Monday, December 26, 2016

BATMAN's Degrees Of Separation

Most folks are familiar with Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon, the concept that actor Kevin Bacon can be connected to just about anyone by no more than six degrees of separation. The idea of six degrees of separation--that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person within six degrees of separation, or less--predates its specific link to the star of Footloose. But I've always thought about applying the idea to fictional characters, and trying to connect a figure from the imaginary world with other famous made-up people, and with some real-life people, as well.

My favorite fictional character is Batman. So let's play Six Degrees Of Batman!

When playing this game with a fictional figure, it's important to understand a few parameters. First and foremost, one must separate the character from actors who've played the role. There has been a long list of people who've played Batman on screen, from Lewis Wilson to Adam West to Ben Affleck, with many more Batguys in between. But these were all just actors playing a role; working on a film with Christian Bale would put you no closer to Batman than shaking Hal Holbrook's hand would put you one degree of separation from Abraham Lincoln.

On the other hand, all of a character's official appearances in comic books, movies, TV shows, radio shows, books, and what-have-you are fair game, regardless of whether or not that appearance is considered in continuity. Fanfic doesn't count, but Batman's team-up with the Scooby-Doo gang does.

The increasing prevalence of inter-company crossovers has increased our opportunities to link seemingly disparate figures. With the number of DC Comics/Marvel Comics crossovers that have been published, we won't even bother detailing links between Batman and members of the Marvel Universe; hell, JLA/Avengers by itself puts most Marvel characters within a degree or two of the Caped Crusader right there. But let's see what we can come up with, and I invite you to submit more of your own ideas, as well.


We start with this one to illustrate that Nicholson's portrayal of The Joker in the 1989 Batman film has no effect on his degrees of separation with our hero.  In fact, Nicholson achieved his proximity to Batman way back in 1968. One of Batman's oldest foes is The Penguin (one degree); actor Burgess Meredith, who played The Penguin on TV, also appeared--in character, as The Penguin--in an episode of The Monkees (two degrees); The Monkees played themselves on their TV series (meaning there is no distinction between their TV characters and the real-life Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith), and later worked on their dark 'n' brilliant feature film Head with then-unknown actor Jack Nicholson (three degrees). [As a side-note, I wanna point out that if I were to ever write a Batman '66 Meets The Monkees story, it would for damned sure investigate why The Penguin was watching The Monkees play and snickering to himself, and how it all connected with the evil hypnotist Oraculo, The Monkees' adversary in that episode. I betcha both Catwoman and Wizard Glick were involved somehow, and I further betcha Catwoman's look-alike April Conquest would play a key role.]


No degrees. Wait--no! While West is Batman to many, it's actually a bit more circuitous to connect the actor to the role he played. Oddly enough, you've gotta go through the actor who played Louie the Lilac on the Batman TV series: Mr. Television, Milton Berle. Batman met Jerry Lewis in The Adventures Of Jerry Lewis # 97, a licensed comic book published by DC, featuring the fictionalized exploits of the titular lovable lunkhead (one degree); the real-life Jerry also appeared on several occasions with Milton Berle (two degrees); and West worked with Berle on Batman (three degrees).


An easy one! Batman met Marvel's The Punisher in a DC-Marvel crossover (one degree); The Punisher also met America's typical teen Archie in a Marvel-Archie crossover (two degrees); recently, Archie met the American Beatles, the greatest American rock 'n' roll band of all time, in the epic comic book Archie Meets Ramones (three degrees). That same path through Riverdale also gets Batman to KISS and the New Directions kids on Glee. If the rumored Batman-Archie crossover appears next year, everything here will shave off one degree.


Batman's connection to these California punks predates his connection to The Ramones by nearly three decades. Batman to Superman (one degree); Superman met Don Rickles in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen # 139 and 141 (two degrees); Rickles worked with The Dickies on an episode of his late '70s sitcom CPO Sharkey.


This one got a little easier with the recent publication of a comic book mini-series teaming an aging Lone Ranger with his great grand-nephew The Green Hornet; prior to that, we would have needed one extra degree of separation (The Lone Ranger's nephew, The Green Hornet's father, Dan Reid) to complete the connection. Batman and Robin met The Green Hornet and Kato on a TV-series two-parter in 1967, and again in a more recent comic-book sequel (one degree); then, The Green Hornet to The Lone Ranger (two degrees). A longer route that's still worth noting: Batman to fellow JLA members Superman and Wonder Woman (one degree); either of those heroes to the kids from The Brady Bunch, who met both the Man of Steel and the Amazon Princess in separate episodes of the animated series The Brady Kids (two degrees); and The Brady Kids also met a time-traveling Lone Ranger (three degrees).



