Even DC’s editors led readers to believe they weren’t sure if they should publish the story in 1971’s Superboy #182…
It’s like a perfect storm: As we’ve noted, 13th Dimension columnist Jim Beard’s got a new book out: The Old Origin Changeth, a series of historical essays on how some of your favorite characters’ not-so-secret origins have evolved over the decades. But there’s more: TwoMorrows’ Back Issue #142 is due March 15 and the theme is Superboy in the Bronze Age (plus other, more obscure characters gone “super”).
So what do these have to do with each other? Well, among many Boy of Steel highlights, BI #142 puts a bit of a spotlight on 1971’s Superboy #182, which features a bizarre, untold chapter in Batman’s origin — when as a raging, stubborn teenager he took on the guise of the Executioner (with a suspiciously Batman-like outfit) and ran afoul of the Boy of Steel.
Here’s how BI writer John Wells explains it:
“The Boy of Steel’s reunion with another former acquaintance was not as cordial. In 1960, Adventure Comics #275 had recounted how Superboy had met Bruce Wayne long before he became Batman. Superboy #182 (Feb. 1972, on sale in December 1971) purported to be its sequel, complete with a hilarious first panel in the DC offices where editors debated publishing the story at all: “This could be dynamite! I say, keep it buried.” Carmine Infantino, however, declared, “Our readers deserve the truth!”
“The truth was that Clark learned of the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne via an old newspaper and rushed to Gotham City to belatedly offer condolences. He found a sober Bruce Wayne already well on his way to becoming a dark knight and determined to go it alone. Adopting the costumed alter ego of the Executioner, his investigation into his parents’ murders collapsed under the weight of fake evidence planted by a headline-grabbing reporter. Rebelling against Superboy’s help, Bruce snapped, ‘You’re just jealous because you can’t stand a rival crimefighter. You’ve got to be Number One!'”
The story was written by Leo Dorfman, with art by Bob Brown and Murphy Anderson, and I can’t help but think that the opening scene in the DC offices was based on a similar, real-life conversation that was substantially less fanciful.
Whatever the truth, I’ll say this: Other than Nick Cardy’s spectacular cover — one of my personal favorites — this is a comic that would indeed have been better buried.
I’m not being unduly harsh and I’m not one to pick apart daffy stories for the sake of it. (I love and am a great defender of the daffy!) It’s just that “The Forging of Young Batman!” is a nonsensical and completely unnecessary story that later writers smartly ignored.
I mean, just check out these scenes:
I will say that even though he’s being a tool — which I admit may be the first time a young Batman was portrayed as an anger machine — Bruce Wayne’s fashion sense is as impeccable as ever: The Executioner wears a dark cowl set off by a purple-and-navy union suit and boots. Of course, with the cowl, yellow belt, trunks, boots and scalloped cape, the outfit echoes the future Darknight Detective’s persona, even though it would be years before that random bat crashed through the Wayne Manor study’s window. (Though let’s not forget that young Bruce once fell down a hole and was swarmed by bats, so perhaps that’s the inspiration. Whatever.)
Of course, I’m only being half serious. The Bronze Age still had a lot of Silver Age DNA threaded through it and it’s immense fun knowing that DC Comics could still be willfully bonkers, continuity be damned. I had this comic as Young Dan and had my parents put the cover on my bedroom wall, even though it was kind of haunting for a young boy. And I do recall wondering why teen Batman was being such a jerk, which was intimidating and off-putting to a kid weaned on the Adam West show.
Anyway, Superboy #182 is not the greatest story in the world and it’s certainly not a worthy addition to the Batman mythos, but it has its appeal simply because it’s bananas. And the art’s pretty cool too.
Go track down a copy. At the very least your mind will be blown by some Bat-madness for about 15 or 20 minutes.
— Back Issue #142 is due March 15 and will be available through comics shops and magazine sellers. You can also order it directly from publisher TwoMorrows. Click here.
— The Old Origin Changeth is available now at Amazon. The paperback runs $11.99. Click here to order.
— THE OLD ORIGIN CHANGETH: 13 Mind-Boggling Updates to Classic SUPERHERO ORIGINS. Click here.
— 13 COVERS: The SUPERBOY of NEAL ADAMS. Click here.