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CSBG Archive

I Love Ya But You’re Strange – “Yeah, Sure, You Can Be Batman For a Night”

Every week, I will spotlight strange but ultimately endearing comic stories (basically, we’re talking lots and lots of Silver Age comic books). Here is the archive of all the installments of this feature. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have a suggestion for a future installment!

Today, based on a suggestion from reader BeccaBlast, we get to see the Batman story where Batman allowed some guy to be Batman for a night for some reason. I like to call it “Paper Batman.”

Obviously, “Paper Batman” is a reference to the late, great George Plimpton’s classic book, Paper Lion, where Plimpton went to training camp with the Detroit Lions as part of a series of books he did where he would do the whole “regular guy competing with world class athletes” thing.

The film adaptation (starring Alan Alda as Plimpton) came out in 1968. In 1971, Frank Robbins did a riff on the idea in Detective Comics #417, with art by Bob Brown and Dick Giordano.

We open with Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon watching a writer battle the heavyweight champ in boxing. They’re sitting with the writer’s sister, Trina (and I agree with Becca, it most likely is not a coincidence that Frank Robbins named a character Trina, after the un-related Trina Robbins, who was getting her start as a writer back then).

For some reason, Batman is amused enough by the writer that he allows him to become Batman for a night.

First, they train…

I love that Paxton fails Batman’s test totally, but Batman still lets him be Batman for a night. “You blew your cool! The Batman wouldn’t live though a single night if he did! But eh, what the hell, you can still be Batman for said single night. I am sure things will go well anyways.”

So Paxton goes on patrol and when he encounters some bad guys, he shockingly loses his cool…

That is definitely a great Bob Brown shot of Batman berating Paxton.

So Paxton failed the initial test by losing his cool. He then fails his first night by losing his cool, so Batman, of course, gives him ANOTHER chance. But before he gets the opportunity, Trina is murdered!

Batman and Paxton track the killer down (Batman is insisting the whole time that Paxton better not try to kill the bad guy) but Paxton takes control…

So…yeah…that is a depressing story.

It actually sort of reminds me of Grant Morrison’s take on Batman how what makes Batman special is that he can deal with pain (all sorts of pain, including psychological and emotional) better than anyone.

Thanks for the suggestion, Becca! If you readers want to make a suggestion, sent it to me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com. Don’t make suggestions in the comments section.

29 Comments

Someone saying “Damn You!” in a Code-approved comic in 1971? Isn’t that a bit unusual?

This was adapted and updated in an issue of The Batman Adventures…I think it was #27…An athlete became a Batman, and Batman took and mentored him and it was revealed why the athlete was doing what he was doing. Pretty good story, must have used this as inspiration…

Someone saying “Damn You!” in a Code-approved comic in 1971? Isn’t that a bit unusual?

1971 was post Code relaxation.

interesting to see that dc manage to have some one say dam without the comic code having a fit not to mention a batman story where batman did not while letting some one else be him the guy trying to learn who batman really is . or batman trying to show trust by revealing his i.d

I wonder if this story wasn’t also inspired by a similar story in Detective Comics in which Batman let a series of contest winners be “Batman for a night” (complete with pointy ears hats). BTW, one of those winners was Bruce Wayne himself.

Paxton says “see what you mean” twice in that fight. Was that some sort of catchphrase of Plimpton’s?

“Another one of these assignments”? Does this happen to Batman all the time?

I like how Batman makes a big deal about never losing his cool and then flips the heck out about the gun.

I like how Batman makes a big deal about never losing his cool and then flips the heck out about the gun.

At least he is consistent with his dismissal of what he claims is his #1 rule.

That’s what got me looking this up in the first place — did we ever get an answer as to when “Batman is almost pathological about guns” became part of the lore? This was the oldest story I remember seeing it in — but maybe it goes back farther?

This is silly I guess in the basic conceit of “some guy wants to be Batman and Batman lets him,” but the actual story is a really good one, as it gets at the idea of what really makes Batman successful. It isn’t about physical ability (this Paxton guy seems remarkably in good shape to even hang with Batman and criminals), it isn’t even about having clever fighting skills (in a normal scenario, Paxton grabbing the gun in that fight would have been a good move). It’s about having controlled rage–a drive which Paxton only realizes after suffering a similar tragedy to Batman himself.

I do like Batman’s idea of a ‘gym suit’. I suppose Paxton should count himself lucky he wasn’t made to wear tiny green shorts.