There may be a way to cut this short by a degree, but for now: Batman to his pal Superman (one degree); Superman to his pal Muhammed Ali, the co-stars of a terrific one-shot comic book Superman Vs. Muhammed Ali (two degrees); Ali to The Beatles, who did a photo op with the champ in '64 (three degrees); and The Beatles certainly knew Bob Dylan, and Dylan joined George Harrison as a member of The Traveling Wilburys (four degrees).

BATMAN TO POPEYE: four degrees

The King Features characters, from Blondie to Prince Valiant, have generally been a closed circle, with few if any opportunities to connect with characters outside of King's domain. I'm only aware of one exception, but that one is all we need. We start with Batman to Superman (one degree); in Captain Action # 1, Superman met the titular Ideal Toys action-figure character (two degrees); Captain Action met King Features' The Phantom in a two-issue comics mini-series published by Moonstone, the only instance I can recall of a King character appearing with a non-King character (three degrees); and The Phantom appeared with Popeye (and virtually all of the other King characters, including Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, and Little Iodine) in Popeye Meets The Man Who Hated Laughter, an animated TV movie aired in 1972 as an episode of the Saturday morning series The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie (four degrees).


The late, great Prince did the soundtrack to the 1989 Batman movie, but this one was a challenge. I thought I had a complicated but brilliant set of degrees lined up, going back from Prince to actress Zooey Deschanel (Prince guest-starred on her sitcom, The New Girl), to Parkey Posey (who also appeared on The New Girl), to Noel Neill (Lois Lane on TV's The Adventures Of Superman, but who also appeared with Posey in the film Superman Returns), to...damn, I couldn't get from Noel Neill to the actual Superman character. I also tried to get from Batman to Prince via Scooby-Doo TV guest roles for Batman and Sonny & Cher, but couldn't get from Cher to Prince, either. So, instead: repeat our previous sequence of Batman to The Punisher to Archie to KISS (three degrees); KISS bassist Gene Simmons starred with singer/actress Vanity (whom I thought was the hottest girl on the whole friggin' planet at one point in the '80s) in the film Never Too Young To Die (four degrees); and Vanity was, of course, a protege of Prince (five degrees).

BATMAN TO DICK TRACY: 2 degrees [presumed]

A proposed Batman-Dick Tracy crossover comic book was killed in development. But a recent episode of the Dick Tracy newspaper strip hinted at an upcoming appearance by the late Will Eisner's classic hero The Spirit, and Batman and The Spirit have met. So: Batman to The Spirit (one degree); The Spirit to Dick Tracy (two degrees). If the presumed Dick Tracy-Spirit meeting actually does happen, it would also create a path from Batman to Little Orphan Annie, who has been a frequent supporting character in Dick Tracy.


Batman to Scooby-Doo (one degree); Scooby-Doo to The Harlem Globetrotters, who also made an animated guest appearance with the Scoobies (two degrees); the Globetrotters to our favorite cast o' castaways in the TV movie The Harlem Globetrotters On Gilligan's Island (three degrees).


Batman rescued British singing sensations Chad & Jeremy from the clutches of Catwoman on a episode of the Batman TV series (one degree); Chad & Jeremy were cited as "close friends" by British singing sensations The Redcoats (played by Chad & Jeremy) The Redcoats appeared on The Alan Brady Show in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show (two degrees); TV legend Alan Brady was interviewed by Paul Buchman on an episode of Mad About You (three degrees).


Convoluted, but we'll get there. Batman to Spider-Man, via a few DC-Marvel crossovers (one degree); Spider-Man to fellow Marvel star Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu (two degrees); Shang-Chi to his associate Clive Reston (three degrees); in many Master Of Kung Fu stories, Reston often made references to older members of his family, giving the strong (but never explicit) implication that he was descended from Sherlock Holmes, and the son of James Bond (four degrees). This connection also brings John Steed and Mrs. Peel--aka The Avengers--within five degrees of separation from James Bond, via the recent comic book series Batman '66 Meets The Avengers. Finally, the TV movie The Return Of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. included a cameo by George Lazenby as 007, giving Batman six degrees of separation from Napolean Solo and Ilya Kuryakin. (And, through Shang-Chi, Batman is separated from Shangi-Chi's father--the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu--by just three degrees.)


I'm BATMAN! Well, presuming I'm not really Batman--believe what you will--let's see how close I can get. I've met Adam West, KISS, and both Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork at meet-n-greets, I interviewed The Ramones, and I once asked Ringo Starr a question at a press conference. The two Monkees gets me the closest to Gotham City: Batman to The Penguin to The Monkees to Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do) in three degrees of separation. That's probably the best I can do until someone writes Tom Kenny or The Flashcubes into a Batman story. Or if I were to write Batman '66 Meets The Monkees. It could happen! Or not....

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