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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Great Moments in Mounties: Batman #223

The Mountie: a red-coated, steel-willed, horse-riding, Stetson-wearing hero who can track a man across a thousand miles of untamed wilderness, only stopping to wrestle the occasional Grizzly bear, and inform you politely that your tail-light is out, but he’ll let you off with a warning for now if you promise to have it fixed before you return to Canada on your next trip. At least, that’s the image that Hollywood has given the great Canadian police officer for much of the past hundred years.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or the North-west Mounted Police as they were known when they were originally founded, were formed in the 19th century to establish order in the wild and untamed north-west territories of Canada. The Mounties were famous for, allegedly, never having to draw their guns in order to do their jobs. Today, the RCMP is the largest police force in Canada, functioning much like the FBI/ATF does in America, but also performing front-line police work in the smaller or more remote communities that don't have police forces of their own.

Hollywood seemed obsessed with the Mounties at one point. The movies portrayed them as stalwart trackers, relentless in their pursuit of justice. In Pierre Burton's Hollywood's Canada, he describes the American view of our red-clad police force as "supermen, free of normal human appetites when on the trail of their man." This even contributed to the common error that the motto of the force is "We always get our man:" in actuality, the motto is "Defending the Right," which, to me at least, sounds a hell of a lot cooler.

Of course, Hollywood got it all wrong. For one, their mounties wore ridiculous-looking fur hats sometimes, and they could never really get the look of the Stetson right. More egregious errors included Mounties shooting first and not bothering to ask any questions, and a scene in McKenna of the Mounted (a lot of movies were called "-- of the Mounted") where an officer is discharged from the service and ceremonially whipped as a result.

And today, Mounties are still portrayed as ceaseless do-gooders who always wear their red dress uniforms, even though they're equipped pretty much like your average police officer - that means no funny hat (for the most part), and a bullet-proof vest on occasion.

This poor characterization isn't limited to movies, naturally. Comic books, those purveyors of only the highest quality entertainment, have contributed their fair share of misconceptions about the RCMP. I hope to have this as a regular feature, but like my other "features," "Comics That Have Pissed Me Off" and "The Continuing Adventures of Ronald Reagan," installments may be sporadic at best - especially considering that Mounties haven't been especially popular in pop culture for a few decades now, showing up only to be lampooned in media like Dudley Do Right and Due South. I've already got enough for at least two posts, so I think I'm ahead of the curve as it is.

One comic that has not helped the RCMP to shake their mythical reputation was Batman #223, a "Giant Batman." Don't get too excited; it's just an over-sized issue of the book, it doesn't contain any of those fantastic appearances of an actual giant Batman. I like to call this issue "Multinational Batman," because it features the fascinating gimmick of "Batman and Robin Face Danger Around the World!"

Although there are other stories of stereotypical hilarity within this tome, we're only interested in the wintry scene from the cover: Crime in Canada, a concept so shocking that Batman himself had to investigate.

The story is really titled - any guesses? - "Batman of the Mounties." And right from the get-go, I'm somewhat less than optimistic that this story will be free of the misconceptions and bad generalizations that have plagued the movies:

Sigh. Well, let's get on with it.

"Batman of the Mounties" follows the caped crusader as he ventures into the frozen north (strong and free, dontcha know) to capture the wicked LeClerc brothers, another bad trope of bad Mountie movies. Didn't you know that French-Canadians were evil?

Anyway, we open on an idyllic scene: the Mounties are apparently attending summer camp up in the Northwest, and they can barely contain their excitement when they see the fabled Batplane fly overhead. Boy, is there gonna be an awkward moment when Robin realizes this particular RCMP detachment (which seems to include slightly over 6000 officers) actually intended for someone else to accompany the Caped Crusader:

I mean, they already had a red tunic sized for Rob. Now what are they gonna do with it?

Aw, that's okay, guys. They already brought formal wear anyway. They also took along their "trees and rocks" uniform just in case they were to get stranded in Vancouver, and their leather uniforms just in case they... well, you know.

The Dynamic Duo have arranged to teach the Mounties their previously chronicled unique crime-fighting methods as a part of "National Law Enforcement Week," which is when we up in the Great White get off our asses and actually attempt to enforce a few laws for seven days - well, it's more like six because we don't open on Sundays.

Unfortunately, just as Batman & Rob begin to demonstrate how to apprehend rambunctious squirrels...

... one of the Mounties sets off in his ceremonial best - riding a horse because Canucks have yet to master the art of paving - in order to capture those dastardly Quebecois, the LeClerc brothers! The bros. have broken out of prison (but we just call it Quebec), and are headed the Mounties' way! Why, surely they could just wait for the idiots to pass by the massive encampent of police officers, right? Or maybe let Batman handle it? Nope, it's a much better idea to send "Bob" (actual Mountie name) off, on his own, with only a horse and the RCMP tradition not to ever draw his gun, to try to capture two armed and dangerous francophones. Bob Kane, or whoever really wrote "Batman of the Mounties," has apparently never heard of the Montreal Mafia.

