12138086458?profile=RESIZE_400xAs I mentioned last time out, the unbroken popularity of DC’s “Big Three”---Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman---had put the company solidly at the top of the comics-publishing industry.  Not wanting to tamper with success, the powers that be insisted that the basic set-ups for those characters not be changed---at least for not longer than the length of a single story.  By page twenty-six, everything had to be the way it always was.  This meant no character development, no dramatic revelations, no new directions.  And it resulted in stodgy adventures with predicable endings. 


In an effort to break out of the inertia, Superman editor Mort Weisinger came up with the idea of “Imaginary Stories”---tales that deliberately broke the mould, capable of going in any direction.  Superman would marry Lois Lane or Lana Lang or Lori Lemaris.  He would wind up with Lex Luthor as his brother.  He would even die.  The possibilities were endless.  And to keep the suits in charge happy, these tales were advertised up front as Imaginary Stories, with cover blurbs and interior text informing the reader that none of this was happening to the “real” characters.


But before Weisinger took that drastic step, in Lois Lane # 19 (Aug., 1960), he tested the readers’ acceptance of them by framing out-of-continuity adventures with an in-continuity premise, or what I’ve come to call “Semi-Imaginary Stories”.  To this end, Superman # 132 (Oct., 1959) introduced the Super-Univac, a sophisticated probability computer which projected the outcome of a hypothetical question and then displayed it for Superman, and the readers, to watch unfold.


Jack Schiff, the editor of Batman and Detective Comics, was wrestling with the same problem.  To make matters worse, publisher Irwin Donenfeld’s insistence on placing the Masked Manhunter in science-fiction-based adventures resulted in a format that clearly wasn’t suitable to the character’s roots.  Batman fans were growing weary of the constant flow of space aliens, bug-eyed monsters, and bizarre transformations that had no place in the casework of the World’s Greatest Detective.


Schiff also came up with the notion of writing stories “out of the box”, putting the Batman and his supporting cast through changes that would never be allowed in the normal continuity.  Not as bold as Mort Weisinger, Schiff never went the route of issuing outright Imaginary Stories.  He was more comfortable going with Semi-Imaginary tales.  The trick was coming up with an intriguing device to present them.


The first couple of Semi-Imaginary tales put out under Schiff’s auspice went a well-trodden route.  “Rip Van Batman”, from Batman # 119 (Oct., 1958), showed a greybearded Caped Crusader fifteen years in the future, adjusting to being a has-been, while Robin, now an adult, has taken over the mantle of the Batman.  It turns out to be a hallucination caused by the peculiar odour of a rare Amazonian plant.  “The Marriage of Batman and Batwoman”, from Batman # 122 (Mar., 1959), wasn’t even that marginally clever.  The marriage of Bruce Wayne and Kathy Kane, and the disastrous results when Batman tries to keep Kathy from continuing her Batwoman career, was revealed as a dream to both the readers and a very relieved Dick Grayson.


The thing was, “It was only a dream!” was a worn-out trick, and Schiff knew he couldn’t pull that one very often.  His next method for presenting a Semi-Imaginary Story offers us an interesting hint into the communicability of ideas between shops. 


Batman # 127 presented the Semi-Imaginary tale, “The Second Life of Batman”.  In the “real” part of the story, Professor Carter Nichols has invited Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson to his home for the unveiling of the historian’s latest invention---a helmet-like mechanism designed to show what would have happened if a past event in a person’s life had gone differently.  When the subject dons the complicated headgear and then recalls an event in his life that he wishes had gone otherwise, the machine will reveal to his mind’s eye the life he might have had.


Wayne dons the device, and once it is activated, he wonders what would have happened if his parents had not been murdered by Joe Chill.  The machine projects that the Waynes' premature deaths were merely forestalled.  When Bruce is a young man, Doctor and Mrs. Wayne are killed in an automobile accident.  Consequently, Bruce becomes an indolent roué whose only solid interest is in athletics. 


The scene shifts to a masquerade party which Wayne attends, garbed as Superman.  The festivities are disrupted when gunmen, led by a criminal calling himself “the Blue Bat” and dressed in a costume identical to the real-world Batman’s, burst in and rob the wealthy guests.  As the hypothetical events proceed, Superman himself arrives to thwart the robbery, but the Blue Bat diverts him by menacing the party-goers with a runaway aeroplane.


