#172: Questionlings

172.1  Dear Stolf: Simple question: Did Aunt Harriet originate with the TV show “Batman”…then was moved over to the comic books?  …from The Quizzer, Arkham City

172.2  Dear Q: Simple answer: no. This is a widely held misconception…instead, Aunt Harriet debuted in the funny books a year and a half before the TV series…in Detective #328, June 1964…a story in which Alfred…dies! And Aunt Harriet arrives to tend to the helpless “youngsters” Bruce and Dick. Well, wouldn’t you know Alfred eventually comes back to life, and by 1968 Aunt Harriet has packed her bags and departed, pretty much around the same time the TV show did. inset 1 172.3  What I’m going to tell you next I don’t know for sure…to be absolutely sure, I’d have to read a bunch of comic books and watch a lot of TV shows. But numerous websites all agree on these details, so I’ll take them on faith. Aunt Harriet is Dick’s paternal aunt, which is to say, she is his father’s sister. The TV show gave her a last name…Cooper…and established that she’s a widow, and these elements were carried over to the comic books.

172.4  Now up until the arrival of Aunt Harriet, I’m sure many readers assumed Dick Grayson was made a ward of Bruce Wayne because he had no living relatives. This is simply not true, and if you believed this, you probably thought hat Aunt Harriet was Bruce’s aunt, but she isn’t…despite the fact that a few websites call her Harriet Wayne…d’oh! It is true that his parents, circus acrobats John and Mary Grayson (she’s called Yvonne and said to be of French origin on a radio episode) were killed by a gangster, making Dick an orphan in that sense. But he has other relatives…in fact, in Batman #20, dated Dec 1943/Jan 1944, his Uncle George, John’s brother, wins custody of Dick, then turns around and tries to “sell” him back to Bruce for one million dollars. Mind you, this is more than 3 years after the death of Dick’s parents. He is a real relative, but a crooked one…he’s sent packing, and that’s pretty much that. inset2 172.5  Also in the 1940s, Dick is said to have a “distant cousin” named Chuck…that’s Dr. Charles Grayson, assistant to Dr. Robert Crane, who becomes Robotman, as told in Star Spangled Comics #7, April 1942. I couldn’t find a picture of Charles, but presumably those are his hands on the brains, below. The twists and turns of the story are hard to follow…in the 1960s, Robotman was apparently part of the Earth-2 continuity, and at some point there may have been a second Robotman with the dead Charles Grayson’s brain. Where it all stands today in DC’s Convoluniverse I have no idea, and pardon me if I really don’t care. At any rate, that’s 3 Graysons besides Dick and his late parents: his father’s siblings George and Harriet, and distant cousin Chuck. inset 3 172.6  But while I’m thinking off it, there is one other thing that a lot of people think was invented for the TV show, but wasn’t…and that’s the yellow oval around Batman’s chest emblem.  Bear in mind that the show debuted in January of 1966…and for some time now you could get a triple helping of Batman reading material…he appeared in the comics Batman, Detective, and World’s Finest paired with Superman…plus any other guest shots in other superhero’s books that were on for that month. The strain of coming up with new adventures had for a decade taken an increasingly bizarre turn to what can only be described as science fiction…and a loopy science fiction at that, not that I ever complained. inset 4 172.7  Bat-experts can probably pinpoint when this began exactly…but just perusing Batman covers thru the years (here) I noticed that “The Creature from 20,000 Fathoms” Batman #104,  Dec. 1956 certainly got the ball rolling…and it was in full swing in Feb. 1958 with “The Batman-Superman of Planet X” in Batman #113…he was so-called because he had Superman’s powers, and as we see above, top, was sporting what?…a yellow oval circling his bat-emblem…interesting.