Sadly, Bob's mission meets a sticky end, having to wheeze out a staccato speech to Batman and Robin as they find him dying in the snow. I don't think the way he's speaking his due to any distress, he might just not have learned how to use articles. Or he could have brain damage, I guess, because he insists on making Batman a deputy Mountie:

And forgive me for being presumptuous enough to question a "master crime-fighter," but in which universe does that make even one iota of sense, Batman? Robin isn't even old enough to drive a car, and you're letting him fly a goddamn super-sonic plane? And where would that thing even land out in the wilderness? There's too many trees to build a runway. And why would you have to become a Mountie in order to catch some bad guys? You've been doing it freelance for years, you crazy loon.

Well, questionable actions aside, Batman - who doesn't don the Stetson, so I wouldn't call him a real Mountie, anyway - sets off across the frozen wastes of Canada, following the trail of the most devious French killers around. And he gets to show off some of those "unique crime-fighting methods" again, this time wasting resources and putting distance between him and the LeClercs because, hey, walking sucks:

I don't want to get into posting every panel of this obvious masterpiece, but some of this crap is just too absurd to leave uncommented upon. The very next panel after "wind-surfer Batman..."

...sees the great detective not even considering that he may unknowingly following the path of, I don't know, a bear, instead of the criminals. Thanks to his little ice-surfing escapade, anything could have ripped the needles off of that tree while the LeClercs were half-way to Regina.

Then, the Mounties have the balls to say this to Robin when he comes back with the half-corpse of Mountie Bob:

O RLY? You, the genius who sent one guy and a horse after the LeClercs not five pages ago has suddenly decreed that they're too dangerous For even Batman to handle alone? I must say, our men in red aren't being given a good shake in this story.

Personally, I hope this is what he had in mind when he talked about sending "men" with them, though:

Yeah, we've got 'em up here.

The men of the Mounted Bear Patrol , unfortunately, can't waste their time tracking down the LeClercs because of a disaster in what I assume has to be a nearby town, so it's up to Robin (!) to catch up (!!) with Batman and take the evil Frenchmen down without help.

But I mean,really - when you've got a man who wastes as much time as Batman does building surf boards and changing clothes, manages to catch up with the bad guys, and then stops when he's being shot at to make a set of fuckin' skis (nevermind why his "snow" suit didn't come with snowshoes), you don't really need all that much help anyway, I reckon.

After what is ridiculously called "one of the weirdest fights ever," which involved balancing on logs cut down by an invisible logging company and floating in the river, Batman and Robin have finally apprehended the LeClerc brothers! But it's not quite time for a round of whiskey and vodka, as the LeClercs have a few tricks up their sleeves:

Which must lead to an exercise in Criminal Logic (TM):

thus preserving the status quo - provided that the status quo includes guys who've managed to foil the plans of psychotic clowns being duped by two backwoods thugs who could probably find a way to rationalize robbing a bank without taking any money. "No, mon frere! The money would make us a target! We will take zees artificial potted plants, instead! Zen we get away scot free! And grab zome pens while you're over zer!"

Don't worry - Batman and Robin "always get their man," even if it involves the unlikely scenario of Batman pulling the RCMP insignia that Constable Bob gave him out of his utility belt.

You know, the utility belt that the criminals made sure to remove so he couldn't come up with any tricks. That's okay, Bob - I know this story had a lot of twists to keep track of. Sometimes Batman comics are so complicated that you just can't remember what happened a scant two panels ago, especially if doing so would mean that Batman pulled that insignia right out of his ass. I would have just ended this comic after the fight on the floating logs, but then again, I've never been paid by the page.

So there ya go: Batman of the Mounties, our first look at Mounties in the comics. They might not have come out looking quite so good in this one, but not even Batman could manage that.

Fun Mountie Trivia: when Michael Moore made Canadian Bacon in 1995, he avoided paying the brave men and women of one of our finest institutions licensing fees for the use of "Royal Canadian Mounted Police" by calling his Mounties "Royal Mounted Canadian Police." Dude wasn't even trying.

The makers of Dudley Do-Right similarly avoided helping out the force when they purposely gave the titular hero the wrong uniform insignia - of course, that could always be rationalized by saying that they didn't want to denigrate the RCMP with their portrayal of the bumbling officer, but how many people actually know what RCMP signage is supposed to look like anyway? Certainly Bob Kane can't be counted among them.

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