November 11th, 2008
The only Batman comic where you'll ever hear Batman say, "I'll soon be able to slip out of the thongs!"
(Open on Linkara walking up to an open closet, while Perry Como's "Magic Moments" plays in the background. Linkara opens a drawer in the closet and pulls out several comic books, which he tosses on the floor, until he pulls out "Batman #147")
Linkara: Aha! (looks to camera) Now we've got it!
(Linkara is now seen sitting on his Futon)
Linkara: Longtime readers of my blog should remember that I did a text recap for another site called The Agony Booth. While The Agony Booth usually covers terrible movies and television shows, in honor of The Dark Knight, I did a recap of a story from a Batman issue that featured Batman become Bat-Baby. It's as terrible as you could possibly imagine the concept to be. However, a Silver Age Batman book is different from comics we expect to see in the modern age. It's more like a Batman anthology book featuring a few stories of Batman and a few comic strips added in for good measure. As such, I felt it necessary to look back at this comic and tell you about the other two insanely stupid stories within it. As such, let's dig into (holds up the comic to be discussed...) "Batman #147". Yeah, I know this isn't the actual comic. I... don't own it so I had to download it. (shrugs) Sorry.
(The comic opens to the first page)
Linkara (v/o): Our first tale begins with a full-page spread of Batman and Robin next to a farm where a bunch of yellow cacti are launching huge needles at them. Folks, only in the Silver Age would this sort of opening make any bit of sense. (dramatically, while reading opening text) "No botanist had ever seen the likes of these strange, mysterious growths..." (normal) In retrospect, they should've gone to the doctor instead of a botanist. "Nor could any scientist anticipate the terrible properties of their fearful fruit!"
Linkara: We tried to tell Steve not to eat the death plant of horrible pain, but (shrugs) you know how he is.
Linkara (v/o): "Never before had Batman and Robin battled against such odds as they strove to capture the elusive criminals behind... THE PLANTS OF PLUNDER!" Batman feels the need to narrate his life for us, so that's where Frank Miller got it from, and proclaims...
Batman: We're trapped, Robin! One of these giant cactus needles is sure to get us before we can pull back out of range!
Linkara (v/o): (as Batman) I mean, it's not like those years of athletic training and your past as a frickin' acrobat can do anything to stop them or move out of the way. That'd just be silly! (normal) Without any kind of traditional statement like "Here's what happened a few days ago" or something like that, the page flips to Batman and Robin coming upon a jewelry store robbery being carried out by guys in beekeeper outfits. Mind you, they call them asbestos suits, but really knowing the criminal minds of those in Gotham, you know they were going for some kind of ludicrous that they just overthought too much. Hearing screams from inside the store, they decide to completely forget about the thieves themselves and run inside, finding security guards sitting in a corner whining about how...
Security Guard: The heat... it's more than I can stand!
Linkara (v/o): Subsequently, right next to him is a red safe that's giving off heat lines. Well, maybe if you weren't sitting right next to the thing, you wouldn't feel so hot, now would you?
(Cut to footage of Batman & Robin, showing Mr. Freeze making short work of the police)
Linkara (v/o): Geeze, this makes the Gotham cops in Batman & Robin look downright effective and competent.
(Cut back to the Batman comic)
Linkara (v/o): After letting the man change himself after the pants-wetting he must've endured, he tells the two what happened. Apparently, the guard was taken prisoner and watched as the men dropped a few seeds into a conveniently-placed pot near the vault. After spraying some water onto the seeds in soil, they immediately started to grow into a large, yellow plant. I've complained about this before, but it's especially true in the Silver Age: back then, writers assumed that their readers were morons, so of course, they'd have to have the characters narrate what was happening. As such, the security guard exclaims...
Security Guard: Jehosephat!
Linkara (v/o): Did people seriously used to say this outside of TV and books?
Security Guard: Some crazy thing is growing out of the pot--pushing the whole palm tree out by the roots! S-Some kind of unbelievable plant... B-But what's it for?
Linkara: Okay, first of all, what the heck are you doing putting a real potted plant, in particular, a palm tree of all things, into a little jewelry store? That means you have to feed and take care of it. And furthermore, I'd assume that a palm tree probably requires a different kind of environment than the one featured in Gotham City. Secondly, even if it's supposed to be a fake plant, then it makes even less sense for there to be roots or even for the new mutant plant to grow in it. (gestures toward himself) As someone who has sold fake plants, the soil tends to be fake as well so as not to attract unwanted wildlife. We're not even two pages in and they can't even get that straight!
