Bizarro Back Issues: The Hundred-Year-Old Robot That Stole Batman’s Girlfriend in 1977
Batman is not exactly what you'd call a normal man. In pretty much every respect, he's at least steps beyond the average guy, and when he has problems, they go beyond the average too. For example, a normal people develop a crush on someone and not be sure how to express their feelings, or have the object of their affection spurn their advances, but that's generally where the problem stops.
For Batman, developing a crush on someone and being unable to express his feelings is just the prelude to that person being kidnapped by a hundred year-old robot who then goes on a rampage of robo-murder across Gotham City.The man has problems, and that one in particular was the subject of a titanic two-parter that ran in The Brave and the Bold #135 and 136. It's all brought to you by the team supreme of Bob Haney and Jim Aparo, the creative team most closely identified with Batman's Brave and the Bold adventures.
And for good reason: Aparo's art had a fluid kineticism that brought his version of the Dark Knight to life in as an intimidating, towering athlete. It's no stretch to say that he's my favorite Batman artist of all time -- he did, after all, introduce the world to the KGBeast -- and his work on BATB led directly to him becoming one of the most definitive Batman artists of all time. And Haney wrote stories that were completely insane.
Just to give you an idea of how insane, consider that the story we're covering today was published only three issues before the last time we checked in with Haney and Aparo, back when they were telling the story of that one time that Commissioner Gordon was being hunted down by an intergalactic bounty hunter because of that time he murdered an alien and covered it up. That's pretty much our baseline here.
In other words, in a Haney/Aparo story, you never really knew what to expect, especially since this was the title that saw Batman teaming up with guest stars from all across the DC Universe. There was a question at the heart of each story, and in this case, we start off by asking just what sort of menace, what improbable threat could possibly bring Batman, Green Arrow, and the team of elemental robots known as the Metal Men together.
The answer? A time capsule!
Yes, it seems that there's a time capsule buried in Gotham City in dire need of digging up. Specifically, it's buried at the halfway point between the buildings owned by Bruce Wayne -- who, for those of you arriving late, is secretly Batman -- and a young lady named Ruby Ryder. Why exactly this time capsule needed to be dug up immediately in the middle of the night is never really addressed, because reasons are boring. All you really need to know is that it's apparently important enough that, rather than hire a construction crew to do the digging, Bruce has contacted the super-heroic Metal Men, presumably because back in 1977, he just could not give a stone damn about distancing himself from his secret identity.
Personally, I think he might've just done it to impress Ruby Ryder, because as we soon learn, Bruce is nurturing a bit of a crush:
This is another thing we never really get a reason for, but I guess we can just assume that B. Dubs has a thing for angry women with cigarette holders and capes. You and me both, buddy. You and me both.
I also like that his romantic strategy seems to revolve entirely around telling her what a jerk she is (which I believe is called "The Mystery Method") and then silently pining about how much he likes her. Even the fact that he goes with a dramatic pause and then an admission of "liking" just reinforces the idea that Haney's Batman is totally a six-year-old's idea of a grown-up. I just wish he'd taken it a step further and shown us a scene in the Batcave where Alfred rolled his eyes and asked "well do you like her or do you like-like her, Master Bruce?"
Sadly, before he can further explore the funny feelings that Ruby's He-Man-esque coif inspire in his heart, things start to get crazy with the arrival of a humanoid!
I guess that in the end, "humanoid" is the proper term for the man-shaped, amazingly lifelike robot that wrenches itself out of the time capsule, but Haney ends up using that word with such alarming regularity that I actually had to double check and make sure that this thing wasn't actually written by Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.
Either way, as though that wasn't enough -- a phrase that pops up a lot when you try to describe Bob Haney comics -- the first humanoid is then joined by a second! This one climbs out of the time capsule too, and commences to going sickhouse on the first one while shouting about how it's the true heir of Thaddeus Morgan, the scientist who buried the capsule a hundred years ago. Confronted with this sudden turn of events, Bruce Wayne pulls a little move we scholars like to refer to as "The Peter Parker."
Unfortunately for Ruby, Bruce's confidence in the Metal Men is a little misplaced. While he's gone changing into his costume, the Humanoid beats them with the time capsule itself, and then kidnaps Ruby. He even manages to get away from Batman after slugging him with a pile of bricks, leaving Batman with only one clue: The first Humanoid.
