During his acclaimed run on “Batman,” Grant Morrison had a novel approach to the history of Batman where he argued that all of Batman’s previous stories had actually happened, in one form or another. The reason why that is more significant than it sounds is that the story of Batman is clearly not a cohesive narrative, as it has been driven by many different editorial directions, from sleek avenger in the darkness to grinning fighter of aliens. All of these approaches are part of Batman’s history and help make the character who he is today.
Naturally, though, when you have that many different approaches to the character, some are going to be odder than others, especially back in the days when one or two writers had to come up with four distinct “Batman” plots a month, back before there were multiple-issue story arcs. Here, then, are the most embarrassing moments in Batman’s comic book history.
15. PAPA SPANK
This list will attempt to be more specific with the moments that we’re discussing. For the first entry of the countdown, however, we’ve decided to go a bit more generic, due to the proliferation of the same basic type of embarrassing behavior by Batman. Namely, this dude thought that spanking solved, like, 80% of any problem. What’s interesting is that, for the most part, what we’re talking about here relates to a specific era of popular culture in the 1940s and 1950s, where the idea of a guy “fixing” a woman by spanking her was seen as not embarrassingly regressive.
However, what stands out is that while, yes, Batman did use the “Quiet or papa spank” line on Catwoman when they first met in 1940, he was still using this routine in comic books well into the 1960s. Then there was that time when the villainous Queen Bee was revealed to be a socialite who had fallen in love with Batman; in the past, she’d even made a drunken scene on a Gotham City bridge, which led to Batman giving her a public spanking!
14. CANARY CRY
With Batman’s obsession of spanking on the list, it seems like a good time to talk about Frank Miller, Jim Lee and Scott Williams’ “All Star Batman and Robin,” which was also famous for how it handled a psycho-sexual approach to the Dark Knight. The book not only opens with Vicki Vale in her underwear and then zooms in on her derriere, but when the Director’s Cut of the first issue was released, we saw that it was all very intentional by Miller. His script to Lee notes, “OK, Jim, I’m shameless. Let’s go with an ASS SHOT. Panties detailed. Balloons from above. She’s walking, restless as always. We can’t take our eyes off her. Especially since she’s got one fine ass.”
The sexual “highlight” of the book is when Batman and Black Canary team-up to fight some bad guys on the docks. Batman lights them on fire, which apparently turns Black Canary on so much that they have sex right there on the dock, with their masks on. When they’re finished and Batman offers her a ride home, Black Canary makes fun of Batman, naming his car the “Batmobile,” as she thinks it is a “totally a queer” name for a car. This was a strange, strange comic book.
13. THAT OTHER BATMAN
During the 1994 crossover, “Knightfall,” Batman was targeted by a new villain named Bane, who tormented him psychologically and physically through surrogates until finally Bane directly attacked a drained Batman. Bane “broke” Batman, severely injuring his spinal cord. Batman had been working with a young man named Jean-Paul Valley who was dealing with the fact that he was part of a line of assassins, who were brainwashed into becoming killers. With Batman out of commission, Jean-Paul took over as Batman and managed to take Bane down.
Jean-Paul’s Batman then devolved into a parody of grim and gritty heroes, with an armored costume containing rockets and flame throwers. That was intentional, as “Batman” editor Denny O’Neil wanted to show how much better Batman was than those types of heroes. So Jean-Paul (or “Az-Bats,” as fans called him) was supposed to be embarrassing. At the same time, it’s still pretty embarrassing that Bruce Wayne skipped over Dick Grayson and instead just gave the Batmantle to a guy he knew as suffering from mental problems.
12. BATMAN FOR A NIGHT
The late George Plimpton was a writer who specialized in doing stories about “real” people doing things that normal people never get the chance to do, like play football with the Detroit Lions. The book about that experience, “Paper Lion,” was made into a popular film in 1968 starring a young Alan Alda. Three years later, Frank Robbins did a riff on the idea in “Detective Comics” #417, with art by Bob Brown and Dick Giordano.
In this story, a stand-in for Plimpton wants to be Batman for a night. The concept is not a bad one, per se, but the weird thing is that Batman insists that he has to train the writer before he lets him go out as Batman. The writer then loses his cool. Batman even tells him, ““You blew your cool! The Batman wouldn’t live through a single night if he did!” But then Batman lets him go out anyway, and guess what? He loses his cool! He pulls a gun on some bad guys! Batman then gives him another chance! Then the writer’s sister was killed, and he finally learns what it means to be Batman when he keeps it cool while taking down her killer as Batman. It is crazy how many chances Batman gave this guy!
