Bizarro Back Issues: Colonel Blimp’s Extremely Improbable Reign Of Terror (1982)
I think we can all agree that the single biggest piece of news in comics right now is the shocking return of Colonel Blimp in the pages of Tom King and Ivan Reis's Batman #6, in stores now.
A dramatic comeback for a supervillain in a purple military uniform who steals boats with the help of a fully crewed zeppelin is the last thing on the list of what I would've expected in a 2016 Batman comic, coming in just under Kite-Man and Captain Stingaree. And the best thing about it is that he wasn't changed at all from his first appearance. It's not a gritty new take, it's not a darker incarnation; it's just straight up Colonel Blimp, back from limbo and ready to take his place among Batman's greatest foes.
But that raises the question: Just who is Colonel Blimp? Well, if you read that issue, you already know that he's got a blimp and steals submarines, and really, that's kind of all there is to it.
But just for the sake of thoroughness, let's go back to 1982's Batman #352 and Detective Comics #519, from Gerry Conway, Paul Kupperberg, and Don Newton, to see how all of this got started. And make no mistake: Despite the apparent silliness of the story's arch-criminal, they're dealing with some very serious stuff.
See, at the time of this story, Jim Gordon had been ousted from his role as Gotham City's Police Commissioner, and was working as a private investigator to bring down the new guy, Peter Pauling, for corruption and ties to organized crime. Unfortunately, the investigation led Gordon to run afoul of one of the dirty cops in Pauling's pocket, and he was beaten so badly that he ended up in the hospital:
The reason for all this? Rupert Thorne is back in town, and he's making a play to get back into power as Gotham's top crime boss. He's not just responsible for Gordon's beating, either --- when Vicki Vale heads to her job at Picture News, she discovers Thorne strong-arming her editor, which gets so bad that the editor commits suicide as soon as she leaves.
So here's the thing: In the actual comic, these two scenes, which I think we can agree are pretty dark, are not right next to each other. Instead, they're separated by the arrival of a giant orange dirigible that immediately steals an entire submarine from the ocean:
This is, of course, the work of Colonel Blimp, and look. I am, as you are probably aware, not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination, but this is definitely some pretty dubious action. According to the text, this is all done with magnets, but --- and this is genuinely me asking a question --- is there any way that a lighter than air zeppelin magnetizes a ten ton submarine and doesn't just pull itself underwater instead of the reverse? Is there any possible way that could happen?
Regardless of the somewhat dodgy science (which, really, is the superhero genre's entire stock in trade), Colonel Blimp makes off with the sub, and perhaps it's even more unbelievable that this does not immediately trigger World War III. He's not done yet, though. Later, during Bruce Wayne's date with Vicki, he shows up and steals another vessel. And this time, it's a battleship.
Clearly, this is the sort of thing that needs some intervention from Batman, but when he leaps into action, he finds that climbing around on the outside of a giant blimp that's also carrying a heavily armed battleship is a little more difficult than it looks --- especially since Colonel Blimp's men are trying to kill him the entire time.
The Batman, however, has some pretty nifty tricks up his sleeve, though. With a laser torch pulled out of his utility belt, he causes a small explosion just as one of Blimp's men is moving in for the kill, apparently falling off of the blimp from the resulting movement.
I say "apparently" because at this point, I was 100% convinced that since all we saw was the cloud of smoke from the explosion, Batman had clearly just used the explosion as a distraction to knock out the Blimpsman and then switch costumes. But that's actually not what happens. Batman, the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight, just straight falls off the blimp and then limps home with his costume all hecked up.
He does, however, at least manage to put a tracking device onto Colonel Blimp's blimp, and while that's certainly a pretty smart move, it's also the kind of thing that raises the question of why Batman needs a tracking device to find a literal, actual blimp. If I'm the World's Greatest Detective, and I'm trying to find a building big enough to house a blimp that is itself big enough to lift up a battleship with a magnet, I'm going to start by just, you know, looking around.
Instead, Batman and Robin try to find the tracking device and just end up driving over a landmine.
Eventually, after a trip to Washington DC --- during which Colonel Blimp sends an unmanned dirigible to go full-on Hindenburg with a threat to the government --- Batman finally discovers what it is that the Colonel wants: Ten million dollars!
Yeah. That's it.
Okay, admittedly, that's about $24.9 million in today's money, but if you're going to steal entire submarines and their crews, one would think you would aim a little higher.
Speaking of the submarine, Batman eventually decides on a hunch that Colonel Blimp probably dropped it, and the battleship, into the Arctic Ocean so that they'd be trapped by the ice, and sends Robin up to investigate and hatch a cunning plan. The cunning plan, incidentally, is that when Colonel Blimp comes back, these trained soldiers on a pair of fully armed military vessels are just going to use all of their guns.
It is, to say the least, a pretty effective plan, but it's pretty weird that it took a teenager from the circus to tell them they should probably just, you know, do soldier stuff at the bad guys.
As for Batman, he finally decides that he should maybe look around for a building so big that it has its own indoor weather patterns --- this is actually a plot point --- and eventually finds the one remote hangar big enough to house Colonel Blimp's blimp. And once he's there, he finally confronts Colonel Blimp face to face.
So if you needed another reason not to smoke, there it is.
One swift uppercut later, Colonel Blimp is out of business for the next 34 years, and really, that's a shame. Sure, he wasn't quite as ambitious as a few other villains, and maybe magnetic blimp heists are a little complicated, but you can't say that dude didn't know how to design his henchmen's sweatshirts.