Fortunately, the Metal Men come complete with their own robotics expert: The man who created them, Dr. Will Magnus, who I think went into robotics because it's the only field where you can operate on someone without extinguishing your pipe. After a hazy examination, he tells Batman that, despite emerging from a time capsule buried a full century ago, the humanoid that lost the fight in the alley was created only a month ago.
He also gives us the lowdown on Thaddeus Morgan himself, your standard issue Civil War-era roboticist:
With that, the pieces start to fall into place, but far more important to Batman is the fate of Ruby Ryder. He searches for her tirelessly, but it's only once he notices that her penthouse light is on that he finds her -- safe and sound at home in the arms of the Humanoid.
By spying on them through the skylight, Batman learns that it was Ruby who created the more recent humanoid, and that she's done it all in an attempt to destroy Bruce Wayne. He... does not take the news well.
Now, this is where things start to get weird.
The Humanoid ends up destroying Tin, which wouldn't be that big of a deal -- what with the fact that the Metal Men were destroyed in every issue of their original series -- except that he destroys him so thoroughly that even Doc Magnus can't rebuild him. And why? So that he and Ruby can get to the courthouse unimpeded and prove that the Humanoid is really Jason Morgan, the sole legal heir to Thaddeus Morgan's fortune and holdings. Which, being the jerk she is, Ruby orchestrates by slapping the bejeezus out of the Humanoid and then commanding it to make fun of Batman and Commisisoner Gordon:
At this point, even Batman starts talking about how crazy this story has gotten, but it's not over yet: The Judge awards Jason Morgan his legal status as a human being, and with it, the legal ownership of everything that belonged to his "father" -- including the Wayne Building.
Little-known fact about the Gotham City legal system: 100 years of real estate transactions are rendered completely null and void immediately if the original heir has been hiding in a time capsule for the past century. And since Haney's version of Batman is one who operates (mostly) inside the law, he has to abide by the decision until he can figure out some way to reverse it.
What's really remarkable here is that within one day, Ruby and Morgan have outfitted the former Wayne building with an entirely new security system. And by that, I of course mean snakes.
This leads to one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in a lifetime of reading comics, when Jason picks up Batman wrapped in a python, then cracks the snake like a whip to send Batman out of a window. I'm not even joking about this one: That's amazing. That's three deathtraps happening at once, and it is beautiful.
But, as is often the case with deathtraps targeting Batman, it doesn't quite work. This time, it's because Batman is saved by yet another player in our sordid tale, Green Arrow:
You know, one assumes that when Batman refers to you as a "Joker," he is not really complimenting your sense of humor. He is probably saying that he has an all-consuming desire to punch you. Just a thought.
But instead of punching Green Arrow, Batman puts him to work in his plan to smoke out Ruby's plan. And Green Arrow's method of accomplishing this? He dresses up in a suit and pretends to be a millionaire with a strange beard, which is notable because he isn't pretending to be Oliver Queen, the millionaire with a strange beard that he actually is. Instead, he goes by the uncrackable codename of "Mr. Archer" and tells Ruby that he has it on good authority that there are even more of the original Morgan's treasures to be found at the site of the time capsule, buried even deeper.
The thing is, he turns out to be right.
As it turns out, Thaddeus Morgan wasn't just a brilliant roboticist, he was also a Confederate sympathizer during the Civil War, and invented a gigantic missile-launching super-tank that he hid in Gotham City so that he could bust it out and turn the tide of the war. And when Ruby starts showing some affection to the dapper Mr. Archer after he leads her to the find of the century, Jason, the Humanoid, activates it.
Fortunately for Gotham, Batman and the Metal Men are on hand to deal with the tank, but when Green Arrow uses an explosive to shatter its arm, it ends up bringing down Ruby's entire building, crushing Jason underneath a giant letter R from her logo and killing him.
FOR SOME REASON that I still do not understand, THIS SOLVES EVERYTHING. Seriously, it's like everybody just kind of looks around and then makes a silent pact to just pretend like the events of the past week never happened. Tin even gets repaired good as new thanks to some of Thaddeus's notes.
The only difference?
Ruby herself is locked up for her crimes, even though I can't really think of any actual crime she committed over the course of the two issues. But, you know, whatever. What really matters is that in the end, Ruby learned not to take her love to town, and Bob Haney and Jim Aparo proved that there was no song by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition that wouldn't make a monumentally crazy Batman story.