11. BATMAN’S BONER
Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Lew Schwartz and Charles Paris combined for the stunning “The Joker’s Comedy of Errors” in “Batman” #66. The concept of the story is that the Joker screwed up on an attempt to rob some people and the newspapers all mocked him for his “boner.” The Joker got pissed and decided that he would show the media up by committing crimes inspired by famous “boners” (mistakes, basically, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Trojan Horse). He then became obsessed with making Batman pull a major boner, as well.
He ultimately succeeded by tricking Batman into flying the wrong away across the Atlantic Ocean by using a special machine that transmitted the wrong direction to the Batplane. Everyone mocked Batman for how foolish he was when he landed in Europe. Joker was thrilled. However, it turned out that Batman knew about it all along, but was spending the trip tracing the signal from Joker’s “wrong way” machine. So his “boner” was not for real, which is why it is relatively low on the list, despite everyone making fun of Batman for a time.
In Dave Wood, Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris’ “Batman and Robin — the Mummy Crime-Fighters” from “Detective Comics” #320, Batman and Robin are caught in a bind. They were exposed to some alien radioactive material that resulted in their skin turning green. The problem there, of course, is that that means that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson’s skin have turned green, as well. Back in those days, Vicki Vale worked in much the same role of Lois Lane in the “Superman” titles, where she was always trying to prove that Batman and Robin were really Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson.
So, Batman and Robin decided to dress up in mummy costumes, claiming that they were giving off radiation due to their exposure from the alien ship, so they needed to wrap themselves up in protective bandages to prevent themselves from exposing others to radiation. In the end, Robin had to unravel his bandages to stop some bad guys, but luckily he had already painted himself a glowing gold color so that it threw Vicki Vale off of the scent!
9. RAINBOW BATMAN
Going along the same line of the Bat-Mummy story, “Detective Comics” #241’s “The Rainbow Batman” was all about Batman trying to protect his secret identity through an extremely convoluted plan in a story by Edmond Hamilton (with art by Sheldon Moldoff and Stan Kaye). It opened with Dick Grayson saving a young girl from getting hit by a car. He saw some bad guys in the car and noticed that they were using some sort of TV camera. Dick injured his arm while saving the girl.
This led to Batman’s bizarre plan where he drove around Gotham City, drawing lots of TV cameras due to him wearing different costumes every time, each one more outlandish than the last, including a costume with a target on the chest and one with a rainbow print. As it turned out, the issue was that Robin needed to be out there with Batman to see if he could recognize the bad guys with the TV camera, but if people noticed that Robin’s arm was injured the same way that Dick Grayson’s arm was, people would know he was Robin, so Batman wore outlandish costumes so no one would notice Robin. Wow, that was bizarrely convoluted!
8. THE GODDAMN BATMAN
Beyond the psycho-sexual aspects of “All Star Batman and Robin,” the aspect of the comic book that drew the most attention was Batman’s strange way of talking. Frank Miller was clearly looking to do the series as a sort of throwback, noir-type story. Part of that, though, came from Miller’s depiction of Batman’s personality as being a sort of put-upon act, something that Dick Grayson picked up on when he met Batman in “All Star Batman and Robin” #2 (the series was about Dick being groomed as Batman’s new partner).
However, when Dick seemed to needle Batman about his personality, Batman snapped with a harsh retort involving the phrase, “I’m the Goddamn Batman!” The phrase got a lot of attention from fans (much of it making fun of the line), leading to Miller doubling down on the phrase, leading to some truly absurd dialogue like this bit from “All Star Batman and Robin” #7, “Not one word. I’ve taken enough grief about calling my goddamn car the goddamn Batmobile. I’m the goddamn Batman and I can call my goddamn car whatever the hell I want to call it.”
7. NOT SO SECRET IDENTITY
In our recent look at the weirdest things that Batman has carried in his utility belt over the years, one of the strangest items took part in one of the most embarrassing moments in Batman’s career. In “Detective Comics” #185 (by David Vern Reed, Dick Sprang and Charles Paris), Batman was in a position where he thought that he might get burned to death.
He then put into action a plan he had for whenever he figured he might die. He activated a special “secret identity disc” in his utility belt that would reveal his identity after his death so that no one could pretend to be Batman when he was gone. However, he then promptly lost the belt along with the disc in it! The belt got passed back and forth through various citizens of Gotham City before Batman got it back, and before the bad guys could acquire it and get his true identity.
6. AN ODYSSEY OF ODDITY
“Batman: Odyssey” was a maxiseries written and drawn by legendary “Batman” artist Neal Adams. It ended up getting split into two separate miniseries due to it being released during DC’s “New 52” reboot. The conceit of the comic was that Batman was telling someone a story about a grand adventure that he had gone on. The scenes of shirtless (and super hairy) Bruce getting really close to the “screen” (closer and closer each issue, as if he were seducing us) were hilarious, especially when he started eating a banana.