julie172.8  Now the man of the hour was, not surprisingly, a giant in the comic book industry, Julius Schwartz. It was he who introduced the “new” versions of 1940’s stalwarts Flash and Green Lantern in the mid-1950s, heralding the return to prominence of the superhero genre, which as you can see by scanning your local movie theater listings, continues to this day. And it was he who initiated Batman’s “New Look,” beginning with Detective #327, May 1964 and Batman #163, June 1964. It was a return to a more “realistic” setting…no more outlandish robot/outer space/time travel stories…bye bye Bat-Mite!…inspired no doubt by the success of Marvel, but TBT, the Batman line was struggling at the newsstand, and this tact worked in spades. And to signal that this was not your father’s Batman, but a return to his crime-fighting roots (your grandfather’s?)…he got the yellow oval. The TV show just naturally carried this on.

172.9  Dear Stolf: Foundling, fledgeling, fingerling, yearling, duckling, gosling, shearling, sapling, hireling, underling, scatterling, heck even Earthling…so from sibling, what’s a sib? …from Edsel DeSoto, Crankshaftingham, UK

172.10  Dear Ed: To which one could add hatchling, changeling, nestling, spiderling…and just because I happen to know it, a baby hawk or falcon is called an eyas. But looking over these examples, the suffix -ling is often used to indicate a young or small version of something*…similar to -ette…but not always. In contrast, an underling is simply someone who is ranked under you in some sense…they need not be small or young…same with hireling and Earthling. The -ling in sibling was originally used in this latter sense…sib is an old-fashioned word for kinship, as in “to claim sib” to someone…and sibling at one time referred to any relative. Perhaps we have ducklings and goslings to thank for the more recent sense of brothers and sisters, thinking of them specifically as when you were all children together.

* Did you know Marvel has a new character out called the Hulkling…a teenaged version of the Hulk…so what’s next? Hulk Baby?…

172.11  Dear Stolf: I hear that Olympia and Michael Dukakis are “cousins.” I can’t believe you’ve gone 171 weeks (3.29 years) without addressing this. …from The Big Fat Amateur Genealogist, Rumpside, Nova Scotia.  chart 610 172.12  Dear T.B.F.A.G.: Well, believe it!  You know, after a while, you sort of get a feeling for which family trees will be easy to research, and I was right about this one…their fathers were brothers, simple as that. Now I should mention that various accounts, including one supposedly by Michael himself, don’t agree on some details. Altho Greek, the family was actuality living in Turkey…and it’s pretty much agreed that Michael’s father Panos, who became an obstetrician, was the last brother to come over…but was it 2 older brothers or 3? And was Panos 12, 15, or 16 when, against his father’s wishes, he joined his brothers in America? But it’s definitely 1st cousins.

172.13  Dear Stolf: I loved the excruciatingly detailed “Dick Van Dyke Show” genealogies…any more shows in the works? …from Name Withheld, Anemone City, Seatopia

172.14  Dear ???: Mother-of-pearl, we do get letters from all over, don’t we! OK…well, to do it right, you’d have to watch every episode, a daunting task. I did buy the complete “Andy Griffith Show” box-set several years ago, so all that info has been gathered. Just a question of getting off my lazy duff and organizing it all. And in my defense, it can get pretty complicated…and pretty interesting. For example, I have already addressed the question of precisely how Andy and Aunt Bee are related…here….and again here….spoiler: she ain’t his “aunt”! But there are other fascinating twists…in spite of the fact that we know nothing, and never will, about his immediate family. We don’t know Andy’s parents’ names, or what exactly happened to them except that they are dead…ditto his wife, Opie’s mother.

172.15  Playing the Fan Logic Game, we could speculate that Mrs. Taylor was from out of town…why? Because Opie has no aunts, uncles, or cousins on his mother’s side in Mayberry…or anywhere else for that matter. This raises an interesting Fan Logic consideration…simply because something isn’t mentioned on a show, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. So if a relative pops up in say the 4th season of a series, a relative who was never mentioned before, there’s really nothing wrong with that. Aunt Harriet is a good example of this…in the scene above where she’s  at the door, Dick knows immediately who she is, even tho she wasn’t mentioned once in 24 years worth of stories. And unless it was once revealed that he didn’t have any aunts, in which case she’d be a dreaded retcom (retroactive continuity), the best we can say is she always technically existed, and this is just the first time we’re seeing her.

172.16  Getting back to your question…there are a ton of shows I’d like to do…time mccoysand availability are the obstacles. But one of my hobbies is collecting the intro and outro themes to old TV shows…thus I was recently nosing around the history of “The Real McCoys.” Luke, Hassie, and Little Luke are siblings…in the pilot episode, Luke explains the double names in this way: his parents were so excited to have Little Luke, they “forgot” they already had a Luke…could happened, I suppose…ahem. Hassie’s full name is Tallahassee…they got a post-card from there, and liked the sound of it. Why she’s called “Aunt” Hassie…in fact, she calls herself that in the pilot…I’ve yet to determine.

172.17  Beyond that, I can tell you that Kate’s maiden name is Purvis…that’s easy, her widowed mother is in several episodes, named Gladys Purvis. And Gladys’ maiden name is Kelly, as there’s a visit from Kate’s rich uncle Dave Kelly…uncles on Kate’s father’s side would of course be named Purvis. Several other relatives are mentioned, but I don’t know where they fit in…especially interesting would be Luke’s parents…were they ever mentioned?…so far I’ve never heard it.

172.18  But it’s noteworthy that the premise of “The Real McCoys” is the same as that of “The Beverly Hillbillies”…one played more realistically, the other a pure farce…the McCoys certainly glom onto “city ways” a lot more readily than the Clampetts do! Still, West Virginia country ways are evident, especially at the start of the series’ 6-year run. In the pilot for example, Grampa Amos is disappointed that Luke didn’t marry his best friend Frank Goody’s daughter Elviry…16 years old and strong as a horse. And he refers to 13-year-old Hassie as an “old maid.” As Jerry Lee Lewis might say: “See what I mean?” See you in 7…

wicked ballsy

wb I would be duly negligent if I failed to address Batman’s notorious gay angle, and how Aunt Harriet was supposedly designed to defuse that issue. Let’s let the guys involved tell their stories. First DC comics editor Julius Schwartz, from the 1989 book “Tales of the Dark Knight” by Mark Cotta Vaz… schwartzNext, here’s the TV show’s producer William Dozier, quoted in “The Official Batman Batbook” by Joel Eisner, 1986… doZierWell, they can’t both be right…and it’s my opinion that they’re both wrong, both misremembering events, 20+ years after the fact. Dozier is clearly wrong…Aunt Harriet existed in print in June 1964 and Batman premiered on TV in January 1966. True, some episodes would have been produced in 1965, but the timeline tells the tale, case closed. I also doubt what he says about Jules Feiffer…in his seminal 1965 book “The Great Comic Book Heroes,” Feiffer took the exact opposite position, declaring that Bruce and Dick were not homosexual at all…well, I suppose he does leave the (closet) door open a wee bit… feiffer As to Schwartz’ motivation, I don’t buy that either. Frederick Wertham first broached the subject in his 1954 book “Seduction of the Innocent,” calling the Dynamic Duo “a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.” I side with Feiffer on this…it was the furthest thing from young readers’ minds. But consider…if this was actually a serious problem, why did it go unaddressed for over a decade? Is he saying they waited 10 years to react to “a lot of talk”?

And if he really intended to “fix” things, he’d have Bruce Wayne get married, right? As it was, Alfred, comes back to life, Aunt Harriet moves out, and we’re back to where we started. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. What I think is, the introduction of Aunt Harriet was merely Schwartz and his writing staff being lazy…they were re-cycling a plot from Batman #90 June 1955…back then it was Bruce‘s Aunt Agatha, and Alfred was on vacation, not dearly departed…she lasted all of 6 issues, a dopey idea to begin with, sez me.

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Copyright © 2014 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

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