OUR ANNUAL SALUTE: Paul McCartney turns 81 — and Batman Meets the Beatles!
UPDATED 6/18/23: Paul McCartney turns 81! Beatles fanatic that I am, we’ve published a lot on the Fab Four and their comics connections over the years. So dig this groovy piece by John DiBello that first ran in the aftermath of 2014’s BEATLES WEEK. It holds up just as well today — just like the Beatles’ marvelous catalogue. — Dan
By JOHN DiBELLO
What could be better than a comic book about the Beatles? How about … a comic book about Batman and the Beatles? No, Fab Four Follower, you haven’t missed a rare issue of Batman’s team-up series The Brave and the Bold. Nor is this a sequel to the Batman ’66 TV show episode where the Caped Crusaders save UK pop group Chad and Jeremy from having their voices stolen by Catwoman.
No, this comic tells us the startling tale of how Batman solved the mystery of the Death of Paul McCartney! (Well, sort of.)
“Here they come!” declares Batman, immediately prompting a cease and desist lawsuit from the Monkees. On the “this scene does not appear in this comic book” cover, Batman and Robin spy on a Beatlesque quartet leaving a graveside. “One of them is dead – but which one?” “The clue is on their album cover!” Robin exclaims. Well, no, Robin, no, it isn’t, any more than there were any clues that supported the famous “Paul is dead” Beatles urban legend of 1969.
There were many supposed clues to “prove” Paul’s death. In a photo on the back cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” (parodied on the Batman cover), Paul is facing away from the camera, his head abuts the lyric “Without You,” and the three black buttons on his belt symbolize the other Beatles in mourning.
The cover of “Abbey Road” features Paul crossing the street barefoot and out of step with the others, while a license plate in the background reads “28IF” – that is, Paul would have been 28 IF he had lived. Beatles songs were alleged to contain messages cluing us to Paul’s death if played backwards: “Turn me on, dead man” in “Revolution No. 9,” and “Paul is dead now, miss him, miss him” on “I’m So Tired.”
That fans would think the Beatles would hide macabre clues about the passing of their friend and bandmate is perhaps one of the most bizarro myths of the 1960s, and absolutely ripe material for a Batman mystery story.
In Batman #222 (an issue in which Harvey Dent would have killed to guest-star), the rumor that “Saul is dead” has given a publicity boost to the careers of the British pop quartet the Oliver Twists. Dick Grayson, protégé of the World’s Greatest Detective, smells a mystery surrounding this Faux Four. Or that might be his college roommates. Playing a Twists track backwards at an altered speed issues a mysterious message quite possibly from (insert Scooby-Doo-type spooky music here) beyond the grave?
Ah, such is the sort of shenanigans the youth of America could get up to in that golden age of needle-on-vinyl music. Those were the days!
Conveniently Timed Plot-Point Radio announces that the Oliver Twists’ concert tour is bringing them to Gotham City, probably as part of a sold-out arena junket, including Metropolis, Star City, Central City, Happy Harbor, Gorilla City and Paradise Island. Meanwhile, one of Dick’s friends reminds him that Dick’s guardian is Bruce Wayne, a major power in Gotham City. Whoa, that’s a lot of exposition for a couple panels! That’s a two-point penalty for the home team and the narrative goes into the possession of Bruce Wayne, owner of the world’s loudest telephone.
This is the first (and final) time we learn that Bruce owns a large percentage of stock in “Eden Records.” You know, “Eden”… where the “apples” come from.
In many ways, this Bruce Wayne is a less-driven man than the Batman of today. He has time to devote to his Wayne Foundation business affairs, and he wants to investigate the mystery of Saul’s rumored death because as Batman, he doesn’t “want to be party to a hoax.”
Never mind the fact that it’d be Wayne, not Batman, who would be linked to this ruse, never mind that he’s investigating a mystery that shows absolutely no evidence of any crime, and please even never mind that he’s wearing a lavender suit with a orange-and-black striped shirt. By golly, Batman’s gonna find out the truth behind the Saul-is-dead rumor, and he won’t rest until he cracks the case! (Meanwhile, on the streets of Gotham City, the Penguin is freely robbing bank after bank with his trick umbrellas.)
The Oliver Twists are invited to stay at Wayne Manor during their Gotham appearance, an event that must be exceptionally exciting for Englishman Alfred Pennyworth, who gets to cart four sets of luggage up to their rooms.
Let’s count down the Twists for the record: from left to right, Glennan, Benji, Saul and Hal.
Saul explains the greatly exaggerated accounts of his supposed death: He kept himself quiet while Glennan, Hal, and Benji went to the Himalayas for a year. Instead of traveling to India to meet the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, I’d like to imagine that the Oliver Twists went to Nanda Parbat to meet with Rama Kushna.