Linkara (v/o): The plant sends out intense waves of heat at the vault to melt the steel of it, revealing that inside the vault is... nothing at all. Huh. But of course, the fact that Bob Kane was too lazy to put any kind of money or jewels within this vault isn't commented on. Instead, we cut to Batman's hand as he holds up some dirt from the pot and a few Bugles chips that apparently are seeds...
Batman: ...but of a kind I've never seen before! That figures--since they produce a plant never seen before!
Linkara (v/o): Um, Batsy, they have been seen before, by the security guard, the guys in the asbestos suits, and by whoever created it. Anyway, they take their seeds back to the Batcave and try to make the plants grow. However, despite their best efforts, they can't seem to get the seeds to form into the plant. Here's a hint, Bats: they're $2.99 a pack at Kmart.
Batman: We've tried water and fertilizers of every kind*--but we can't get those seeds to sprout!
- NOTE: Batman actually says, "every sort", not "every kind".
Linkara (v/o): (as Batman) Hell, we've even given them Red Bull. (normal) The robbers continue their heist, only now the plant is now sporting "exploding gas pods", and instead of wearing asbestos suits, they're wearing three-piece suits with fedoras and everything, and gas masks over their faces. Ladies and gentlemen, the Sandman Trio!
(Cut to a Spider-Man comic; it must be because it features the Green Goblin)
Linkara (v/o): Just a little note in the narrative structure here: modern storytelling techniques in sequential art mean that actions tend to flow from panel to panel with some continuity in regards to location, characters and et cetera. This slows things down a bit, making it seem a bit more cinematic in how things work and conversations can be stretched out more.
(Cut a Rorschach comic)
Linkara (v/o): It also leads to storytelling being "decompressed", as it's called, which in turn stretches stories that might normally last for a single issue or two out for several issues. There's plenty of argument on whether this is good or not. However, in this case, I think I'd prefer a nice decompressed storyline.
(Back to the Batman comic)
Linkara (v/o): Here, we just go from panel to panel, barely in one location, before we zip over to another part of the story and then have a dialog saying exactly what we can see for our own eyes. As such, on the single page, we've been in a flashback, in the jewelry store, in the Batcave, and now we have moved into police headquarters where Commissioner Gordon has some new information for Batman. They've discovered an amnesia victim wandering the streets, but lo and behold, within his pockets are Bugles like those found at the crime scene. Oh, that and two Viagra tablets and some pocket lint, though apparently those are seeds, too. Who knew you could grow a Viagra tree? This string of events, without any break time, continues as the police bulletin comes in, alerting the Caped Crusaders to the fact that the robbers are making a getaway. Some really false tension gets put in when Batman and Robin arrive at the robbers' last known location on the roads, but the roads have been smashed up with some quick-growing giant plants, forcing them to have to jump a ravine in order to catch up with them. Will they make it? Will they get across the– Oh, wait, they made it. In fact, not only did they make it, them making it isn't even shown. It's just them starting over the ravine and then cutting to the Batmobile giving chase to the robbers! Wow, that was certainly a close call. I almost had the urge to watch a Dukes of Hazzard episode there. The "action" continues as the robbers abandon their getaway car near a waterfall. Batman says the robbers will be cut off because of the high cliffs in the area and gives chase. The path is blocked by another huge plant, this time like one of the giant yellow cacti from earlier that shot out huge needles. Robin, being completely ineffectual, gasps out...
Robin: How'll we ever get by that?
Linkara (v/o): Well, you could use some kind of bat defoliant on it and/or maybe some kind of miniature explosive device or maybe use focused martial arts to chop at it until it's down! But Batman, master strategist that he is, has this to say...
Batman: There's only one thing we can try...
Linkara (v/o): That solution being to lasso a rope onto a rock ledge hanging overhead and swing by.
Linkara: Whew! Thank God for that ledge. I mean, we almost had an interesting scene for a second there.
Linkara (v/o): Thinking that the robbers are cut off by the waterfall, the two move in for the capture. However, to their shock, it seems that a new plant, this one looking like a piece of rock candy stuck out of the ground, has frozen the waterfall completely, and they're climbing it on handholds they've chiseled out with a pickax!
Linkara: Okay, Batman mentions in a panel that there was a slight delay, but even he admits that it wasn't much time. Let me get this straight: the robbers ran down between some cliffs, toss the seed on the ground, containing the cactus, used their special watering mix on it, kept on going, grew some sort of ice plant out of the ground, use it to freeze both the waterfall and the river it flowed into, and then had enough time to chip away several handles for them to climb up the very slippery ice on the waterfall, all before Batman and Robin can reach them!
Linkara (v/o): To make it worse, they're already halfway up the waterfall, and Batman proclaims...
Batman: We'll never overtake them now!
Linkara: Even though they're, like, fifty feet away and they have bat-ropes! Yes, this completely passable obstacle prevents Batman and Robin from pursuing, and they just decide to go home. Frankly, I don't blame them, since they're quite clearly the worst crime fighters I've ever seen. I mean, there were more ledges they could've swung on, but apparently one ledge per day is their limit or something. However, on their way back, another police bulletin informs them that the amnesia victim has been kidnapped by the robbers via another strange plant. Examining the hospital room where he was taken, Batman discovers some mud left on the ground by one of the kidnappers' shoes. One panel later, Batman exposits that the lab analysis revealed that...
Batman: We found particles of lava in the mud... and this mountain is the only extinct volcanic formation in the area! That abandoned farmhouse, 'way up above, could make an ideal hideout!
Linkara: You know, I'm not a geologist, but it seems to me that after the volcano is no longer active and the lava has hardened into rock, it stops being lava. I think you might get away with calling it igneous rock that used to be lava, but explain to me how one can find (makes "finger quotes") "particles of lava" in mud.
Linkara (v/o): Inside the farmhouse, the robbers are trying to make the amnesia victim recall the special spray formula that they used to make the Bugles and Viagra grow into killer plants. You know, without the gas masks or asbestos suits, these guys don't really seem all that intimidating. In fact, their leader is sporting a brown tweed jacket, a thin mustache and a bow tie. This gives the effect of making the group look more like the Rat Pack than a group of criminals. Any second now, I suspect they'll stop Batman and Robin with a rendition of "Come Fly With Me".
(Cut to a clip of Frank Sinatra singing the aforementioned song)
Sinatra: Come fly with me, come fly, let's fly away...
(Back to the Batman comic)
Linkara (v/o): Another goon runs in to warn them that Batman and Robin are approaching. The tweed-wearing villain shoves the amnesia-stricken individual against a dresser and promptly lays a trap for them outside, by getting more of the cactus plants to attack them once they get into range. (takes a breath) But there aren't any ledges for them to use to swing past! However, much to my shock and amazement, an alien walks out of the farmhouse. Yes, you heard that correctly: an alien walks out of the farmhouse!
(Linkara looks up in shock and mouths, "What the fuck?")
Linkara (v/o): The alien speaks...
Alien: Evil Earthlings! That accidental blow on my head restored my memory!
Linkara (v/o): Accidental? The guy shoved you into that thing!
Alien: By mental command, I have resumed my normal appearance!
Linkara (v/o): Yes, it turns out that the alien is in fact the amnesia patient, who had forgotten that he was an alien. How dramatically convenient. As the cacti begin launching their needles, the alien uses a ray gun to shoot the plants and disintegrate them. Where was he hiding that thing when he was under human disguise, and why didn't the police find it when they searched him? Robin, speaking for the audience, exclaims...
Robin: What?? So that's the answer!
Linkara (v/o): Personally, I thought the answer was (?), but I guess that's why I'm not the master detective. Captain Tweed pulls out a gun, hoping to finish the alien, but Batman tosses a Batarang, knocking the gun out of his hand. He then summarily punches the crooks, despite them being, like, thirty feet away and behind some rocks in the previous panel, and quips...
Batman: Now to "plant" a couple of fists--where they'll do the most good!
Linkara (v/o): Get it? Oh, I'm sorry, Bruce, but you just don't have the same comic timing as Uma Thurman.
(Cut to footage of Batman & Robin)
Poison Ivy (Thurman): (to Batman) Sorry, my vines have a crush on you. (a vine wraps around Batman's legs)
(Back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Later, after the robbers have been tied up, the alien explains that he's a scientific farmer, who came to Earth to test if his plants would grow in Earth's atmosphere and soil. One must wonder why exactly this alien felt the need to see if his plants would grow on Earth. Furthermore, one must wonder why he felt the need to test if his exploding gas plants and killer cacti from outer space needed to grow on Earth. Hmm, seems like an interesting question, doesn't it, Batman? Of course, this invasion plan was averted because the sudden growth of the alien's plants caused one of the branches to sock him in the head and cause amnesia. So, not only is he kind of a ditzy scientist for not seeing the tree branch coming, but his species must be really wimpy to receive amnesia after just a little bump on the noggin. The robbers explain that they were hidden in the barn, for undisclosed reasons, and saw the alien growing his plants. They took all the materials when the alien wandered off from his amnesia. The alien retrieved his ship from a cavern and says good-bye to the Dark Knight.
Alien: Farewell, Batman... I am sorry my plants caused so much trouble!
