A Tribute to the of

Shortly after this hits the Wonderful World Wide Web, we’ll be lined up to take in the new Captain America movie, which debuts on the 4th of April. While we’re all about the classic DC characters here at the dear old Silver Lantern, I must continue to grudgingly concede that Marvel manages to consistently dominate at the box office and I enjoy their offerings a great deal.

In that spirit (and at the webmaster’s suggestion) I’m going to spotlight one of the double handfuls of DC/Marvel crossover tales. In December of 1996 under the Elseworlds imprint, DC and Marvel rolled out “Batman & Captain America.” It was written, penciled, inked and even lettered by John Byrne with colors by Patricia Mulvihill.

The tale opens in Gotham City, January, 1945. Batman and Robin are in hot pursuit of the Joker in his Jokermobile and Batman is at the wheel of one of my favorite classic Batmobiles, the one built on a ‘40s chassis with the red stripe accents. I’ve even got a toy model right here in front of my trusty monitor. Finally they corner the Joker at the end of a pier, but as Batman predicted, he’s always got another trick up his purple sleeve and uses his spring-loaded seat and handy green parachute to rendezvous with a waiting speedboat to make his escape. The surprises aren’t over yet, though, as the Dynamic Duo inspect the Jokermobile. Batman locates a sliver of something that gives him pause, but then an ominous ticking sound alerts them that it’s time to dive off the pier prior to the explosion that rocks the dock.

A flip of the page leads us to another explosion on a battlefield in Europe where we see a red, white and blue figure leaping over the top of a familiar squad of soldiers: Wildman, Bulldozer, Ice Cream Soldier and of course Sgt. Frank Rock. Captain America is looking to take down a truly massive Nazi war machine that looks a lot like the War Wheel the Blackhawks battled back in the day, but much, much larger. Feature a huge, tracked wheel on the scale of the sandcrawler from Star Wars.

Cap determines that while it’s destructive power is truly terrible, it’s not much good at close range, so he works his way up the side and places that well-known, “virtually indestructible” shield of his into the gears and the monstrosity grinds to a halt and tips over on its side, neutralized.

The soldiers of Easy Company are impressed, but there’s barely time for Rock to light a celebratory cigarette when a courier on a motorcycle arrives with a special dispatch to Captain America with orders for he and Bucky to return stateside for a special top secret mission.

Before they can land at the Gotham airfield, however, trouble erupts when a priority flight, delaying their own landing, is abruptly hijacked. Cap instructs the pilot to follow that plane and prepare to take a dive from their aircraft to the other, sans parachute as he needs both hands and also his shield.

After a terrific struggle to gain a hold on the plane and dodging strafing fire from it, it looks like our hero might be done for when he’s gripped by the mighty hand of the Batman, dangling from a rope ladder suspended from the Batplane above.

Now two colorful figures make an invasion of the runaway plane, battling in perfect synchronicity against those who would bring them down. Finally they discover that the hijackers had trussed up none other than Dr. Oppenheimer, who has been at work on the secret Gotham Project.

Landing the plane at the airfield and secluding the rogue crew in a hangar for questioning, our heroes soon discover the source of the problem when one by one they succumb to the Joker venom that had been secretly placed upon them in patch form.

Batman and Robin take their leave while Captain America and Bucky are later at a military briefing, though Bucky is left to wait in the hallway while Steve Rogers is given an assignment to shadow the person they believe may be bankrolling the Joker in the quest to gain control of the Gotham Project: Bruce Wayne.

Rogers is skeptical, citing Wayne’s spotless record, but the Army officers insist that makes him a prime suspect, that no one could amass such a fortune without some skeletons in the closet. They assign Private Rogers to be Wayne’s bodyguard as a ruse to gain access and surveillance to the wealthy industrialist.

Bruce Wayne reluctantly agrees and Private Rogers is soon bored to tears marking time as the wealthy man about town goes about his routines. Finally, however, Batman’s imposed vacation must end. As he’s discussing with Dick Grayson how he’ll go about meeting up with the Joker, part of the conversation is overhead by Rogers, who then clandestinely tags along when Bruce leaves Wayne Manor.

Bruce’s destination is the Wayne Foundation building, where he’s picking up some important paperwork, but he is then confronted by the Private and soon some impressive hand to hand combat is going on until the pair ultimately realize that neither a wealthy playboy nor even an enlisted soldier would be quite so accomplished. Soon they’re shaking hands and relishing another team-up to take on the Joker.

Speaking of the Clown Prince of Crime, he has not been idle, but he has been frustrated at the lack of progress in his plans. Or are they strictly his plans? He is soon contacted via closed circuit monitor and ordered to report. Bristling, the Joker reminds the mysterious man at the other end that he does not take orders, but has certainly been the beneficiary of the various leads provided to him. After the connection is broken and one of the henchmen counsel the man about the dangers of dealing with the Joker, he finds himself on the receiving end of a handful of the Red Skull’s Dust of Death, which not only takes his life, but leaves the visage of the Red Skull on his face.

Elsewhere, outside Gotham, a group of soldiers is similarly succumbing to the Laughing Death and the top secret materials they are carrying are retrieved by the Joker and his men.

Back at the Batcave, Batman and Robin are hosting Captain America and Bucky as they consider events. The World’s Greatest Detective concludes that the Joker cannot be working alone and the shard of plutonium he discovered in the Jokermobile leads him to believe there are other sinister forces afoot. Cap agrees and muses that he has an idea who else may be involved.

