Brave and the Bold: The Three Super-Musketeers!

musketheaderWell, the time has come for a change. After a couple of years of telling Secret Origins off and on. I’ve decided to expand the scope of the column, hence the name change. If you’re familiar with comics at all, using The Brave and the Bold as a title usually equates to team-up stories. This is true, but potentially any retro-comic can be reviewed here, even if the initial focus is going to be team-ups. For the inaugural column, I decided to use the World’s Finest team of Superman and Batman… and Robin. So travel back in time with us to 1956, and then even further back to the 17th century with The Three Super-Musketeers!

The story begins innocently enough, at the Gotham City Historians’ Convention. There, Dr. Carter Nichols announces his intent to solve the riddle regarding the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask! For some reason, Clark Kent of the Daily Planet is there to cover the convention. Knowing of Nichols reputation and previous work with Batman and Robin, he decides to pay the Dynamic Duo a visit. After a quick exchange of pleasantries  we find that Nichols actually plans to send Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson back in time using a combination of his miraculous time-ray. You laugh, but it’s better than his original method using hypnosis…

musket1Travelling unprotected in the time vortex. Not even The Doctor does that!

Before you can say “Holy convenient plot device, Batman!” The trio find themselves in 17th century France near the prison of Pignerol. I kind of admire this story in two conflicting ways. It gets a lot of facts right, but it also isn’t afraid to eschew them in favor of a fun story. Speaking of, barely after they get their bearings, the World’s Finest team comes across D’artagnan and the other Three Musketeers (but not before they switch to their costumes. It may be 16-something or other, but you’ve got to protect your secret identity). This meeting turns out to be most fortuitous, seeing as the musketeers are severely injured from their latest scuffle with the villainous Bourdet. Batman, ever the tactical mind, has a cunning plan. He has the musketeers disrobe and suddenly the titanic trio are stand-ins for Athos, Porthos, and Aramis! Just in time too, as they are beset by Bourdet’s men. Thankfully, these aren’t ordinary musketeers being faced!

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Because OF COURSE Batman is an expert fencer!

Not to be outdone, Superman welds the two disarmed swords with his own using heat vision to route the rest of the brigands. In the aftermath, our heroes find out that the musketeers were actually trying to rescue the Man in the Iron Mask when they were injured. Not leaving anything to chance, Batman asks straight out who the Man is. According to D’artagnan, it’s none other than Count Ferney! Batman, throwing causality to the wind offers to help D’artagnan prove his claim, after the real musketeers are given refuge.

In the meantime, we meet Bourdet, who does not believe the Super-Musketeers could possibly have done what his men say. He is about to find out though, as our band of buck-swashlers arrive at the castle. Superman takes point, and it’s a good thing, because…

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Too bad Kryptonite didn’t exist in the 17th century!

Naturally, Superman tears through the iron as if it were paper. That doesn’t stop Bourdet’s men though, bless ‘em! Having no idea what they’re up against, they charge the (literal) Man of Tomorrow with pikes. As expected, this doesn’t work either, but at least we get a great exchange from Batman and Robin…

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Batman’s outright shut-down of Robin makes me laugh out loud every time.

Bourdet is a wise man, however. Seeing that his forces are ridiculously outmatched, he does the only thing he can, bring out the Man in the Iron Mask as a hostage! Before surrendering, Superman decides to take a peek under the mask, but wouldn’t you know it, the thing is lined with lead. Anyway, being the noble heroes that they are, the super-musketeers surrender and allow themselves to be chained while the castle is set to ground with explosives. Bourdet and his entourage get away with their prisoner and make their way to greener pastures…

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“In an Emergency”? Silver Age Superman always finds an excuse to tunnel.

After the danger has passed, the Super-Musketeers use their recollection of history and logically assume that the Man in the Iron Mask is about to be moved to the Bastille… where he’s destined to die. Superman won’t accept that they are destined to fail saving this man, while Batman can’t believe history can be changed. Even though this is a 50′s story, and they aren’t quite the same characters today, it’s nice that the World’s Finest heroes still have differences. Moving on, Superman indeed spies the prisoner in the Bastille. Rather than just rescue him, Batman suggest that Superman stay with the prisoner while he and Robin try to convince the king of Bourdet’s guilt. A solid plan by Batman, even though Superman could get to Versailles to grab the king and be back in like, 3 seconds.

Regardless, it’s the Dynamic Duo on their way to have an audience with the king. Being mere mortals, they are of course chased by Bourdet’s men. I would love to explain how they throw their pursuers, but I don’t think words could explain how insanely absurd it as well as the visual…

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I love that you can explain any crazy shenanigans like this with two words: “He’s Batman!”

With the bad guys bamboozled, the Caped Crusaders make it to the royal palace easily, and to gain egress to the King’s chambers is easy as pie, what with a royal banner hanging outside his window. A quick wall-climb later and our heroes are face to face with the king. Unfortunately, he mistakes them for assassins (What would you think if two masked men entered your bedroom through the window?) and tries to run them through. The King is a better leader than a fighter though, as he knocks himself out on his chamber door. Batman has a plan though, and it combines both his considerable skills as well as his penchant for exchanging clothes with people.

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Does anyone else think Robin has done this before?

Not wasting any time, Batman (as the King) sets the royal carriage off to the Bastille, full speed ahead. Bourdet has spies everywhere it seems, as one of his lackeys sends a carrier pigeon to take care of the Man in the Iron Mask before his innocence can be proven!. Quick cut to the Bastille, and that’s exactly what’s going on (carrier pigeons were apparently cheetah-quick). The bad guys proceed to flood the prisoner’s cell…

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Those red boots tell me you’re probably incorrect, Monsieur Bad Guy.

So yeah, it’s obviously Superman in the Iron Mask, but that doesn’t deter Bourdet’s men from trying to kill him. You have to admire that kind of loyalty in a henchman. After multiple attempted murders, such as suffocation, impalement, and good old-fashioned roughhousing, Superman sees his companions arriving and takes care of business. By this time, the King, still in Batman’s costume has come to, and the sordid tale is spelled out for him. Count Ferney is safe, but what of history’s account of the Man in the Iron Mask dying in the Bastille? Well, it looks like the king is into ironic punishment.

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Time Travel: It always wraps up nicely, except for when it doesn’t.

With the adventure over and the real musketeers recovered from their injuries, it’s time for our heroes to be drawn back to the “present” of 1956. They are still in costume however, so as they are fading back into the timestream, Batman orders everyone to change clothes (told you he was into it). Meeting back with Dr. Nichols, the trio fills him in on the “true” story of the Man in the Iron Mask (albeit with super-heroics omitted).

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“Hey Dick, speak up, I don’t think they heard you in Versailles!”

And so there you have it. A pretty fun tale, if not entirely accurate. I’m not going to go into who the Man in the Iron Mask really was (“Eustache Dauger“), but I will give the story props. There may or may not have really been a Count Ferney, even though if he did exist, he didn’t have much to do with this tale. What is kind of interesting (to me) is that in today’s France there is a part of Geneva called Ferney-Voltaire, where the author Voltaire lived, and he was the one who first established the prisoner had an iron mask. Anyway, join me next time when I’ll regale you with a tale just as fun, but maybe without as much history behind it!