Linkara (v/o): Batman's response after meeting an alien, catching crooks, fighting mutant alien cacti, and swinging around on his bat-rope?
Batman: On the contrary--without your help, we might not have harvested this fine crop for the state prison!
Linkara: (looking up and laughing) Oh, tune in next week for more of "Losers and Flying Rodent Costumes". I can't wait for Grant Morrison to resurrect this alien just so we can see the rest of this invasion plan.
Linkara (v/o): The action resumes in the second tale of the book: "Secret of Mystery Island!" Is there a committee or something that names these places? And if there is, could they get a frickin' thesaurus? Anyway, like the first story, we have a full-page spread that features a scene that no doubt will be featured again later within it, so what's the point? In this case, it depicts Batman fighting some random thug on what looks like a Buddha statue that's been turned sideways. The narrating caption explains...
Caption: Of all the hobbies, Briggs' was probably the strangest because he collected buildings!
Linkara (v/o): I don't know, someone want to explain the appeal of MySpace and Facebook?
Caption: Then, amid these structures, began* a perilous manhunt and a treasure hunt, which finally ended when Batman and Robin deciphered the strange clue that revealed... THE SECRET OF MYSTERY ISLAND!
- ANOTHER NOTE: It reads "two searches began", as well as a dash between "began" and "a perilous", though Linkara does not read "two searches".
Linkara: (looking up) Well, thanks for spoiling the plot, you idiot!
Linkara (v/o): Anyway, the actual story opens with a millionaire on his deathbed. He's talking to a guy who looks exactly the same as Super Tweed from the previous story, only here, he's named Catlin and his mustache is only slightly thinner, making him look like some nefarious Vincent Price. Catlin talks to the dying millionaire about how it's unfair that the treasure and the secret of it should die along with him. The millionaire, seeing the logic of this, hands him the key to a safe that'll contain a letter that has further instructions. Okay, if he needed to be talked into giving this treasure over to this man, why did he have a letter explaining how to get to the treasure hidden in a safe? Methinks this plot has many holes. Anyway, Bat-wimp and Robin the ineffectual weenie are watching from a balcony as Catlin runs from the millionaire's room. Said millionaire is in fact is the Briggs from the introductory text, and Batman reveals that Briggs' association with Catlin proves that he was really the head of a criminal gang, because, as we all know, guilt by association is an arrestable offense in whatever state Gotham is in. Anyway, they overheard the conversation and suspect that the treasure is stolen goods, so they give chase. Apparently, said chase causes the night from the previous panel to become day as they arrive at an island via Batplane. See what I meant earlier about panels just skipping willy-nilly from one event to the next? On the island itself, the two heroes discover that, in a meadow, there are several different kinds of buildings. Indeed, as the introduction completely spoiled, Briggs had been collecting these buildings, although for reasons that are completely unclear to me. Included in this are what appear to be a mosque, a Chinese pagoda, a Spanish villa, an ancient Greek temple, a Danish windmill, and an Egyptian pyramid! So, remember how international stereotypes used to be really, really insulting in TV and comics when it came to just people? Well, now you've got building stereotypes to go on! Way to be progressive, Batman writers! Soon we'll just have stereotype food to go on! Anyway, the two spot Catlin heading into the Spanish villa and continue to chase him. Catlin, now wearing a blue suit but still with the same hat, gets the letter out of a safe in said villa. There, more goons show up, revealing that they think that Catlin is planning on betraying them. Catlin convinces them that he's going to split the money with them and reveals the instructions on the letter.
Catlin: (reading instructions) "A series of clues will lead you to the treasure. The first clue is in the Norman Inn! A twist will reveal the second clue to you!"
Linkara (v/o): I'm guessing the twist is that the Catlin we've been following is really a clone of the one from the alien plant story made by the Jackal. Catlin notices Batman's reflection in a silver plate on the wall and whispers to the others his location. The three goons push the sideboard in, crushing Batman and Robin behind it. Instead of doing the logical thing and, you know, killing them, they instead tie the two to some marble pillars while they go off in search of the treasure. Now comes a nicely hilarious bit: Batman notices a shawl nearby that's conveniently hanging on a banister and within reach of his legs. He turns himself and grabs the shawl with his legs, then whips it over to a, yes, very conveniently-placed fountain where the shawl soaks up the water. He then slides down the pillar, since it's only his wrists that are bound, and wettens the straps on him. Now, here's what he actually says to explain it...
Batman: Now I'll squeeze the water out to soak the thongs! Because leather stretches when wet, I'll soon be able to slip out of the thongs and free* Robin!