Just then, the bat signal is invoked by Commissioner Gordon. Batman cannot leave the batcomputer before it’s finished with a complex analysis, so Robin and Captain America answer the summons, which turns out to be a shore patrol boat found adrift with dead men aboard. Men with a familiar grin on their faces. Captain America does some quick calculations regarding the location of the boat and the proximity to Washington D.C. and grimly tells Robin there are nasty things afoot, but he’s not at liberty yet to reveal all.

Elsewhere in Gotham, Batman and Bucky are in the Batmobile, about to investigate a warehouse when trouble strikes. Hoodlums erupt from everywhere and a full blown melee begins. Bucky speculates that the Joker has half the underworld working for him when the Red Skull reveals himself.

Later, we see Batman and Bucky lashed to a hydraulic lift in an a garage and the Red Skull in charge. Bucky demands to know why their foe is in America and the Nazi reveals that he is behind the work of the Joker. The deathtrap the Red Skull leaves behind is a timer on the lift that will trigger a massive explosion shortly after he and his men are safely out of the arc. A few blocks later, the explosion rocks the region.

Elsewhere, Cap and Robin are on their way to an airfield with the notion to intercept the latest acquisition of the Joker, a crucial piece of the Gotham Project. The Joker and his men, however, have already arrived to deliver “Fat Boy” and to receive his million dollar fee. The Red Skull, however, has altered the bargain and when the Joker realizes not only being duped, but being duped by a genuine Nazi (apparently even the Joker has a little patriotism in him), all bets are off and as the two villains square off, hitting one another with their respective chemical weaponry, i.e. Joker Venom and the Dust of Death, all it does is irritate their upper respiratory systems. It seems the formulas are too similar and each is immune. Just the same one of the Red Skull’s cronies knocks out the Joker. He is loaded aboard the Skull’s aircraft and they take to the skies.

Hot on their tail, however, is the Batplane with all 4 heroes aboard. Batman had, of course, anticipated the trap and made preparations and now they’re going after the villains. The Batplane actually uses magnetic grapples to attach itself to the top of the transport and then a hole is cut allowing Batman and Captain America to enter the Red Skull’s craft and start kicking butts and taking names. The Batplane, however, has been shaken loose and Robin and Bucky fight to keep her in the air, ultimately succeeding.

Meanwhile, the transport carrying the “Fat Boy” bomb is heading inexorably for Washington, D.C., but the American heroes are putting up a ferocious battle with Captain America gaining control of the plane and aiming for the Atlantic. The Red Skull is determined to drop the bomb while it can still do some damage, but the wild card then shows up and it’s a Joker.

The Joker thwarts the Red Skull in his attempt to jettison the weapon, at least for a few crucial minutes. The suspension apparatus then gives way and the bomb and the two villains plunge into the ocean while Cap and Bats try to regain control of the jet-powered craft.

Soon a massive mushroom cloud is seen over the ocean, but the damage appears to be minimal. The junior partners, Bucky Barnes and Robin report via radio that they’re safely landed inland. Washington D.C. is safe and perhaps they’ve seen the last of the Red Skull and the Joker…or perhaps not.

The final two pages are an epilogue 20 years later where a slightly different Batman and Robin are aboard a miniature submarine in the North Atlantic when they discover a strange cavitation in a nearby ice floe. Bringing it aboard, they are shocked to discover a man inside: A man who is still alive and carrying a familiar shield and mask.

Steve Rogers revives with a start, calling out Bucky’s name. He then recognizes Batman and Robin, but they quickly reveal that Batman is Dick Grayson and Robin is Bruce Wayne, Jr. A later rendezvous in the Batcave with Bruce Wayne and Alfred in attendance wraps things up: “…and that’s the whole story. As near as we can figure it, Cap. You disappeared just after the end of the war. Somehow you must have been frozen in that ice since then.” Alfred says it’s providence and that he’s returned just when the world needs him, to which Bruce replies, “Hear, hear! Welcome back, Captain America!” The final caption gives a John Byrne tip of the hat to “Rascally Roger Stern” for the suggested epilogue.

While it hadn’t occurred to me before, the similarities between these two heroes are pretty significant. In each case you’ve got a hero who’s not endowed with metahuman characteristics, despite Cap’s minor enhancement via the super solider serum, each wearing a full head mask with youthful partners wearing domino masks. Each has an arch nemesis that use amongst their arsenal a remarkably similar poison that leaves its victims resembling the antagonist. Both have been with us since nearly the inception of the superhero comic book. All that having been said, we know who was first, don’t we? Robin even predated Bucky by almost a year. I’m not suggesting any plagiarism on Joe Simon’s part, but the common characteristics are pretty interesting.

John Byrne inserted some wonderful touches into this superbly illustrated story, including building signs in the backgrounds with familiar names like Moldoff, Sprang, Robinson, Paris, Finger and Simon. His detail work on Gotham City architecture, aircraft and the Batcave (where he inserted a note of special thanks to Dick Sprang) are a wonder to behold. One can only imagine the number of hours he put into this piece, but it must have been staggering. I pretty well spilled the beans on the story, but the artwork is really something special.

So, I dub this a most worthy tale, with over 60 pages filled with adventure and intrigue and well worth your time if you get a chance to read it for yourself. Enjoy the book, enjoy the new Captain America movie.

Until next we meet, drop me a line at: professor_the@hotmail.com and most of all…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2014 by B.D.S.

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