This story originally appeared in World’s Finest Comics #82, May-June 1956. It has been reprinted various places, notably the Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told, World’s Finest Archives Vol. 1 and Showcase: World’s Finest Vol.1.

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Secret Origins: The REAL Origin of The Flash

flashheadAnyone who reads these columns know that I am a big fan of the Flash. I previously showed the origin of Barry Allen as the Flash in the very first Secret Origins column, before the current format took shape. Even though his origin was recounted, I figured that Barry’s tale needed a revisit, because I didn’t tell the true story. You’ll need to take an aspirin to protect yourself from the barrage of facepalms you’re bound to give yourself in this, The Real Origin of the Flash!

Our tale starts innocuously enough, with Barry (Flash) Allen tracking down a bunch of jewel smugglers. Being just normal-type thugs, the Flash routes them easily, even toying with them. Just when he’s about to wrap things up though, the unexplained “aura” that protects Barry from friction-heat just goes away…

realflash1Yeah, it’s not like being flung at escape velocity will harm him at all.

 Since Barry is conveniently fighting at the docks, he takes a dip to douse his spontaneous combustion. Before he can figure out a reasonable explanation for what’s happened, the answer is given to him as he emerges from the drink. A stout fellow in green robes and too-big spectacles explains it was he who removed the friction aura and furthermore he had to, as it is the first step in removing Barry’s super-speed entirely! The Flash, rightly so, asks who the heck this guy is and what right does he have to do take his gifts away!? Well, he’s Mopee, Initiate 10th Class of the Heavenly Help-Mates! A mere description doesn’t do the guy justice though…

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Which is MUCH less likely than this, don’cha know?

Mopee is nonplussed. He even taunts Barry a little, saying “Do you really believe that’s what happened, a scientist like you? I deliberately brought that lightning down!” You know, much more scientific. Anyway, Mopee decides to start at the beginning. When he reached the 10th class initiate level, he was tasked with giving a human the gift of super speed. He picks Barry because he’s honest, brave, and sincere. While that’s all true, it seems good ol’ Mopee took a wrong turn on the way back from Earth. Because of this, he wasn’t able to report to his (much more competent) superiors for a few years, during which Barry because one of the more celebrated crime fighters on the planet. Normally, that’d be a “no harm, no foul” situation, but when he does make his report to his betters, we find Mopee made a pretty grievous error in bestowing powers on Barry.

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I dunno. That seems like a pretty arbitrary rule for people with that kind of power.

Barry, nice guy that he is, believes this crazy story, mainly because he doesn’t have much of a choice. He muses that it might be nice to be powerless, no responsibility or anything. Also, he wouldn’t have to tell his new bride Iris his secret identity. Win-win, right? Barry quickly reconsiders though, because he wouldn’t be able to go adventuring anymore.  It doesn’t really matter though, because Mopee is all like, “Hey man, the law is the law, you’re losing your speed no matter what!” That is, until Barry convinces him to check his bylaws for a loophole. As it turns out, there is, and it’s just as ridiculous as the rest of this tale so far!

realflash4He’s probably going to make Barry literally jump though hoops next.

Just between us, I’m starting to think that the Heavenly Help-Mates are a celestial frat house who just like to torment humanity. At any rate, Barry, who has gone this far and just wants to keep being the Flash asks how much money he’ll need to buy said chemicals. Math (among other things) isn’t Mopee’s strong suit and tasks Barry with figuring it out himself. It turns out to be $94.36 which equates to about $660 in 2013 dollars. Since Barry is married, he can’t hire himself out as a gigolo, so he does the next best thing, take an ad out in the paper! Mopee think that Barry’s ad lacks panache, so he alters it a bit to sound more urgent.

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“Yes, this trial will suffice. ‘The paddling of the swollen ass… with paddles

Seriously though, the Flash is tasked with making high-speed deliveries cross-country. What follows is an Indiana Jones-esque series of stops on a map, until there is only one package left, back in Central City. As luck would have it, Mopee is being his old self and Flash loses his friction aura again, resulting in this…

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Oh, that explains EVERYTHING! He’s just drunk!

Before we can find out what’s in the package, we’re given a flashback back to last night when Flash was fighting the jewel smugglers. In a case of being too smart for their own good, the hoods figure Flash isn’t following them so he can shadow them and find their boss. As far as criminals in comics go, that’s pretty astute. So of course, he’s dead wrong, what with Flash having lost his friction aura instead. Anyway, the crooks get the bright idea to put the Heart Diamonds they smuggled into a package in the warehouse they pass by. You can probably guess where this coincidence is going to take us, and sure enough, we find the Heart Diamonds in the burning package. Not knowing the crooks themselves are behind this, Barry assumes the fine gent who hired him is, so he doubles back to the shipping company. There, the bad guys just happen to be there to retrieve their diamonds. The Flash then unleashes some built up stress on them…

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You’d think a force 12 times more powerful than a Tornado would kill a man. Thugs were made of sterner stuff then.

You’d think Flash has the upper hand, and you’re right. However, being pinned against a wall thanks to centrifugal force won’t stop these guys, as one somehow manages to pull a gun and fire! Again, you’d think with his fears expressed in the above panel, Barry would just move out of the way at super speed, but he instead opts to vibrate his body and let the bullet pass through him! A valid tactic, even though his body would be torn apart if his protective aura did in fact fail. Let’s watch, shall we?

realflash8

Hooray for unnecessary suspense!

So, after that (literal and metaphorical) bullet was dodged, Flash proceeds to knock out the crooks with a series of super speed punches while they’re still stuck to the wall. Mopee offers to catch the falling baddies for Barry, seeing that he’s just been so wonderful about his hazing ordeal. Mopee recreates the accident that gave Barry his Flash powers. Barry has one last question for Mopee, but he has to return to his home planet.

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Note: Mopee died on the way back to his home planet.

And Mopee was never seen again. DC in fact pretty much disavowed this story almost immediately. This issue has never been reprinted, and Mopee has been relegated to an comic continuity joke. All joking aside though, I freaking love this issue. It’s so absurd, that you can’t help but love it. It’s also the very first Silver Age comic I ever bought for myself, based purely on the cover. That Julius Schwartz sure knew what he was doing to get kids to buy comics.

This story appeared in The Flash v1 #167, February 1967. As mentioned above, it’s never been reprinted. 

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Secret Origins: Blue Beetle!

beetleheader

I am a humongous Steve Ditko fan. He intrigues me. No other creator I know puts so much of themselves in their characters except for possibly Kirby. Couple that with his famous (or infamous) reclusiveness and general outlook on life, it’s hard to deny that the man is fascinating. Of course, his most lasting legacy is the wealth of characters he’s created over the years. Aside from Spider-Man, today’s Secret Origin subject is probably my favorite creation of Ditko’s. So let’s get on with the show and the Secret Origin of the Blue Beetle!

