Ever dance with a boner by the pale moonlight? Batman #66

This story is a bit of an anomaly in my unending look at Bizarre Silver Age Comics. No, not because of a total lack of Superman being a dick to his friends… though, that does make it an outlier, to tell the truth. No, it’s mainly because there’s really nothing intrinsically bizarre about this story. It’s pretty silly, but indistinguishable from a dozen other silly stories DC published the same year.

No, the reason this story has become legendary over the decades is because of the writer’s retroactively naïve decision to fill it with mentions of one particular future slang term: boner.

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Nobody really knows when “boner” became a euphemism for “erection”; there are some instances in literature dating to the 1950s, but back then, most understood the word “boner” to mean an embarrassing mistake, as in “pulling a boner”, and the other meaning certainly was never mentioned in mixed company. Even as late as the 1980s, the TV sitcom Growing Pains featured the recurring character Richard Stabone AKA “Boner” and it barely raised an eyebrow, despite Growing Pains being popular with kids and starring a squeaky clean born-again teen actor who’s now doing his part to spread the coronavirus.

Now THAT’S pulling a boner.

But it seems there was a big shift sometime during the 1990s, and now the word “boner” is almost exclusively known by its salacious meaning, and the “humiliating gaffe” definition has been left by the wayside. Although I do appreciate Merriam-Webster’s attempt to come up with some sort of family-friendly definition.

Yeah, guys… that’s not much better.

But in August/September of 1951, when Batman #66 hit newsstands, “boner” was still known by its more innocent connotation. And if Bill Finger—Batman’s co-creator and the writer of the infamous story contained within this issue—had simply used a term like “howler” or “blunder” instead, there’s no way we’d be talking about it today. But he didn’t, and now we get to revel in the unintentional comedy (and excuse to unload a ton of dick jokes) that is “The Joker’s Comedy of Errors”.

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So we open up the comic and we’re only on page one, and already we’re deep into it: On a splash page of Batman and Robin swinging in to take down the Joker and his thugs, a caption declares that “only a sense of humor like the Joker’s could think of translating boners into crimes!” It also promises the Joker will be readying “a special boner just for Batman”, and as if all that’s not enough, the Joker and his men are currently laughing it up in a gallery underneath a sign reading “The Joker’s Collection of the Great Boners of History”. And no, it’s not a collection of plaster casts.

Somebody get Comedy Central on the phone, ‘Great Boners of History’ will be the next big show to fill time between Chapelle reruns.

The Joker’s collection is actually made up of paintings: one depicts Fred Merkle of the New York Giants forgetting to touch second base in a 1908 game against the Cubs—an event that’s come to be known as Merkle’s Boner, and no, that’s not a NSFW link—and the second shows Columbus setting sail for India and landing in America instead. Yeah, what a screwup that was! Though, Columbus and his men did have boners for the natives, that’s for sure.

The story opens on the Joker and his gang about to pull off a big robbery. As proven by various Silver Age comics, only two-bit crooks waste time breaking into places like banks or jewelry stores or national mints. True OGs like the Joker go where the real loot is: the headquarters of the local electric company.

These days, the Joker is known as an enigmatic force of nature who can incite riots simply to watch the world burn, but in 1951 he was… not that. When the character first started out, he was as violent as any crime boss Batman went up against, but then the Comics Code Authority came along to keep kids from turning into juvenile delinquents and the Joker was watered down into a goofy troublemaker who mostly pulled off harmless pranks, as evidenced by this story.

The Joker’s big idea here is to rob the electric company by cutting off the power, which he finds hilariously ironic, judging by the HA-HA! that punctuates his every speech bubble. After they force the poor elevator operator to take them up to the 24th floor, Joker’s goons cut the power and rob the place. Then they all pile back into the elevator to make their getaway, and the operator points out they’re not going anywhere soon.

The mastermind who’s been a thorn in Batman’s side for 80 years, everybody.

So they’re forced to take the stairs, which allows Batman and Robin ample time to show up and start beating their asses. Joker creates a diversion by starting a fire and gets away, but Batman points out he didn’t even escape with the cash he came for. The next day’s headline, sold by an appropriately New England-accented newsie, says it all:

How about that “other famous all-time boners” feature? Let me guess: John Holmes, Ron Jeremy, Milton Berle, and Rasputin?