Hey, I’ve solved the mystery already: Saul died but his body has been inhabited by Deadman, who was inspired by the circus-organ melodies of the Twists’ song “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kent.”
Bruce and Dick, however, decide to take a much more scientific route to the puzzle’s solution by comparing a recording Dick made in the mansion of Saul’s voice against his vocals on a Twists track. Bruce points out, in bold-face type and darkly inked eyebrows, that Dick has PROVED NOTHING! Singing voices and talking voices have different voiceprints!
Actually, the Batman’s right on this one: According to a scientific study by Dr. Akira Sasou of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, speech pattern recognition software has “difficulty recognizing singing voices accurately because both the high-pitched and prolonged sounds of singing voices tend to degrade its recognition accuracy.”
So, you can chalk up another one for the Dark Knight, seen here in his lavender suit and orange-and-black striped shirt. (Meanwhile, on the streets of Gotham City, Catwoman is stealing valuable emeralds from the Flugelheim Museum.)
Late that night, Dick attempts to take Saul’s personal tape recorder so he can analyze the voice on the tape. That’s not at all suspicious, by the way, Robin supposedly breaking into Wayne Manor, right?
Well, at least not until someone knocks out one of the finest trained fighters in the world with a single karate chop.
The attempts by Bruce and Dick to capture Saul’s voice on tape begin to rival those of Wile E. Coyote, super genius, trying to catch the Road Runner. Here they’re pretending that it’s Alfred’s birthday in order to get him to sing; next they’ll be employing a carton-weight of Acme ball bearings, a bucket of slippery axle grease, and a painted trompe-l’oeil of the Batcave’s entrance. (Meanwhile, on the streets of Gotham City, Joker is pouring gallons of laugh toxin into the county reservoir.)
Actually next on the Dynamic Duo’s to-do list: bugging and taping Saul’s phone conversations. Keep in mind ,folks, that no crime has been committed here and already Batman is technically breaking the law willy-nilly to prove that some pop-music fan magazines have been printing poppycock. Tapping telephones and recording conversations? In the Oval Office, President Nixon read this issue and he got an idea. An awful idea. Nixon got a wonderful, awful idea!
That taped message leads them to an ambush by thugs, but when analyzed, shows that the voice that led them into danger is not the same as the earlier voiceprint of Saul Cartwright. Round about now you might be thinking, “Say, Batman, weren’t there any old radio or TV interviews with Saul Cartwright that you could access and compare with his voiceprints now?” (Meanwhile, on the streets of Gotham … well, you get the idea.)
With all that in mind, watch as Batman bursts into a room with the Oliver Twists and completely accuses the wrong man by jumping to the wrong conclusion. In other words: Worst. Detective. Ever. Turns out it’s John — er, Glennan — who’s the crook here.
Let’s look again as this extremely unexpected and somewhat disturbing caricature of John Lennon with a gun.
Batman, Robin, and the entire press corps of the Western world were all barking up the wrong tree. Just in case you needed a reminder: World’s Greatest Detective here. Now we see why years later, neither Batman nor Robin were keen to talk about this case, and it was never commemorated in the Batcave with a giant novelty Beatles wig.
Saul is alive, sure, but the rest of the Oliver Twists died in a plane crash during their trip to the Himalayas! If I were writing Batman or Detective, I’d do a sequel to this story in which Ra’s al Ghul discovers their frozen bodies, tosses ‘em in a Lazarus Pit to resurrect them, and then goes on tour as The Demon’s Head and Wings. Both a reason why I should, and a reason why I’m not, writing a Batman book.
The motive for the fake Glennan’s attack on Batman and Robin? He wanted to preserve his gig replacing one of the top-earning musicians in the industry. Consider this then: No crime was committed until after Batman and Robin started to investigate. This really is not one for the scrapbook, is it, Bruce? Doesn’t stop him from moralizing in his lavendar suit, though.
Luckily, Saul, Hal, and Benji are a big hit as a new trio under a different name, which only goes to prove that sometimes your fame doesn’t have to rest on your past deeds.
Unless, of course, you’re Batman, who likes to talk about the Case of the Chemical Syndicate and the Laughing Fish and that time he stopped Robin from Dying at Dawn, but you hardly ever catch the Dark Knight sitting around the team table in the JLA satellite, 22,300 miles above the Earth, telling Firestorm and Zatanna about that time he solved the “Saul is dead” mystery.
Truly, this is a case where Batman should have just … let it be.
— The Great PAUL MCCARTNEY and JACK KIRBY Partnership. Click here.
— PAUL McCARTNEY Reunites With GUMBY and It’s the Best Thing Ever. Click here.