Our story starts out a bit suspiciously, as police lieutenant Fisher visits the laboratory of Ted Kord. Fisher suspects Kord in the disappearance of one Dan Garret on the mysterious Pago Island. Ted has nothing to say about the matter, and the lieutenant having no real evidence, leaves. Ted is fed up with the accusations and when all is clear, he jumps into his specialized flying vehicle, The Bug, and switches to his secret identity of The Blue Beetle to blow off steam. Unfortunately for him, the city is pretty quiet, so he decides to take a joyride before calling it a night. As he flies by Pago Island, he sees a light shining on the supposedly deserted archipelago, and decides to investigate.

Landing on the island, Ted finds none other than his girlfriend Tracey. She explains to the Beetle that she’s looking for evidence to clear her boyfriend, Ted Kord, of the aforementioned suspicion of murder. It’s obvious Tracey is at the end of her rope, since even before this, she knew something has been eating at her beau. Touched by her devotion and plight, the Beetle does the only thing he can…

beetle1 “OK. The truth is, I’m really the Martian Manhunter!”

So, with that, Ted decides to tell Tracey (and in turn, us) the whole story. It all started when Ted’s uncle Jarvis asked him to help with certain experiments. Ted was never actually privy to what he was working on, always given just a part of a job, never seeing the whole. Ted really thought nothing of it, just being happy to help his uncle. Still, scientists are naturally curious, so Ted persists and Jarvis finally capitulates, saying all will be revealed the next morning. Unfortunately when Ted arrives at his uncle’s lab the next day, there is a massive explosion and a body is burned beyond recognition. It is assumed this is the remains of Jarvis. In mourning, Ted finds a metal box that somehow survived the blast, and when he inspects its contents, he rightly freaks the heck out…

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“Now no one will be able to tell the difference between regular and diet Dr. Pepper!”

In desperation, Ted seeks out his college friend, Dan Garret, who he knows to be trustworthy and happens to have a background in archaeology. They review the film together and see a behemoth of an automaton, wrecking everything in its path. Then Ted reveals this is the old model. With the unknowing enhancements Ted added, they could now be very well unstoppable. Dan tries to assure Ted that there’s nothing to worry about, what with Jarvis being “dead”. Regardless, Ted convinces Dan to investigate Pago Island, and insists on accompanying him. No sooner do they arrive than they are abducted by multiple models of those fearsome robots. They are brought to the inner sanctum of Uncle Jarvis very much alive and “well”. In the great villain tradition, he then explains his master plan…

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“Unless you stop monologuing and kill us, that is!” 

Of course, Jarvis has to continue to humiliate Ted, and show him that the fruits of his labor actually have made his robot minions pretty invincible. Ted is very distraught, as you may understand. Not only has he seemingly doomed the world, but he also dragged his dear friend Dan along for the ride. Old Dan Garret however, tells him not to fret when he reveals a mysterious blue scarab he’s been concealing, and quicker than you can say “Khaji-Da!” a spectacular transformation takes place!

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“Yes! I’ll stop him by running in the opposite direction! I’m a &^%$# genius!”

Dan, the original Blue Beetle, is holding his own against the robotic horde, so Jarvis unleashes them all to take down the Cobalt Crime-fighter. Dan is still faring relatively well, but he knows the he’ll be overwhelmed soon. Ted meanwhile is looking for an escape route for the both of them. Just then, Jarvis shows just how far gone he is, saying he’ll stop the Beetle even is he has to destroy all of his robots to do it! Now, since his whole evil plan is based on these self-same robots, you’d think he’d have thought this through a bit better. I guess he thought he could just build more later. Anyway, he issues the command to overload all of the robots at once. Ted tries to warn Dan of the danger, but…

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Even depicting death, Ditko is spectacular

While the resulting explosion also seemingly destroyed Jarvis’ lab (again), Ted’s most immediate concern is seeing to Dan’s well-being. Dan is a crumpled mess, and knows that his time is short. He asks Ted to attend him, and asks a dying favor that will change Ted’s life forever…

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“Dan! Quick! Who’s your tailor?!”

In the aftermath, Ted somehow finds his way to the shore of the island, but he soon collapses from the strain of the day’s activities. Soon, he is rescued by a fisherman passerby who heard the explosions and decides to make up a story as the truth is too unbelievable. The police are obviously not buying Ted’s tale of not remembering anything. Really Ted? You’re a brilliant scientist who unwittingly made a nigh-unstoppable robot army, but you can’t come up with a convincing story? Oh well. So now, the police are trying to pin Dan’s murder on Ted, because as far as anyone knows, Jarvis already was dead! Ted can’t dwell on it though, foremost in his mind is how he’s going to carry on Dan’s legacy. Honestly, he has no idea how to do it, since the mystic scarab Dan used to become the Beetle seems to have been lost along with Dan. Eventually though…

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“It’s like an omen! I shall become a beetle!”

So with his technical skill combined with months of practice and training, the new Blue Beetle is born! Ted has more story to tell Tracey, but as luck (or the plot) would have it, it seems that Uncle Jarvis’ robot brigade isn’t quite as finished as previously thought! Ted quickly gets Tracey into the Bug and valiantly tries to fight the invincible androids. Ted is not faring well, and Tracey looks on helplessly, not able to operate any of the Bug’s systems. As he’s getting pummeled, Ted stumbles upon an idea. There is a gigantic crevice between them, seemingly bottomless. He manages to donkey kick one of the monstrosities to its seeming end, but in response, the remaining robot steps up its game, not letting the Beetle catch his breath. It looks like the second Blue Beetle’s career will be prematurely shortened, when Ted finds that he has a slight advantage if he keeps the monster off-balance. He finally manages to get the upper hand, but the robot will not go quietly!

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“I really wish I had the proportionate agility of a spider right about now!”

Ted manages to right himself, and rejoins Tracey in the Bug. He then uses the arms of the Bug to fill the crevice and any other means of egress, hopefully ending the threat of Pago Island forever. Now that the immediate threat is over, Ted asks Tracey how she feels about him being the Blue Beetle. She assures him that, to her, he was a hero long before he donned a mask. Tracey also promises that no matter what trials face Ted she wants to meet them head on with him, no matter what. That’s love and devotion, right there. So all is well, right? Well, maybe not…

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Dun dun duuuuuun!

This story first appeared in Blue Beetle Vol. 4 #2 August 1967. It has been reprinted in The Action Heroes Archives Volume 2.

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Secret Origins: Green Arrow!

Over the past month, The CW has seen fit to bestow on us a superhero show that is surprisingly not a crap-fest! The show of course is Arrow. Aside from being apparently colorblind, the show is based on the exploits of Oliver Queen, also known as Green Arrow. I’ve been keeping up with the show, and am generally approving of it. I did have a little problem though. The flashbacks to Ollie’s island origin are infuriating little snippets, and I feel we’re never going to see the full story. To that end, I decided to just relate the tale myself, with the help of the inimitable Jack Kirby. So without further intro-padding, the Secret Origin of Green Arrow!

Our tale starts as Oliver and his young ward Roy Harper are lounging and watching TV, when a convenient to the plot news item pops up: an expedition is sailing to Starfish Island to explore this previously unknown area! Usually, we would say “Who Cares?” Ollie however just about has a coronary! He orders Roy to suit up as Speedy and get to the Arrowcave and board the Arrowplane! You see, aside from having a severe case of Bat-envy, Oliver knows that if they don’t reach Starfish Island before the expedition, his secret identity won’t be worth diddly. En route, Green Arrow explains why his identity would be compromised, and being a captive audience, Speedy has no choice but to listen…

In later re-tellings, he fell because he was drunk. I like to think this version of Green Arrow is just a clumsy guy.

