The Batman That Never Was
By Allan Asherman
(and slightly edited from its original appearance in "The Amazing World of DC Comics," Vol. 2, No. 4, Jan.-Feb. 1975)
Batman's first appearance, after his initial serial in 1943, was on a 1945 segment of radio's "The Adventures of Superman." The story, a long serial, begins with Superman discovering an unconscious boy on a floating boat. Bringing him back to shore, Superman saves his life with some first aid, while noticing the boy's odd costume. The boy, we later learn, is Robin and, in trying to find his youthful partner, Batman eventually runs across Superman. They decide to work together, and become fast friends dedicated to the common purpose of smashing crime.
There were changes in the legends, as they made their way to the airwaves. For instance, it was always made clear on the radio that Superman was the essence of the team. The three were not aware of each other's secret identities, and Clark Kent always went to great lengths to convince the detective mind of Batman that he was a mild-mannered reporter and nothing more. But these were subtle changes; nothing compared to the audition script written for the first Batman adventure.
Because of Batman's popularity, it was decided to try him out in a script of his own. No record survives of who wrote the script, and in fact it isn't even known exactly what year the treatment was written. It would have to have been done sometime between 1943 (the serial) and 1945 (the time of Batman's appearance on the Superman radio show).
The script began with sound-effects; the wind in a hollow tree, the flapping of giant wings in the distance, gradually getting louder. This was followed by a squeaking, weird whistle, and a series of notes played on an organ. The opening legend was the following:
"The Batman!...You are about to hear the first in a series of programs starring—The Batman! The legendary feats of the 20th Century Robin Hood are tales of high adventure and stark mystery. In his ceaseless struggle against the forces of evil and corruption, The Batman has enlisted the aid of no one! He fights alone—his keen brain and athlete's body, combined with almost unbelievable acrobatic skill, have made the horned black mask, and the flapping black cape the symbol of law and decency—Tonight's story is—"
The title of that first installment was to have been "The Case of the Drowning Seal." The script indicates the title to be recited by "Batman," in a clipped British accent. Yes, that's right—a British accent! The script makes it clear that whenever Batman appears, he uses the accent to fool anybody who might otherwise recognize him as millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne.
The opening of the tale has Bruce Wayne going backstage at the circus to see his old friends, The Flying Graysons. They've been working with the FBI to get the goods on some Nazi spies. But Bruce has no idea of this. During the discussion of old times, their son Robin Grayson enters the room and greets his friend Bruce, mentioning that "I'm almost as good an acrobat now as you are!" So immediately we have some rather important changes. Dick Grayson has mysteriously changed his name to "Robin," which won't do too much good for his future secret identity.
The more important change, though, is the fact that Bruce is apparently completely unconcerned about people knowing he's skilled in acrobatics. The customary version of Bruce Wayne usually goes very much out of his way to convince onlookers that he's a completely uncoordinated individual.
There are more minor changes, such as the fact that the Graysons are killed not with acid eating away their trapeze and high-wire, but with an acid compound they believed was rosin (rosin is used to keep from slipping; it stops the hands from sweating).
The change of the Graysons working for the FBI was to be expected. After all, it WAS wartime, and what better way to establish the Graysons as heroes? Besides, in the 1943 serial Batman, Batman was also working for Uncle Sam (in the serial the FBI knew his identity, and contacted him at Wayne Manor).
Girl reporter Linda Page is introduced as she collides with Bruce Wayne on the way to watch the Flying Graysons do their stuff. She dislikes him instantly, but ends up tagging along with him through the remainder of the story. She serves as an excuse for Bruce to explain his actions and investigations.
Robin Grayson, attempting to investigate on his own, is kidnapped by the Nazi agents responsible for the deaths of his parents. Bruce and Linda, largely with the aid of Bruce's detective work, start trying to find young Grayson.
A trained seal, which had been used in the Grayson's act, was deliberately drowned at the time of the Grayson's deaths. Bruce reasons the seal was eliminated because he "knew" something and, no matter ho fantastic this line of reasoning seems to others, he uses this as the basis of his investigations. Gaining entrance to a TV station in which he owns stock, he watches the newsreel films of the Grayson's incredible act. Keeping an eye on the seal, he sees nothing out of the ordinary—until he notices the trained animal was working his flippers in morse code.
The code leads Bruce and Linda to a small town, in which they must locate something that makes a certain pattern of ringing noises. Unfortunately, it's in the middle of the night, and Bruce reasons the ringing must mean a doorbell.
Of course, the next scene has them ringing doorbells. For a time there are laugh-filled moments. Then things get serious as Bruce realizes that time must be running out for Robin Grayson. After much frustrating doorbell-ringing, it finally occurs to Bruce that a traffic signal which he and Linda have passed a few times is ringing in the pattern they're listening for. It has been under their ears all the time—so of course they never heard it.