- ANOTHER NOTE: Batman actually says, "free you, Robin!", not just "free Robin". He also mentions that the thongs are made of leather, though Linkara did not mention that, either.
Linkara: That part is just for those of you who never thought they'd get to hear Batman say, "I'll soon be able to slip out of the leather thongs," outside a very select part of the Internet. Oh, and subsequently...
(Linkara looks up and raises his finger in the air)
Offscreen singers: The Ambiguously Gay Duo!
Linkara (v/o): The two head into the Norman Inn and Batman reasons, somehow, that the twist mentioned in the letter refers to twisting a nearby wine barrel spigot. Frankly, I think the twist would have been better if it was revealed that Catlin had gone insane...
(The comic scene is replaced by a shot of ?)
Linkara (v/o): ...and murdered travelers to the inn while dressed up as his dead elderly mother.
(Back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Instead, the twist turns out to be a secret panel that opens up. The other two goons emerge from it, revealing that Catlin betrayed them. They aim their guns at the two, saying they'll kill them before they take care of Catlin. But Batman quickly knocks the wine into the gunman. Robin, displaying all the humor that he'd later show when portrayed by Burt Ward, slides across a counter-top that has mysteriously appeared and tackles the other goon, yelling...
Robin: I guess you'd call this a counter-attack!
Linkara (v/o): I guess I'd call that a really stupid joke. After somehow dealing with the goons, Batman reads a new clue in a wall.
Batman: "The god of thieves points to the next clue."
Linkara (v/o): Reasoning that the god of thieves refers to the Roman god Mercury, the two head over to the Roman temple.
Linkara: Now, a quick Wikipedia search showed that the thing resembled a Greek temple and not the Roman one, but I concede that I might be wrong about it, and it's just I can't tell one column from another. Still, I'm calling it Greek, since otherwise this aside is pointless.
Linkara (v/o): Seeing the statue of Mercury in the temple pointing toward a balustrade, the two head up to discover another clue. The clue reads...
Batman: (reading) "The right spot of the leopard-like beast is the next spot to seek."
Linkara (v/o): You know, why the heck did Briggs go to all this trouble in the first place? If he was going to give the treasure to his cronies anyway, why go through all this horse-hockey instead of writing down its ultimate location and giving it to Catlin? Anyway, Batman reasons that the clue refers to a cheetah or a jaguar, and since jaguars were sacred to the ancient Mayans, they should head to the Mayan temple next. Batman, not being the awesome ninja that he is in modern times, is completely taken by surprise as Catlin suddenly leaps out from nowhere and pushes him over the edge of the balustrade. Catlin then promptly socks Robin... Hooray for child abuse? ...and starts to run. As Batman falls, he reaches out toward the statue of Mercury and... promptly gets his arm ripped off from the fall. Okay, not really, but one would hope. Anywho, he and Robin runs toward the previously-unseen Mayan temple... Okay, so Briggs was collecting rare and ancient buildings, too? How the hell did someone miss that? ...and touches all the spots on a jaguar statue. Once he finds the correct one, another clue appears: "Look into the eye of Buddha for happiness and the treasure." Of course, to make the stereotypes complete, it turns out the giant Buddha statue from the introductory page is in the ancient Chinese temple. Batman comes in shortly after Catlin arrives and promptly punches him out. Sadly, the story is not quite over yet, since we still need to see the treasure. Catlin is mad because he looked into the Buddha's eye and saw nothing. Batman looks himself and discovers a reflection of the opposite wall, which has a painting of a bat on it. Or at least, it's supposed to be a bat; it looks like a purple doily to me. Looking behind the wall, the group finds paintings that had been stolen from the Louvre...
(Cut to a shot of a poster for the Bruce Willis movie Hudson Hawk)
Linkara (v/o): ...as well as some action star humming "Swinging on a Star".
(Back to the Batman comic)
Linkara (v/o): So, besides for being a huge tourist trap, why the hell was this place called Mystery Island? You'd find more complex mysteries on the back of cereal cartons!
Linkara: (closing laptop computer) Now, admittedly, you don't expect to see Watchmen in Silver Age stories, and you know what? I love that cracky goodness of aliens suddenly appearing in modern stories and having weird plants like that. But even then, it has to be tempered by the kinds of stories they appear in. In "Blue Beetle", aliens arriving is cool. In "Batman", it's just out of place. And I don't even talk about the Bat Baby thing in this recap. As such, follow the link at the end to read that one, because Bat Baby deserves a video of its own. This comic is just stupid. Go out and read "Hush" or "Nightfall" instead.
(Linkara gets up and leaves; end credits appear)