 Stranded on the island, Ollie, not being a complete idiot, tries to get his bearings. On the other hand, he muses to himself that the shoals of the island are so rocky that rescue would be impossible. I might believe that, except we now know an expedition is sailing to the island. Maybe boating technology in the DC Universe skyrocketed in the time since Oliver became Green Arrow. Regardless, Ollie soon finds a cavern that he can call “home”, and then realizes that he’s going to have to find food if he’s going to survive. Using techniques he learned on the Discovery Channel, Ollie fashions some rocks into arrowheads and ties them to perfectly straight branches to make some shafts. I’ll spare you the training montage, but suffice to say, Oliver practices for days before he gets a nosh, so it may explain his lack of common sense…

“Yeah, this time I’ll remember to reel the damn thing in!”

With Ollie finally getting some food in his belly, he starts to get a little obsessed with his trick arrows. He modifies his rope arrow to actually launch a net to catch many fish, which is indeed genius. However, his aplomb for figuring out nifty arrows is akin to a stoner. “Hey, that rock would make an excellent arrow!” “Whoa, that pile of bird crap would make a kick-ass arrow, dude!” This culminates with the invention of the drill arrow. Admittedly, it’s a cool concept, but the execution of such a device using only the items found on an island is just a little hard to swallow.

You have no idea how difficult it is not to make this article one long stream of “gripping the shaft” jokes. 

And so, Oliver is content to spend the rest of his days on an island, with only his ideas for new arrows keeping him “sane”. More power to him, but we still haven’t learned why present-day Ollie was freaking out so much in  the beginning. Did he mark his territory in such a way that it’d lead back to his civilian identity? Well, yeah, kind of.

“Here I sit, broken-hearted…”

And so ends the story of Oliver Queen, washed-up billionaire, destined to spend his days as a strange combination of Gilligan, the Skipper, and The Professor. Then one day, Oliver sees a ship off the coast. He’s either thinking they’ll be good for a rescue, or at least an opportunity to show off his cool arrows to other human beings. Luckily for him, it turns out to be both! As he swims out to the freighter…

“Gangnam Style!”

Oliver makes short work of the villains, using the drill arrow (I guess he still had some elastic left) to bore into an oil drum, causing them to slip and fall in a truly stooge-like fashion. Then he uses the net arrow to well, net them. Ollie and the badguys make their way back to civilization (with help from the non-mutineering crew, no doubt). When the authorities on land ask who this green-clad fellow with the impeccable aim is, Oliver now knows the path his destiny will take!

“I was going to go for Hawkeye, but M.A.S.H. & Disney have lawyers, man!”

And there you have it, the origin of Green Arrow! But wait! There’s still the little matter of the expedition discovering Ollie’s cave-diary. Sadly, Green Arrow and Speedy get there a smidge too late, and the expeditioners are about to enter the cavern! Ever the crazy arrow-inventor, Green Arrow just happens to have an arrow for the occasion. I will warn you though, this particular arrow is as inexplicable as it is hard to swallow.

Pardon me while I ready my “suspension of disbelief” arrow.

And so, the day is saved… again. You’ll note that the expedition did actually enter the cavern, though. If they bothered to look up, Green Arrow’s crimefighting career may well have been over. As it is, the expedition just figures a primitive people may have lived on the island at one time. Yes, primitive people who somehow discovered how to make a net arrow. Way to go Green Arrow, not only did you do some self-serving identity protection, but you’ve also screwed up a small piece of history for generations to come!

“Let’s get the hell out of here already. Screw history!”

This story originally appeared in Adventure Comics #256 January 1959 It has been reprinted in The Green Arrow by Jack Kirby and The Jack Kirby Omnibus Vol. 1.

Secret Origins: Earth 2!

Well, DC Comics’ New 52 is just over a year old now, and the company’s latest gimmick is to publish a bunch of #0 issues to explain the origins of the various heroes/concepts in their books. One of these is the concept of Earth 2. The series is meant to show, well, a second Earth with vastly different heroes than our own. That’s all well and good. In fact, alternate worlds/realities have always fascinated me. The story that made me aware of the concept is the first story of the original Earth 2. Not only is it a fun story, it also explained the concept of how two Earths can exist far better than the recent Earth 2 #0 did. I want to share it with you all, so here’s the Secret Origin of Earth 2!

As our story opens, Barry (Flash) Allen is late (again) for a date with his sweetheart, Iris. As he arrives at the Central City Community Center, Iris is indeed incensed. Luckily for our bow-tied boychick, Iris isn’t mad at him, but rather the magician that was hired to give a group of orphans a show at the very same community center. Relieved to be off the hook, Barry immediately apologizes, but offers to get his pal, The Flash to fill in. What a guy, he gets to blow off his lady friend and impress her at the same time! Anyway, The Flash speeds in and entertains the roomful of waifs with a variety of speed-based tricks including playing a game of tennis by himself. That’s not as impressive as it sounds. I can do the same thing, provided there’s a wall handy. Anyway, the show goes on, and Flash ends the show by emulating an old fakir trick. He uses his speed to keep a rope in the air, then he climbs it and then…

This is also how he avoids paying the check in restaurants.

The Flash does reappear, but when he does, it’s in an empty, flat field. He surmises that he was vibrating so swiftly that he may have inadvertently created a wormhole and transported himself outside of the city limits. He’s not entirely correct, but as we’ll see, he’s closer to the truth than he thinks. Barry soldiers on, but nothing is looking familiar. Thinking he may have also traveled backward in time, he dashes over to the local newshawk to get a copy of the paper. From that he finds the date is correct, but he is now in Keystone City. Barry, being a police scientist, has a hunch, and checks the phone booth to see if “he” still lives in KC. It turns out “he” is actually Jay Garrick. So Flash decides to zoom on over (as Barry Allen, natch), and tell the original Flash he knows who he really is. This seems like an ill-conceived idea to me. Anyway, he does regale Jay, and his former girlfriend, now wife, Joan Williams-Garrick with his the aging speedster’s own origin. I won’t repeat it here, but you can check out the Secret Origin I wrote about it here. After their stunned reaction, Barry reveals that he too is a Flash, and recounts his origin, which I told in my way in the very first Secret Origins column here. Barry-Flash then does his best to explain his theory of “What the holy heck is going on around here!?”

Well, um, thanks for simplifying that for us lay-people, Flash.

This is actually pretty cool. It’s still very comic-booky, but the writer, Gardner Fox, knew his science. This theory is actually based on the Bose-Einstein condensate. Who said you can’t ever learn anything from comic books? Anyway, back to the story, Barry-Flash explains to Jay that he knew of his exploits thanks again to Gardner Fox. You see, Fox said the original Flash stories came to him in his dreams, so obviously his brain was tuned in to the vibrational frequency of this other Earth. Science! Furthering this early example of meta-fiction, Fox stopped writing Flash stories in 1949, the very year Jay says he retired! Anyway, with all of the “scientifical” explanations over with, Jay mentions he was actually going to come out of retirement because of a strange rash of robberies that have befuddled the police of Keystone. No one knows who is perpetrating these crimes, but we the readers quickly find out!