Goaded by his friends, Bruce tackles the gang and, thanks to his athletic skills, corrals all of them.  Except for the Blue Bat, who escapes into the night.  Congratulated for his heroic feat by the crowd and the Man of Steel, the young playboy feels, for the first time, what it’s like to do something genuinely worthwhile.


On the way home, Bruce is ambushed by the Blue Bat and his gang.  The revenge-seeking crooks teach him a lesson in minding his own business by knocking him flat on his back.  But this only enflames his budding sense of duty.  Relying on clues left at the scene of his beating, Bruce locates the Blue Bat’s hideout and bursts in, intent on capturing the gang.  However, it is abandoned.  There’s only a spare Blue Bat costume in a closet and some notes indicating that the gang’s next target is the payroll of the construction crew building a new dam outside of town.


Seized by an idea, Wayne dons the spare Blue Bat costume, then races to the dam site in his roadster.  He deliberately speeds by a highway-patrol car, so the troopers can see him.  Believing it’s the real Blue Bat, the lawmen give chase, as Bruce intended.  Arriving at the dam, he interrupts the robbery by confusing the Blue Bat’s men over which one of the costumed figures is the real criminal chief.  Wayne prevents the genuine villain from blowing up the dam with dynamite just as the police arrive to take the gang in tow.  They see just enough to realise that the other Blue Bat is a good guy and allow him to leave.


The tableau created by Nichols’ device concludes with playboy Bruce Wayne finding a new dedication in life.


“I’ll devote my life to fighting criminals!  This costume that was once a symbol of crime will now become a symbol of justice!  As for a name, I’ll call myself what those policemen called me---Batman!”


At that, in the real continuity, Wayne removes the helmet.  As no-one else could witness the tableau that played in Bruce’s mind, Nichols asks what he saw.  Bruce is noncommittal.  He simply tells the professor that his destiny would have been the same.  But on the way home, Wayne tells Dick that the hand of fate is unswerving, indeed.





Professor Nichols’ invention sounds an awful lot like the Super-Univac, doesn’t it?  Another thing to consider is that the cover-date of Batman # 127---October, 1959---is the same as that of Superman # 132, the issue in which the Super-Univac debuted. 


There are no apparent ties.  Schiff edited and Bill Finger wrote “The Second Life of Batman”; Mort Weisinger edited and Otto Binder wrote “Superman’s Other Life”.  Is the similarity of stories and devices used to present them merely coïncidence, or a common idea birthed by a bull session between DC editors?  Or did one swipe the idea from the other?  Many would be quick to point toward reliable accounts of Weisinger stealing story ideas and presenting them as his own.


I’ll leave that to speculation.  What is known is that, while the Super-Univac made recurring appearances in the Superman titles, there was never another Batman story using Nichols’ alternate-future predictor.  Whatever the reason for that, Jack Schiff and Bill Finger didn’t take long to conceive another device for presenting Semi-Imaginary Stories, and this one would have legs.




Some day, Batman will be old---some day, Batman will have to retire!  When that day comes, Robin, a boy no longer, will become his successor---Batman the Second!  But then, who will become Robin the Second?  You will soon see for yourself, as you take a glimpse into the future at . . . the Second Batman and Robin Team!


This was the lead-in to the next Batman Semi-Imaginary Story, appearing in Batman # 131 (Apr., 1960).  The tale proper opens with fingers pounding furiously on the keys of a typewriter.  The copy announces the retirement of the Batman!  The Masked Manhunter makes a television broadcast to that effect, declaring the now-grown Robin as his replacement, Batman II.  Back at the Batcave, we learn that Bruce Wayne, now wrinkled and grey, has been married to Kathy Kane for over a decade, and they have a young son, the red-haired Bruce Wayne, Junior.


Young Bruce persuades his parents to let him become the next Boy Wonder, and after a suitable amount of training, joins his “Uncle” Dick in crime-fighting as Robin II.  During their first case as a team, both are preöccupied by personal concerns.  Until now, Dick never realised the heavy responsibility the original Batman carried in taking a young boy into danger.  Meanwhile, Bruce, Jr. frets over being as good as the first Robin.  Junior is right to worry, since in the second team’s début action, he makes a bonehead goof that lets the crooks get away.


