You guys have seen Batman Ninja by now, haven’t you? You know, the crazy collaboration between DC, Warner Bros. Japan and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment that comes to us care of a trio of anime powerhouses. You’ve seen it, right? If not, drop what you’re doing and go out and grab yourself a copy right the heck now. I don’t care if you’re a priest administering confession or a brain surgeon operating on a tumor, IT CAN WAIT. You need to see this movie. (I’m joking, of course. Don’t go leaving any surgery patients on the table. Especially since you could easily download a digital copy and hey, you clearly have some mad multitasking skills if you’re reading this article while performing major surgery.)
So, what’s so amazing about this movie? Well, in Batman Ninja, the Bat-family is sent spiraling out of time and space by Gorilla Grodd and into an alternate feudal Japan where some of Gotham's nastiest villains are reigning supreme. Oh, and there are giant robots, armies of literal bats, Alfred with a ponytail, a totally random Bane appearance as a sumo wrestler, so many monkeys…and that's all before we get into spoiler territory. Basically, imagine a Batman movie conceived by someone who hasn’t slept in about eight days and instead spent that time chugging energy drinks and binging Tarantino, Pacific Rim, Naruto and the prologue sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey and you’re starting to get the general idea.
And yet, what we comic fans have to acknowledge is that Batman Ninja isn’t even much of an anomaly with all of its craziness. Maybe on the movie side of things, sure. But the comics are different. Batman has been around on the comic page for a really long time, and over his years, he and his comrades have found themselves in some pretty nutty situations. Maybe not quite as crazy as leading a squadron of armored simians against a giant sword-wielding Joker robot (seriously, SEE this movie), but definitely up there. So, in the spirit of the soon-to-be-classic Batman Ninja, let's take a look back at some of the weirdest, wildest and most bizarre Bat-family comic book moments.
March of the Rainbow Batmen
We’re all willing to do quite a lot when it comes to protecting the people we care about. For Batman, most of the time that means intimidating wrongdoers, pulling week-long all-nighters to investigate cases, or tracking criminals all over the globe in personal Bat-shaped jets. (By the way, do you think real bats worship those jets as deities? I’ve always wondered that. It could be the real reason there are so many bats in the batcave. Or maybe they tell their children scary stories at night about the planes to get them to behave? “You’d better finish all your food or the Gotham City Screaming Monster Bat will get you!”)
Other times for Batman, protecting people has meant dressing up in a whole rainbow of different colored batsuits just to draw attention away from his young ward.
In DETECTIVE COMICS #241, back in 1957, Dick Grayson was hot on the trail of a criminal, but injured his arm in the process. So, Bruce naturally did what anyone would do who has convinced himself that dressing up like a bat and going out to fight dangerous criminals with a kid was a reasonable career path in life—he began to run interference by rotating through a whole roster of technicolor costumes. It was all in the name of making sure no one really noticed that Dick had an injured arm while he worked because...that makes a lot more sense than giving your child partner the night off, right? I mean, what else was he going to do with that time? Homework?
The Ghost of Benedict Arnold
It's pretty hard to out-weird Gotham City's villain population, but there are definitely ways to get the job done. For example, take that time Dick and Barbara were forced to fight the actual, literal ghost of Benedict Arnold, who turned out to be sent to the land of the living by the actual, literal devil himself.
No, really. I'm not making that up and I'm not being hyperbolic. That's it, that's the story. It happened in BATMAN FAMILY #1 back in 1975. While in Washington D.C., Robin and Batgirl came face to face with the infamous traitor and were forced to fight him in front of some of America's most beloved historical monuments. Parts of it even happened on national television. How watching a ghost from the Revolutionary War fight Batman's sidekicks didn't start a national panic (or maybe a new reality series) is anybody's guess. I guess even by 1975 the good people of the DC Universe had already seen it all.
But I know what you’re really thinking. Why did the devil send him back to Earth in the first place? Well, let’s be real. If you were the devil, would you want Benedict Arnold around? When you run a place staffed with monsters, demons and the most vile, evil people ever to have walked the planet, you kinda need to know who you can trust, and that is definitely not old Benny. The devil probably figured Benedict would either succeed and take over the Earth, or else he’d get his butt kicked by some random superheroes and wind up back in hell, which would help humble him and keep him in line.
Yeah, I know it’s kind of a screwy plan, but this is a guy who decided to leave hell eventually himself so that he could run a bar and try to help the police solve crimes. He isn’t exactly known for doing things that make sense.
Enter the Bat-Mite
Okay this one is less a single event and more a whole series of them, but we're still going to count 'em. Back during the Silver Age when comics were getting stranger and stranger by the day, a trend emerged where superheroes were made to "fight" (or, really, just...tolerate) impish, extra-dimensional pranksters. For Superman, that was Mr. Mxyzptlk and for Batman, it was Bat-Mite.
