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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Unfortunately, It's Not Nearly as Entertaining as the Laff-A-Lympics

Between Year One, Knightfall, Dark Knight Returns, and hell, even Ten Nights of the Beast, Batman is one of the few characters that's been defined not by single moments, but by long-form story arcs. And yet, there's one that nobody ever talks about.

I am, of course, referring to Underworld Olympics '76. And the reason nobody ever talks about it is simple: It is not very good.

Written by David V. Reed and featuring art by the always-fantastic Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez for the first issue and the pseudonymic Ernie Chua/Chan thereafter (and possibly the brainchild of editor Julie Schwartz), UO76 pretty much has one thing going for it, and that's the ridiculously awesome cover that kicks the whole thing off.

Even so, it has the distinction of setting the stage for every major Batman story-arc that would follow. Why? Because it had its own little logo:

The plot is thus: In an effort to accomplish... something, the top crime cartels of the world organize themselves into teams and descend onto Gotham City for a deadly test of their criminal skills. Presumably, the winning team will recieve free membership into the local Thieves Guild and four random Wondrous Items from table 7-27, but even so, they are choosing to do this in THE CITY WHERE BATMAN LIVES, and that is, for the record, the worst idea in the history of crime. It would be like having the hundred yard dash in a minefield, or synchronized swimming on the surface of the sun: It's just not going to work out.

Seriously, take that shit to Ivy Town. Their guy is six inches tall and spends his days exploring the time-stream through a hole the size of a dinner plate and trying to keep his wife from murdering her friends with a flamethrower.

Even stranger is the fact that the "Olympic Committee" behind the whole thing has factored "involving the Batman" into the whole scoring process with a deduction of ten points. That might not seem like much, but this is the mid-70s bare-chested uppercut fiend version of Batman we're talking about here, and let's be honest: He's going to get involved. Managing to get through one of the events without getting your teeth knocked out should get you some bonus points.

So how'd it work out? Well, let's check the scorecards:

The Event:

  1. Kill one of Batman's Friends! (Success!)
  2. Make It Look Like an Accident! (Failure)
  3. Steal Body from Morgue! (Success!)
  4. Bury It Beneath A Stone Obelisk in Robinson Park! (Failure)
  5. Try Not To Get Punched Out By Batman! (Utter Failure)

The Rundown:

Right from the start, it's well-established that the crimes perpetrated in this story are going to be utterly pointless, although it is important to remember that this whole thing kicks off with the murder of one of Bruce Wayne's close friends, because, well, David Reed certainly didn't. But more on that later. Mostly, this issue just involves a bunch of setup and several shots of alleged criminal masterminds in stereotypical ethnic garb placing bets on whether or not South America's going to pull off the upset.

They don't.

Oddly enough, the most notable thing about this story isn't the story at all, but what might be the single greatest splash page in Batman history:

That, my friends, is Batman punching a hole through the world in pursuit of the criminal element. And that is awesome.

The Event:

  1. Shoot a bunch of Revolutionary War re-enactors and steal a historic cannon! (Success!)
  2. Disassemble cannon, repair firing mechanism, and hide in a Safe Deposit Box! (Success, sort of!)
  3. Shoot Fireworks to amuse and delight the people of Gotham City! (Success!)
  4. Avoid, If Possible, Being Punched in the Jaw and Thrown in a Hole By Batman (Failure!)

The Rundown:

Essentially, Reed & Co. had about fifteen pages of story and 22 pages to actually fill, so of course, things get complicated. Specifically, when the European team goes--en masse, by the way--to stash a disassembled Revolutionary War cannon in a safe deposit box, the bank gets robbed, leading to a lengthy diversion where Batman stumbles onto their plans, largely due to the fact that Bruce Wayne has apparently taken a part-time job as a bank manager. Man's got to have a hobby, I guess.

We do, however, learn two very valuable things about Batman:

a) Batman knows how to reassemble a two hundred year-old cannon in the dark with no tools in roughly five minutes.

b) Batman's got a little bit of the Captain in him.

The Event:

  1. Solve A Bunch Of Riddles (Success!)
  2. Set a Book on Fire And Put Some Gold Dust on a Scroll! (Success!)
  3. Steal Part of a Movie Marquee! (Sucess!)
  4. Don't Shoot Each Other After Batman Ties You Up, You Morons! (Failure)

The Rundown:

Yep: The Afro-Asian Bloc. Because when you've got seven continents and four issues, there have to be some cuts somewhere. They should just be glad they're not the Australians, who were relegated to the pages of Flash for another month.

Anyway, these guys are my favorite of the teams, if for no other reason than the fantastic composition of the team. Take, for example, their leader, representing India, Amba Kidiri:

She has, of course, razor-sharp fingernails, and is apparently the only woman--aside from a dolled-up blonde who bets on Europe to win--in the entire criminal community. But hey, at least she's the team leader! Well, for about twelve pages, anyway, until she takes on Batman to distract him from the true nature of her team's exploits. Naturally, she gets put in a hammerlock and hauled off to the police station, leaving the Afro-Asian Bloc to be led by, representing Africa...

...the whitest man I have ever seen.

The Event:

  1. Steal One Million Dollars From Local Gangsters (Success!)
  2. Donate One Million Dollars To City Government, To Ensure Reinstatement of Overnight Ferry Service in Gotham City (Succe--wait, what?)
  3. Using A Complex Series of Motorcycles and Trapdoors, Steal A Soccer Ball From A Wayne Foundation Charity Game (Okay, seriously, I don't see how that's going to--)
  4. Steal Antique, Horse-Drawn Fire Engine and, Using Acetelyne Torch, Cut Out Bronze Plaque! ( ... )
  5. Using a Rigged Buoy, Blow Up Plaque, Soccer Ball, and Reinstated Million Dollar Ferry Boat, Then Get Thoroughly Beaten By Batman And Thrown In Jail! (Resounding Success!)

