Recently I stumbled upon a few unusual, if not downright quirky clashes of superheroes and antiquity. After tweeting out a few and noting the use of #classicsandcomics by @tophocles I decided to have a more in depth look and found quite a few instances of this. I’ve selected a few, if you have found any more you want to share then tweet using #classicsandcomics as it’d be great to have this as a general resource.
Batman’s earliest foray into antiquity (that I could find) occurred in 1944 in the story It happened in Rome.
Robin possibly not realising that charioteers often died
Batman and Robin are sent back via the hypnotic abilities of Professor Nichols, and the two unearth mass corruption amongst the elite of Rome. Holy you could just have read Tacticus!
Going one step further and again using the coincidentally convenient skills of Professor Nichols the dynamic duo decide to visit the Olympic games after wondering how the athletes trained. This was the setting for Batman Peril in Greece which came out in 1946.
Needless to say mischief is afoot, in the form of the Persians who aim to have their men, dressed as Athenians, kill some Spartans and thus cause a civil war by which will destabilise Greece and allow the Persians to invade.
That Byrus can’t be a Persian name, you know, like Cyrus…oh hang on.
Not only do they foil the plan but Batman ends up competing in the games and joins Nero as the only other non-Greek to do so.
Did the Pentathlon involve a fight in a mosh pit? Heck, who cares.
Both a fighter and a lover the man bat was back in 1951, this time encountering Cleopatra in a story most academics view as ‘improbable’.
Bodyguards of Cleopatra involved the duo travelling back via a thoroughly explained and in depth analysis of time travel theory Professor Nichols. The story line is quite interesting, at an exhibit in Gotham museum they see a depiction of the bat-signal on a frieze. After Professor Nichols does his bit the caped crusaders (possibly not the best way to describe them in Egypt) help save Cleopatra and discover how the bat-signal got there.
Diana the Huntress
Where Batman decided to save Greece from an ancient threat, Yellowjacket comics released a series of 10 comics in 1944 featuring Diana who is sent by Zeus so save her native Greece from the Nazis.
The main thing is that we Olympians absolutely keep Hercules convinced that the Hello Kitty male stripper look is in.
Deciding it’s best not to correct a God armed with thunderbolts over what your name is, Diana proceeds to earth and is assisted by a US soldier.
“Good idea to blend in, those US fatigues were in danger of giving the pair of us away”
Rip Hunter Time Master
Despite a fantastic name you probably haven’t heard of Rip, in the 50s he travelled back in time via his time sphere and of course hung out with a few names you might have heard of.
I’ve no idea how he got on with Circe (1959) though I’d be far more concerned with the centaur in the background who looks, well, there’s a glint in his eye. If you thought one dangerous female character was challenging then Rip also got himself into something of a dilemma with two of them.
In Beauty Contest of the Ages (1964) Helen of Troy and Cleopatra face off in a beauty contest. I have no idea how this one goes so if you do I’d love to find out. Just tweet me. Rip wasn’t the only time traveller, the possibly not as good but it does have a pun named Mark Tyme ended up fighting gladiators in his first trip (1967)
The importance of Gladiator fights is that no-one knows your secret identity
Mark seems to be up against a retiarius, albeit one who has put his manica and upper arm armour on the wrong arm. He’s also nicked what looks like a murmillo’s helmet. I’m sure this wasn’t bothering Mark though. Sadly Mark’s time device was broker in this encounter meaning he had to make smaller jumps back. We’ll never know whether he did as only two issues were published.
The Man of Steel has a few run ins, albeit peripherally with figures from antiquity. The first is the ghost of Julius Caesar, sort of, in 1954. The story is based on the catchphrase of Perry White, Clarke Kent’s editor which itself was one of the many things introduced by the radio series.
I don’t want to body shame Superman here but perhaps a toga would be more forgiving?
This was made into a tv episode in 1955, both formats followed a similar theme, namely the fooling of Perry White at the Daily Planet. In the comic Superman helps the drama critic (Waldo Pippin) haunt Perry White until he gets two great scoops, the idea being to get Perry’s confidence back. Presumably a nice cup of tea and a biscuit was far too simple.
The TV episode involved Perry being fooled by a gang looking to discredit him ahead of a trail where he was to testify against them. This is how Caesar’s ghost looked in the tv show.
Marley’s ghost was always great at the fancy dress parties in heaven
Lois became hugely popular and ended up with her own comic, following the tried and tested “let’s see her as a centauride” format Lois ends up as one in 1969.
According to DC Wiki the story goes something like this:
“On assignment in the desert, Lois Lane is rescued by Comet the Super-Horse, and is later turned by Maaldor, Comet’s arch-enemy, into first a centaurette, then a super-powered horse”.
Only super-horses can have capes.
Superman watching a Lois centauride change under a rainbow. Let’s call it niche.
Elsewhere Lois ends up trying to stop Superman from three sirens (1969) these are actually women with chameleon powers who are impersonating old flames. As you might imagine the Lois Lane comic often found itself within the context of their relationship, when she wasn’t a horse.
If you don’t think poor Lois had suffered enough she even ended up as a slave girl (1969), one thing I certainly learnt from researching this is that ‘Lois Lane’ and ‘Slave Girl’ in a search engine isn’t something you want to try at work. I’ll defer to the excellent DC wiki synopsis on this one
“Lois Lane is flung by a racketeer’s “time bomb” device back to ancient Rome, where she is sold as a slave into the house of one Crassus, who is secretly the heroic Petronius.”
Just to give some idea on the bids, a sercestes was around ¼ of a denarius. The highest bid is therefore 100 denarii. If anyone knows what that might buy you in late Republican Rome (I’m working on the idea that it’s that Crassus) I’d be grateful.
It wasn’t always modern-day folk travelling back in time, in 1977 Julius Caesar invaded America and only one man could help. Step forward Captain America. Except this wasn’t a story, it was an advert, in the mid to late 70s comics started advertising with all the subtlety of a flying shield. In this instance Caesar is won over by the creamed filling of a twinkie, if only Vercingetorix had known his weakness.
Caesar: “Give these twinkies up!? Over my repeatedly stabbed corpse…”
In addition to the standard superhero encounter or time travel comics often covered some of the myths. Here’s Marvel’s take on both the Odyssey and Iliad (1977).
The comic book take on the Iliad wasn’t new, in 1950 Classics Illustrated had their own version.
Indeed, Classics Illustrated covered other famous stories from literature. In many ways the content of historical events and myths were great subject matter for comics, even minor storylines such as Antony and Cleopatra (1948) were given a go.
It’s at this point where things get messy, historical characters as the focus of comic books seem to have been quite common and it’s not the same without someone in a cape hanging around. If you do find any more bizarre crossovers then please tweet me @ancientblogger, using #classicsandcomics I’ll be sure to say thanks!