The Joker is incensed upon reading the headlines, leading to one of the most reproduced panels in comics history.

Every time I see this panel, I wonder what the first few words of that headline are supposed to be. “(Let’s all) chortle at the Joker’s boner”? Is the Gotham Gazette encouraging us to chortle at the Joker’s boner? Because chortle we will. But while this panel may be the most famous of the issue, there’s more boner talk to come. Plenty more.

Yes, this “emphasis on boners”—sorry, man, what can I say? This whole society has a size fetish—has given him an idea for a new crime spree. He’s going to “take the great boners of all-time and turn them into crimes!” First, he plans to recreate the accidental grounding of the USS Missouri, which is just a historical footnote now, but apparently was all the talk back in 1951. The Joker even has a picture of it handy.

It does look like quite a boner, yes.

He and his boys board a rowboat while Joker explains that the “SS Capetownia” is arriving in Gotham Harbor tomorrow, and Joker and the gang switch some buoys around to confuse the captain, which indeed causes him to run the ship aground the next day. This allows the Joker to climb aboard and steal a “fortune in diamonds”.

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And then the headlines the next day explain why the Joker was motivated to pull off this “boner” crime.

I’ve heard of your boner stinging, especially when you pee, but this?

Up next: The Joker plans a crime inspired by the Leaning Tower of Pisa, “one of the great architectural boners in history!” That’s for sure. Just ask all the tourist bros who pose “creatively” for pictures with it. Or Deuce Bigalow.

One of the greatest all-time boners in Sony Pictures history, in both senses of the word.

To recreate the Leaning Tower, Joker and his goons take a trip out to the countryside to a castle owned by an oil magnate named “King” Staley, and set about turning its bell tower into a leaning tower. I especially like how the Joker has to wait a week for a heavy rain to cause the tower to lean. He’s really playing the long con here.

At Wayne Manor, Bruce and Dick fret about how they’re having no luck stopping the Joker’s boner crime spree. Bruce casually drops the factoid that he has to fly to “the coast” next month to testify at the “Burke trial”, which I’m sure won’t have any bearing on this story at all. Just then, they sit down to listen to Uncle Milty on the radio and instead hear:

I think the FCC is going to fine the Joker pretty heavily for this.

The Joker declares his intention to cause Batman to make the “boner of the year”, which I think is also a category at the AVN Awards. Bruce and Dick are perplexed.

Being forced into a boner is NEVER good, Bruce.

Bruce says the only thing they can do for now is continue their study of the “great boners of all time” to try to anticipate the Joker’s next move.

And it turns out the next boner that Joker has in mind involves wood. A wooden gun, that is. He’s going to recreate the “glaring boner” when a prison guard let famed outlaw John Dillinger escape from jail with a wooden gun. He plans to smuggle a wooden gun into the hoosegow to break out “our boy Danny”, and he has to explain to his goons that they can’t sneak in a real gun, because it wouldn’t get past the metal detectors. And to be honest, the Joker’s gun is actually way more convincing than the thing Dillinger used.

At the state pen a week later, Danny Boy already has the wooden gun and tells a guard that “this gat means business”, but the guard, evidently a student of gangster history, already knows about the Dillinger boner and thinks it’s a wooden gun. But then Danny Boy proves it’s a real gun by clanging it against the bars… but he’s actually clanging his ring against the bars.

I think he might be clanging his boner against the bars, too.

So, they couldn’t get a metal gun past the metal detectors, but a metal ring is A-okay in this prison? Danny escapes from the big house, and Joker is so pleased with himself that he sends the wooden gun to Commissioner Gordon for a laugh. Gordon calls in Batman immediately.

Trust me, Jim, we’re all very, very worried.

Soon, Bruce reads about a movie filming in town called Greek Victory where they’re planning to recreate the Trojan Horse ruse, “one of the classic boners of all time!” Dick furthers explains for the kids that the Trojans “made the boner of dragging it inside their walls”, allowing Greek soldiers inside the city gates. Bruce decides that this simply must be the scene of the Joker’s next boner crime.