The next day, in his job as a newspaper reporter, Dick Grayson gets a lead on the whereabouts of the Babyface Jordan gang and heads off on his own to capture them.  He leaves a coded message for Bruce, Jr., which the boy decyphers in the Batcave.  Alfred the butler sees him depart as Robin II and reports it to Bruce and Kathy Wayne.  When Wayne realises that his son and Dick are going after the Jordan gang, he fears that they may be too much for the pair, given Robin II’s inexperience.  Despite their creaking joints, Bruce and Kathy suit up as Batman and Batwoman and head for Jordan’s hideout.


Meanwhile, things haven’t been going so well for the second Batman.  He has been captured by the gangsters posted to guard the gang’s hideout, but the arriving Robin II rescues him handily.  The scuffle alerts the rest of the gang, and suddenly the new Dynamic Duo find themselves surrounded and outnumbered.  They fight it out, but things aren’t looking good for our heroes---until the original Batman and his wife crash the scene by driving a locomotive along a near-by spur and slamming it into the throng of gangsters.


With the Jordan gang in tow, it’s smiles all around for the three generations of crime-fighters.  The scene is abruptly broken by a still youthful Bruce Wayne discovering Alfred at his writing desk.


We’re back in the real continuity, now.  The loyal retainer explains, “Well, you see, sir---I just wanted to try out this new typewriter, and before I realized it, I was writing a story of what possibly might happen to us all in the future!”


“Too bad it can’t be published because it would give away my secret identity,” replies Wayne, master of the obvious.


“True---nobody will ever read it,” says Alfred, “but I had so much fun writing this imaginary story of the future that I think I’ll write another one sometime . . .”



Alfred’s hunch was pretty good.  The initial fan response was positive and Bill Finger had a sequel already in the works.  Again under the premise that Alfred was writing another fictional episode of their lives in the near future, “The Return of the Second Batman and Robin Team” saw print in Batman # 135 (Oct., 1960).  In this one, John Crandall, a criminal caught by the original Caped Crusader, is released from prison.  Discovering that the first Batman has hung up his cape, Crandall seeks to draw him out of retirement by destroying anything that is a monument to the Batman.


The second Batman and Robin team attempt to stop Crandall’s wave of destruction, but they wind up getting captured, and Bruce Wayne, Senior, has to go back in harness to rescue them.


The readers liked this one, too; they asked for more.  Jack Schiff had found a format for presenting Semi-Imaginary Stories that clicked.  There would be four more stories about the second Dynamic Duo, all attributed to Alfred the butler’s literary muse.  By increments, each of the stories expanded upon the premise of looking at the next generation of Batman.


“The Son of the Joker”, from Batman # 145 (Feb., 1962), examined the notion that not only the heroes would have heirs, as Gotham City is plagued by a criminal claiming to be the Joker’s son.  And so far, the white-faced crook has managed to outwit the second Batman and Robin team at every turn.  There is a quaint scene in which Bruce Wayne, recalling that the Joker retired after serving a long prison term, visits his old foe as Batman.  He finds the former mountebank stiff with age, tending flowers in his cottage garden.  Though the art and dialogue are simplistic by to-day’s standards, there is something wistful in seeing the two aged enemies, drinking lemonade and reminiscing about their younger days.  (And, of course, it wouldn’t wash to-day, given their modern characterisations.)


12450975667?profile=RESIZE_400xMore details of the new crime-fighting team’s set-up are revealed, as well.  Dick Grayson now lives in a city brownstone.  Its basement lies directly over an abandoned subway spur.  Through a constructed tunnel, the spur was extended to beneath Wayne Manor, and Batman II uses an electric cart to travel from his home to the Batcave.


The Joker’s son manages to lure the second Batman and Robin team into a trap, and they are rescued by the original Batman.  That happened in most of the second-team stories; Schiff seemed reluctant to completely divorce the Semi-Imaginary series from its root character.  And as for the son of the Joker, all was not as it seemed.


The next Batman Semi-Imaginary tale was a break in the Second Batman-Robin Team series.  Still using the conceit of being written by Alfred, this time, “Batman’s New Secret Identity”, from Batman # 151 (Apr., 1962), explores the possible future of the current Dynamic Duo if it were revealed that Batman was Bruce Wayne.  It’s a well-developed book-length tale, written strongly along the lines of Mort Weisinger’s pure Imaginary Stories, complete with a twist at the end.