Why thank you villains, for your succinct exposition!

And as is the custom in 60′s-era comics, both the villains and heroes split up to pad the story cover more ground. Jay get the first crack at the villains, specifically, the Thinker. Yet, the Thinker is of the old school. So confident is he that the Flash he knows is a pushover, he leaves a rather obvious, if not completely ludicrous clue which Jay finds toot suite.

The thinking cap is amazing. Not only can it fool people’s minds, it can also give animals vocal cords!

And so, Jay-Flash makes a beeline to grab the Thinker, and he does, kind of. Unfortunately, it’s just a mental projection. The Thinker pulls this trick on Jay like, 10 more times, until Jay is nearly exhausted, his endurance not being what it once was. So tired is he, that he is felled by a door slammed by the Thinker at the speed of thought. Oops!

Meanwhile, Barry-Flash is canvassing the city when he comes across a strange inky blackness on the city’s waterfront. Going to investigate, Barry finds the blackness is actually enveloping a yacht. but he can’t do much about it, seeing as he can’t see a thing. Thankfully, this is a silver age comic, and physics don’t always apply, so Barry is able to use a spectacular speed stunt to dissipate the darkness…

“There’s no WAY the Flash could outrun a boat!”

As you might have guessed, the Flash uses his incredible velocity to run across the surface of the water, but the Shade is a tricky devil and casts his darkness on the water as well, only this time, he also mixes oil with the darkness… somehow, and Barry can’t keep his footing, allowing the sinister shadow to get away.

Going 0-2 against the nefarious crooks, both Flashes meet back at Jay’s apartment to come up with a new game plan. Namely, a team-up. They speed off together into the city. While they do that, the FIddler is playing his hand (and his violin). The Fiddler uses the literal discord of his maniacal music to cause distractions so no one will pay him any mind/ While he rides around in his gigantic car. That happens to be shaped like a violin. Villains don’t do “inconspicuous”, OK? Anyway, due to the Fiddler’s machinations, the Flashes are momentarily pre-occupied with saving civilians, giving us the in-comic version of one of the more famous covers in comics history.

“You knock him out, and I’ll get his wallet!”

Eventually, the Scarlet Speedsters track the Fiddler to his hideout, and are about to storm the building. Meanwhile, the Shade and the Thinker are comparing notes, and discover there are two Flashes to deal with. Unfortunately for the good guys, the Fiddler already knows that…

I have the strangest feeling that I’m dancing like a puppet!” Image by Kerry Callen

Not only is he making his puppets dance, the nefarious Fiddler is also making them steal jewels for him! Laden with treasure, the terrible trio are set leave. The Fiddler commands the Flashes to stay motionless for 24 hours. You have to love old-time comic bad guys, especially in Flash. They don’t want to kill anyone, then just want to be rich. Inexplicably (well, not really, since it’ll be explained in a second) the Flashes are free, and use their new-found element of surprise to take out the triumvirate of terror in an incredibly fun sequence.

“Curses, how could I overlook that incredibly convoluted reasoning!”

Actually, it does make a bit of sense. Earlier, the Fiddler ordered the Flashes to ignore the smaller jewels and focus on the more elaborate treasures. Instead of tossing them aside, the Crimson Comets actually stuck them in their ears, causing the pitch of the Fiddler’s music to change just enough that it allowed them to break his control. Makes perfect sense, right?

So with the day saved, it has come time for the speedsters of two worlds to say their goodbyes.  They return to the empty flat field outside of Keystone and we’re left with a status quo that will define the DC Universe for the rest of its days, both in terms of multiple earths and of having character legacies! And on a personal note, I was even more hooked on comics than before thanks to this story.

Even I’M surprised I didn’t make ONE vibration joke in this whole column!

This story first appeared in The Flash v1 #123 September 1961. It was reprinted in The Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told & Flash Archives Vol. 3. It is not yet available digitally.

 

Secret Origins: Black Widow (Bronze Age)

So, forgive my “mistake” yesterday regarding the original Black Widow being in Joss Whedon’s Avengers film. Of course I knew that was the case, and just used it as an excuse to showcase an otherwise obscure and offbeat character. Now, when it comes to the “real” Black Widow, her comic origin is actually pretty convoluted. The movies thankfully make it incredibly succinct. Essentially, she was a Russian spy, met Hawkeye, and had a change of loyalties. The comics had her on a nearly 8-year journey to end up on the side of the angels full-time. As such, it’s really difficult to pin down an origin issue for her, per se. Instead, We’ll be looking at the moment where Natasha Romanov emerges from her cocoon and because the Black Widow we know today. Enough mixed metaphors, let’s get on with the Secret Origin (kind of) of The Black Widow!

As our tale begins, Black Widow is observing Spider-Man swinging across the New York City skyline, as he likes to do. The Widow is apparently looking to re-invent herself as is looking to the wall-crawler for inspiration. I guess that makes sense. They’re both kind of spidery, after all. As such, she decides to learn the secret of Spidey’s powers so she can make them her own. Instead of actually going and you know doing that though, she swings into the apartment she apparently keeps for herself. It’s there where she laments on her convoluted past. This means we get a handy montage/flashback so I don’t have to explain it all to you guys!

If Smilin’ Stan can’t remember, how would you expect ME to?

Natasha continues to get her reminisce on, recounting her romance with Hawkeye, how Nick Fury recruited her on her first S.H.I.E.L.D. mission that ultimately resulted in the death of her husband… So um yeah, I’d probably be having a bit of an identity crisis myself. To wit: Natasha decides her jet-setting Madame Natasha persona isn’t getting her anywhere, so it’s time to focus on being the Black Widow. What better way to do that than an impromptu costume change!

“Web-Line”? “Wrist Shooters”? I thought we were trying to establish a NEW identity here!

And so, with an outfit from the Emma Peel catalog, Black Widow sets out to catch Spider-Man in her web. This is actually a bit odd to me. Her whole deal for hunting down Spidey is to find out his shtick, but she already seems to be aping it pretty well. In fact, she’s doing such a fine job imitating the web-head that a certain crotchety publisher makes a (chauvinistic) note about it…

“Come into my parlor.” said the spider to the… other spider.

Since this is a Marvel comic, and coincidence is the word of the day, it doesn’t take too long for the Widow to encounter Spidey. Not one for formal introductions, Natasha announces herself in a way only she can…

“Yeah, that blast to my head only grazed me and I’m not falling to my death, THAT’S the ticket!”

What follows is an interesting cat & mouse game between two spiders. Now, it should be noted that Spidey’s not exactly bringing his ‘A’ game here. Last issue the Kingpin knocked his keister around pretty good, and he’s having some performance issues due to grogginess. With the playing field relatively even, Spidey falls back on his other great tactic, talking. Once he finds out he’s up against the widow, he pretty much point-blank asks her why they’re fighting, seeing as she’s already teamed with the Avengers at this point. The Widow isn’t really one for giving up information like that though, so she kicks the webspinner around a bit more. Because of said grogginess, he doesn’t put up much of a fight so Black Widow ends up with one trussed up spider in no time flat.

