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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo NewsThe Syracuse New Times, Big Stir magazine, and AHOY Comics.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Batman's Degrees Of Separation, Part 3: Captain Action Edition

Well, it's been quite a long time since we've done an edition of Batman's Degrees Of Separation, my sporadic series of posts linking The Dark Knight to various other figures from both fact and fantasy. I have what was supposed to be Part 3 in that series a little less than half-done (which means I have headers in place and that I think it will have something to do with Batman), but since this sidebar occurred to me the other day, we'll make this Part 3 right now.

For those who came in late, here's a recap of the rules for Batman's Degrees Of Separation:

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.

For further exploration, check our previous entries: Part 1 and Part 2.

Right now, let's have a look at Batman's degrees of separation from Captain Action and, more importantly, Captain Action's alter egos. Captain Action was an Ideal Toys action figure introduced in 1966, a superhero able to change himself into nine other superheroes; each superhero identity sold separately! It was the kind of cross-licensing bonanza that could not happen in today's corporate environment, encompassing DC Comics, Marvel Comics, King Features Syndicate, and The Wrather Corporation. The product was successful enough to prompt companion figures--Cap's young partner Action Boy and the sinister Dr. Evil--as well as a tie-in comic book series from DC Comics, and four additional superhero identities, too. Let's see how closely Batman links to each of Captain Action's gallery o' aliases.

CAPTAIN ACTION [2 degrees]

Best start with the man himself. DC's five-issue run of Captain Action in the late '60s was terrific, benefiting from the talents of writer Jim Shooter (on the first two issues) and artists Wally Wood and Gil Kane, with Kane also taking over the writing for the final three issues. Licensing complications will likely prevent this series from ever being reprinted, and that's a damned shame. For our purposes today, though, the debut issue is all that matters: Captain Action meets Superman, on the cover and in the story itself. Batman to his best pal Superman (one degree), Superman to Captain Action (two degrees).


SUPERMAN, AQUAMAN [1 degree each]

Well, links to Batman's fellow Justice League of America members are a simple, single degree, of course. Batman and Superman first appeared together on the cover of World's Fair Comics in 1940, made a cameo appearance together in a Justice Society story in 1941's All-Star Comics # 7, and had many adventures together on The Adventures Of Superman radio show throughout the '40s. I don't think Batman ever appeared with Aquaman until the next-to-last panel of the first Justice League comic book, The Brave And The Bold # 28 in 1960. Nonetheless: one degree.



Inter-company crossovers are one of the main reasons we can find links between Batman and properties owned by other rights holders. This one's easy: 1996's splendid one-shot Batman And Captain America by writer/artist John Byrne showed Batman and Robin teaming with Captain America and Bucky to face The Joker and The Red Skull during World War II.  Furthermore, although that story was out of continuity (like most inter-company crossovers), the wonderful 2003 mini-series JLA/Avengers by Kurt Busiek and George Pérez was tacitly considered canon at the time. Either way: one degree.

SGT. FURY [2 degrees]

I can't remember whether or not Batman met Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos in Batman And Captain America (though it seems likely; I'm pretty sure that Cap met Sgt. Rock and Easy Company in that story); I also don't remember whether or not The Caped Crusader crossed paths with Fury as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. in JLA/Avengers. If either case is true, then we shave this link down to a mere one degree. If not, though, Batman has met plenty of Marvel folks who've had direct interaction with Nick Fury at some point, from The Hulk to Daredevil. So, two degrees at most.

A fake comics cover, but a GREAT fake comics cover, courtesy of Super-Team Family: The Lost Issues!

Let's take the rest of Captain Action's original nine alter egos one by one.

THE PHANTOM [3 degrees]

Batman and The Phantom! Oh, why didn't someone make this happen when DC had the license to publish comics starring The Ghost Who Walks? As much as we'd love to see Bruce Wayne and Kit Walker team up to slam evil, the best I can figure here is three degrees, going through Captain Action. Batman to Superman (one degree), then Superman to Captain Action (two degrees). Captain Action has teamed with The Phantom in comics (three degrees).

Boys, boys, boys--fight nice!

FLASH GORDON [4 degrees]

I haven't figured a way to get from Batman to Flash Gordon without going through The Phantom first. The Phantom and Flash Gordon have met many times, though the first wasn't until the 1972 cartoon TV movie Popeye Meets The Man Who Hated Laughter, an oddity which gathered together a number of King Features characters, from Blondie and Dagwood to Prince Valiant. The Phantom and ol' Flash subsequently teamed with Mandrake the Magician as the titular heroes of the 1986-87 animated series Defenders Of The Earth, and that trio reunited more recently in a couple of comics mini-series under the title Kings Cross.

STEVE CANYON [4 degrees]

Milton Caniff's popular aviator hero has made only one crossover appearance that I'm aware of, providing a path identical to the road to Flash Gordon: Batman to Superman (one degree), Superman to Captain Action (two degrees), Captain Action to The Phantom (three degrees), and The Phantom to Steve Canyon in Popeye Meets The Man Who Hated Laughter (four degrees). Batman's path to Caniff's earlier strip Terry And The Pirates will be discussed in the next edition of Batman's Degrees Of Separation.

THE LONE RANGER [2 degrees]

Already discussed in our inaugural edition of Batman's Degrees Of Separation. Here's that entry again: 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).

