Bat-Mite in post-Crisis continuity has been reduced to little more than a proposed hallucination.

However, Bat Fans around the world still hold the Mite in a special place in their heart.

Now if only the mischief maker would stay there.

 1: The Batusi (from "BATMAN: The Series" (1966))    

I'll admit we've come across a few odd ones already.

But this one is just so bizarre that it goes from absurd to trendy and back again!

Yes, the one and only dance that allows a crime-fighter to shake a mean cape; the Batusi.

Created for the 60s "Batman" television series and frequently performed by star Adam West, most famously in the show's pilot episode, the inventive go-go dance (with a name that lampooned the popular Watusi) soon caught on across America and became a fab phenomeon in its own right.

The dance itself is performed by creating a V-shape with the index and middle fingers on both hands and drawing them across your eyes one at a time with your eyes roughly in between each finger.

For added Bat-flair, take the V-shape fingers and run them up the sides of your head to mirror the ears on the Bat-Cowl.


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