Over the past 70 years, there have been a lot of different sides to Batman's character. Sometimes he's the Caped Crusader, battling against oddball criminals in the name of justice. Sometimes he's a silent guardian, a watchful protector ... a dark knight. And sometimes he's a weird super-strong baby with a grown-up brain who fights crime in Mickey Mouse pants.
OK, fine: That only happened once.
But it did happen in Batman No. 147's appropriately titled "Batman Becomes Bat-Baby," a story so legendarily bad that it's often considered one of the worst comics of the Silver Age. It's definitely one of the weirdest, and considering that it hit newsstands right in the middle of an era when Batman went to space more often than he fought the Riddler, that's saying something. I've even had an actual request in my capacity as the world's foremost Batmanologist to figure this thing out, and I'm not even sure I can. But let's give it a shot anyway.
Our story opens with Batman and Robin dropping in on one "Nails" Finney in order to bring him to justice for a recent jewelry store robbery. Unbeknownst to the Dynamic Duo, however, Nails had added a new member to his gang: Garth, the Renegade Scientist, a name that doesn't exactly have the intimidating ring of, say, the Joker. He does, however, have a big green laser that he blasts Batman with so that he can turn him into a 4-year-old.
I have so many questions about this, and most of them can just be summed up with why? I mean, seriously: If you can shoot Batman with a ray gun, you can shoot him with an actual gun. That would probably solve your Batman problem. Hell, even if you have to use a crazy mad science ray so that you're getting your money's worth out of having Garth on the team, I can't imagine that a death ray would be any more difficult to build than a machine that turns people into babies.
On the other hand, if they'd done that, we wouldn't have gotten this ...
... so I guess it was probably all worth it.
Back at the hideout, Garth reveals that his plan was to humiliate Batman, rather than turn him into a martyr, which is maybe the most dubious reason that someone could ever have for building a baby laser, but it seems to be working. The Gotham Gazette publishes a photo of Bat-Baby, and sure enough, it's not long before a bunch of pasty dudes in fedoras are standing around talking about how that's the end of his crime-fighting career.
Unfortunately for crime, Garth has royally fucked himself by building a machine that turns Batman into a baby but also leaves him with the mind and full strength of his adult body.
Batman scares criminals. It is his entire deal, and I'm pretty sure that the only way to make Batman even more terrifying is to make him a creepy child who can karate chop you into a coma. He even has those weird little kid muscles that artists were always drawing back in the day that creep me right the hell out. Seriously, Google "Richie Rich bathing suit" and try to figure out how the hell that anatomy works. Or don't, if you're some kind of prude who doesn't want to end up on a watch list.
The point is, the thought process of Gotham City's criminal element is apparently "Hey, that guy's always crashing through skylights and shattering our faces, so why don't we give him the ability to hide in small places and jump out just when we're about to fall asleep?"
Sure enough, Li'l Wayne ends up dropping elbows on a sizable chunk of Nails' gang after riding a balloon advertising a tire sale, because that's how superheroes did things in 1962. It's a pretty great triumph for someone who just got babied, and yet the press insist on being weirdly passive-aggressive about it:
Not pictured: The Gotham Herald, which went with "Stupid Baby Not So Stupid I Guess."
Crime isn't Batman's only problem, though. He's chilling at his house when his on-again, off-again Comics-Code-mandated girlfriend, Kathy Kane, shows up looking for a date, and just in case there weren't enough weird metaphors going on in this comic, Bruce has to drive her off before she discovers that her boyfriend has been turned into a toddler and is also Batman. His solution? Getting out a cardboard cutout of himself making out with another lady and putting on a shadow play in order to trick her. I think we've all been there, right?
Once again, sentences like "I'll just explain that the 'girl' she saw me making out with was my cousin!" raise more questions than they answer. If nothing else, the scare quotes around "girl" are just weird.
Eventually, Batman gets word that a local fence is raising money to buy those jewels that Nails stole (remember that? From, like, eight completely insane plot twists ago?) and goes on a stakeout in the playground that's conveniently located across the street from the fence's hideout. And again. Guys. You know you have turned Batman into a child. Maybe hold your important crime meetings in a place that is not across the street from a playground.
The stakeout pays off, and Fun-Size Batman and Robin track the crooks down to their lair for a fight scene where Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff make one last stab at actually having Batman doing kid things in their story:
After that, it's pretty much over. Batman just sort of bumps into Garth and then returns to normal size off-panel while Robin's doing all the heavy work. That's a pretty disappointing way to end a story, but to be fair, it's also understandable, since the actual resolution involves Batman getting bare-ass naked and then putting on a "plastic costume I had folded up in a pants pocket."
Note that he says it comes from "a" pants pocket, not "my" pants pocket. It's a crucial distinction.
With that, Nails has been defeated and carted off to jail -- although I believe he would later surface in the WWE after being hardened by life in prison -- and Batman enshrines his toddler costume in the same kind of glass case that he would later reserve for honoring dead sidekicks. All in all, it's a pretty weird diversion back into being a kid, but when you consider how his first attempt at childhood ended, I think we can call this one a win.
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