Ask Chris #293: Batman’s Death Race To Oblivion!
Q: How would Batman fare in the world of Wacky Races? -- @sprucetonberry
A: I'm going to go go ahead and guess that this question was inspired by this week's release of DC's new Wacky Raceland comic, in which the classic road race cartoon was reimagined for the grim darkness of a post-apocalyptic future. With that being the case, I have to admit that the comic was a little disappointing for me. As much as I love that premise and the idea of going super over-the-top with it --- and as much as there were scenes in there that captured exactly what I want out of a story like that --- the whole thing left me a little cold.
But like most things in this fallen world of ours, I'm pretty sure it could be improved with the addition of Batman.
The thing is, putting Batman into a racing scenario is such an obvious idea that I'm genuinely shocked that it doesn't happen all the time. Seriously, one of the most enduring pieces of the Batman mythos, one of the most visually striking elements that always gets the spotlight whenever there's a new version that makes its way to film, television, video games, or even just a new direction in the comics, is that he has the best car. Even in the opening to Batman: The Animated Series, which you can look at as a 57-second short film that tells you everything you need to know about the Dark Knight, the very first thing you learn about that dude is that he drives an unstoppable rocket car.
But for a guy who spends countless hours hanging out in his anti-crime basement working on strapping a rocket engine to an automobile, Batman's use of his car is almost always purely functional. 99% of the time, this ridiculous, awesome, completely impractical vehicle is just there to get him from one place to another, a nice little visual signifier of the fact that he doesn't have super-powers. That's the entire reason it's there, to remind the readers that he can't just fly to the scene of a crime under his own power.
I mean, honestly, you'd think that in stories that have essentially defined themselves by having their villains function as reflections and counterpoints to virtually every other aspect of Batman, from his dual identity to his use of fear as a weapon, there would've been at least two or three maniacal hot-rodders wandering around Arkham Asylum swearing vengeance, right? And yet, the comics have never quite gotten around to doing that kind of story on the grand scale that it truly deserves.
But just because it hasn't happened in comics doesn't mean it hasn't happened at all.
It's actually the premise of the first episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold's second season: "Death Race To Oblivion!," and as much as I wish it was something that had happened as awesome as, say, Hush showing up, I honestly can't imagine it ever being done better than it is here.
As the title implies, it's not quite a direct riff on Wacky Races, but given that it's got the Joker doing running commentary from inside his Jokermobile and Plastic Man and Woozy Winks joining in when Plas turns into a sporty (and stretchy) coupe, it's not quite Death Race 2000, either. And, since it takes place out in a barren desert landscape that's been carved up into a hundred-mile Hot Wheels track, it's got a little bit of that Mad Max aesthetic going for it, too.
Heck, the car that Guy Gardner makes for himself is basically just one skull away from fitting right in driving next to Immortan Joe's War Rig:
The basic idea of the episode is that, with Warmoon hovering above, threatening to destroy their home cities if they don't participate, Mongul challenges the heroes and villains of Earth to a road race against his champion, Steppenwolf, one of the lesser (but more interestingly hatted) gods of Apokolips. If Steppenwolf wins, then the Earth will be destroyed, but if any of the champions of Earth manage to cross the finish line first, then Mongul will use the power of Warmoon to make them absolute ruler of the planet, to do with Earth as they please.
And considering that he recruited the Joker for this little competition, that's a pretty serious threat.
Obviously, Batman ends up winning, mainly because BATB's Batmobile is a car that is also an airplane that is also a boat that is also a Batman-shaped suit of robot armor that he can use to punch bad guys...
... but also because he's simultaneously racing while running a con on Mongul. In the name of protecting Gotham City --- and the world --- Batman becomes brutal and seemingly uncaring about his fellow racers, but is in reality positioning them to bring down Warmoon from within.
It's a great episode, but just because it's about as awesome as it can be, doesn't mean that dropping Batman into a Wacky Races scenario is something that should never be done again, possibly on a yearly basis in a special that comes out every Thanksgiving. The only problem is that in the DC universe as it currently exists, there aren't a lot of people to for him to race against.
It's one of the things that allows the BATB version to benefit from the fact that it draws on a lot of Golden and Silver-Age imagery. If you're doing that, you can pull in the Arrowcar, a holdover from that era where Green Arrow was just pretty much just a low-rent Batman with his own versions of all of Batman's stuff palette-swapped to green. If we're honest with each other, that era extends from 1941 to the foreseeable future, but as you might've noticed, they at least got rid of the car.
So if you're going to do it, I'd say you have to draw on the past to help bring everyone up to Batman's admittedly ridiculous levels of car ownership. I mean, something like the Jokermobile is going to be a given...
...but if you really want to have the kind of cast this premise demands, you need to go for the big guns, and finally revive the single greatest combat vehicle ever designed for comic books.
You need the Supermobile.
Listen: Putting Batman into a Death Race/Wacky Races/Fury Road scenario starts you off with what's already a pretty great premise, but if you follow that up by throwing in Superman flying around in a rocket ship with the power to punch you in the face, you can pretty much just do whatever the hell else you want and still walk away with what will probably be the single greatest comic book ever published.
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.