TOP TEN: Batman Team-Ups
With the upcoming release of The Dark Knight Rises, the much-anticipated ending of the Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, we at Major Spoilers have been discussing what we believe to be the most awesome Batman moments of the character’s nearly 90 years of history. Stephen and I clashed over what the best Batman story EVER would be (I say ‘Joker’s Laughing Fish,’ Stephen’s votes have lately been turning towards the Court of Owls, and Rodrigo likes Justice League Unlimited Bats) but we agree on one thing: The guy gets around! I guess when you haven’t got super-powers, one has to get by with a little help from one’s friends…
Batman Team-Up #10:
Any discussion of Batman partnering up with ANYONE has to start here, with 1940’s Detective Comics #38. Though Robin’s origins are sometimes argued (some say the bird motif was to play off Batman, but I prefer Bill Finger’s account that he was inspired by Robin Hood), one cannot ignore the effect that the character had on Batman’s mythos, giving the Dark Knight a Watson-type foil to play off, a younger presence to lighten the stories, and a friend/son/brother in Dick Grayson. Over the years, Grayson was variously replaced by Jason Todd, who died by popular vote, opening the role for Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown and Bruce’s own son Damian, but no matter who wears the scarlet jerkin, it’s hard to imagine a time when Robin didn’t exist, no matter how much Chris O’Donnell might wish differently. This team is the reason why the phrase “Dynamic Duo” has become an enduring part of our lexicon…
Batman Team-Up #9:
Although the Justice Society of America first began appearing just a few months after Robins’ debut, most Golden Age superheroes existed in their own little pocket dimensions, never even hinting at the existence of a greater multiverse or other comic heroes. But during the 1940 World’s Fair, Nation Periodical Publications (the company that would eventually become modern DC Comics) put their two biggest draws together in one giant-size comic book. As the Golden Age waned, paper costs forced the heroes to team up in ONE story, rather than split the book, and the World’s Finest Team was born! Depending on which incarnations of Superman and Batman you like, the team can be buddy/buddy, it can be awkward and strained, or (as with the recent Superman/Batman book) based on a deep respect for a character who is nothing like you, but the sight of the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader together is as iconic as hot dogs teamed with buns.
Batman Team-Up #8:
Zoinks! This one always used to flummox me as a kid. The 1972 version of Scooby-Doo featured the Mystery, Inc. gang spanning the globe, meeting such luminaries as Don Knotts, the Harlem Globetrotters, Don Adams and Davy Jones. But their battle alongside the Dynamic Duo stands as one of the strangest and most inexplicable stories of Scooby and the gang, as Batman needs Velma’s help to unravel a counterfeiting ring masterminded by another iconic team, The Joker and The Penguin. It’s one of the only times you’ll find Batman’s adventures set to a laugh-track, and this episode of ‘The New Scooby Doo Movies’ aired concurrently with the first season of Superfriends, for those of you who believe corporate synergy to be a new invention. For many years during my youth, this is what I thought Batman was ALWAYS like…
Batman Team-Up #7:
Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation has also gotten around since his creation in 1887, but special note has to be given to his appearance alongside Batman for the 50th anniversary of Detective Comics in 1987 (itself a 100th anniversary year for Holmes.) The story involves a plot by Moriarty that Holmes forbade Doctor Watson to record in his journal, leading Batman, Elongated Man and other alumni of the Detective title to join forces to stop Moriarty’s descendent, which brings the centenarian Holmes out of retirement for the assist. It’s a nice nod to the Batman’s background as a detective, and seeing an aged Holmes tottering about (with a perfection rational explanation, mind you) helps to ease the sting of knowing that the world may NEVER be ready for the tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra.
