This week, Grant Morrison ended his run on Batman and Robin with issue #16. As has been covered elsewhere in Newsarama, its epilogue focused on the long-awaited official announcement that Bruce Wayne will be starting Batman, Inc., a conglomeration of vigilantes and heroes around the world who will all act under Batman’s direction and carry his symbol in some form.
This is a re-imagined take on an old idea from 1955 when the “Batmen of All Nations” were introduced in Detective Comics #215. It involved a gathering of heroes who were all directly inspired by the Dark Knight, some of whom had gotten some training from him in earlier comics. The group included: Wingman, El Gaucho, the Ranger, the Musketeer, the team of the Knight and Squire, and the duo of Man-of-Bats and Little Raven. The team was seen again, along with Superman and Batman, in World’s Finest Comics vol. 1 #89 (1957) when philanthropist John Mayhew gave them an official clubhouse and dubbed the Club of Heroes. After this though, we never saw them again in the “Pre-Crisis” era.
After the 1985 mega-crossover story Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC started seriously revising its continuity. They were renamed “The Dome” and were said to be an early version of the Global Guardians, inspired by World War II heroes. But in the late 1990s, Grant Morrison re-introduced the Knight and then a couple of years ago he brought back the idea that the group was indeed inspired by Bruce Wayne, thank you very much. So they returned in Batman #667, now called the International Club of Heroes.
So since they’ve been growing in popularity (Knight and Squire just got their own comic written by Paul Cornell) and since people are talking about the possibilities of Batman, Inc., Let’s take a look at the members of the International Club of Heroes as they compare between their introductions and their modern incarnations. And we’ll also take a look at some other folks who’ve been inspired by Gotham City’s Dark Knight Detective.
A GENERATIONAL KNIGHT AND SQUIRE
In Batman #62, we met Percival Sheldrake and his son Cyril AKA the Knight and Squire, a father and son who were inspired to emulate Batman and Robin. They had cloister bells instead of a bat-signal and motorcycles instead of a Batmobile.
As an interesting contrast to the costumed dynamic duo of Gotham City, the Knight and Squire here wear actual armor. They actually are a knight and squire. That certainly makes sense, but it’s almost a bit too obvious and generic. I mean, if you look at these two out of context, they just seem like they could be in any story. Maybe a medieval story, maybe a story about two people at a masquerade ball. It doesn’t say “and they’re superheroes.”
If you look at Thor over in the Marvel Universe, his costume is a balance between superhero and viking. That’s what the Knight and Squire are lacking.
When Grant Morrison brought back the International Club of Heroes in the pages of Batman’s comic, he gave a flashback to this Knight and Squire and their looks were simplified a bit, bringing it closer to a superhero look. This is better, but still not quite there.
When the Knight was seen again in the pages of JLA, joining the newly-created Ultramarine Corps, we definitely got more of a “superhero as a knight.” It’s definitely a push in the right direction, but still not quite there. There are a few other heroes I could confuse this guy with.
In JLA: Classified #1, artist Ed McGuinness finally gave us this great take on the Knight, whom the story revealed was actually a grown up Cyril. This is a suit of armor, yes, but it is modern armor done in a style that calls back to the knights of old without actually being hampered by it. The first Knight and Squire we met looked as if they could easily get into situations where their movements would be hindered (especially when you consider just how insane some superhero situations can get).
This armor is a mix of practicality and decorative touches and it’s a nice balance. And the helmet at last shows us that the Knight is inspired by Batman, rather than relying on the writing to tell us. That is key, especially since the inspiration is done in a small way. He’s not wearing Batman badges on his arms or belt buckle, he’s got a helmet that looks like a classic knight and just extends it into slight bat-ears. Nicely done.
With a new Knight, we also got a new Squire, Beryl Hutchison. As a grinning, sarcastic hero who is also very effective at her job, she sports this colorful number. This outfit is a little complicated, but the elements are all balanced, the colors are muted enough to not make it too garish, and it’s still something that works for someone like her who has to jump onto motorcycles and leap off the occasional rooftop. And the colors are a nice nod to the fact that she was inspired by Robin and, like the original Robin, looks a bit like she came out of the circus.