Since it was Batman telling the story, there were some issues of how reliable the narrative was, but it was a crazy adventure with some weird moments, though not quite as embarrassing as the whole “shirtless telling stories to the reader. By the way, it turned out that it was Superman he was talking to all along. One odd story was when Batman exploded Robin’s costume somehow without injuring the Boy Wonder! This comic read like Adams was seeing comments about how weird “All Star Batman and Robin” was and took it as a challenge.
5. BAT BABY
“Batman” #147 claimed that it was “the story of the year” and after reading the adventure of Bat-Baby, we are inclined to agree. Written by Bill Finger and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris, the story opened with Batman and Robin hunting down the dreaded evil scientist Garth (yes, just “Garth”). Garth has a machine that turned Batman into a toddler. There’s an amazing panel where Robin has to carry the de-aged Batman out of the building in his arms.
As it turned out, though, while Batman was toddler-sized, he maintained his same adult-level strength. Once he trained himself to adjust for his new body size, he then went back into action as Bat-Baby, searching for Garth again to get the machine to revert him to his adult form. Meanwhile, there’s another hilarious “tricking Vicki Vale into thinking Batman and Bruce Wayne are different people” plan that involved a cardboard cutout, a silhouette and Bruce pretending to make out with his cousin.
4. OH, BROTHER
The first decade of the 21st Century was a big decade in comic books for what we would call “retroactive jerkdom.” Superheroes kept revealing that they did some nasty stuff back in the past that we just never heard about because, you know, reasons. Professor X turned out to have had a whole separate team of X-Men between the original group and the all-new, all-different team… who all died on their first mission and he didn’t tell anyone about it. The Justice League turned out to be lobotomizing their villains because they were sick of bad people doing bad things. And these are just a couple of examples.
Batman was no stranger to this, either, as we learned that the Justice League had erased Batman’s memories when he discovered what they were doing. However, he couldn’t help but have a nagging sensation that something wasn’t right with his so-called friends. So he then developed a super-advanced monitoring satellite designed to keep track of his teammates. It, of course, gained sentience and turned evil, making Batman look pretty darn foolish.
3. BE A BETTER JERK
In Mark Waid’s first storyline on “JLA” as he followed Grant Morrison on the book, he revealed that Ra’s Al Ghul had stolen the bodies of Batman’s parents. This was done so that Al Ghul’s agents could sneak into the Batcave and steal the protocols that Batman had developed to take down his teammates in the Justice League if they ever turned evil (as we saw above, Batman had good reason not to trust his teammates, but we didn’t know that at the time). Eventually, the League was able to defeat these plots and after they defeated Ra’s Al Ghul, they then kicked Batman out of the league for betraying them.
It’s embarrassing enough to have your plots to take down your friends stolen by one of your biggest enemies (maybe encrypt your files better next time, Batman, jeez); not only that, but his plans to take down his friends weren’t even really all that good! How does Batman not even come up with protocols that would work on his friends?! Poor showing, Batman, you can’t even be a jerk correctly!
2. QUITE A CAPE(R)
“The Great Bat-Cape Hunt!” has to be one of the most insane “Batman” stories of all-time. Written by Bill Finger and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris, the story opened with Batman handing Alfred a unique item for his trophy room. It was one of Batman’s cape/cowl combo, only with a note stitched in saying “Bruce Wayne is Batman.” The guy who sent it, though, died soon afterwards (knowing Batman’s secret identity is deadly, folks). Now, instead of taking care of it like Batman asked, Alfred instead just put the cape into Batman’s regular cape/cowl pile. So Batman was wearing it one day when the wind blew it off his head! Yes, that happened!
The rest of the story is basically the same as the utility belt one we mentioned earlier, as it makes its way through Gotham City helping people out (a stuntman is inspired to do a crazy stunt by wearing the cowl, stuff like that). Luckily, Clark Kent found the cap and used his vision powers to erase the note. Not one of Batman’s more intelligent days!
1. BLADDER SPASM
Kevin Smith, Walter Flanagan and Art Thibert were the creative team on the miniseries “Batman: The Widening Gyre,” which saw Batman befriend a new vigilante in Gotham City called Baphomet. Throughout the series, Batman is struggling with the idea of learning how to trust people. He is trying to come to terms with his relationship with his old flame, Silver St. Cloud, and whether he can actually be happy in life and let others into it.
Ultimately, he decides to let Baphomet into his life (it turned out to be a bad idea, as Baphomet was a bad guy in disguise… hmmm… we suppose that could have made the list, as well) and opens up by telling him of the time early in his career when he gave an imposing speech (it appeared in Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s “Batman: Year One”) to the corrupt ruling class of Gotham City that their time was over. However, the explosives he used were so intense that he ended up wetting his pants. Yes, Batman wet his pants. You don’t get much more embarrassing than that.
What do you think is Batman’s most embarrassing comic book moment? Let us know in the comments section!
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