Bizarro Back Issues: Batman Gets A New Apartment (And Also Ends The Silver Age)
Last weekend I moved to a new apartment, and since I am in fact the World’s Foremost Batmanologist, there was a moment where I genuinely considered buying myself a giant penny and putting it in my new office to mark the occasion. I didn’t end up doing it, largely because giant pennies cost an awful lot of money even before you factor in what you’d need to spend to get a robot Tyrannosaurus, a giant Joker card and a glass case with a friend’s clothes hanging in it, but what really sealed it was going back and looking at the time that Batman himself moved and noticing that even he didn’t bother to bring his giant penny.
Heck, he didn’t even bother to bring the last three letters of Alfred’s name. And if the Caped Crusader himself is going to pack light for a move to a new place, who am I to say I know better?
I’m referring, of course, to the events of 1969′s Batman #217, by Frank Robbins, Irv Novick and Dick Giordano, where Batman relocated his operation from his ancestral home on the outskirts of Gotham City to a new penthouse right in the heart of downtown. It’s actually a really fascinating issue, because you can see the creators behind it consciously trying to move out of the Silver Age and into the modern era of Batman that would be ushered in once the ’70s rolled around, giving us this weird look back at a comic that’s trying to bridge two different eras.
I always mark the end of DC’s Silver Age with the arrival of Jack Kirby on Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, but this story, “One Bullet Too Many,” is a pretty strong contender itself, just by virtue of intent. Looking back, it’s obvious what the motivation was here — Batman ’66 had finished up on TV only the year before and despite the massive pop cultural success of the show, it’s clear that DC already wanted to distance itself from the campy silliness that formed the show’s trademark. But, at the same time, this was only a couple of months after they published a story called “Batman’s Marriage Trap,” which features a cover where a bunch of women are marching around Batman in a circle holding protest signs about how unfair it is that he won’t just settle down and marry them.
And that’s about as Silver Age as you can possibly get.
But this one is trying its best to move forward, and ends up doing so in the weirdest way possible. It all starts with Bruce Wayne moping sadly around Dick Grayson’s bedroom, as Dick is gearing up to leave for Hudson University and a new series of solo stories over in the pages of Batman Family. And he’s taking it pretty hard.
Which is weird. I mean who would’ve thought that the guy who became a costumed detective ninja when his parents died would have issues with being left by his loved ones? But the Batman is not the kind of person who’s going to sit around and dwell on his sadness — he is, in fact, exactly the kind of person who takes that sadness and uses it to fuel massive changes in his life that are usually accompanied by perpetrating acts of violence on various lawbreakers. This, I assure you, is no exception.
For starters, it’s time to modernize for the grim and gritty world of 1969:
I love it when this happens in old comics. There’s this constant desire in the world of superheroes to frame the past as something silly that needs to be moved past, and it starts way earlier than most people think. There’s a Blackhawk story from 1966 where Bob Haney has the Justice League straight up call the Blackhawks into an office to tell them that the hokey techniques they used to fight in World War II just don’t cut it in today’s fast-paced modern world. 1966!
Here, Batman goes through the same thing, in the form of a longwinded speech about how it’s time to fight the real criminals: Corporate fat-cats who hide behind a facade of legitimacy and require multiple sets of quotation marks to deal with properly!
Well, them and murder clowns. You kinda have to deal with them if you’re going to be a Gotham City crimefighter.
To that end, they relocate to the heart of Gotham City so that Batman can be closer to the crooks that need punching, and Batman even decides that it’s time to help people in ways that do not involve punching bank robbers in the face. Well, not directly. See, some rabble-rousing journalist has been writing up stories profiling the victims of violent crime to shine a spotlight on the true cost of Gotham City’s many, many murders, and Batman — as though he is realizing this for the first time — tells Alfred that he was once the innocent victim of a crime, and has a great deal of sympathy for them!
Also, he calls him “Alf.” Like, a lot. This was one of those techniques for modernizing Batman that didn’t really stick around.
To help out the victims of criminals, Batman decides to form what is quite possibly the most poorly named charitable foundation since all the ones that opened up when the Make-a-Wish foundation officially decided to not grant wishes that involved shooting things with guns: Victims, Inc.
Well. “Charitable foundation” might be overselling things just a bit. It’s mostly just Bruce Wayne rocking a completely baller turtleneck and wandering around telling people whose loved ones got shot that they’re not going to get anything done by sitting around pitying themselves, with pretty predictable results.
What’s amazing about this is that Batman doesn’t actually suggest that they spend the next 20 years traveling around the world and developing ninja criminology skills in order to ceaselessly make war on all criminals. I mean, I get that he doesn’t really want any more competition than what he already has from his passel of sidekicks, junior partners, manservants and assorted hangers-on, but it’s really the only therapy that he knows for a fact works, and works pretty well.
Instead, he just basically tells people like Dr. Susan Fielding — the woman up there with the left hand so strong that she can slap a man hard enough to move his head in the opposite direction of the slap — that he’s going to get his “friend,” the Batman, to look into their cases, and then leaving and returning five seconds later in full costume to continue the conversation.
The World’s Greatest Detective, everyone.
In Fielding’s case, the mystery being solved is actually a pretty clever one — a murder that just doesn’t add up, with Fielding as the eyewitness whose story doesn’t quite match the facts. Truly, it’s a conundrum of the highest order, which is why it requires the intervention of Batman’s giant spectral floating head to really sort things out.
In the end, it turns out that there was actually a third man who killed the victim and the presumed killer, and then dumped the latter into the river in a pair of cement shoes. The thing is, Batman solves the case, but he doesn’t actually take anything to its logical conclusion. He just figures it out and then tells the police who they should go arrest.
No crashing through windows, no punching faces, no nothin’. And really, if that’s what these modern comics are going to be about, then take me back to Batman’s marriage trap.