Batman Team-Up #6:
Superheroes in the movies and television often fall into the same trap that the early Golden age stories did: self-contained universes with NO admission of the existence of other heroes or their adventures. But by 1966, ABC had two super-hero shows on the air which shared the same production company, leading to the cheap and dirty magic of corporate synergy! With the Hornet’s ‘wrong side of the law’ mentality clashing with law-and-order Batman, the two teams clashed in a very Silver Age manner, fighting to a draw due to a misunderstanding before joining forces against the real villains, and the powers-that-be at least had the grace to not have Bruce Lee take a beat-down from Burt Ward. I’m certain that this crossover was probably all about boosting the Hornet’s sagging ratings, but it’s one of the earliest examples of an inter-company crossover, something that leads us to our next entry…
Batman Team-Up #5:
After a successful co-publication of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ Marvel Comics and DC Comics put their heads together to create 1976’s Superman/Spider-Man crossover, notable for completely hand-waving explanations of universes, the reasons why they hadn’t met or even how it could HAPPEN with a brief bit of Spidey dialogue. It took several years before this sequel (featuring what were then Marvel and DC’s #2 characters) was ready, but it’s arguably a better story overall, featuring the cosmic powers of the Shaper of Worlds empowering The Joker as an agent of chaos. This story is even more fun if you imagine it as a TV crossover starring Adam West and Bill Bixby, and these treasury-sized pages paved the way for the crossover glut of the next decade, with titles like ‘Batman/Captain America’, ‘Batman/Daredevil’, ‘Batman/Hellboy/Starman,’ and ‘Batman/Crosby/Stills/Nash/Young/Merril/Lynch/Pierce/Sonny/Cher/Sacco & Vanzetti,’ as well as our next entrant…
Batman Team-Up #4:
What makes this crossover stand out where Batman’s battles with/alongside Spider-Man, The Predator and Tarzan might not? It’s lasting effects on the continuity. Not Batman’s continuity, of course, nothing makes much of a ripple there. But the battle with Batman was referenced several times in Spawn’s later continuity, and the injury that Spawn suffers in battle becomes part of his character look from that point forward (he ties his split skull back together with a shoelace.) Written by Frank Miller, the Spawn/Batman crossover is explicitly mentioned as being in the same wackaloon Reagan-era continuity as the excesses of The Dark Knight Returns, which makes perfect sense, and even the later retcons in the Spawn title of what “really” happened can’t undermine the awesome of ‘Batarang in the hamburger face.” (Having the man who “officially” scarred Al Simmons turn out to be Harry Houdini did help to lessen the disappointment, but only somewhat…)
Batman Team-Up #3:
If you’ve heard me talk Batman in the last three years, you knew this was coming… It’s always hard to do a musical episode, and even harder to do one that makes any sort of internal sense, no matter what the producers of ‘Glee’ would have us believe. That’s why “Mayhem of the Music Meister” stands not only as one of the best Brave and The Bold cartoon episodes, but as one of the best uses of both Batman and the conceits of the musical in cartoon history. There’s a scientific explanation for the singing, first off, and the Dark Knight resists being part of the theatrics for most of the episode, which makes the climactic sing-off so wonderful. The sight of ensemble-darkhorse Aquaman waltzing with Gorilla Grodd should get anyone giggling from the earliest moments, and the brilliance of the performance by NPH and the regular voice cast seals the deal. It’s an episode packed with wonderful, and even if some of the lyrics are a bit nonsensical, it’s a musical. Just play along.
Batman Team-Up #2:
For those of you lamenting my inclusion of a silly, frivolous TB&TB episode in a list that should be about your grim Dark Knight fighting crime in grimy streets, I apologize, and offer this in penance. Back in the 1970s, DC Comics officially had the license to print comics featuring The Shadow, radio’s deep-voiced mastermind who knows what evil lurks in your heart. Writer Denny O’Neil quickly realized that this was, in many ways, a license to print MONEY, as it allowed them to team The Shadow with his conceptual offspring, Batman. The two issues in question (reviewed here, for the curious) are flat-out awesome, with The Shadow acting like modern Batman, and Batman outplayed by the master. The very human moment where Batman admits in-universe the inspiration that Shad played in his history is fascinating to read, and adds some touching depth to the Batman character. Sadly, the story within these issues probably can’t ever be reprinted because of the character rights issues regarding Mr. Cranston’s appearance, but it’s an amazing story and an amazing team-up, to boot. But what, you ask, could top meeting your idol and inspiration?
Batman Team-Up #1:
Why, meeting your one true love, of course! As with many of the most important parts of Batman’s story, Catwoman dates back to the very dawn of the Golden Age, and her femme fatale ways are evident in even those very first stories. Her frequent face/heel turns throughout the years never quite erased Batman’s fascination with her, and one of my favorite Batman stories of all time tells the story of how the Earth-2 versions (implicitly the original characters, you might recall) met and fell in love, thanks to a Scarecrow toxin that triggered Batman’s greatest fear: losing his friends and family. Selina Kyle comes out of retirement to help him, under the expectation that an ENEMY would be immune to the effects of the gas, but their dramatic unmasking and declaration of love for one another stands as one of the most iconic Catwoman moments for me (even moreso than her anatomically impossible schtupping in 2011’s relaunched #1.) Given that there was at least one Batman/Catwoman “team-up” that led to the birth of their daughter, The Huntress, you kind of have to make this #1. After all, Daredevil didn’t go through hours of labor for Bats, now did he?
With almost a century of stories to choose from, mileage, as always, will vary. Am I right? Am I crazy? Am I just the lunatic you’re looking for? Feel free to correct me or remind me of the ones that I’ve inevitably missed in the comments sections!