Batman #678:

The Zur-En-Arrh Connection

Grant Morrison’s Batman #678 relies heavily on reference to Batman #113 (February 1958), specifically Zur-En-Arrh. Batman #113′s cover story, “Batman — the Superman of Planet X” is the relevant bit, although it’s the third of three Batman stories in that one issue. The first two stories, “The Menace of False Face,” and “Batman Meets Fatman,” don’t seem to play into Morrison’s Batman run, although Fatman — ah, you guessed it, overweight guy in a Batman costime — is due for a revival any day now. Perhaps as a a Vertigo book?

Anyway, “Batman–the Superman of Planet X,” written by Ed Herron and drawn by Dick Sprang, begins with Batman sneaking out at night for a little Batplane recon, wondering why he’s compelled to go out alone instead of bringing Robin with him. (By the way, Batman and Robin slept in the same bedroom in the 1950s — is this common knowledge? Any trivia fiends know when they stopped being shown occupying the same sleeping quarters?) Soon the Batplane gets all whirly and spinny, as you can see here:

And as this page shows, Batman ends up on Zur-En-Arrh, greeted by Tlano, the red, yellow, and purple Batman of this strange planet.

Just like many other Batman doppelgangers (like the Club of Heroes, and — of course –Fatman), Tlano was compelled to become the Batman of his world by watching Batman. Batman’s inspirational powers aren’t just limited to Earth, obviously. Since Morrison seems to be interested in Batman doubles — and we know he’s interested in Silver Age weirdness — it’s not suprising to see Zur-En-Arrh / Tlano play such an important role in Morrison’s Batman. Well, I guess it might be surprising if you are a casual reader who picks up the much-hyped “Batman R.I.P.” and three issues into it your find yourself dealing with a Batman who has stitched together a crazy red, yellow, and purple costume. But really, the Zur-En-Arrh connection is just added texture, and all you really need to know is that Batman’s going crazy in Morrison’s run. Here, in the Ed Herron story, he’s very sane. Super-sane. Or is he?

And this space-travelling Batman hangs out with Tlano and checks out his sweet alien Batcave, filled with an “atomic-powered” Batmobile and a Batplane that looks a lot like a Bat-rocket. (Because space aliens have better tech than earthlings, circa 1958, and have less fear of atomic energy.)

But the coolest, most emphasized, and least defined (well, it’s explained, but the explanation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense) item in this alien Batcave is actually from Tlano’s utility belt. It’s his Bat-Radia, which “issues electronic molecules that cause controlled disturbances in the atmosphere.” I’m not sure how that works, but Tlano says he uses it to jam the power to flying cars, so I guess that comes in handy. It’s space caltops, then. And our Batman doesn’t comment on how awesome the gadget is, perhaps because, like us, he doesn’t quite understand the science at work. But the Bat-Radia will come in handy in issue #113, and as far as I know, won’t reappear until Batman #678.

As the cover of this issue indicated, this story is all about Batman acting like Superman, because the lower gravity on Zur-En-Arrh gives him the ability to leap tall buildings and punch real hard. So that’s what Batman does, helping Tlano and his people repel an alien invasion (an alien invasion featuring an army of giant robots!). But the aliens keep turning invisible before Batman can punch them good enough. What is a space-displaced superhero to do?

The Bat-Radia! Of course! “The Bat-Radia is turned on… the electronic molecules are streaming forth!” That’s what Tlano says in the final panel of this page, helping out his Earth chum with his super-alien-science. Dialogue Morrison swipes, word for word (minus the ellipsis and the exclamation point) to begin Batman #678.

The Batmen win, sending the alien invaders away with confidence. Tlano, in particular, is sure that they “never need fear their return.” Because why would aliens bother to attack when the Bat-Radia is in the house? Except, as the end of this story shows, the Bat-Radia is actually sent home with Bruce Wayne.

“Tlano throws a switch” and Batman is back in his Batplane over Gotham City. Was it all a dream, Batman wonders: “It would be far easier to consider this a dream…but how can I? For in my hand, I hold the Bat-Radia!” Dum dum dummmm!

(The musical cue at the end was added in my mind.)

So just as Morrison begins Batman #678 with a direct quote from Batman #113, he ends it with one as well, lifting Batman’s final lines and putting them in the mouth of a deranged Bruce Wayne who has crafted himself a Zur-En-Arrh-ian Batman costume. Luckily, he’s got the Bat-Radia in his hand. The Club of Villains is doomed.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Timothy Callahan is the Director of Technology for the North Adams Public Schools and the Dean of Curriculum and Instruction at Drury High School. He also writes books. He used to co-host the weekly Splash Page podcast, but now he mostly spends his free time writing for Comic Book Resources, Tor.com, Marvel.com, and Back Issue magazine.

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Also by Timothy Callahan:

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Keeping the World Strange: A Planetary Guide

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Minutes to Midnight: Twelve Essays on Watchmen

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Our Sentence is Up: Seeing Grant Morrison\'s The Invisibles

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Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes

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