Ask Chris #76: Batman’s Halloween Costume
Normally, ComicsAlliance Senior Writer Chris Sims answers comics and comics culture questions from our readers every week, but as Halloween approaches, things are about to get terrifying! This month, Chris answers your spoooooooky questions… from beyond the grave!
Q: In the spirit of Halloween, what are the best instances of a hero/villain dressing up as another hero/villain? — @sequentialmatt
A: As you might expect from a genre so steeped in costumes, masks and secret identities, the ol’ costume switch has cropped up in quite a few comics. Superman and Batman have switched costumes to fool their enemies, Iron Fist once dressed up as Daredevil to help him with a trial, the Super Skrull once dressed up a Iron Fist in order to fight Namor for reasons that I never quite understood. It’s a time-honored tradition.
But with all those to choose from, it probably won’t surprise anyone to learn that my all-time favorite comes from Batman, who not only dressed up as a super-hero who didn’t exist, but did it for the particularly Halloweenish reason that he was absolutely terrified of himself.It all went down in the classic lead story of 1957’s Detective Comics #247, “The Man Who Ended Batman’s Career,” by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff. And folks, this one starts being awesome before you even get past the cover:
Seriously: Not only does Batman have a fireplace in the Batcave that he has carved out of solid stone, presumably to add a little romantic comfort to those long winter nights spent solving riddles and figuring out how to avoid being shot by an umbrella, he’s gone so far as to have tiny little bats added to the end of the metal brackets. That dude was all about branding.
And the story itself only gets better from there. Along with “Robin Dies At Dawn,” the story that gave us the unnamed scientist who would become Dr. Hurt under Grant Morrison and the fantastic, haunting line “I must put away my Batman costume and retire from crimefighting,” it’s one of the best examples of the infamously strange ’50s mindf**k stories where Batman is pushed by his enemies into a temporary bout of insanity.
In this case, Batman’s brain problems manifest themselves right on page one:
As a quick aside, I love that three armed gangsters (in snappy suits and fedoras, no less) are freaking out about Robin. They are so terrified of a 12 year-old that the grown-ass man dropping out of an actual flying saucer is a complete afterthought.
Anyway, this is Starman, not to be confused with the Golden Age Starman that anyone reading comics a decade earlier might’ve been familiar with from his time in the Justice Society, but more on that later. This Starman is, well… he’s basically Batman decked out in Hulkamania colors, right down to having a Star-Signal and a belt pouch full of metal throwing stars:
Given the similarities (and the fact that this column is all about someone wearing another super-hero’s costume) it should come as no surprise that Starman is actually Bruce Wayne, who has switched to a new identity:
You might assume that the sudden change was based on a head injury that left him bleeding like Ultimate Warrior after he was cursed by Papa Shango (shout out to 1992), but I think that’s just a little off-register coloring on my copy. The real reason that he’s changed his identity — and that he can never wear the Batman costume again — is actually even weirder.
And it all has to do with this man:
This is Professor Milo, and , his introduction here is fantastic. Not only does he have henchmen that are rock-stupid even by the abysmally low standards of Gotham City hoodlums (“Duh, what’s a phobia, boss?”), he also drops the extremely interesting piece of trivia that Napoleon was afraid of cats. Frankly, I’m shocked that I had to learn this from Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff and not Kate Beaton.
Anyway, he has a plan to give Batman some phobias, and since Professor Jonathan Crane is too busy trying to break out of Arkham Asylum to file a copyright lawsuit, he’s able to go ahead with it. It’s a weird plan, too, if only because the capsule he’s so proud of up there becomes three different things in the span of two pages. First, it’s the pill, then the pill is broken open so that “Phobia Liquid” can be poured onto a spotlight, at which time it suddenly becomes a ray that goes directly to Batman’s brain.
Thus, Batman somehow gets dosed by a bat-signal spotlight, giving him a crippling fear… of bats.
This plan is genius.
