Oct 9, 2020
Batman and Robin, Mummy Crime-Fighters: Detective Comics #320
I’m back again with another Bizarre Silver Age Comic, and another cover that’s pretty well known to Superdickery fans. This is despite the fact that it doesn’t even involve Superman. In fact, I think this is my first look at a DC comic that doesn’t mention Superman at all.
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This one’s a 1963 issue of Detective Comics featuring Batman and Robin that’s become rather notorious over the years. It was referenced in an episode of the Cartoon Network series The Brave and the Bold (the same episode that referenced “The Son of Superman”), and there was even a limited release Funko Pop figurine based on the cover. But honestly, I’m not sure why “Batman and Robin – The Mummy Crime-Fighters” got lumped in with the Superdickery meme. The cover doesn’t feature Batman acting like a dick, and the story inside really doesn’t either. I guess this one’s famous purely for the absurdity factor, much like the “Zebra Batman” and “Rainbow Batman” covers that may or may not be covered here someday.
The comic begins on a picturesque day as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson drive through the countryside, on their way back to Gotham City from a vacation. I wonder who was handling crime in the city while these two were off having a little R&R. Not the cops, that’s for sure.
On the way back, they spot a space capsule crashing in a nearby ravine. Concerned about the pilot, they climb aboard, only to discover the pilot is actually a robot, and the space capsule was actually built by aliens.
I know what you’re thinking: if an alien space capsule crashes to Earth in a Batman story, then surely this will be the main focus of the story, right? Certainly, Bruce must already be asking himself: who are these aliens? Why did they send a capsule to Earth? Are they friend or foe? But this is the Silver Age, and an alien visitation near Gotham City is completely brushed off in two panels because it probably happens at least once a week around these parts.
Also aboard the capsule is a strange green sphere, which clicks ominously, and then explodes. Bruce and Dick get hit with a green energy ray and a “ka-zaap” sound effect, but luckily don’t die. They rush back to their car to go report the capsule to the authorities, but as they drive back into town, they find the citizens of Gotham gawking at them and looking terrified.
They immediately go to the hospital, which (protip) is absolutely what you should do when your Dick turns green. The doctor informs them there’s nothing he can do about their strange coloration, but somehow, he’s enough of an expert on completely unknown alien technology to declare there’s “nothing immediately dangerous” about their skin and hair turning green. And with the experiences these two have had in the past, you’d think Bruce and Dick would be worried about other potential side effects of the ray. Could the green skin be just the first stage of a bizarre transformation? Could they be mutating into something even more horrible?
But nope, all they have on their minds is how they’re going to preserve their secret identities. Because if Batman and Robin show up to fight crime with green skin, criminals will finally make the obvious connection that they’re really Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Which means that at its core, and despite all the wacky mummy window dressing, this is nothing more than your typical Silver Age story that’s entirely about the heroes pulling insane shenanigans to maintain their secret identities.
First, they attempt the simple solution, especially for a superhero who’s supposed to be a master of disguise: applying flesh-colored makeup. Sadly, it won’t stick.
Apparently, those aliens were highly advanced in the ways of flesh makeup repeller technology, as well. Bruce floats the idea of wearing masks, but Robin says that won’t work either, because he runs around with exposed arms and legs like a dumbass, and if he covers up, everyone will be on to him. Eventually, Bruce says they’ll have to make new costumes, and come up with an excuse for why they’re wearing them, and the two get to work.
The first step in their plan is to finally, at least half a day later, call up Commissioner Gordon to report the crashed space capsule. But when Gordon and the cops arrive to investigate, Batman and Robin are already on the scene with a dire warning.
As we’ll find out later, this is just Batman and Robin activating blinding lights on their utility belts to cover up their green complexions. Which means they’re telling Gordon and the police to stay away from a strange alien device, and not investigate a possible hazard to the city, for the sole purpose of preserving their secret identities. I mean, for all they know, this thing could be the homing beacon for an invasion force. How many lives are they potentially putting at risk here?
But now comes step two: Batman phones up Gordon to report the bogus “results” of his own tests: he and Robin have been contaminated with radiation that’s harmful to all human life, but which conveniently isn’t dangerous to Batman and Robin themselves. Gordon immediately declares that the two of them are “out of action” and a group of reporters (who all happen to be hanging out in Gordon’s office for some reason) don’t waste a second dashing out to break the story.
Predictably, some crime-type dudes read the newspaper and decide to take advantage of Batman and Robin’s condition to pull off a “big job”. They rob the “Gotham Light Company”, only to be confronted by Batman and Robin… who are now dressed like mummies.
The robbers try to flee, but Mummy Batman and Mummy Robin commandeer a utility truck, which is full of glass light globes that Batman hurls at the getaway car to take out the tires. Soon, the Dynamic Duo are beating the holy hell out of the robbers. Weirdly, they’re doing this even after the police show up on the scene. Odd. The police declare that Batman and Robin’s bandages must be “treated with special chemicals to protect the public from their radiation glow!” And then—stop the press! Who is that?
Ah yes, Vicki Vale. Batman’s pseudo “girlfriend” who somehow ended up as a main character in Tim Burton’s 1989 movie despite having completely vanished from the comics by the 1970s. Vale is a news photographer, and at this point she’s really just Batman’s version of Lois Lane, i.e., a giant pain in the ass who’s always trying to prove her suspicions that Bruce Wayne is Batman.
After the heist, she realizes that if Bruce and Dick are really Batman and Robin, they must have been affected by the space capsule “accident” as well. She shows up at Wayne Manor, and Alfred warns her that “Mr. Wayne and Master Bruce” (wait… aren’t those the same person?) can’t be seen right now. But she barges in anyway… and cracks the case instantly.
But Bruce is able to completely throw the “famed news photographer” off her game, by showing her a newspaper story that explains how Bruce and Dick turned green because of the space capsule, whereas Batman and Robin got exposed to deadly radiation because of the same space capsule. Yep, two totally different, completely unrelated events. Somehow, Vicki buys this explanation and even apologizes for seeing the glaringly obvious truth before her eyes.
Later that night, some crooks break into the “steel foundry”, and… what exactly are these guys after? Is it just me, or do criminals in Gotham always pick the stupidest places to rob? Boys, try knocking over a bank or a 7-Eleven next time.
Mummy Batman and Robin arrive on the scene to handle the robbers. Alas, Batman learns one of the drawbacks of swathing yourself head to toe in bandages while fighting crime when his foot gets caught on something and he takes a tumble off a catwalk. Thinking quickly, Robin undoes his bandages and turns his blinding lights back on, which disguises his green skin and also terrifies the criminals into thinking he’s giving them thyroid cancer.
And of course, Vicki Vale shows up not long after, and she sees Robin glowing. And once again, she talks herself out of drawing the only possible conclusion.
Goddammit, Vicki. Aren’t you supposed to have woman’s intuition, or reporter’s gut, or something?
The next day, Vicki shows up at a “five-alarm fire” where Batman and Robin are rescuing people, and now back in their normal costumes. After the fire is put out, Batman explains they’re no longer contaminated, so they ditched the mummy outfits. Vicki realizes that Bruce and Dick must now be back to normal too, so she makes a beeline to Wayne Manor, only to find they’re already there and they’re both still green. A humiliated Vicki runs off, convinced she was suspicious over nothing. We end on Bruce and Dick wiping off their green face paint.
Yep, that’s it. Do they say one more word about the crashed space capsule, or why it might contain a sphere that turns people green and makes them invulnerable to face paint? They do not.
There’s no doubt this comic started out with the cover being drawn up long before a writer got assigned to come up with a story to explain it. It feels like a total waste, too. There are a million directions they could have gone with the admittedly eye-catching Mummy Batman concept, but eventually they landed on a lazy “protecting the secret identity” plot. Though to be fair, that plot accounts for a good 40% of DC Silver Age superhero stories.
As I said earlier, I don’t know how this one got included in discussions of Superdickery. Batman isn’t much of a dick in this story; Sure, he makes Vicki Vale feel like a total idiot, but considering the only other option was letting her figure out his secret identity, he didn’t have much of a choice. But it’s definitely a famous cover; it got recreated on The Brave and the Bold in a short vignette that even features Vicki Vale saying the exact same dialogue on the cover.
But unlike the comic book, Batman and Robin in the cartoon are dressed as mummies to take on King Tut from the ‘60s Batman TV show, because wrapping themselves up in bandages protects them from his “pharaoh rays” that turn people into zombies. Okay, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s still way more interesting than what they came up with for this issue of Detective Comics.
Next time: Another famous Superdickery cover, and I’m going back to the Superman well, because Silver Age Batman is a bore. But the issue I have in mind actually features what might be a rare case of… Olsen-dickery?