Considering that I grew up to be the world's leading Batmanologist, it might be a surprise to learn that when I was kid, I never really wanted to be
Batman. I always wanted to be Robin, because Robin gets to hang out all the time with Batman and sometimes he saves his life and also they're best friends and they hang out together all the time and drive cool cars and Batman probably buys Robin all the Lego sets I want, and...
Uh, sorry. Lost my train of thought there for a second. What I'm getting at here is that as much as I've thought about Batman over the years, I've never really imagined myself in his position. That's why I was woefully unprepared to take on a 1986 Choose Your Own Adventure style book about the Caped Crusader
, and why I ended up as a Tiny Batman who got killed by a kitty cat
Over the past few months, I've been picking up a bunch of weird old pop culture paperbacks on the cheap, starting with the Worlds of Power novels. Recently, though, my focus has shifted to the licensed CYOA
knock-offs of the '80s and '90s, mostly focusing on the Find Your Fate series. This was the line that did tie-ins for Indiana Jones, G.I. Joe
and A View to a Kill
, the last James Bond movie with Roger Moore. You know, the one where he fights Christopher Walken and Grace Jones. Apparently that's what the kids were into back in 1985. To be honest, I'm pretty much just in it because the these things have titles like Operation: Robot Assassin
and Programmed For Danger
I didn't even know the Batman one existed until a ComicsAlliance reader asked me if I already had it. It's called The Doomsday Prophecy, not to be confused with "Prophecy of Doom," the highly underrated episode of Batman: The Animated Series where Batman fights a fortune-teller in a planetarium that is also a deathtrap, and comes to us courtesy of writer Richard Wenk and illustrator José Delbo. According to the back cover, it's part of a line that also featured Superman and Supergirl, presumably meant to capitalize on the success of the Super Powers action figures. It apparently got a re-release along with the 1989 Batman
movie, but the stories are clearly influenced by Batman
'66, hence Tiny Batman versus the Cat.
Believe it or not, it's probably the most faithful representation of Batman's life in any medium outside of comics, because no matter what you do or where you choose to go, you always
run right into an arch-criminal who's up to no good. And any time you're given the option to go to your utility belt, you basically just win everything.
Here's how it starts:
I gotta say, I love how over the top this thing is right from the start, and in all honesty, the visual of the bat-signal being replaced by a "Death's Head
" (I thought he was a Marvel character?) is pretty awesome.
But what's really interesting about this setup is that the three choices that you're given (the one for more information on the Bat-Signal just takes you to a "Fact File" with character descriptions) lead to three completely distinct storylines that feature their own villains. I'm not sure that this was Wenk's intent, but it actually paints a pretty terrifying picture of Gotham City, in that there are always at least three psychopaths out there trying to murder everyone at all times -- and that in choosing to stop the Riddler from executing Commissioner Gordon (who refers to himself as "Commissioner Gordon" in conversation with Batman), you're pretty much resigned to letting the Joker and his goons poison the reservoir.
Okay, okay, that might be a little
grim considering that this is meant to be a fun book for children. Then again, this is
a story with a section where Batman must choose the method of his own execution:
Of course, what makes this book really awesome is that no matter which of those two deaths you choose for Batman, he ends up getting out of it, beating the living crap out of the bad guys, and throwing them in jail. That might take a little bit of the actual choosing
out of the equation, but I tend to choose choose "Batman punching people in the face" over any other option, so I guess it's a wash.
Anyway, let's get back up to that first set of choices. They branch off into different stories, but the one thing that they have in common is that they all involve a "Doomsday Prophecy" of some sort. That is, however, a pretty huge stretch in every case. Nobody's actually foretelling the end of the world, it's just, like, a newspaper headline that says "HEY, I'M GOING TO KILL BATMAN TOMORROW," and in Gotham City, that has to happen at least four times a week.
If you stop to use a pay-phone, you end up tangling with the Joker, whose plan to murder half of Gotham City in one night sort of makes everyone else look like they're dragging their feet. If you call Gordon directly, you find yourself locked in a battle of wits (or at least, a battle of picking page numbers) with the Riddler, either in Gotham or Washington DC. That first option, though, is where things get interesting, because that's the one that gives you the chance to ditch all this crime-fighting jazz and go on a cruise as millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne.
Obviously, that last one is the best choice. Admittedly, it doesn't lead to the cat-murder of Tiny Batman. That one comes courtesy of the Joker after he steals a helmet that shrinks or enlarges its wearer from the Gotham City Museum of Technology, because where else are you supposed to get one of those. But while taking the cruise can lead you to to a pretty boring story of Two-Face dressing up as a hypnotist to try to suss out your secret identity, the right path can take you to something amazing.
And by that, I mean that the cruise ship gets attacked by a gigantic man-eating whale monster that is actually a disguised nuclear submarine piloted by the Joker, Scarecrow, Two-Face the Riddler and Catwoman
See what I mean about the Batman '66 influence? And seriously, you may have trained in how to take out a person
, but Batman has studied the pressure point strikes he'd need to fistfight a whale
. That's just how he rolls.
As far as I'm concerned, this is the One True Ending of the book. Even if it's focused on an extremely loose definition of "saving the world" by rescuing Gotham's most kidnappable plutocrats, and even the bad guys' plan is to somehow take over the world by going to the North Pole -- I'm thinking Wenk might've planned on a sequel where Batman teamed up with Santa, which would've been the single greatest work in the English language -- it's the one storyline that brings it all together. Hell, I don't think Catwoman's even in the rest of the book.
You'd think she would be, though. I mean, this sort of thing is right up her alley: