Wednesday, April 27, 2016


The catalog of Superman and Batman's more-than-occasional sparring matches contains multiple chapters, many of which find the pair battling in the streets of their hometowns, in the future, on alien planets, inside the bottle city of Kandor, at Hank's Highway Honkytonk offa I-10 just outside Yuma after a string of half-price pitchers while arguing over the jukebox, and once in divorce court right in front of the kids. On occasion, additionally, they brought their bickering to long-gone eras of the past. Most notably of these excursions involves Batman's pursuit of his ancestor, "Mad" Anthony Wayne, in the pages of World's Finest Comics vol.1 No.186 and 187 (August/September 1969).

Reclining in his luxurious mansion, Bruce "Batman" Wayne ponders the mystery of his colonial ancestor "Mad" Anthony Wayne,  a figure who charged "redcoats like a maddened bull." This leaves the world's greatest detective to ponder "I wonder why he was called 'mad' though?" Good lord, man, did Sherlock Holmes teach you nothing.

World's Greatest Detective.

In one of those lucky/interminable coincidences of comicdom, the Gotham Museum takes that opportunity to contact Batman in hopes that the city's greatest crimefighter might spare some time to play bodyguard to a recently-donated, mysterious bust. Either crime was at a particularly low ebb in Gotham that day or most of the crime those days involved stealing busts from museums. Either way, it's difficult to imagine young Bruce Wayne falling to his knees at the site of his parents' gruesome murder pleading to an uncaring god "I will protect sculpture, so that no one should suffer the way I have suffered! I shall become a bat!" Talk like that will get you committed.

Batman's bust-bodyguarding comes to naught since the museum went and entrusted the thing to Eustace P.Butterfingers, the museum curator best known for never using a napkin when eating greasy pizza and for obsessively moisturizing his hands with vaseline. He drops the bust, and it shatters in slow-mo like an Eighties music video.

Crime is either also at a low in Metropolis or the lesson Superman's foster parents inculcated in him was to "use your tremendous power to protect knick-knacks," because a quick phone call results in the Man of Steel arriving at the museum to reassemble the bust at super-speed.

"Snuffles, you can talk!"
To jump ahead a little bit, the crux of this story is that Superman -- after he and Batman travel to the past to uncover the so-called mystery of this statuary -- will be possessed by an evil demon and become Batman's enemy. Before that happens, though, Superman reassembles the bust in sight of an amazed museum crowd, revealing it to be Batman's identical ancestor, Mad Anthony Wayne. Then, he continues to modify it until it looks like Batman, pointing out the resemblance between the two ... in front of everybody. This is where the trouble starts.

In order to figure out the mystery of why Mad Anthony Wayne looks like Bruce Wayne (hint: genetics, this is not really a mystery), Superman sews cute little colonial outfits for himself and Batman and then flies back through time to the days of the American Revolution (Batman's contribution to the expository dialogue of this adventure: "Uhhhh." I feel the same way).

Landing in olde tymeses, Batman and Superman pretty quickly wreck their playclothes in a fight with Mad Anthony Wayne (who does indeed look just like his descendant, job done, go back to the present guys), so decide to wander into nearby Gothamtown in their super-suits. They pretend to be actors -- the "S" on his chest, explains Superman, stands for Shakespeare. That doesn't seem any less stupid than it standing for "Hope," actually, so let's run with that ...

The World's Finest team hits town just in time to watch a local lady, Sylvia Ward, get relentlessly dunked by leering townies. It's all good fun on a Friday afternoon, but more to the point she's suspected of being a witch and they're trying to drown her.

She's easily saved by Superman, who dives in and chews his way through the heavy plank holding her underwater, He has his reasons, but it's still one of the most striking examples of Superman having to find new, interesting and/or profoundly dumb ways to use his powers.

Despite having done the heavy chewing, Superman is snubbed by Ward, which leads to all sorts of super-powered pranks intended to convince the townsfolks that Batman is, himself, a man-witch. Planting diamonds and making a cat speak in Satan-dude terms is pretty good stuff, but Superman riding a broomstick with colored mud all over his costume to implicate Batman in nogoodery is probably the peak of overdoing it. He can always throw Batman into space. Always.

Dir. Zack Snyder
Batman ends up in the pillory, where Ben Franklin attempts a rescue using a kite to channel electricity into the device's padlock. Superman repeatedly kite-blocks him at invisible super-speed, which sort of implies to me that this would have discouraged Franklin from discovering electricity and Thomas Edison would have had to find some other method of executing rogue elephants. Maybe gladiatorial combat, maybe stomping them flat, I dunno. I'm no scientist.

Batman is put to the stake but manages to escape, largely by reviving the whole "The S stands for..." thing, claiming it stands for "Satan" while Superman stands by the "Shakespeare" bit, and really it's sort-of the whole "Who's On First" of its day.

At this point, to cut a long story short, Superman sides with the redcoats and leads an assault on the revolutionaries - people with whom we're supposed to feel some sort of affection for as our underdogs of precedent, but who also tried to drown a woman and burn Batman and believe in witches. So I side with the British.

Mad Anthony Wayne joins the fight, as does his kid sidekick Robbie who looks just like Robin because that's how this works. Giving Robbie a kryptonite stone from his belt -- which he should have probably thought of earlier -- Batman encourages the kid to recreate David and Goliath with the stone, the subsequent knocking-upon-the-head of which releases Superman from the control of an evil spirit. This is the end of Robbie's story, even though he did all the heavy lifting. Some justice.

"Allow me to keep this memento of you
getting your ass totally handed to you."
With their mysteries (?) solved, Superman and Batman brutally rout the English, another indefensible travesty of historical meddling on behalf of the World's Finest team, two characters without whom history would have never happened. Their time travel cards need revoking.

The last mystery is apparently "why the statue of the Wayne ancestor who looks exactly like Bruce Wayne looks like Bruce Wayne," which is -- I say again -- not a mystery to anyone who's ever known their parents. I guess that's the problem with Batman and Superman, plus most of their exact duplicates tend to be drifters and petty crooks.

In any case, the casting, it turns out, was made by Sylvia from the impression Batman made when his ancestor was fighting him and kicked him face-first into the mud. So the bust of Mad Anthony Wayne is actually a historical artifact of Batman's most humiliating defeat, a true treasure for the ages!

1 comment:

Cheryl Spoehr said...

I remember reading this as a kid,and hating every second of the story. Batman refers to ANTHONY Wayne as "my namesake",but Bruce is not spelled Anthony,and Wayne is the family name,so everyone in the family must be a "namesake"

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