Alfred is back to writing about the second team in “Danger Strikes Four”, from Batman # 154 (Mar., 1963).  The imaginary portion of this tale is more closely entwined with the real continuity of Batman and Robin than any of the others in the series, extending to more than just book-ends of Alfred at his typewriter.  In this case, the butler is stymied when he writes the fictional Batman II and Robin II into a death-trap that they cannot escape---until the real Dynamic Duo manages to defeat a similar trap, thus providing him with an ending for his story.


“The Boyhood of Bruce Wayne, Junior”, from Batman # 159 (Nov., 1963), is a Semi-Imaginary tale of the usual Batman II-Robin II storyline, but set in a time before the first Batman retired.  It explores the early boyhood of Bruce, Jr. and how he helped his father on a case long before becoming the second Boy Wonder.


The final Second Batman and Robin team tale makes one last addition to its Semi-Imaginary mythos.  Batman # 163 (May, 1964) introduced “Bat-Girl---Batwoman II”.  Kathy Wayne’s niece, Betty Kane, now grown and nicely filled out, returns to Gotham City, after living in Europe for a time.  She re-acquaints herself with her aunt and the rest of the Wayne family.  It’s also obvious that her cap is still set for Dick Grayson.  For his part, Grayson feels a revival of a few stirrings, as well. 


Betty is unaware that Wayne Manor houses an entire family of crime-fighters.  She only knows that her aunt used to be Batwoman.


Unbeknownst to Kathy, Betty has decided to become the new Batwoman, and returning to her aunt’s old mansion, dons a Batwoman costume and, using the Bat-Cycle, goes out on her first patrol.  At the same time, the original Batman, filling in for an out-of-town Batman II and Robin II, answers the bat-signal.  Commissioner Gordon puts him on the trail of Milo, a criminal scientist who has escaped from prison.


Batman finds Milo, but slowed by age, finds himself in trouble.  The new Batwoman happens upon the scene and rescues the crime-fighter, but his face is accidentally exposed to her. She’s stunned to see Bruce Wayne under the cowl.

12451252652?profile=RESIZE_710xThere’s a quick moment when identity secrets are exchanged, but then the pair get back to work, only to fall into a Milo-laid trap.  For once, it is the new Dynamic Duo who get to make the rescue.  But it's Betty who puts paid to the band of crooks, using one of Milo's crime gadgets.  During the wrap-up back at the Batcave, there is a strong indication that there are wedding bells in Dick and Betty’s future.


Alfred yanks this last page out of the typewriter, accompanied by the usual “Too bad nobody will ever be able to read it” blah-blah-blah from Bruce and Dick.  And with that, the book was closed on the Second Batman-and-Robin Team.



That issue was Jack Schiff’s last as editor of the Batman titles.  With sales nose-diving, he had been replaced by Julius Schwartz, who had already kicked off his “New Look” Batman that same month, over in Detective Comics # 327.  As part of his house-cleaning, Schwartz had jettisoned all of the fringe “bat-characters”, real and Semi-Imaginary.  The June, 1964 issue of Batman would modernise the Caped Crusader further, dispensing with the stuffy paterfamilias of the “Bat-family” he had become under Schiff’s reign, and returning him to the sleek, dynamic figure of a nocturnal detective.


As a series-within-a-series, the Second Batman and Robin Team had enjoyed a pretty good run.  None of Weisinger’s out-of-continuity tales would continue a single Imaginary premise over that many issues.  In that way, Schiff had found a way to make Imaginary tales work in a way the Superman editor never did.


As we shall see in my next instalment, Julius Schwartz wasn’t completely averse to the idea of Semi-Imaginary Stories, either. 

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  • Imaginary stories seem to get a bad rap from many comic book fans but as a kid I found those stories to be among the most entertaining. The first issue of Batman I ever bought was #159 and I remember loving the Batman ll story that Alfred cooked up. The whole idea that there could be alternate versions of our favorite heroes was very appealing.

  • Amusingly when I read "The Second 'Batman and Robin' Team" in the Batman Golden Age Archive #10 I assumed it was part of the Semi-Imaginary Run. Instead it has Roger Bacon brilliantly figuring out that this Batman who keeps appearing throughout history is a 20th century time traveler and sending someone into that future to meet him ... dressed as a Bat because obviously that's a normal thing in AD 1955. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Terrific work, as usual, Commander. As with the Super-Univac I didn't realize how many stories Alfred turned out.

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