WINGMAN, THE WOULD-BE HERO
Batman #65 featured a story where Batman trained a new apprentice, an adult of European descent (we weren’t told what country) who intended to be a Batman-style hero in Europe. This hero-in-training was Wingman and wow. Look at that suit. I mean, wow. What is the inspiration here? I get it, he’s “Wingman” and he’s got wings but… Is that it? Maybe it would’ve made more sense if we knew what country he was supposed to be operating in. The shoes and leg bands are a bit Greek. The bandanna mask could be Spanish. The red shirt and gold, chain mail shorts, I don’t know. And that chest symbol doesn’t really say “wing” as much as it does “upside down boomerang.”
When we met Wingman again years later, he was a decidedly different character visually as well as personality-wise. Before, he was completely deferential and appreciative of the Batman and the training that the older hero had given him, ready to embark on his own career as a famous detective and crime fighter. Apparently, things didn’t work out that way and so now he was a resentful man, acting superior and distrustful of those around him. He did his best to imitate Batman more directly, taking on a similar costume and adding gadgets such as his techno-helmet. Yet like many who imitate and are self-conscious about it, he claims that he not only owed nothing to the Batman but had been acting as a winged vigilante at least a year before the Gotham City Dark Knight had begun his war on crime.
This costume is laughably “techno-Batman” or “Batman Lite.” He’s kept the wing motif with a feathered cape, but the ears on the helmet and the color scheme are now so directly ripped-off of Batman that while it doesn’t work as a costume on its own, it works wonderfully in directly telling us “he’s trying to rip off Bruce and he’s not even doing a great job of it.” Hilarious. Well, done.
GREAT EAGLE, THE MAN-OF-BATS
Batman #86 had Batman and Robin flying over some mountain range in America when they saw bat-shaped smoke signals and decided to land the bat-plane. They quickly came across a Sioux warrior named Great Eagle who paraded around in a Batman costume with a feathered head dress under the secret identity of Chief Man-of-Bats. His son Little Raven also dressed up in a Robin costume with a feathered band. The two had been inspired by Batman and even operated out of their own makeshift Batcave.
This suffers from a similar problem to the Knight and Squire. Basically, there’s no imagination here. It literally is “Hey, what if Batman wore feathers?”
In the modern day reintroduction of the International Club of Heroes, Man-of-Bats now had a look that actually made more sense. A simple leather outfit with a bat design and a masked head dress. It’s actually a very simple, pragmatic look and like the new Knight it references Batman without diminishing his own identity to that of a mere cipher.
Little Raven has now grown up and is Raven Red instead. His is a bit more towards an actual superhero rather than a Sioux warrior who moonlight as a masked crime fighter. He has Robin’s basic color schemes but this is a bare bones, minimalist outfit. I mean, other than the mask and gloves, this could be a guy in a tight t-shirt with a simple bird image on it. It shows he’s pragmatic and also implies he’s not as into this as his father.
FROM BAT-HOMBRE TO EL GAUCHO
The first Latin hero to emulate the Dark Knight was Bat-Hombre. Batman personally trained this guy and outfitted him with everything he needed. Sadly, it turned out Bat-Hombre was a spy for the evil Papagayo gang leader and never intended to use his new skills and weapons for actual crime-fighting.
This is basically Man of Bats except with a sash instead of feathers. It’s rather ridiculous in its laziness and yet… and yet… check out that mustache. My God, the power of it. It’s like Batman took Zorro’s mustache and then gave it a little pizazz. That alone has to make you smile.
And if you ever doubted Batman’s skill at preparation, behold the fact that he actually had a special custom-made bat-eared mask for the horse. Yes. He thought of a Bat-Horse before he even began training Bat-Hombre and either made it himself or had it made.
