19 September 2010

What Could Become of the Child?

In the cover story of Batman, #122, Dick Grayson dreams about Bruce Wayne marrying Kathy Kane, also known as Batwoman, and what comes of that relationship.

Nothing good, of course. Kathy tries to horn in on the crime-fighting again, and manages to give away Batman and Robin’s secret identities. (Message: Girls screw up everything!)

That story must have generated a positive response, in the DC Comics office or from readers, because writer Bill Finger went back to build on the same premise. He created an intermittent series of six tales in which Alfred typed out imaginary stories of a future in which Bruce and Kathy had married and raised a red-haired son named Bruce, Jr. Dick took up the mantle of Batman II while Bruce, Jr., insisted on being Robin II.

What might happen? Nothing good, of course. Robin II does a good job of falling down and being taken hostage, but Batman II retains that habit as well.

So it’s up to the first Batman (sometimes accompanied by Batwoman) to rescue his successor and son, and to preserve the family’s secret identities. (Message: No one will ever measure up to the real Batman!)

The one exception to that pattern appeared in Batman, #154, published in 1963. In “Danger Strikes Four,” Dick reads the manuscript of a Batman II and Robin II story that’s giving Alfred plotting problems.

A mission calls Batman and Robin away. Dick uses an idea from Alfred’s tale to sneak past some guards, allowing him to jump onto a flying buzz bomb and send it off course before leaping back to the batplane.

But that’s not all! Back in stately Wayne Manor, Dick adapts his trick with the missile into an ending for Alfred’s story. Robin II actually gets to save the imaginary day with an authorial assist from the real Robin. (Message: Writing fanfiction is fun for everyone!)

All those “Second Batman and Robin Team” stories have now been collected in DC’s Greatest Imaginary Stories, vol. 2: Batman and Robin. I’d like to know who wrote “Danger Strikes Four,” but the volume says its scripter is unknown. (The artist on the whole Batman II series was Sheldon Moldoff.)

Batman II and Robin II made a few more appearances in the comics, perhaps most notably in John Byrne’s Batman/Captain America crossover. And they’re one of the inspirations of Grant Morrison’s current series about Dick Grayson taking over as Batman with Bruce Wayne’s son as his Robin. But with that one exception, the originals left me cold. If Robin represents the potential for growing up, it’s disappointing when his future is unsuccessful.

DC’s Greatest Imaginary Stories, vol. 2 collects three more Batman and Robin tales which never happened, and which most fans wouldn’t want to happen:

  • Bruce Wayne blames Superman for his parents’ death, and plots revenge with Lex Luthor.
  • Lois Lane marries Bruce Wayne, has a child with him, and manages not to reveal Batman and Robin’s secret identities.
  • In a future that includes both hospitals in orbit for weightless surgery and electric typewriters, Dick is married with twins, Bruce thinks of retiring to the quiet life of a governor, and the whole story feels emotionally dead.
One recurring motif in this collection is, of all things, water-skiing. One story shows us the “Joker’s Son” on skis (his face is white, but the rest of his skin is not). Another shows Bruce skiing—with Lois on his shoulders.

As a fan of weird-ass Batman stories, I’m glad to have this collection in my library, but it never achieves the weirdness of The Black Casebook or extremes of The Strange Deaths of Batman. Instead, most of these tales reinforce the dominant attitudes of their eras, reassuring young male readers about the way the world should be.

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