by John Wells
Dateline: 2958: Tears welled up in Superboy's eyes. He'd been invited to join the 30th Century's Legion of Super-Heroes and, frankly, things had not gone well. The Boy of Steel had failed three consecutive tests to join the team and he'd just been informed that he hadn't made the cut. "Only the backwards 20th Century people could think him a 'super-hero'" (1958's ADVENTURE COMICS # 247, by Otto Binder and Al Plastino).
Humiliated, Superboy wondered how he could face his friends back in Smallville. As the heroes left him there and prepared to return to the 30th Century, he pleaded with them to "give me another chance!" It was not to be. The disappointed Legionnaires "would've sworn Superboy was a sure bet to become our newest member. But now -- "
"Now we know he's not Legionnaire material."
It was back to the future, where a grim Cosmic Boy announced that he was opening "the floor to other nominations for a new member. On cue, a tall young man materialized on the round table in a burst of flame and asked, "May I make a suggestion ?"
The teenager, who called himself Anti-Lad, wore a red body suit with long black-gray boots & gloves, crossed suspenders and shorts. The top of his hood was cut out, exposing his bald head, and his eyes were concealed by a visor. "On the faraway planet I come from, our sun is 1,000 times brighter than yours. The visor amplifies Earth-light so I can see."
In a series of trials, Anti-Lad demonstrated how he came by his name, reflecting the powers of each Legionnaire back at them. As Lightning Lad fired a bolt at him, "Anti-Lad's uniform suddenly became insulated" and he shocked the Legionnaire with his own electricity. Subsequently, Colossal Boy collapsed under his own weight and Cosmic Boy found himself magnetized and stuck to the Legion headquarters. "Ever since I can remember," Anti-Lad explained. "I've always had the uncanny ability to change someone's strength into a weakness ... by turning his own power against him."
With the hero on the fast track for Legion membership, his picture was taken with the founding members and he settled into the team's guest-quarters for the night. Only Brainiac Five had his doubts -- and he was determined to confirm his suspicions. Anti-Lad awoke in the middle of the night to the glare of light in his face and instinctively covered his eyes. A stern Brainy informed him that "a person who grew up under a super-bright sun certainly wouldn't be shielding his eyes from a mere light like this."
Analysis quickly revealed that Anti-Lad's powers were artificial, a violation of Legion policy. The visor was an astonishingly advanced computer that "not only analyzed the strength of each opponent (but) also instantly created the correct counter moves to overcome them. But most surprising of all ... if I read these circuits right, the computer recently analyzed and manufactured Kryptonite."
Once 20th Century soil particles had been detected on his boots, Anti-Lad admitted that he'd followed the Legionnaires into the past and sabotaged the initiation of Superboy. The moment after his confession, the would-be Legionnaire blinked out of existence. Brainiac Five and company had no recollection of the past day, only the overriding feeling that "we've GOT to give Superboy another initiation test" (1974's SUPERBOY # 204, by Cary Bates and Mike Grell).
Travelling to the past once more, Saturn Girl erased Superboy's recollection of his first meeting with the team. Clad in different costumes to avoid triggering the Boy of Steel's memories, the Legionnaires subjected him to a second series of tests which, once more, he appeared to flunk. This time it was all a prank and the Legion unanimously accepted Superboy into its ranks (ADVENTURE # 247).
Years later, the Legion would find a photo of themselves and a stranger in their archives and wonder "who WAS Anti-Lad ?" His secret was still millennia in the future -- the 75th Century, to be exact, an era when most of Earth's inhabitants lived in geometric structures that hovered above the polluted surface.
While using a time-scanner to research a Superboy biography, a young student had witnessed the Legion's historically-inaccurate rejection of the Boy of Steel. The teenager's father theorized that "this instrument is defective. Instead of merely observing the time-stream, its scanning rays have warped it ... and altered a portion of the past ... namely Superboy's membership in the Legion. ... He is destined to (play) such a vital role with them that the entire course of history will be thrown out of control without him."
