Ask Chris #229: Could Batman Beat A Pro Wrestler In His Element?
Q: Can Batman defeat a pro wrestler in his natural element? --@ykarps
A: At first glance, this seems like one of the easiest questions I've ever tackled in this column. I mean, of course he could, right? He's Batman. While the rest of us were learning algebra in 8th grade, this dude was traveling across the world learning how to be the best possible expert at everything, just in case he needed it for his never-ending war on crime. Surely that would have to include professional wrestling, the King of Sports, if only because there's no other discipline that combines theatricality and combat in the way that would serve him so well back in Gotham City.
And yet, the more I think about it, the more I realize that, as shocking as it might be for me to say this as the World's Foremost Batmanologist... I doubt even Batman could beat a pro wrestler in his natural element.
And believe me, just typing those words makes me feel like that dude on the left.
This isn't just idle conversation, either. Historically speaking, it's been well established over the years that Batman has a pretty hard time dealing with pro wrestlers. Let's look at the facts, shall we?
First up, we have Killer Croc.
Now, despite the fact that he's appeared in plenty of TV shows and video games over the past couple of decades, in the grand pantheon of Batman villains, Croc is what we could charitably refer to as "enhancement talent." He's a big, scary-looking dude who mainly exists so that Batman can look more awesome by beating him up. I mean, I've read a pretty solid percentage of all Batman stories ever published, and I can't think of a time when Croc has even come close to actually accomplishing a criminal scheme. Even Calendar Man got Batman into a deathtrap every now and then.
That said, Croc does the most important thing that a mid-card villain can do: He seems tough enough that you can almost believe that he might win. Sure, he hasn't done it yet, but all he really needs to do is get that Croc Lock on and Batman might just have to tap out.
Incidentally, to the people actually writing Batman comics: You can have "Croc Lock" for free. You're welcome.
The better example is, of course, Bane.
Unlike Croc, Bane is never referred to explicitly as being a wrestler, but let's be real here. There is no way that you can convince me that he's not a wrestler when his defining characteristic is that he's a dude with addiction to super-steroids, and who wore a luchador mask and literally beat Batman with a wrestling move. I mean, Knightfall is basically the Royal Rumble with Batman going in at #1 and Bane slipping in at the end to get the win.
Clearly, Batman ends up beating both of those villains -- and in the long run, he probably took Bane down even more often than Killer Croc -- but they do show that Batman can operate within the rules of pro wrestling, or at least a reasonable superheroic version thereof. The thing is, while these characters are connected to the squared circle, they still exist within Batman's standard element. They're criminals doing crimes in Gotham City, which is a setup that allows for things that you don't normally get in a wrestling match, like closed fists or sharp metal boomerangs, or cars powered by jet engines, which still leaves us with our original question.
Fortunately, there's a story that actually answers that -- two, in fact, although they're kind of the same thing.
The first is John Broome and Carmine Infantino's "Hate of the Hooded Hangman" from 1966's Detective Comics #355, where Batman fights an unstoppable pro wrestler who wants to be the most famous masked man in Gotham City.
To be honest, it's not actually a very good story, mainly because the Hangman and Batman never actually have any reason to fight other than the Hangman just coincidentally being near the scenes of completely unrelated crimes and Batman being a complete dick about the whole thing and immediately trying to punch him into unconsciousness. To make things even worse, it has a goofy ending where it turns out that the Hangman is Telman Davies, introduced halfway through the story as Bruce Wayne's favorite newscaster, who has no real motive for anything that he's doing and ends up being driven out of Gotham City on a boat bound for South America when Batman unmasks him. All in all, it's pretty lousy, even if you assume that he ended up in a prison in Santa Prisca and taught a young convict named Bane the ways of lucha libre.
It does, however, feature the following panel, which is amazing.
Fortunately, this was also one of the stories that Jiro Kuwata ended up adapting for the Batman manga in Shonen King, which was just republished digitally last month as part of DC's Bat-Manga. And it is awesome.
The initial beats of the story are the same -- there's a new undefeated wrestler in town called the Hangman who has leveled a challenge against his opponents to defeat and unmask him -- but everything else is ramped up. There's a second Hangman that gets murdered by the original by being thrown off a building after the imposter robs a jewelry store; a mysterious girl who warns Batman that her brother has become a criminal; and a crowd of wrestling fans eager to see if Batman can get the job done and take down this monster heel.
There's another great aspect of the story, too: As Beth Scorzato pointed out on Twitter when I was posting panels from this story, Kuwata's characters act like "pro wrestler" is less of a job and more of a different species:
Even more importantly, Kuwata wisely ditches Telman Davies and instead gives the Hangman the secret identity of a scarred wrestler named ULTRAGUN who took on a new identity in an attempt to become a hero, but went about it by convincing a fellow wrestler to commit a crime while dressed as the Hangman so that he could throw him off a roof and make his name as a murderous vigilante.
For our purposes, the crucial part of the story is that the climax takes place in a wrestling ring rather than a rooftop, giving us the chance to see whether or not Batman can hold his own in the squared circle. As you might expect, he wins, but it's not by out-wrestling his opponent -- he uses a pair of distractions. First, he uses makeup to look like ULTRAGUN's scarred face under his mask, which freaks out the Hangman after he knocks out Batman with his finishing move, and then calls in Robin, who the Hangman believes he's murdered, as a distraction. It should be noted that there's no pinfall or submission victory, but if you've watched Raw any time in the past two years, you've seen roughly four hundred matches that have that exact ending.
So no, Batman doesn't play fair, but he does score the victory right there in the center of the ring, using tactics that are certainly appropriate for the world of pro wrestling. But then, what did you expect?
I don't know if you've heard, but this whole Batman gimmick is a work, brother.
Ask Chris art by Erica Henderson. If you’ve got a question you’d like to see Chris tackle in a future column, just send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #AskChris.