“Seeing as you’re not a woman 35 years his younger and all.”

Thinking she has the upper hand, she gloats about how the vaunted Spider-Man is such a pushover. At this moment, Spider-Man decides that maybe he shouldn’t let it get out that he’s in such a bad way, so he breaks out of the Widow’s snare and pours on the bravado. The Widow takes the bait, thinking Spider-Man has just been toying with her the whole time. Simultaneously, she realises that a hasty retreat is in order, because she’s not finding out what makes the wall-crawler tick today.

Returning to her loft, the Widow ruminates on the events of the day, and starts upon the path that makes her the prominent figure she is today…

The comic book equivalent to a back-door pilot.

After this, Natasha would join the Champions, eventually becoming their leader. Becoming more confident in herself and her abilities, she would be Daredevil’s partner/lover for a time. After that series of adventures, she became a full-time S.H.I.E.L.D. agent & would of course come to join the Avengers on a more permanent basis, even becoming leader of that illustrious group for a time. All in all, from KGB spy to honored member of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, ‘Tasha has certainly come a long way.

This story originally appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #86 July, 1970. It has been reprinted in Essential Spider-Man Vol 4. and Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 9.

 

 

Secret Origins: Black Widow (Golden Age)

So, this week marks the debut of the Avengers movie. From all impressions it looks like it’ll be pretty great, awesome and (insert gushing adjective here). I was a little weirded out by the choices of characters to include, though. Sure, Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man & Thor I can get. Heck Hawkeye is a good fit too, but I don’t know why anyone would pick Black Widow over Ant-Man & the Wasp. I mean, the Black Widow is a character who has less than 20 appearances in her entire 70+ year history! So, in my never-ending quest to inform the public, I present to you the (balls-out crazy) origin of… The Black Widow!

Our story opens in the parlor (get it) of Madame Claire Voyant. At first I thought this was a stage name for the character, but no it’s the real name of a psychic medium. I love you, Golden Age. Anyway, Claire is going to help a well-to-do family’s widow see her dead husband. They all sit around the table, seance-style when all of a sudden, the image of Satan himself appears and freaks everyone right the heck out. You see this isn’t any of Claire’s psychic chicanery, it’s ‘ol Scratch himself! Not only that, he’s there to pretty much screw with everyone in the room. As you’ll see, when the widow starts accusing Claire’s antics as a farce, Lucifer does his thing and a bunch of lives are set on an odd course.

“Does that mean presents? Oh, you said Satan, my bad.”

Of course, the Waglers don’t believe a word, which I would normally be 100% behind, but man, Satan was right there! On the way home the car hits an unexplained skid. and well, things play out as you might expect except for one small detail…

Man, Satan is a dick.

And so, the next step of Beelzebub’s wonderfully circuitous plan is unfurled. James is hell-bent (see what I did there) on getting revenge for his imagined slight, so he heads back to Claire’s home. The story doesn’t explain how James knows where she lives, or how he gets there when his only transportation has become a smoldering wreck. I am just going to chalk it up to “demonic intervention” and let it lie. Anyway, James in his oh-so stylish vertically striped pants guns Claire down in her home. Of course, it isn’t that simple…

I’m starting to think that man in red there may not be entirely a good guy.

James hoofbeats it out of there and Satan takes Claire’s corpse to h-e-double hockey sticks. When there, he places Clair on an altar and starts a “mystic rite”. He also invokes the “almighty evil”. Now I dunno, but since Satan is supposed to be the ruler of hell and all of its minions, you’d think that he himself is the almighty evil, but what do I know. Anyway, flames envelop Claire’s body as Satan commands her to rise again as…

There is something about this image that hits all the right creepy buttons for me.

So OK, let me get this straight. Satan goads a family into killing Claire so he can have her as his instrument on Earth? He should have cut out the middleman, he is freaking Satan after all. Maybe he had to do things the way he did to ensure that she’d have a proper mindset, but whatever. Anyway, Lucifer goes on a bit of a big speech about how awesome he and hell are, while giving Claire a tour. It shows some pretty graphic depictions of pain and suffering (for the Golden Age anyway), including the fate of people who commit suicide (turned into trees of suffering). He then goes on to tell the Black Widow that this is nothing in comparison to what he has in store for her. The Black Widow seems cool with that, though she does ask for permission to kill her killer. Satan is all like, of course, my dear, kill in my name!

So the scene cuts to the docks, where James is wallowing in his despair. You can’t really blame the guy, seeing as Satan completely screwed up his life. As a matter of course, the Black Widow shows up, and the results are what you may expect, that is, if you were expecting a flaming touch that equals instant death!

Luckily, they left out the panel where the Black Widow mated with him before the killing.

With that, Satan hits the “recall” button and the Black Widow returns to his side in a flash of flame. This attracts the attention of a local beat cop who finds the body of James lying on the docks. He is dead, of course, but he also has his forehead marked with a black widow insignia, adding insult to (grievous) injury. Now, cops then weren’t like cops now, so he easily puts two and two together and realizes James was killed by a person with a black widow motif. We’re left to wonder if he starts a manhunt though, because we’re brought back to hell. Here, Satan finally unveils what his actual plan for the Black Widow is, and wow, it is a doozy…

What? The only evil-doers in this story were under Satan’s influence in the first place!

So you see, the Black Widow is a hero! Um, yeah tell me another one, guys. Anyway, as I mentioned before. Claire Voyant, aka the Black Widow had a total of only five Golden Age appearances and a couple of Silver Age cameos before returning in J. Michael Straczynski’s frankly amazing The Twelve. While I really enjoyed that series, I don’t see how that merits her inclusion in the Avengers movie. Oh! A thousand pardons. I guess I was misinformed and of course the Silver-Modern Age Black Widow is in Avengers, not this one. Well, I guess that means I owe you guys another Secret Origin tomorrow!

This story originally appeared in Mystic Comics #4, July 1940. To my knowledge, it has only been reprinted in the Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Mystic Comics – Volume 1.

Secret Origins: Doctor Octopus!

Spider-Man has one of the best collections of villains ever concocted. Sure there are terrible ones, for every Scorpion, there’s a Hypno Hustler lurking around the corner. When it comes to A-listers though, Spidey has some really good opposite numbers. I wanted to spotlight my personal favorite today. Sure the Green Goblin usually gets top billing as Spidey’s #1 nemesis, but that didn’t happen until he decided to get all personal and murder Gwen Stacy. Before that, the Web-head’s best baddie was always considered to be the guy you see above. He of the bowl cut and multiple appendages, the one, the only Doctor Octopus!

As our story commences, Spidey is on a routine patrol when he comes across some nameless miscreants. Spidey makes such short work of them, that he laments his lot in life. He longs for a villain that can give him a run for his money. I guess that whole “power and responsibility” thing kind of slipped your mind there for a bit, Pete. At this point we leave the cocky web-spinner and cut to one of the many, many nuclear research facilities that existed in the early Marvel Universe. We’re introduced to a man named Otto who with a special harness can well, harness the awesome might of nuclear energy. This apparatus has already earned him the nickname of Dr. Octopus!

“So you see, you put the lime IN the coconut and drink them both together!”

As these things usually go, something goes horribly awry and Octavius is caught in a bit of an explosion. Taken from the wreckage, it is discovered that the good doctor is alive, albeit with a great deal of radiation absorbed into his body. If you think that means he’s slowly dying anyway, you’ve never read a Marvel comic! Welcome to the blog, by the way! Anyway, what the radiation actually does is fuse the arms to Otto’s body somehow. This is comics, we don’t need real science to explain awesome things! As it is, Ock’s brain is also been a bit addled. When he wakes int he hospital some time later, he assumes he is being imprisoned for his vast intellect. Because of this, he lashes out, and finds that the arms now respond to his mental commands rather than clunky analog controls. That’s right, Doc Ock has bluetooth arms, apparently! Of course being the fresh off the operating table maniacal genius he is, Doc Ock decides to just take over the whole damn hospital. Although he does it in a hilarious way.

Thank you Comics Code for keeping the door shut.

Meanwhile a the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson assigns Peter Parker to get some pictures of the scientist. All they know at this point is that no one is being admitted to the hospital. Actually, the whys and wherefores don’t matter. It’s a good excuse to get Spider-Man on the scene! When the titanic teen stumbles across Doc Ock hassling the staff and generally being a bad guy, he jumps through the window, itching for action! What follows is quite a heated battle that introduces many staples to the Doc Ock/Spidey mythos, such as Spidey getting punched by a tentacle and the hero subsequently webbing the arms up. Sadly for the webhead, the battle is not in his favor. In fact, Doctor Octopus makes such short work of the hero, he adds insult to injury by not even bothering to remember Spidey’s name…

At least he remembered the hyphen?

So, after this exchange, Doc Ock literally slaps Spidey around for a bit, and then tosses him out of the 3rd story window like so much garbage. This leaves Peter devastated, as this was his first ever defeat. His confidence is shaken so much, that he goes home as Peter, not Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Doc Ock takes this opportunity to leave the hospital before the police arrive. In the interval, he goes to yet another nuclear research facility (told you there were a lot), and takes it over as well. Thinking himself invincible, Octopus takes the time to gloat.

“Now to resume my vaguely threatening experiments in… RADIATION!”

Cut back to teenage Peter Parker who is being incredibly mopey just because he got his webbed behind handed to him. He goes through his daily routine of getting picked on in school. Not even the promise of the Human Torch coming to school to give a speech can rouse his spirits. In fact, if he wasn’t so mopey, he’d be on the verge of heckling the Torch, thinking it’s easy to exude confidence if you’ve never been defeated. As the Torch’s demonstration continues though, a chord is struck within Pete that truly galvanizes the young lad into action.

No snark here, just a great sequence by Ditko.

As soon as classes for the day end (Peter is responsible, after all.), Spider-Man gets ready to take the fight back to Ock. We even see the first use of the web-catapult to get Spidey past Doc Ock’s defenses. While inside the facility, though, surveillance devices track the web head’s every move. Using his innate cleverness and the trusty ‘ol spider-sense, he manages to evade detection and makes his way to the chem lab. Methinks our young hero has a clever plan.

“Wow! You really DO put the lime in the coconut!”

Spidey finishes his concoction just in time as he is then ambushed by Doc Ock. Using his newly created chemical formula, Web Head manages to fuse two of Ock’s arms together! Doctor Octopus is having none of it though, and still advances on Spidey, backing him into a wall. Worse yet, the arms that got fused together now give Ock a formidable club to smash spiders with! Spider-Man is running out of options, and decides to make a desperate gambit. He manages to web Ock’s glasses to his face, but the arms don’t need eyes to bludgeon the young hero, so that plan was a bit futile.  Ock gets the webbing off of his face and is about to deliver the coup de grâce. Spidey makes one last attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with his handy spider speed.

“Wow, if I had just HIT him, I could have avoided all of this unpleasantness!”

So, getting by with the skin of his teeth, Spidey wraps the unconscious Doc Ock in copious amounts of webbing and leaves him for the cops, because of course they’ll be able to handle him now that the dirty work is done. While Ock is defeated, this origin tale does a superb job in establishing that he is more than a match for the webbed wonder. In subsequent appearances, Octopus would go on to become a proto-Kingpin as the Crime Master, the de facto leader of the Sinister Six, among other things. Possibly the worst offense was when he very nearly became Peter’s new uncle when he wooed Aunt May. Currently, Ock is kind of a mess, with a debilitating disease leaving him a dying husk. That doesn’t have him down though, he still has the entire world in the palm in his hands with his current machinations.  Over the years, Doctor Octopus has been all over the map in terms of his place in Spidey’s pantheon of villains, but he’ll always be my number 1, thanks in most part to this story here.

This tale was originally printed in Amazing Spider-Man #3, July 1963. It has been re-published too many times to count, notably in Essential Spider-Man Vol. 1 and Marvel Masterworks: Spider-Man Vol. 1. It is also available digitally.

Secret Origins: Batman of Two Worlds!?

The last time I featured Batman in Secret Origins, I focused more on how Bruce Wayne was the first Robin. Let’s face it, everyone knows the Origin of Batman, so if you’re gonna tell it, why not have a twist? Today is no exception. Once upon a time, DC Comics toyed with the concept of multiple earths. That’s a Secret Origin column I’ll get to eventually, but for this tale, just take it as a given that there are multiple earths with slight differences. With that in mind let’s get on with the Secret Origin of the Batmen of two worlds!

Our story opens with the all too familiar scene depicted above. Leaving from a movie (this time an unnamed Marlon Brando film), the Waynes are accosted by a mugger. Thomas and Martha are gunned down, while young Bruce screams in agony. The screaming continues as an adult Bruce wakes up from his nightmare. Bruce is unsure why he’s reliving this particular nightmare. After all, in this incarnation, Bruce as Batman has already brought his parent’s killer to justice. Regardless of why, when Bruce has issues, he goes to relieve his stress on local derelicts. When he finds a duo of thuggish brutes trying to mug a defenseless old woman, he swings into action and takes one goon down. The other however flees the scene. Batman gives chase, and the first in a series of weird events plays out for the Caped Crusader.

Crime Alley: Aside from a few murders, the Happiest Place in Gotham!

Crossing town in a couple of steps isn’t the strangest thing to happen to Batman though, as Robin also pops out of nowhere to get the drop on Running Thug #2. In fact, when Batman & Robin exchange pleasantries, they realize that Robin actually left for Europe that morning! Strange happenings indeed. Before the two detective can suss out the situation, it’s solved for them by the sudden appearance of the mysterious Phantom Stranger. The stranger starts out with some cryptic-speak that his sort of mystic type loves to spout. After Robin asks him to translate that into something resembling English, the Stranger explains why he has brought the Dynamic Duo to Crime Alley.

You think they might reboot Batman twenty years after this story? Naaaaah.

