Never a Bat Around When You Need One

I'm sure that most of you are familiar with the part of Batman's origin in which he chooses his theme:

It's one of the iconic Batman moments, and even though it's been watered down over the years by such ideas as L'il Bruce Wayne falling down into what would someday become the Batcave and being traumatized by bats, or Thomas Wayne's bat-themed Halloween costume making a subconscious impression on his son, or every ancestor Wayne ever being a chiropterophile (and also all being the same dude, and that dude being him), there's still a rich vein of comedy there that people still occasionally mine. "Hey, what is Batman saw a dog instead of a bat? He'd be Dogman! Hilarious, right? Or if he saw some mail, he'd be Postman!"

The very best thing about this not-always-amazing joke, though, is that it's canonically accurate. DC has used the concept for "What if?" and alternate universe style stories several times over the years. My favourite of these, however, is this two-page bit of filler from Batman No. 256.

I like it best because it suggests a number of very interesting things about Bruce Wayne and his uncompromising hunt for vengeance on crime. Firstly, there is a hint that if he hadn't come up with a costume during WWII he might have to be having some serious talks with some serious men about his habit of dressing like other people's intellectual property. Or maybe there are only so many looks you can give a scorpion-themed outfit, I don't know.

Then there's the implication that Bruce would take his omen/totem beast so very seriously that he would not just dress up like it but stay exactly where he was when he saw it. See a bat? Gotham's streets now have a pointy-eared champion. Scorpion wander into your campsite? Look out, claim jumpers and other desert-type evildoers! "Hey Bruce, check out that stingray!" Time to start taking scuba lessons.

And of course that segues into my theory that these panels represent a series of branching possible timelines, that without the bat crashing through his window Bruce Wayne would have continued to stare at his table and grope for inspiration. And then he went camping and did or did not see a scorpion, and if he didn't he took a riverboat tour. And if he didn't see something eerie on that tour then Bruce Wayne would have abandoned his company and accepted a position as a forest ranger - anything to find that elusive spark that would catalyze the lifetime of face-punching that he so longed for.

Eventually, of course, Bruce starts to get desperate, as seen above. But he hasn't lost his vengeful spark! He takes what might be the least threatening astronomical object - or at least the object tied with Cloud of Interstellar Hydrogen for least threatening - and turns into what is actually kind of a creepy costume.

Now, this is the really telling one, the one that reveals just how long Bruce Wayne could have kept his anger focused without a totem to channel it through. Some of Wayne's careful honing of mind and body has come undone if his response to almost getting clobbered by a suit of armour is to put it on and employ it in a career of rooftop vigilanteism. The joke has come full circle here: we might as well be seeing the grim vigil of the Marble Statue or the Carelessly Hoisted Piano. It's all written there in that stock-upright, what-the-hell-am-I-doing-up-here stance. In this universe, Superman's best friend is the Flash.