The boy's father resolved to alert the Science Court, of which he was a member, but the teenager felt obligated to resolve the matter himself. He created his visor ("only a toy in our advanced age of technology") and made an unauthorized jaunt into the time-stream via his father's timesmitter. "Father MEANS well, but by the time he goes through the proper channels to get permission, it may be too late. A crisis like this calls for drastic and immediate action." After a side-trip to 20th Century Smallville to get soil samples, Anti-Lad paid a visit to the Legion and manipulated them into believing that the Superboy test had been fixed. Upon his departure, A-Lad's visor gave "each of them a post-hypnotic command ... ordering them to have no memory of (him) once (he) disappeared."
Ultimately, Anti-Lad's efforts were undone. Multiple assaults on the Legion's history wove Superboy into and out of the team's history and inevitably took their toll on the fabric of reality. Only a last ditch effort coordinated by Cosmic Boy (as the Time Trapper) enabled the Legion to preserve the integrity of the timestream (1994's LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES # 61). In the history that arose in the aftermath, the Legion of Super-Heroes still existed (LSH # 0) but the vital role that Superboy played in those chronicles was no more.
Ironically, the 75th Century would remain a significant period in the history of the cosmos. During that era, the ageless energy-being known as Wildfire was able to sustain the legacy of the Legion of Super-Heroes and, in a truly historic achievement, revived the United Planets (1996's LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES ANNUAL # 7). Anti-Lad would surely have been proud.
It was the end of an era, an age that had seen Batman transformed into everything from a negative man to a genie, battle extraterrestrial beings on a regular basis and develop an extended family including but not limited to Bat-Women, Bat-Mites, Bat-Hounds and Bat-Girls. As 1964 dawned, sales were, by all accounts, suffering on BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS and the decision was made to have an editorial swap. Jack Schiff was reassigned to the science fictional MYSTERY IN SPACE and STRANGE ADVENTURES while their editor, Julius Schwartz would take charge of BATMAN and DETECTIVE.
Schiff's final issue of DETECTIVE, issue # 326, offered a fairly routine lead story in which Batman and Robin were captured and placed in an alien zoo and a momentous back-up wherein the Martian Manhunter's alter ego John Jones "died," setting the stage for a relaunch of his series in HOUSE OF MYSTERY. Schiff's final published issue, however, was BATMAN # 163. The cover spotlighted the Joker, always a crowd pleasure, but "The Joker Jury" was the second story in that issue. The lead was an alternate history piece, offering a small glimpse of a world where Schiff's Batman might have gone and a last hurrah for a character who'd be banished from the Schwartz titles.
The story of "the Second Batman and Robin Team" had actually begun in 1960's BATMAN # 131, where Alfred had tried his hand at fiction. He wrote of a future in which Bruce Wayne married Kathy Kane and had a child, Bruce, Jr. Ultimately, the adult Dick Grayson took the mantle of the Bat and Bruce, Jr. became the new Robin. Further installments appeared in # 135 (1960), 145 (1961) and 159 (1963).
For the final installment, writer Bill Finger and artists Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris turned their attention to a character who hadn't even existed when the first two episodes were published. Betty (Bat-Girl) Kane, the niece of Batwoman, had first appeared in 1961's BATMAN # 139 and returned in subsequent months for a series of episodes that played up her romantic interest in Robin and the Boy Wonder's own embarrassed attempts to avoid reciprocating those feelings.
As the story in BATMAN # 163 opened, Betty had returned to visit her Aunt Kathy at Wayne Manor, explaining that "when Dad's business firm sent him to Europe years ago, I went with him -- but now I'm back in America. After all this time, I'm finally with my favorite aunt again. Seeing you again brings back old memories ..." She wasn't alone in those feelings. Dick Grayson privately observed that "she was pretty when she was younger, but now she's gorgeous!"
Betty's presence even seemed to make Bruce restless and, with Dick and Bruce, Jr. out of town at a charity function, he decided to pull his Batman costume out of mothballs when the Bat-Signal flashed in the sky that evening. Downcast, Kathy told him that she understood but confided in Betty that she missed her activities as Batwoman and had never been able to bring herself to sell her old mansion and its underground base of operations. Unaware that her aunt had actually married Batman, Betty decided to borrow the Batwoman costume and motorcycle from the Kane mansion and revive her costumed career.
