Hey! It's the original Ambiguously Gay duo!
You think I'm kidding? Go read Fredric Wertham's landmark 'Seduction of the Innocent'. It's all about how comic books corrupt and destroy children's morals, leading them on a path towards juvenile delinquency and a lifetime of crime and anti-social behavior. See, Mom? It wasn't the Bugs Bunny cartoons, after all; it was the comic books that you should have been worried about.
In all fairness to Doc Wertham, he meant well. At least, I think so. Either he was genuinely well intentioned, but utterly clueless and without a facility for logic and rational thought, or else he was deliberately disingenuous in an attempt to gain prestige by demonizing comics and their publishers. Either way, he had a tremendous impact on the comics industry, in terms of both actual content and the perceptions of western society towards comic books.
A lot of people have written about the changes made in terms of content as a result of Wertham's 'findings'. Entire genres disappeared, the super-hero titles got significantly more sterile, and Batman and Robin found themselves saddled with 'Aunt Agatha', in an attempt to discredit Wertham's attempt to paint the dynamic duo as having a homoerotic relationship. There's nothing like having a live-in spinster aunt to force you back in the bat-closet, I guess.
In all fairness to Wertham, the changes in the industry that took place, such as the closing of the EC comics line, may have been influenced by other factors. Writer/artist Frank Miller and others have speculated that, as a whole, the industry executives' collective defense of certain publishers - M.C. Gaines being the notable example - was less than spirited, simply because his lines of comics were doing so well in the marketplace. As long as Wertham remained focused on titles in the horror and crime genres, it's very possible that comics publishers in other genres (i.e., super-heroes, humor, Classics, etc.) saw his crusade as a healthy one - healthy for their own bottom line, that is. Needless to say, he didn't remain focused on the horror and crime genres. "First, they came for the engineers, but I wasn't an engineer, and so I said nothing."
The more profound - and subtler - effect was the increasingly widespread notion that comics were a kids' medium only. By trumpeting so loudly the alleged damage that comics were doing to kids, he associated comic books solely with children, a public perception that still persists. As Scott McLeod rightly points out in his highly regarded treatise on the medium, 'Understanding Comics', comic books don't have to be the same old loud, uninspired super-hero slugfests that they often are. The comic form is a communications medium, akin to novels, film, radio, television or the web. Like each of those media, comics have their own particular strengths and weaknesses as communication channels. What distinguishes comics from those other media, however, is that no one would dare suggest that any one of the others is for the exclusive use of a single demographic.
Enough with the soapbox, already, let's look at today's installments of the Fred Hembeck Files!
First up, we have a Saturday Night Live reference. Gilda Radner, one of the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players, had come up with a character named Emily Litella, whose shtick was to deliver a rant on a topic she had misheard, and then later apologize for the misunderstanding with the catch phrase, "Never mind!" Case in point: rambling at length at how she didn't understand why people were so up in arms about violins in schools, only to be gently informed that people were concerned about violence in schools. It's the same thing here, only with super-heroes.
Next, we have a play on use of the 'bat' prefix, applied typically to anything connected to the Caped Crusader. Batmobile, bat-plane, bat-copter, bat-arang, bat-cave, bat-shark-repellent, bat-condoms, etc. Really, it gets kind of silly, which makes the 'bat-bat' a perfectly appropriate addition to the bat-arsenal.
On the subject of softball, incidentally, does anyone else remember a story from the mid-seventies that featured a team of heroes playing a softball game against a team of villains? I think it ran in 'Strange Sport Stories', but I could be mistaken. It was fun in a remarkably surreal way, with the Justice League heroes up against the likes of The Tattooed Man, Chronos, and others. In retrospect, I wonder if the story was inspired by the regular softball match-ups between DC and Marvel staffers.
Hey, do those games still happen?