It’s the perfect inversion of what Batman does to criminals. His entire existence is based on the fact that — as Finger himself legendarily wrote way back in 1939 — criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, so he became something they were afraid of. Flipping it around to make Batman terrified of himself is a beautiful piece of revenge on Milo’s part. Plus, it takes complete advantage of the fact that Bruce Wayne is straight up All Bat Everything. Make him too afraid to be around bats, and you’ve taken away his car, his plane, his anti-crime basement, everything.
Of course, it’s also a great device because of what it shows us about Batman’s determination. Even if he can’t be Batman, he’s still going to spend his time beating the living crap out of Crime, he just needs to find a different way to do it. So after accidentlaly being a complete dick to a kid while he’s apparently out buying fresh produce in full costume…
…Batman decides that it’s time for a change.
Thus, he tells Commissioner Gordon that he’s retiring and becomes Starman, which is pretty amazing when you consider that he’s able to get a new costume and equipment that includes an actual damn flying saucer overnight. But this is, of course, a temporary solution. As soon as the criminals realize that this new guy who looks and acts just like Batman and hangs out with Robin is actually Batman (and the fact that they don’t do so immediately is another testament to how dumb those goons are), they’ll be able to paralyze him with fear by waving vaguely bat-shaped objects at him.
And that’s why Robin decides that the best course of action is to strap Batman to a chair against his will and terrify him until he gets over it:
Robin don’t shiv, y’all.
He ends up showing him all the times that his various bat-shaped objects have helped him out with a slide show involving Batman throwing things at cavemen. And amazingly, despite the fact that he has to endure hours upon hours of sheer terror, Batman eventually gets over his fear and goes back to dishing out broken jaws to the criminal underworld:
Batman: Totally a dude who will wear a costume on top of a costume just so he can freak you out after punching you in the face.
Even aside from the shot of Batman punching a dude through his own logo, “The Man Who Ended Batman’s Career” ended up being a pretty influential story. Despite being a pretty obscure villain, Professor Milo managed to make a return in the ’90s by showing up in Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum, and Morrison’s run on the Batman titles would reference this story and others pretty heavily. Plus, Milo managed to show up as a villain on Batman: The Animated Series with his truly ridiculous haircut intact.
There’s also a strong influence on a a story by Ty Templeton and Rick Burchett that ran in 1998’s Batman: Gotham Adventures #3, in which the Scarecrow robs a bank and doses everyone present — including Batman himself — with a specialized fear toxin that makes them afraid of Batman. Batman’s paralyzed with fear of himself, and is only able to stop the scarecrow when a young fan gives him a costume that allows him to dress up as his own childhood hero, the Gray Ghost:
The most prominent influence, however, came in the pages of James Robinson’s run on Starman, a book that was largely devoted to exploring and unifying the characters who bore that name, starting with Ted Knight, the Golden Age Starman and going all the way to the 31st Century for Star Boy from the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Despite the fact that Batman’s twelve-page tenure as Starman had absolutely nothing to do with the Knight Family’s legacy, Robinson incorporated it into his run, reviving the look and gadgets and setting them six years earlier as the mysterious Starman of 1951:
And just to keep it in the theme of super-heroes dressing in other heroes’ costumes, the Starman of 1951 turned out to be — Spoiler Warning for a series that ended 11 years ago — two different heroes masquerading as the same guy: David Knight, drawn out of his own time and given another shot at defending Opal City, and Charles McNider, better known as the Golden Age Dr. Mid-Nite.
So in this season of scares, keep in mind the lessons that you can learn from Batman: If something frightens you, change your name and pretend to be someone else for a little while, then have a friend make you look at it until it no longer distracts you from punching things. If it worked for him, it’ll work for you too.
Q: How adorable is a scared Ben Grimm? — @talestoenrage
That’s all we have for this week, but if you’ve got a spoooooooky question you’d like to see Chris tackle in a future column, just put it on Twitter with the hashtag #AskChris, or send an email to email@example.com with [Ask Chris] in the subject line!