The Rundown:

With all the utter nonsense going down during the Underworld Olympics, I'm not the only one who's been getting frustrated. Have a look at Bruce Wayne, seen here at a soccer game attended by the entire universe, being a total dick to Alfred:

Regardless, Batman eventually tracks down the Underworld Olympians and has them turned over to the police, where Comissioner Gordon points out the irony that even with all the thievery going on, "the only time they ever actually stole money, it was crooked money--and they gave it to the city!" But, you know, there was that time they murdered a man three issues ago, so I guess it all works out in the end.

BONUS FEATURE: The Batman Demands Your Ice Cream!

God help you if you forget his sprinkles.

BONUS BONUS FEATURE: Ask Not What Batman Can Do For You...

"On your feet, soldier. You've just been drafted.
Into a war."


Anonymous Jon H said...

"Batman knows how to reassemble a two hundred year-old cannon in the dark with no tools in roughly five minutes."

Well, yeah, given that the "firing mechanism" of a revolutionary war cannon consisted of the hole to put the powder and ball, and a little hole to put the match.

Also, I'm not sure how you dismantle a thick-walled bronze or iron tube.

The author could have called it a historic WW1 cannon, but I guess there aren't many WW1 reenactors, huh?

9/20/2006 1:57 AM

Anonymous jon b said...

That coverpage is the best goddamn thing I have ever seen.

9/20/2006 2:09 AM

Anonymous Roses Ablaze said...

The one about ice cream made me giggle, not an easy thing to do :D

9/20/2006 2:47 AM

Blogger Tom Dougherty said...

I'm old enough to have bought those comics at camp as a kid. I loooved them!

They could update the Underworld Olympics today and it would be the shit, I'm tellin' you.

9/20/2006 3:45 AM

Blogger Mark said...

"Batman's got a little bit of the Captain in him"

If you mean, The Batman's been at the rum again", yes. Anything else, no. But there's no smoke without fire, eh?

9/20/2006 5:47 AM

Anonymous Fiendenstein said...

Dude...this was too much, this was simply too much awesome in a single sitting.

And first you hit us with the Iron engine of destruction Ferris Wheel, BAM! and then, mere days later... we get the Batman punching a hole through the world in pursuit of the criminal element

I think I may may messed myself, I need to lay down.

9/20/2006 7:13 AM

Blogger joncormier said...

Holy crap is that the cover Morrison homaged in Guardian #3 or 4, for the united nations theme park robot attack? If so, that's got me freaking out simply because there was something TO homage!

9/20/2006 8:54 AM

Blogger SallyP said...

They fixed the "firing mechanism"?
You mean they found a FUSE? I...I need to lie down.

9/20/2006 10:11 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude, seriously. You may have just shown me the best comic book in the world. I will pay any price for that lovely four volume set, I must have it or worlds will die!
The splash panel alone makes my life worth living again.

9/20/2006 11:11 AM

Blogger Eric said...

How is it that Bruce Wayne is so incredibly fucking rich, but has one of the worst seats possible for a soccer match? Maybe he was being a dick because Alfred got such crappy tickets.

9/20/2006 11:14 AM

Anonymous Dwayne "the canoe guy said...

I don't even know where to begin with this wonderous piece of wonderment.
Wasn't David V Reed the same sick twisted freak that did the 4 part arc where Batman was dead and Two-Face & Ra's A Ghul were holding court to determine who was guilty?

You have to do those. Please do those.

9/20/2006 12:05 PM

Anonymous klaus said...

Awesome. Just plain awesome.

But wait...a continent renowned as the ancestral home of blackness, and somehow we ended up with a paleface cowboy representing us?! Not only that, but we got lumped with the other darkie con

Anyway, like Mark said, I hope you were talking about the kinda Captain that comes in a bottle...

9/20/2006 1:00 PM

Blogger Brandon said...

That was great. You've rekindled my love for 70's Batman with one awesome post.

9/20/2006 2:26 PM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

joncormier: Yes it is! I've mentioned it before, actually, and it's just one of the reasons why Guardian #3 is one of my favorites of all time. You cannot go wrong with a super-hero standing on top of the world taking on all comers. It's genius.

Eric: Even worse, it's a Wayne Foundation Soccer Match, and he STILL has the nosebleed seats.

The Rest Of You: Of course I meant the rum. You know, with the leg up like that on the cannon? The ad campaign?

9/20/2006 8:34 PM

Anonymous dr. k said...

These are among the first comics I remember buying new, and it's amazing that I got hooked on Batman through stuff like this.

I also second the request for the "Who Killed Batman?" four-parter--at the very least for the great Jim Aparo covers.

If I remember right, David V. Reed was a pseudonym for a sci-fi writer. It was some big secret discussed in the Batman letter pages, but when his identity was finally revealed, I had never heard of the author.

9/20/2006 10:03 PM

Blogger Steven said...

I know context is for the weak, but in what situation does Batman require "cherry vanilla--with sprinkles!"?

(but he still says please!)

9/21/2006 12:41 AM

Blogger Paul S. said...

I'm heart-broken we never got to see the Australian team compete.

9/21/2006 3:40 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can only hope that the combined wealth of AOL/Time Warner can one day at least bring us the "Underworld Goodwill Games"

9/21/2006 2:29 PM


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