I would guess that “Paper Lion”, in turn, is a play on the phrase “paper tiger”.

“One that is seemingly dangerous and powerful but is in fact timid and weak”
http://thefreedictionary.com/paper%20tiger

This story has inspired me. I’m going to start using the decent weapons of outrage and indignation to bring criminals to justice in my everyday life.

“Hey — this guy just robbed a bank!”
“Don’t worry everyone — I’m getting really outraged & indignant about it! THAT’LL show ‘em!”

@John — isn’t that what cable news pundits do? ;)

Heavens what a creaky story. The plot hinges on Batman deciding Paxson is not fit to be Batman, then letting him play along anyway — in other words, it introduces plot points that within the space of one panel it rejects. I know Robbins’ overall body of work is strong, but this is simply bad writing.

Men named Jan and Stacy?

I bought this off the stands back in the day, and loved it. It doesn’t really hold up but I still love it. Like someone said, the emotional plausibility swept me right over the goofy parts. For nine-year-old me, it really worked.

“Men named Jan and Stacy?”

Some forenames have a habit of migrating from one sex to the other over the course of a generation or two.

When I was a lad, there were such famous American males as Jan Murray, the comedian, and Jan Peerce, the operatic tenor; not to mention actors Stacy Keach (Senior and Junior) and Stacy Harris.

Go back a hundred years or so in America, and it would not be at all unusual to find males with the forenames of Beverly and Claire and Meredith.

It’s weird, even though there’s so much wrong with that story in terms of plot holes, etc, I can’t help enjoying the excerpts in an unironic way and wanting to see more.

I definitely liked the story. Great art by Brown and Giordano. It’s strange, but I love it! ;)

“It’s strange, but I love it!” That’d be a good column title…oh.

And wow, THE Trina Robbins shows up! Cool!

I think when Bats says “one of those assignments’ he’s referring to the writer’s Someone For a Day gigs, not to his own experience.
Yes, despite the logical flaws, the emotional aspects work. Though by 21st century standards, the suggestion Batman can be warm and human is the strangest part of all.

As much as I enjoy out-and-out crazy silver age stories, I like these types of hybrid “goofy stories told seriously” even better. Nobody did that better than Bob Haney, but Frank Robbins certainly delivered his share of them, too.
Am I the only one who cracked up at the final panel of page 13? The spotlight effect makes it look like Paxton pissed himself while cradling Trina’s body. That made me laugh a lot harder than it should have.

Rereading the posted pages, another oddity leaps out at me: Pax actually lands several honest-to-god blows on Batman, culminating in decking him for the big finish. No way they’d let an ordinary (albeit obviously in peak shape) guy do that today.

Holy crap! He just slapped that flying bowling ball away!

Man, that’s more use of the definite article and referring to oneself in the third person than ANY Batman story deserves unless it’s actually proposing Batman has severe Dissociative Identity Disorder.

So Thebatman is upset that someone would imply that Thebatman would use a gun against Thebatman’s foes? The foes he considers “HUMAN FILTH”? “Hell damn blast, I don’t care if you cave in their skulls with a cinder block, just DON’T MAKE ME LOOK BAD!” It’s always about Thebatman, isn’t it Bruce?

You know who the real hero of this story is? The S.O.B. with the nads of steel who cracks a Robin-esque “strike you down” pun while facing down Thebatman armed with only a bowling ball. Holy Oa, we’ve got us a Green Lantern candidate here. (Speaking of which, why aren’t ALL the Lanterns psychopaths? Nobody’s as fearless as a guy whose brain simply can’t process danger correctly.)

With all this talk about “the ways of fate” and “some mysterious power” I’m getting an almost unbearable urge to say that this story should be revisited by…He Whose Name Should Not Be Invoked. I’m picturing Bat-Mite made up like The Spectre, pulling strings to kick-start the next generation of gun-hating vigilantes. Jan Paxton IS Pax Americana!

This is silly I guess in the basic conceit of “some guy wants to be Batman and Batman lets him,” but the actual story is a really good one

How is that a really good story? It made me cringe SO hard. Batman came across as a dumbass for lending his identity to some random guy who proved he can’t be Batman like that. This kind of BS is why I cannot stand 70s and 80s Batman stories. Their writers try to be serious but their skills aren’t up to it. I swear, the only explanation I have for 80s Batman being so popular is that people are being nostalgia whore.

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