Since the Bat-Hombre was a criminal, he did not go into the Club of Heroes. Instead, we met another Latin hero: El Gaucho, who was inspired by the Batman’s career and faithfully followed in his footsteps despite having never met him before the Club’s formation. It’s a simple outfit. Like the original Knight’s suit of armor, it says the basics of what he is without making him distinguishable as his own character.
In the modern-day, the Gaucho wore much darker colors, which makes sense if Batman of all people is your inspiration. This is a complete “off-the-rack” look, with a simple design sense. There is just a hint of decoration with the lining, buttons and laces. El Gaucho is a tough guy who doesn’t really care about your thoughts of him and his work, he’s just here to get the job done. Even the mask is pretty practical, being made of simple cloth with wide eye holes. He’s like a modern day Zorro, one looks like he’d ride a motorcycle rather than a horse.
It’s a nice look and the “EG” belt buckle is pretty funny. I keep wanting to say it needs something else, but I don’t want to disrupt this rather nice, unencumbered design. Maybe switch the white shirt with a red one decorated by a tiny bat-symbol? I don’t know.
The Legionary was basically Batman as a Roman warrior. He dressed up in gold armor and used his lance to fight people and vault over things. It’s sounding like a broken record, but you know what I’m thinking. This guy could be confused with several Roman heroes and half the cast of “Gladiator.” But hey, you have to respect the guy for getting in shape and deciding he was going to be like Batman.
Of course, the thing about exercise is you have to keep doing it for it to be effective. Evidently, the Legionary started taking bribes and then fell out of the superhero game and really let himself go. No longer an active vigilante, he was elated to reminisce over old times when the old gang met again as the International Club of Heroes. And hey, if he’s happy, who are we to judge?
The Musketeer was introduced along with the Legionary, the Ranger and El Gaucho in the story “The Batmen of All Nations.” This is not just a lazy costume, this says “I’m going to a fancy dress party.” Seriously, what criminal is going to be afraid of a running around in lavender and yellow with an orange sash and boots? Great as that hat is, this outfit just isn’t going to cut it for someone who’s running into dangerous situations and through dark alleyways.
The Musketeer’s reappearance years later could still be seen as not terribly distinguishable from other musketeer or swashbuckling-type characters. But hey, at least he got rid of the less intimidating aspects and has gotten a color scheme that doesn’t clash horribly. It also makes sense his costume wouldn’t have that much thought or intimidation factor since this is a guy who we learned was happy to retire from the superhero arena when he figured out how to make money off an autobiographical book.
THE RANGER (WHO LATER GOT ALL DARK)
By his own admission, the Australian hero known as the Ranger wore a pretty tame Boy Scout costume in his early adventures. Looking at this guy makes me wonder if he’s the Lone Ranger’s younger, less interesting brother. It really is just an outfit someone on a ranch might be wearing, with the addition of a simple mask.
As times and villains got tougher, the Ranger got himself a new outfit that emphasized protection and practicality, with gear strapped everywhere and an anti-riot helmet. Now calling himself the Dark Ranger, he’s done a pretty fair job of facing down evil. It’s a bare bones outfit and I think could use with another design element or two. Also, it seems odd to call the identity “Dark Ranger” yet have him in a white costume.
On a final note, I hope he never fights the villain Heatwave because then lots of readers and possibly the police would be very confused as to who was winning that fight.
THE HOOD (NO, NOT THAT ONE)
During the saga Knightfall: The Search, Batman met another British vigilante who emulated him. The mysterious “Hood” was really George Cross, who took his name after Robin Hood but definitely admired the Dark Knight. He even used a cross-signal spotlight to alert people when he’d beaten up some criminals.
This Hood is not to be confused with the Hood villain of Marvel Comics or the Red Hood, an identity used by both the Joker and Batman’s former apprentice Jason Todd.
And that wraps it up for now, folks. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in “Batman, Inc.” and what new Bat-inspired heroes might show up. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.
Alan Kistler writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. He is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series.” He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle.