Holy Court of Owls, Batman!
By Mark Peters
My name is Mark Peters, and I am a Batman-aholic.
I blame Christopher Nolan. Between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, I felt an insatiable thirst for more Batman than Mr. Nolan was providing. In my desperation, I turned to a childhood addiction: comic books. I was always more of a Marvel guy, but I had read the holy trinity of classic Batman graphic novels: Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Killing Joke. I soon learned these were only the tip of the Batberg.
As I re-plunged into comics, I discovered Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween (which partly inspired The Dark Knight), Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s The Wire-esque Gotham Central, and Neal Adams’ warped Batman: Odyssey. I’m currently absorbed in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Death of the Family story, and I’m catching up on animated fare like Return of the Red Hood. Even the somewhat disappointing The Dark Knight Rises couldn’t dampen my addiction. I’m hooked.
So I figured I’d combine my new obsession with my old obsession: lexicography. Here’s a look at some items from the Bat-lexicon that deserve wider use. These terms — which aren’t as well-known as Batcave and boy wonder — would be fine additions to your linguistic utility belt.
Back in the bonkers days of 1950s Batman, Zur-En-Arrh was a faraway planet where a scientist named Tlano became a Batman-inspired crime-fighter: the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. When Tlano transported Batman to Zur-En-Arrh, Batman gained Superman-like powers, because of Zur-En-Arrh’s sun and because the 1950s were cuckoo-bananas times for Batman. Grant Morrison paid homage of Zur-En-Arrh in the recent Batman R.I.P storyline, which also revived the imp known as Bat-Mite. I’m confident Zur-En-Arrh would be perfect as a celebrity baby name or civilian safeword.
the Court of Owls
Batman villains the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin, Two-Face, and Catwoman are all household names, but unless you’ve been keeping up with the comics, you likely don’t know about the Court of Owls. Playing on nature’s owl vs. bat rivalry, the Court of Owls is an old, secret, villainous (duh) group that Batman discovers in the awesome 2011-2 series of the same name. Court of Owls could succeed as a lexical term, especially among the conspiracy-driven. Why can’t you hold down a job? The Court of Owls. Who really planned 9/11? The Court of Owls. Who does Obamacare really help? The Court of Owls.
Shark Repellent Bat Spray
This handy doohickey appeared in Batman: The Movie, featuring Adam West and the rest of the gang from the 1960s TV series. This glorious, ridiculous contraption is as specific as the Batarang — the Swiss Army knife of bat-gadgets — is multidimensional. However, I’m told it also acts as a Bat Morning After Pill.Whirly-Bat
Along the same ludicrous lines, here’s a gadget — from the comics, this time — that looks like the flying equivalent of Job Bluth’s Segway. In The Essential Batman Encyclopedia, Robert Greenberger describes the Whirly-Bat as a “one-person flying vehicle,” dryly adding, “Its flight specifications were never recorded.” Maybe that’s because this gadget, which debuted in 1958, was quickly and appropriately forgotten. However, according to Daniel Wallace’s Batman: The World of the Dark Knight, “It is fully collapsible and can be packed in the trunk of the Batmobile.” Please, copyright gods, allow a picture of the Whirly-Bat to appear in this column.
Ace the Bat-Hound
Ace was an abandoned German shepherd the dynamic duo adopted in 1955, and unlike the Whirly-Bat, Ace has popped up in the comics more frequently over the years. Given the wide use of German shepherds as police or terrorism dogs, Ace might be the least implausible item on this list. In Batman and Robin, Batman recently gave a Great Dane named Titus to his whacko son Damian, so perhaps there’s a new Batdog in the making. Awesomely, there’s also a Batcow.
Who’s Damian, you say? Casual Bat-fans know good guys Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Commissioner Gordon, and Alfred Pennyworth, but the latest addition to the Bat-family is a doozy. The not-so-subtly-named Damian is the child of Batman and villain Talia al Ghul. Batman didn’t know Damian existed till the kid was ten: till then, he was raised by his mom and the League of Assassins, which means Damian is also an assassin, not to mention one of the least well-adjusted tykes in the world. To sum up, Batman — who never kills — has a son who is a killer. This leads to hysterical conversations in which Batman scolds Damian (who is currently Robin) about killing the way other parents scold their kids for leaving out the milk. I’m not sure how his name could be part of the lexicon, but Damian is a good reference point when your own children forget their chores or murder a supervillain.
What’s flink you say? It’s a word I would never have known about if my buddy Shane hadn’t lent me Batman: The Dailies 1944-1945, which collects the short-lived newspaper strip. Flink was an all-purpose word used by hitman Jojo the Flinker. In a strip that ran on January 17, 1945, Jojo demonstrates the word’s versatility, using it as adjective (“Not fair treatment, ol’ pal. The ‘flink treatment’!”), verb (“I ain’t gonna flink ya right away.”), and interjection (“But I only trust a guy once—an’ then—flink!!”). As an expert marksman, most of JoJo’s flinkage related to shooting people. In the intro to this collection, writer Al Schwartz said of flink, “I didn’t get that from anywhere in particular. It was the idea of putting something into his speech that would be characteristic.” I love this flinkin’ word. It deserves a revival, for flink’s sake.
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Image credits: (1) Dark Knight Rises movie poster used for the purposes of illustration in a commentary on the work. (2) Whirly-Bat from Batman no. 124 (June 1959). Writer: Arnold Drake. Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff. Inker: Charles Paris. Image courtesy of DC Comics. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission. (Thank you to Scott Bryan Wilson and Steve Korte of DC Comics for the image!)