Elsewhere, Batman had met with an older, grayer Commissioner Gordon and set off in pursuit of criminal inventor Milo (no known relation to the Professor of earlier years), who was planning to sell a spectacular collection of crime machines at an underworld auction. Those items included a giant flying hand with jointed fingers and a seat for a driver. Unfortunately for Batman, they were ideal for grabbing costumed crimefighter.
By chance, the new blonde Batwoman arrived on the scene in time to toss flares at Milo, blinding him long enough to release the giant hand's controls and drop the Caped Crusader towards a barn roof. Batman slid to safety on the ground but the shingles tore away his cowl. Batwoman instantly recognized her Uncle Bruce and, by extension, realized that Dick had been Robin. "I've really been in love with Dick all these years and never knew it!"
In the Batcave, Kathy was pacing when Batman entered. Her worries returned when she realized that it was the returning Dick Grayson. With Robin, he took off for a meeting with Commissioner Gordon, who insisted that "I didn't think there'd be any danger. It should have been a routine job for Batman." A patrolman provided a crucial lead when he discovered a stolen car at the scene of Milo's attack on Batman and observed a piece of the Dark Knight's cape still hanging from the barn roof.
Even as police officers and the second-generation Dynamic Duo were converging on the area, Batman the elder and Batwoman the younger were waiting in the shadows as the underworld auction got underway. Milo had spotted the heroes, however, and, after rendering them unconscious, decided to use them to test the crime machines when they awoke. With his hands and feet bound, Batman was forced to evade the blows of a giant mallet that was attached to a car.
From the sidelines, the new Batman and Robin were faced with an agonizing dilemma. "There's quite a distance between us and Batman. ... Before we could even get to him, we'd be exposed to gangster guns." Batwoman had spotted the crimefighters in the shadows and, though her hands were bound like Batman's, she was far closer to the action. Throwing all her weight against a wheeled catapult, she slammed the device into a podium, provided sufficient seconds for Dick and B.J. to rescue the family patriarch and untie both him and Betty.
Though the odds had shifted back in the heroes' favor, Batwoman realized that the flying bullets were still a very real threat. Hopping into the driver's seat of the giant hand, she used its raised fingers as a combination shield and target for the gunmen's bullets.
In the Batcave, Batwoman put her arms around the new Batman's neck and pulled back his cowl. "Now that I know the truth, I can finally do this."
"Why bother," he grinned, "now that you know my secret identity ?"
As her lips locked with his, Betty explained, "Oh ... because now we can kiss without hiding behind masks. It's more fun this way."
We're told that the Grayson-Kane nuptials were the social event of the season.
Back in the real world, Dick rolled his eyes at the subject of his butler's latest short story. "I can just imagine what you've written, Alfred. But you never can tell -- maybe she'll be able to read it some day."
Below that final page, an advertisement offered a hint of the radical artistic changes to come even as it encouraged readers to "follow the adventures of Batman and Robin in these latest issues of DETECTIVE COMICS." On one side, Sheldon Moldoff's Bob Kane-style "Captives of the Alien Zoo" (# 326) was said to be "now on sale." On the other, the Carmine Infantino-pencilled "Mystery of the Menacing Mask" was showcased. On March 26, 1964, everything was going to change.
John "Mikishawm" Wells, the pride of Batavia, Iowa, is a lifelong comics fan, working his way forward from Disneys in 1969 to newspaper strips in 1973 to SHAZAM! and the rest of the DC Universe in 1974. During the 1980s, he began compiling a lists of DC character appearances, a massive database that he's tapped into when writing articles for publications such as the DC Index series, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer’s Guide, Comic Effect, Comic Book Marketplace, It’s A Fanzine, The O‘Neil Observer and, of course, Fanzing. He is Kurt Busiek's unofficial reference guide, as the keen-eyed may have noticed in Power Company #2.
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This piece is © 2002 by John Wells
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