The time is once again here for Thanksgiving in America, and while most of us just use the holiday as an excuse to binge on turkey, there is a deeper meaning behind it. It's the day that we set aside to honor the time that the Native Americans helped out the Pilgrims, who would not have otherwise survived the harsh winter in their new home. Things eventually turned pretty sour between the two groups, but that first Thanksgiving stands as a testament to the power of people helping each other through the rough times.
However, Batman apparently never got the memo about brotherhood and equality, which is why a 1954 story in Detective Comics #205 found the Dark Knight traveling back in time to drop the hammer on Gotham City's indigenous population in the name of Bat-Imperialism and discovering "The Origin of the Bat-Cave!" It's one of our favorite crazy stories, and we're rerunning this classic Bizarro Back Issues feature this week in honor of the occasion.
Batman is no stranger to the supernatural. I mean, he's been fighting vampires since 1939, and there was an animated series only a few years ago that prominently featured the idea that he has special Batarangs made of space metal specifically for the purposes of beating up ghosts. It's a thing that he does, and unsurprisingly, he does it well. Except, of course, for that stretch where the Comics Code wanted to assure people that while benevolent alien newspapermen and bachelors in Dracula suits with teen sidekicks were a-okay, witchcraft was something that definitely, definitely did not exist.
Which, of course, did nothing to stop it from being the source of Gotham City's latest crime wave.
First things first: Bizarro is terrifying. Yes, with the exception of maybe two stories, he's been played for laughs for around 57 years, but if you stop to think about it for a minute, the very idea is one of the most sinister things superhero comics have ever come up with; someone who has all of Superman's powers, all of his unstoppable indestructibility, but a concept of morality that exists in complete opposition to Superman's, and that will not, that can not ever change? It's harrowing.
But as scary as he might be, I don't really consider Bizarro to be a Halloween monster. "Supervillain" isn't quite right either, but there's nothing about Bizarro that I'd think would put him in competition with, say, Dracula or the Wolfman. But then again, I'm not Otto Binder, who apparently thought that Superman's imperfect duplicate battling it out with Frankenstein for the title of the greatest of all monsters was something that should definitely happen. You know, except for the part where it's not actually Frankenstein.
I'm always on the lookout for spooky comics to write about whenever the weather starts to get cold and the scent of pumpkin spice is carried aloft by a chill wind, but after years and years of doing this, I sometimes worry that I'll run out. I mean, there is a theoretically finite amount of weird old comics floating around out there, and once you've already talked about that issue of Star Trek where they find a haunted house in space and fight Dracula, it's easy to think that here might not be a whole lot left to talk about.
That's why I was so glad when reader Ian McDougall recommended that I dive into the back issue bins and find a copy of 1975's Beowulf #6, which he describes as a comic where "Grendel vies with Dracula for Satan's throne, Beowulf solves a maze by punching it." And folks, if there is a sentence that will make me read a comic faster than that, I have not found it.
The thing about Dick Briefer's Golden Age Frankenstein comics is that if you start reading them from the beginning, there's just enough in there from the novel to make you think that he's doing a straight up adaptation of Mary Shelley. There's familiar stuff about Victor deciding to conquer death and stitching up a bunch of corpses, charging them up with lightning, and then the Monster's escape out in to a world that will never understand it, right down to the villagers with the pitchforks. It's three pages that make you think you know exactly what's going on.
And then, on page four, the Monster breaks into a zoo, punches out a lion, and rides off on an elephant, and that's when you realize that Frankenstein is on a whole other level of being completely bonkers.
Last weekend marked the official Batman Day, and while I hope I've made it clear over my years of writing about comics that I strive to keep Batman in my heart the whole year 'round, I think we can all agree that it's nice to take some time and talk about the many wonderful things that he's done in his 76 years of crime-fighting. The thing is, you always hear about the same stuff. It's always "Dark Knight" this, and "Year One" that, and "that time he fought Bane and got knocked out of comics for like two years because of an actual professional wrestling move."
Don't get me wrong, those are important events, sure, but they're a tiny, tiny fraction of what Batman has done, and I think it's time that we honor some of the more unloved --- but just as deserving --- examples of heroism from his considerable career. Like, say, that time that he saved Gotham City from having all of its metal stolen by a giant green hand from another dimension by proving that aliens should be able to speak foreign languages.
Like pretty much everyone else who owns a Wii U and a pretty healthy amount of nostalgia, I've been devoting a whole lot of time to Super Mario Maker lately. It's great, but while it does a fantastic job of making the actual process of building the levels really fun and intuitive, seeing all the stuff that everyone else is coming up with really makes you want to step up your game and do something that goes above and beyond just getting Mario to the goal.
As a result, I've been looking around for inspiration in some of the... less beloved corners of Mario's history, something that led me to the Nintendo Comics System and the Super Mario Bros. comics that Valiant published way back in 1990. And folks, those things raise a whole lot more questions than they answer.
For a character who's so definitively aspirational, Superman sure has given us a whole lot of dubious messages over the years. I mean, yes, he represents the best that we can be and reminds us that if we do good to each other, every man can be a Superman, but there's also stuff like the regrettable wartime propaganda. And, y'know, that time in the early '80s where there was a story that was all about how cigars can give you super-powers.
Okay, okay, not you. The person who actually gets the super-powers is Perry White, because it turns out that the best thing for you when you're in the hospital is to light up a cigar --- but only if Superman gives it to you.
Like a lot of people who started reading comics at an early age, I learned a lot of things from superheroes. Most of it was trivia, like all the Army slang that you can pick up from back issues of GI Joe --- and a lot of it was completely wrong, like that thing about only using 10% of your brain --- but comic books have always been full of weird little facts that creators decided to build entire stories around. Like, say, the time that Batman devoted his considerable resources to finally battling the most pressing scourge of 1964: Elephant Crime.
No, not crime involving elephants, like, poaching or illegal ivory smuggling. This is crime committed by elephants. And that's not the weirdest thing about this story.
Last week, when DC launched a big sale on Batman Adventures, I did what I always do in that situation and told everyone to buy and read all of them immediately, because they are the best Batman comics of the '90s. But as good as they might be, there's one issue that stands out, one that rarely gets mentioned despite feeling like it ought to be a pretty big deal: Batman Adventures #25, which features the first meeting of the Animated Series Batman and Superman.
And it's also, as reader Geoff DeSouza put it when he asked me about it, "one of the best weird comics ever."
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