When young Bruce Wayne, days after his parents’ murder, first exclaimed, “I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals!”, we can’t image he could’ve known how strange that journey of vengeance would become. Since then, the Dark Knight’s career has been littered with eclectic super-villains and rogues, but those aren’t even the oddest oddities in his history! From the colorful to the crazy, these are five of Batman’s Strangest Cases.
Batman Gets Engaged to Catwoman to Reform Her
The romance between Batman and Catwoman is one of the longest in comic books. There was a flirty attraction between the two in her first appearance in Batman #1, but Batman #15 puts it in the foreground…through very bizarre circumstances.
By day, Catwoman is a regular salon worker named Elva Barr who wins a beauty contest judged by none other than Bruce Wayne. When night comes and she’s foiled by Batman and Robin as Catwoman, she laments that she never had a chance to date Wayne as she sensed an attraction. Batman then instantly lets her go and concocts a scheme to get Catwoman to turn over a new leaf. Without explaining his plan to Robin—or his then-girlfriend Linda Page—Bruce publicly courts and proposes to Catwoman, leaving his loved ones in a state of shock and confusion. Catwoman, meanwhile, unsure who Bruce’s love truly belongs to, disguises herself as Page and learns through Bruce himself that the courtship was a cynical ruse.
Bruce would soon painfully learn, as Catwoman famously tells him decades later, “Never trifle with the affections of a woman.”
Batman Reveals That He’s Clearly Never Seen Back to the Future
Remember when Batman and Robin regularly had a way to travel back in time?
In Batman #24, the two visited Professor Carter Nichols—a scientist who experimental with mental hypnosis to project people’s spirits backwards in time. Their first trip took them back to Ancient Rome, and they would go on to employ Professor Nichols for the purposes of time travel several more times when grave situations demanded it.
Batman #89 however…is not one of those times.
A front-page article on Commissioner Gordon’s ancestor from a hundred years ago reveals that he was the dreaded Riverboat Bandit, the center of a crime wave that involved the showboat he captained, the Mississippi Queen. When Gordon sees this, he frantically calls Batman and Robin down to his office to cry in front of them, before declaring his intentions to resign as Police Commissioner. Stunned, Batman and Robin run to Professor Nichols in their civilian disguises to travel back to 1854 to make sure that Gordon’s great-grandfather was actually a criminal and on the off chance he was framed, to clear his name.
Look, reconciling with our problematic history is something that all Americans have to contend with, and very, very few have the luxury of traveling back in time to fix it. Even if this is a matter of seeing justice upheld, surely there are enough injustices in the present? Finally, time travel is dangerous and Bruce Wayne is supposed to be one of the smartest people in Gotham (if not the world). He must know this. We can only speculate that Bruce was in dire need of a getaway from the stress of his one-man war on crime and figured going back in time would be a more cost-efficient vacation than flying across the world to Monte Carlo.
The Mysteriously Unexplained Flower Faces
France in 1939 was a very weird place and time. In Detective Comics #34, Batman assists a fleeing woman named Karel and her brother Charles…who, oddly, is missing a face. They explain that their assailant is the Duc D’orterre, who pursued Karel romantically before trying to kill her and removing her brother’s facial features with a powerful ray gun once she had rejected him. Batman, valiantly nonplussed by this crazy story, agrees to save them and investigates the underground sewers for D’orterre. Quickly captured by the Duc, he’s strapped to a giant wheel and told that he’ll either be smashed against the wall or driven insane by the spinning. Luckily, Batman is strong enough to snap his bonds and escape the wheel, after which he saunters into a garden full of flowers with talking human faces on them.
Has he gone mad just like D’orterre threatened? The question of whether or not the talking flowers are real goes unanswered and we never learn whether Charles gets his face back. Instead, Batman follows the flowers’ directions out of the garden and chokes out the Duc in his escape car before it flies off a cliff.
Maybe Batman wanted a reason to come back to France?
That’s Officer Bruce Wayne to You
Everyone knows about the “Glory Badge,” right? The famous badge in Gotham City that’s passed down from cop to cop? And should you die in the line of duty, the badge goes to the very last person you see before passing away, and that person should then inherit your position and become a cop on the force, despite no training, interest or talent?
What, you never heard of it?
If this sounds made up, you clearly haven’t read Batman #55. In it, a policeman is shot in the line of duty, just as Bruce is strolling the streets with some of his society friends. As Bruce rushes to the dying cop’s side, the cop commands him to take his “Glory Badge” and become part of Gotham’s Finest. Bruce shrugs, says he has no choice, and the following day the society papers spread the news that Gotham’s Wealthiest Playboy has become a policeman.
As is often the case in these early adventures, Dick is the sole voice of reason here. He rightfully tells Bruce that he can’t live his life both as a member of the police and as Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective (something which Batman recites to him over fifty years later in the pages of Nightwing). Bruce agrees, and while he spends the day saving kittens from flagpoles and escorting children across the street, he’s often late to his evening patrol after fighting crime as Batman.
The interesting thing about all this is Bruce’s observation that being Batman is working as a kind of super-cop, one who doesn’t abide by the usual rules of the police. How much he enjoys the return to his freedom by the story’s end when he retires in shame is left to our imagination, as his how this Glory Badge nonsense hasn’t led to about a billion lawsuits for the city.
Batman’s War on Crime Turns Colorful
As a creature of the night whose black costume blends into the dark of Gotham’s shadows, one would have to really stretch their brain to imagine why on Earth Batman would suddenly take to wearing an array of multicolored costumes, ranging from green to yellow to red. Would you believe the explanation is even zanier than the suits themselves?
In Detective Comics #241, Dick Grayson spots a robbery on the streets of Gotham and pushes someone out of the way of the robbers’ escape car. He injures his arm in the process but is publicly lauded by the nearby crowd of witnesses. Dick reports to Bruce that he’d be able to identify the thieves, who’ve stolen valuable camera equipment, but Bruce’s concern is that should Robin be in pursuit with a busted wing, his identity would quickly be deduced.
So, in order to keep all eyes and the thieves’ camera off of Robin, Batman changes his costume to a batsuit painted entirely in bright red. The next night he arrives at the scene of a crime in an all-blue suit, then later in the week all-yellow. Every bright color is an attempt by the Caped Crusader to steal everyone’s attention, but Gotham laps it up, becoming hungry for the next garish look donned by its famous defender. Batman’s questionable new wardrobe crescendos with a multicolored suit adorned in all the colors of the rainbow. Even more remarkable, his convoluted plan works and the Dynamic Duo successfully apprehend the crooks.
So, what have we learned here? That adding a little more color to your wardrobe never hurt anyone…unless you’re a criminal foolish enough to cross Gotham’s Dark Knight.
Donovan Morgan Grant writes about comics, graphic novels and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @donoDMG1.