The Stranger explains that he’s giving Bruce a chance to redeem the one failure he sees in his life, the inability to save his parents. This raises a few questions, such as does Batman blame himself for the deaths of his parents? and Why didn’t the Stranger offer the Golden Age Batman the same chance? I’ll leave those questions to an accredited Batman-ologist. Regardless of the reason, Batman agrees to this once in a lifetime opportunity. Robin insists on accompanying him, but Batman says it’s something he has to do alone. Robin is all like, “Hey, I got pulled away from a bunch of young European co-eds for this, I’m coming too!” and rushes into the fog after Batman. Before you know it, the duo are at Gotham Harbor, and before they can decide whether or not they’re actually on another Earth, the old chums hear the sounds of crime (in this case, an explosion). Duty takes over, and they find themselves on a ship full of modern-day pirates. Batman can’t believe how easily their opponents fall…

Dude, you’re a 6 ft. tall man in a bat costume. You’re lucky fainting is all he did!

As Batman & Robin mop up the scum, sirens finally blare and the Dynamic Duo find themselves face to face with Lieutenant James Gordon, looking a good twenty years younger than he should. Gordon orders the heroes to freeze, but rather than stay and explain the convoluted situation, the Caped Crusaders make a hasty retreat, but not before Gordon issues an APB on the duo. After that debacle, Batman & Robin decide to do some detective work in their civilian guises. Realizing that they can’t be sure where the Waynes live on this Earth, they go to the local library to gather intel. While Bruce goes through the social register (after being mistaken for his father), Dick studies the history of this strange new world and makes a series of startling discoveries…

Why Dick Grayson has an intimate knowledge of Krypton's solar system is a mystery, however.

“– This may end being a nice well-adjusted world! Can’t have that!”

Dick explains that if they stop the Wayne’s murder, they may be denying this Earth it’s only hero. Bruce is all like, “That’s nice, but I’m still not letting them die… old chum.” You can’t blame the guy. If someone came up to you and said “Hey man, don’t be mad, but we should let your parents die for the greater good!” You’d be a bit dismissive too. Anyway, the two go to spy on the Waynes at.. Wayne Manor of all places! Jeez, you think they would have tried that first instead of doing the detective work. Seeing his parents again strengthens Batman’s resolve to keep them from dying again. Robin, on the other hand sees how much of a spoiled child this young Bruce Wayne is and wonders if he’ll grow up to me the bored playboy Batman only pretends to be. Regardless, Batman presses on for more info to prevent the tragedy. Knowing the name of the man who murdered his parents, he tries the find the whereabouts of the murderer’s counterpart on this Earth. Batman being Batman, he has an ingenious way of getting said information.

How did he make a perfect Gordon disguise after only seeing him for a minute? He’s BATMAN!

Sadly, information on Joe Chill is as obscure as knowing the lineup of the 1906 Boston Red Stockings. Batman follows another lead though. Chill was hired to kill Tom Wayne by a man named Lew Moxon, and he does have a record. Batman and Robin descend on Moxon’s “legitimate business” and cause a major amount of mayhem, including blowing up a truck! After Robin (literally) tackles Moxon, he says he’s never even heard of Joe Chill. Batman puts the fear of well, Batman into Moxon, and warns him not to mess with the Waynes. Moxon plays the scared little lamb, but Batman’s interference actually causes Moxon to move up his “Kill Wayne” timetable.

By Batman’s estimation, he and Robin have five more days to stop the murder. Uh-oh. Batman and Robin spend the next few hours debating on the merits of preventing the murder. Robin is still unsure if they’re condemning young Bruce into being a foppish dandy. Batman is still having none of it, though. Batman leaves to follow (or look for) another lead, leaving Robin to shadow the Waynes as they are getting ready to go see a movie. Again, Uh-oh.

Batman is once again in Police Headquarters and hits pay-dirt! Chill isn’t from Gotham, so he wasn’t in their records, but he does show up on interstate files. He’s about to find the info he sorely needs when he’s confronted at gunpoint by Lt. Gordon! You may think it’ll be a Mexican standoff, but there is something about the way Batman pleads his case that sways the young police lieutenant…

“You’ve given me no indication that you’re NOT an escaped mental patient, but somehow, I trust ya!”

Batman is able to track down Chill to a seedy motel, but Chill is dying. It seems since Batman mentioned him to Moxon, Chill was killed as soon as he made himself known! Chill also spills the beans that another gunsel is on the way to the hit! Batman then has a V8 moment, realizing that in the twenty years that have passed, leap years make today the corresponding day, rather than the date he was counting on. That’s fine deductive reasoning Batman, but if you hadn’t interfered, it wouldn’t have happened so quickly anyway, so there’s that… Cutting back to Robin and the Waynes, the fated family is walking down an alley, because the movie was sold out. Before you know it, they are accosted by a thug with a gun. Robin agonizes over what to do, finally realizing he just can’t let anyone die while he does nothing. It turns out his interference isn’t needed however…

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Batman seriously beats the punk down, but can you really blame him? Then, the Phantom Stranger returns to take the Caped Crusaders home. Robin asks if they’ll ever learn of young Bruce’s fate. The Stranger is back to speaking cryptically though, and all he’ll tell the Teen Wonder is that they have saved two lives and forever altered a third. Batman says “Amen to that.” and they return home.

The story doesn’t end there though! While Batman and Robin will never learn the fate of young Bruce, we get to peek in on the lad. It seems his close encounter with tragedy has had a profound effect on the boy. Gone is the spoiled brat, replaced with a more attentive, studious youngster. Reading such books as Sherlock Holmes and various books about criminology. That’s great and all, but didn’t Robin say earlier there weren’t any inspiring literary figures on this Earth? Anyway, as we leave this earth, we find that encountering Batman casts a long shadow indeed…

“it’s like an omen! I shall become Bat Batman Man!”

See? Robin had nothing to worry about! This world gets a Batman, with no messy murders involved! Think about it, a man devoted to justice, the absolute peak of human achievement, and he doesn’t have to have a tortured soul to do it! This my friends, is what I would call the “Ultimate” Batman. It’s a shame we never got to see any of his adventures. It’d be very interesting to see if he’d inspire the same rouge’s gallery as “our” Batman, or if with a brighter outlook on life, he’d make Gotham a veritable utopia. At any rate, so ends the origin of Batmen of Two Worlds. Until next time, keep your origin a secret!

This story originally appeared in Detective Comics #500, and was reprinted in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told: Vol. 1.



Frantic Fridays: Is Conan a Librarian or a Barber?


When Frantic Times was on the air, the guy had to come up with new material on a weekly basis. When you have that kind of immediacy, using topical humor is a sure-fire way to go. To wit, sometimes The Frantics would delve into the pop culture scene at the time. One of the bigger movie in the early 80′s was the big-screen adaptation of the classic Conan the Barbarian. I thought since the remake is now in theaters, it’d be fun to re-visit the lampooning the Frantics gave the sword-wielding Schwarzenegger.

First up, Conan the Librarian. This is a play on words joke that has been done many times over the years, notably in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s classic UHF. Chronologically though, the Frantics tread that ground first. As always, they are ahead of their time! Let’s listen:

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Next up is “Bill from Bala Buys a Movie Ticket”. While Conan is the subject of some throwaway jokes, the real focus here is on the character of Bill From Bala. Bill is a recurring character on Frantic Times, but oddly I’ve never featured him before. I thought it was high time to rectify that!

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And there you go. More later, bye for now!

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