In the area of the stop-light there's a moored houseboat. As they watch, Bruce and Linda see a periscope; a Nazi submarine is using the place as a refueling dock and spy center! Warning Linda to stay put, Bruce tells her he's going for the police. And then Batman makes his first appearance:
WAYNE: Don't worry—I'll be careful! Stay under cover! (RUNNING STEPS—STOP) Now to get this mask on! There we are—(POSSIBLE BACKGROUND OF BATMAN THEME) If I can only swing this housebat around a little—There's the mooring cable—(GRUNTS ETC.)
SPY: It does not matter if the boy hears our plans; he will soon die!
SPY #2: Are you sure this boat isn't moving? I anchored it securely enough, but perhaps we had better go outside and see!
BATMAN: (CLIPPED BRITISH) I shouldn't bother—really! (LOUD SMACK—GRUNTS—)
ROBIN: (WEAKLY) The Batman!
BATMAN: This is for Coventry! (GRUNT, SMACK). This is for Lidice! (GRUNT, SMACK). And this is for the Graysons! (SMACK—THUD).
The fight continues, until the police arrive. Batman disposes of the submarine by using a winch to drop a torpedo on the ship.
During the fight, the alert Robin spotted something: one of the Nazi villains was smeared with motor oil from the houseboat. Afterwards, while this dialogue was taking place, he noticed Bruce Wayne's hands were covered with the same type of oil.
ROBIN: (LOW) Bruce? Mother and Dad—they're—they're dead, aren't they?
WAYNE: (SOFT) Yes, Robin—but thanks to them and Linda and the Batman, a convoy is safe.
ROBIN: (SLOW) What am I going to do? Where am I going to live?
WAYNE: With me, Robin—if you will.
WAYNE: What? What did you say?
ROBIN: The Nazi's face was oily—when you hit him, you got oil on your knuckles; it's still there. No! Don't wipe it off! That kind of makes you on the same side as my Dad—it's kinda like a medal.
WAYNE: I'd rather you hadn't found out, Robin—it was my secret; I used the phoney accent so that no one would ever associate Bruce Wayne with the Batman. No one must know, Robin!
ROBIN: Not even the girl? This Linda dame?
WAYNE: Especially not her! I work alone, Robin—
ROBIN: Bruce? They killed my Dad and Mother—and they tried to kill me! Let me help! Can't I work with you? It's a chance to get even—to avenge my parents—Please!
After Bruce pointed out the risks involved, and Robin indicated he didn't care about the risks—just the work they'd be doing—Bruce thought back to the time his own parents were murdered by criminals. He realized that he didn't have the right to tell Robin not to become a crimefighter like himself. A hard training period would lie ahead for the boy, but the script ended by promising that, in the future, we would be seeing much more of Batman and Robin.
There were some holes in the script, not the least of which was the fact that Batman wears gloves—so how could he have gotten oil stains on his hands from a fistfight? Unless of course the cape and cowl were the only uniform pieces of clothing Batman wore over his civilian clothes. This is entirely possible, as the introduction refers only to the "black mask and cape" of Batman. If they got the color wrong, anything's possible.
There is no mention of Wayne Manor anywhere in the script, no reference to Commissioner Gordon or even Alfred, the Wayne butler who knows Batman's secret identity.
It's also somewhat hard to accept the fact that the Batman, the world's greatest detective, would have had to hunt around a small town for hours, before discovering something as obvious as a traffic signal that blinked and rang in a certain pattern.
As a regular radio series, there would have been additional problems. For instance, the matter of Bruce Wayne's occupation. Clark Kent is a reporter, and it was no problem writing scripts that showed him accomplishing his day to day work. And being a crime reporter for a large newspaper like the Daily Planet is exciting. But how could Bruce Wayne, who was nothing more than a "professional" millionaire playboy, have been made to seem exciting on radio? The first script got around this problem by picturing Wayne as something of an amateur detective. But a prolonged treatment of Wayne on that order would have done his secret identity no good; and Batman would never take that much of a chance with his carefully built-up playboy identity.
If successful, the Batman radio series would probably have been produced by production men from National Comics, in much the same way as Robert Maxwell and Allen DuCovney worked on the Adventures of Superman radio serial. Undoubtedly the stations running the show would have been part of the Mutual Network, like the Superman series' stations. The broadcasts most likely would have originated in New York, at Mutual's flagship station, W.O.R., with transcription discs being supplied to stations in different time-zones across the country.
Unfortunately the series never came to pass; the World's Greatest Acrobat never got his chance to swing into the air-waves in his own series.