You might say Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand boners.

Sure enough, the Joker’s got his henchmen dressed up as Greek soldiers to hide away inside a Trojan Horse movie prop. He claims “there’s a fortune in furs” inside the Universal Studios—oops, I mean, “United Studios” warehouse, and they’ll blend in with the extras and sneak inside the horse before it gets put away for the night. But before the horse gets wheeled into the warehouse, Batman and Robin show up on the scene, and a fight breaks out. And I guess because the Joker’s men are dressed as Greek soldiers, they’re obligated to fight them with swords.

Er… “finished” actually comes from the Latin “finis”, but close enough. You can’t expect Batman to be up on his etymology when he’s spending all his time studying boners. Alas, Robin slips on a “spot of grease” and almost falls off the horse. Batman saves him, allowing Joker and his goons to escape.

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Back at his hideout, Joker’s had enough of Batman and is now “ready to trick him into his boner!” This one involves causing Batman to recreate the “Wrong Way” Corrigan blunder, yet another historical footnote wherein an aviator set out from New York to California but ended up landing in Dublin, Ireland instead. I’m sort of disappointed that the “boners” in this story are so dated and obscure, but then I realized that the 2021 version of this story would have the Joker recreating the moment they gave the Oscar to La La Land instead of Moonlight while he steals swag-bags backstage, and people in sixty years would be like, “what the hell is all this about?” Also, half the English language will probably be a slang term for “hard-on” by then and they’ll just find the whole thing endlessly amusing.

The following week (is it me, or does this one stupid little story unfold over the course of about 18 months?), Batman boards his Bat-plane to go testify in that previously mentioned trial on “the coast”. Joker zaps the plane with a “directional beam” and causes him to fly the wrong way. Batman and Robin end up in England, to the amusement of some very British-sounding fishermen.

The Dynamic Duo quickly realize their mistake, hop back in the plane, and head back to the States. And the next newspaper headline we see declares this to be “Batman’s Greatest Boner!” But is it really that humiliating? After all, the Joker went on the radio and announced to the whole world that he’d do something to cause Batman to make a huge, er, mistake, and become the “laughing-stock of Gotham City”. So why should this be at all embarrassing to Batman?

Was Batman’s Greatest Boner for Catwoman, Kathy Kane, or Robin? Read about it in Arts & Leisure.

Nevertheless, it seems the whole city forgot the Joker’s threat, and this is all it takes to destroy Batman’s career and reputation. In fact, we learn Batman has become a “national joke”. At the Joker’s hideout, he and his men celebrate while the Joker raises a glass to “the end of Batman”. Suddenly, Batman and Robin and all the cops burst in to arrest everybody.

Yes, it seems the Joker was so obsessed with Batman’s boner that he wasn’t paying attention to his own boner. Hey, sometimes a man can be too giving as a lover, you know what I mean?

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Remember that “directional beam” the Joker transmitted to knock the Bat-plane off course? Well, Batman and Robin had their own “directional finder” to track the source of the “directional beam”. So there. In fact, Batman and Robin knew they were headed in the wrong direction; they were just buying themselves time to zero in on the Joker’s location. So “national joke”, my bat-ass. The whole thing wraps up with the Joker going back to jail yet again, and for some reason this time not only is Batman here to see him locked up, but the mayor of Gotham shows up at the jail just to apologize to Batman on behalf of the city for ever doubting him. The end.

Alas, I think the Joker is going to be seeing a lot more boners in prison.

Like I said, this was just a moderately silly story that isn’t even close to some of the abject lunacy seen in other DC stories of the time. It’s really only the “boner” talk that makes this is any way memorable. But one does have to wonder why—if the word “boner” was presumably chosen in total innocence—Bill Finger felt he had to use it roughly eight times on every single page. I’m not saying he knew what he was doing, but it is a bit sus. Also, congrats to this comic for making me forget to make dick jokes about the character actually named Dick, which is quite an accomplishment.

Tag: Bizarre Silver Age Comics

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