I recently wrote 4500 words on The Weirdest Batman Comic Book Stories Of All Time for Looper, which might seem like enough to cover the subject pretty exhaustively.
But oh no. There’s so much weirdness in those stories I barely had the space to even scratch the surface, and I probably wrote about twice as much as I published. Well, I believe in “waste not, want not,” so here’s all the best stuff I couldn’t quite cram in.
First, you have the also-rans. The ‘50s and ‘60s were would seem like fertile ground, but most of the stories I looked through exhausted their weirdness quotient on the basic premise (which is only natural, since they were written cover-first). Batman can’t live outside water, so you get ten pages of Batman in a fish tank. Batman turns into a giant, and you get ten pages of Batman as a giant. Batman turns into a giant gorilla, you get ten pages of Batman as a giant gorilla. And so on.
To start with, there’s Bat-Gorilla, a story that does exactly what it says on the tin — gorilla wanders into Batman’s cave, gets Batsuit, solves circus-based crime. There’s not much in “Bat-Baby” you can’t get from the cover, but this scene is unintentionally poignant given how much later writers have focused on Batman’s childhood trauma.
Then there’s Batman Jones, a child named after Batman — not Bruce Wayne, Batman — after the Dark Knight saved his parents from a car wreck. He appoints himself Batman’s new sidekick, and Batman and Robin treat him as an annoying hanger-on even though he passes all their tests and honestly, as Jon Morris pointed out, seems to be better at their jobs than they are.
I normally roll my eyes at everyone complaining about how Batman is Serious Business and this era “ruined” him, but it’s hard not to reach that conclusion with “Fatman,” in which Batman and Robin get their asses saved by a literal clown dressed up like him (aren’t bats and clowns natural enemies?). It’s easy to see how he became such a hit with zingers like this.
“The Rainbow Batman” is such a staple of articles like this that anything I wrote about it would have felt redundant, but I do want to mention the explanation writer Edmond Hamilton gave for all this nonsense: Batman wanted to distract from Robin’s limp arm, because apparently only one boy in Gotham is allowed to have one at any one time and if anyone saw it, it would blow Dick’s identity wide open.
“The Valley of Giant Bees” sadly doesn’t feature this scene from the splash page. But it does feature Batman chasing away the gigantic hive with a giant spider balloon left over from what Jon Morris calls “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of Phobias Celebration.”
I probably could have done this whole article with nothing but Bob Haney’s run on The Brave and the Bold, and I came close. To keep him from taking over entirely, I had to cut “How to Make a Super-Hero!” which starts with Batman stopping a bank robbery by somehow roping in a cop to dress up as an old lady and drop a hand grenade in the deposit box, because you can’t rob a bank when you (and presumably most of the bank) have been blown to shit. Then we learn that this isn’t the real Batman, since Bruce Wayne is out of the country and literally picked his replacement off the street when he finds Plastic Man has turned hobo. Then Plastic Man believes he really is Batman and comes under the thrall of the villainous Ruby Ryder thanks to the power of hypnotic lemonade.
The post-Haney issues of B&B offered some potential material too, like Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, and Jim Aparo’s Only Angels Have Wings, where Batman teams up with the Joker — yes, the Joker — t0 absolve him a crime he didn’t commit, never mind the couple of hundred he actually did commit. Add to that list repeatedly trying to murder Batman throughout the story, which he blames on “force of habit.”
I had to put a cap on how many Superman team-ups I included — this is supposed to the weirdest Batman stories, after all — which meant there was no room for the story of Bruce-El, in which Batman finds baby pictures of himself with Kryptonian powers that turn out to be faked by some weirdo astronomer who adopted the orphaned Bruce for like a week. Or all the times the supposed World’s Finest team turned on each other. These stories all seem to be based on the assumption that this was such a shocking concept that you’d just have to buy the book to see how it happened, somehow missing that it stops being shocking when you do it every other month. This subgenre of Superman/Batman team-ups (team-againsts?) include consecutive issues where they travel back to Puritan time and each try to convince the locals the other one’s a witch.
Or the oddly meta story where they’re forced to fight on another planet by what turn out to be, for all intents and purposes, space nerds arguing over who would win.
Or the “imaginary story” where Batman trusts Lex Luthor of all people when he says Superboy killed his parents and decides to declare war on Superman instead of war on crime.
Not to mention the psychosexual madness of Batman’s stint as Superman’s prison warden, where he seems to enjoy cracking an electric whip on his back a little too much.
I’m glad this project gave me an excuse to dip into Jiro Kuwata’s manga Batman and less glad I wasn’t able to find any way to work it in, even though “that time Batman was almost defeated by the power of bounciness” survived several drafts. Kuwata’s weirdness is more moment to moment than across whole stories. But oh what wonderful weirdness it is. (Remember this was written in Japanese, so it reads right to left. And then ignore that for this scene, which becomes about fifty times funnier if you read it backwards.)
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.