I tell ya Jan, back in the Old West, everyone was always like "Marshall, Marshall, Marshall!"


A second wave of four more new identities for Captain Action was introduced in 1967:

SPIDER-MAN [1 degree]

In the '60s and '70s, the notion of a DC hero ever meeting a Marvel hero was a pipe dream. That changed with the publication of Superman Vs. The Amazing Spider-Man in 1976, the second-ever joint venture between these rival publishers (the first being an adaptation of The Wizard Of Oz in 1975), and the first official meeting of DC characters and Marvel characters. (The very first DC-Marvel meeting in that comic was between Lex Luthor and Dr. Octopus, setting subsequent events in motion.) There have been several DC/Marvel mashups over the years, including Batman Vs. The Incredible HulkThe Uncanny X-Men And The New Teen Titans, the DC Versus Marvel Comics/Marvel Comics Versus DC mini-series, Superman & The Fantastic Four, Darkseid Vs. Galactus, and many more. The rivals are no longer speaking to each other, so 2003's JLA/Avengers looks to be the last time Metropolis or Gotham City will be visited by an Avenger or an X-Man. Batman and Spider-Man met directly in 1998's one-shot Batman & Spider-Man: New Age Dawning.


When it comes to older characters that were a significant influence on the creation of The Batman, neither The Green Hornet nor Zorro is cited anywhere near as often The Shadow. But, although The Shadow was far and away the most pervasive inspiration for our Dark Knight, the fop/masked avenger duality of Zorro (and The Scarlet Pimpernel before that) certainly informed Bruce Wayne/Batman, and Clark Kent/Superman, for that matter. The Green Hornet's influence was less pronounced but still there, if only because the immense popularity of The Green Hornet in the 1930s provided an active and attractive template for copycats. Two of Batman's rough contemporaries at DC in the late '30s, The Crimson Avenger and The Sandman, were direct appropriations of The Green Hornet, and Batman co-creator Bill Finger was absolutely influenced by The Shadow's pulp adventures (which Finger copied, honestly) and The Green Hornet's fast-paced, atmospheric radio exploits. As noted above, Batman and Robin met The Green Hornet and Kato on the Batman TV show in 1967. Actually, even that was predated by a 1966 episode of The Milton Berle Show, in which actors Adam West, Burt Ward, Van Williams, and Bruce Lee appeared in character in a skit with Berle. The Hornet and Kato also appeared in one of the Batrope window cameos on Batman.

Note: a Kato costume was added when the Captain Action action figure line returned briefly in 1998.

TONTO [2 degrees]

Precisely the same path detailed above for his faithful friend The Lone Ranger. Both The Masked Rider Of The Plains and his intrepid Kemo Sabe lived long enough to meet The Green Hornet and Kato in the 1930s in The Lone Ranger/Green Hornet.

BUCK ROGERS [5 degrees]

This may have been the toughest one I've done yet, and I had to cheat to accomplish it. Kobayashi Maru, y'all! Hmmm--it does seem fitting to use a Star Trek reference as we speak of the very first successful science-fiction fantasy hero, Buck Rogers. In our far-future world of 2017, it may be difficult to appreciate the sheer, vast impact of Buck Rogers in the '30s. The character debuted in newspaper comics in 1929, though the strip was based on Phillip Frances Nowlan's pulp novella Armageddon 2419 A.D., which appeared in Amazing Stories in 1928. Buck Rogers was simply huge; there ain't no Flash Gordon without Buck Rogers' inspiration, no Star Trek, no Star Wars, arguably no Superman, perhaps no superhero boom at all. But our Buck kept to himself and his own cast of characters; I know of not even a single example of Buck Rogers crossing over with another property, nor of him meeting any real historical figure in his fictional adventures. And so, we cheat! The success of that awful Buck Rogers In The 25th Century TV series in 1979 inspired Gold Key Comics/Whitman to pick up the comic book license. Stories from this run were reprinted in a German title called Die Actionhelden, perhaps including the contents of Gold Key's unpublished Buck Rogers # 10, and possibly including back-up strips starring the Gold Key hero Magnus, Robot Fighter. Magnus stories in Die Actionhelden would explain why he appears fighting alongside (or actually slightly behind) Buck Rogers, Wilma Deering, and Twiki on the cover of Die Actionhelden # 13. It ain't much to go on, and it could even be a hoax for all I know, but we're runnin' with it here. Batman to Superman [one degree]. Superman met Mike Allred's manic hero Madman in the 1997 three-issue mini-series Superman Madman Hullabaloo! (two degrees). Madman teamed with the fab character Nexus in the 1996 crossover Nexus Meets Madman (three degrees). Nexus also met Magnus in the mini-series Magnus, Robot Fighter & Nexus (four degrees). And Magnus shared a cover with Buck Rogers (five degrees), a flimsier connection than we like for these exercises, but we'll take what the comics gods provide. Cheating? Yep! But at least we showed our work.

WHEN BATMAN'S DEGREES OF SEPARATION RETURNS: Not quite settled yet, but tentative subjects include Batman's paths to Mary Tyler Moore, Terry And The Pirates, Charles Manson, Nat King Cole, Veronica Mars, Bobcat Goldthwaite, The Six Million Dollar Man, Snoopy, and...hey, Raquel Welch! Holy Hubba-Hubba! Till next time, Batfans....

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