Bizarro Back Issues: Meet Vanderveer Wayne, Batman’s ‘Powerless’ Cousin (1962)
I'm a sucker for stories that explore what life in a superhero universe is like for the regular people who live there, so I've been pretty interested in the DC superhero sitcom Powerless, debuting February 2 on NBC, ever since it was announced. The thing is, while I knew it was set in a superhero-adjacent business in the DC Universe, and that relatively obscure characters like Crimson Fox were going to show up, there was one connection to the larger DC that I was extremely surprised to hear about; Vanderveer "Van" Wayne, Bruce Wayne's terrible, terrible cousin, played in the show by Alan Tudyk.
That dude is an extremely deep cut, showing up in one issue back in 1962, but really? If you're looking for a grandstanding and somewhat oblivious boss for a piece of the Wayne family's corporate empire, he's pretty much perfect.
Van Wayne made his first appearance in Batman #148, in a story by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff called "The Boy Who Was Robin." And right away, that title is a little weird. I mean, I get what they're saying here --- this story's going to be about Van pretending to be Robin --- but we already have a boy who was Robin, and he is in this story. Why not, "The False Robin," or, "Batman's Awful Cousin?"
So yeah, this story is a one of those weird examples of the Silver Age idea that Bruce Wayne actually had a pretty extensive family. Despite the fact that the metaphorical idea behind Batman works best if he's left alone in the world by the death of his parents, it actually makes a lot of sense that his family of wealthy industrialists wouldn't just be a long line of orphans with no siblings. It's how you got characters like Philip Wayne, who was responsible for raising Bruce back before the gritty, realistic direction of the '80s and '90s decided that it was perfectly acceptable for an orphaned child to be raised solely by his parents' butler.
Either way, the Silver Age Waynes had plenty of family members who could pop in when the occasion called for it, and this time, it's young Vanderveer, whose name might as well have been Money Moneyington.
Maybe it's just me, but I kind of love how easy it is to read Bruce's dialogue here, "family obligations make it necessary," as just dripping with disgust. Even at his happiest and most smiling, that dude hates anything that gets in the way of his crime fighting, especially this smarmy little plutocrat.
Yes: Van is one of those kids, the rich jerks of the world who not only talk about how great their stuff is, but how much better it is than anyone else's. And really, while he might be right about his suit, and while Bruce has years of experience letting this stuff slide and/or channeling it into punching the Riddler, Dick can't resist taking him down a peg.
I really love the idea that Van is reduced to quivering tears after it is shown that he's not as good at gymnastics as a child who was literally raised by acrobats in a circus.
Things threaten to get even worse when Alfred does the laundry and starts parading Batman and Robin's costumes through the manor, but Bruce thinks quickly and claims that they're rentals for a costume party, and has them taken up to their bedroom rather than the Batcave. This will prove to be a turning point, though, as our heroes discover when they go to an extremely Silver Age exhibit "sponsored by the Read-A-Good-Book Committee!"
No sooner has the fire broken out than an ersatz Batman and Robin show up, and even for the Silver Age, this all seems a little too convenient. Sure enough, after "Robin" pulls off incredible feats of athleticism that even the genuine article doubts he could accomplish --- and after he "reveals" his identity as Van to Dick to patronizingly explain why he was "holding back" when they were hanging out earlier --- Bruce and Dick scope out the crime scene for themselves and discover that the whole thing was rigged.
But that still leaves a very important question: If Van was "Robin," then who was his accomplice in the hoax who played "Batman?"
Oh, you know. Literally just some dude he met that morning. Three guesses how that works out.
Yeah, shockingly, it turns out that this rando from Gotham City is actually super into crimes. And the best part is how Van met him in the first place:
And look: I don't know what laws were like back in 1962, but I do know that any business who answers a phone call from a 12 year-old asking for a "well-muscled acrobat" and then sends one right over with no further questions is probably due for a raid by Commissioner Gordon and the GCPD.
Now, with an actual Batman costume that's good enough to fool anyone, "Jumpy" Regan plans to rob an Ice Cream Factory. And, y'know, it seems like that's probably not the most lucrative robbery that you could pull off if you could just waltz in with everyone thinking you were Batman, but even a low-level crook in Gotham knows that if you try for the Second National Bank or the Egyptian Cat Statue museum, you're probably going to run into more trouble. If you can confirm that Mr. Freeze is out of town that week, then honestly, the Ice Cream Factory might be the best way to go.
Besides, it's not like you want to fight the real Batman in a place that doesn't have giant sundaes and ten-foot milkshakes.
Just as things get a little tense, though --- surprisingly tense considering that the real Batman and Robin, the greatest crimefighters in the world, are fighting one (1) former Vaudeville acrobat --- Van arrives to try to fix his mistake. Which, surprisingly enough, he does, wrapping up Fake Batman like he's doing that Hanging Tough game from American Gladiators.
And with that, Van has apparently learned his lesson about the folly of ego. For now, at least. I suspect that once he takes over his corner of Wayne Enterprises, he might still have a little bit to learn.