Introduced back in 1959 with DETECTIVE COMICS #267, Bat-Mite was…well, Bat-Mite. A creature from the "Mite Dimension" who kind of looked like Batman and loved to generally make a nuisance of himself by warping reality and popping in and out of existence whenever he so chose. He even broke the fourth wall a time or two, and had a story where he literally went to the DC offices and demanded his own feature. And as nutty as that sounds, the really crazy thing was that it worked.
Bat-Cow Saves the Day
Damian Wayne is known for a lot of things—his skill with a sword, his training with the League of Assassins, being the son of the Batman—but that only scratches the surface on who young Robin actually is. Underneath all the almost-murder and the sneering, Damian is a soft-hearted kid who just so happens to really, really love animals.
Maybe that's not all that unusual for a preteen kid, but when your dad is billionaire Bruce Wayne and you've got access to technology that makes traveling all over the world totally possible, it means you can amass quite the collection of furry friends. One such member of Damian's menagerie is the venerable Bat-Cow who...is a cow, with a bat-shaped marking near her rump.
This means that the Dark Knight had to actually spend time and resources that may have gone to stopping the Joker, Two-Face or Bane from terrorizing Gotham to instead build and install a cow pen somewhere in the batcave, ensuring that the entire thing now smells like musty cow patties, and all because he was too soft to tell his son that “No, he can’t have a freaking cow as a pet!” So, we can’t really feel all that sorry for Batman that he has now finally managed to out-ridiculous Superman and Wonder Woman when it comes to animal sidekicks. Beppo the Super-Monkey and Jumpa the Wonder Kangaroo seem downright normal in comparison.
So, what does Bat-Cow do besides make Batman have to apologize for the smell every time someone visits the cave? Well, you can see her in action in BATMAN INCORPORATED SPECIAL #1. She wears a cape and everything.
Welcome to Zur-En-Arrh
If you're a fairly modern Batman fan, the name "Zur-En-Arrh" probably makes you think of the mind-bending BATMAN R.I.P., where the name itself became a sort of post-hypnotic trigger word for Bruce to forget his own identity (if you haven’t read it, all you have to know is that Batman R.I.P. was a Grant Morrison storyline and that should explain everything). But what you may not know is that Zur-En-Arrh is actually a relic of Batman history dating all the way back to BATMAN #113 in 1958.
In the original story, Zur-En-Arrh was an alien planet that Bruce found himself transported to where he came face to face with a man (creature?) named Tlano who wanted to become the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. He even made himself a costume complete with his own slightly-distorted version of the Bat symbol.
Now, that’s weird because presumably, as an alien society, the people on Zur-En-Arrh wouldn’t know what the heck a bat even was. So rather than being a symbol that would strike fear in the hearts of men, Tlano would just be dressed up in what looked like a giant onesie, which, yes, would probably freak people out. But not likely for the reasons he intended.
Not that Bruce was inclined to point that out to him since while on Zur-En-Arrh, he discovered that he had Superman-like metahuman abilities. So, while Tlano is becoming the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, Batman is becoming the Superman of Zur-En-Arrh, and we’re just becoming confused as to why Bruce is in outer space engaging in weird superhero roleplaying instead of in Gotham saving everyone from the Riddler or Penguin.
Flight of the Joker Dragons
Okay, okay, many of you already know about this one. But just because it’s current doesn’t mean that it’s not totally bonkers insane. I mean, that was pretty much the point of DARK NIGHTS: METAL, right?
For those of you who haven’t read it, Bruce uncovers the terrible secret of the Dark Multiverse—a frightening, alternate Multiverse that lives “beneath” ours—and inadvertently triggers a chain of events that sends him spiraling through dozens of horrific variations on his own existence. He's a literal knight, a monstrous speedster, the avatar of war, a woman who lives underwater…look, just go with it. The Joker is everywhere (and nowhere) at once. Starro shows up for a while. Hawkman is a giant monster. Batman uses baby Darkseid as a weapon.
It’s nuts in the best way possible. It’s badass. It’s getting a heavy metal soundtrack. And if all of this isn’t enough to entice you, it has Joker Dragons.
JOKER. DRAGONS. Giant ones!
In fact, Batman even punches one in the face. And then rides it into battle wearing silver armor while shouting, “Hee-yah!”
The point is, the Bat-family's weirdest and most wonderful stories are anything but a thing of the past, and though the years may have changed the Dark Knight and his team in a lot of ways, making them less prone to absurdity isn't one of them. In fact, more often than not, it's that absurdity that keeps us coming back for more.