One of the many lists in my new book, Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent?, is “Ten Crazy Items Found on Batman’s Utility Belt”, spotlighting Batman’s penchant for carrying strange gadgets within his belt. However, the gadgets within Batman’s utility belt are just a small taste of the many odd gadgets in comic book history. Here are 10 of the strangest.
Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? by Brian Cronin is available from Amazon.
Captain America’s Magnetic Shield Retriever
One of the coolest aspects of Captain America is the way that he throws his indestructible shield and always makes sure to have it ricochet back to his grasp. However, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby apparently did not think that was a cool enough idea, because just two issues after they re-introduced Captain America into the Marvel Universe in Avengers #4, they came up with a device where Captain America would use magnets on his wrist to control the shield.
Also, for an indestructible shield, it seemed quite easy for the Avengers to pop the top off to put electronics in the middle. This shield idea was soon dropped (and the shield used with the magnetic device was late said to be a replica and not the original indestructible shield).
The Plastimold device is likely a bit too large to properly be termed a “gadget”, but I will hope you will forgive me for insisting on including it, as this Kryptonian device only helped create one of the great comic book moments of all time… Superman’s girlfriend, Lois Lane #106 where Lois decides to do an expose on racism by using the Plastimold to become an African-American woman for a day. Lois somehow failed to cure racism in her one day as a black woman, but she did manage to do her best to try to send Superman on a guilt trip. He wasn’t marrying you either way, Lois!
There is a reason why the Invisible Girl shouted “Not the Encephalo-Gun!” when Mister Fantastic brought the device out to battle with his arch-nemesis, Doctor Doom, in Fantastic Four Annual #2.
Why does Reed even have this device? “To what purpose did you invent this thing, Reed?” “What if you aren’t sure who has the greatest mentality? And once you’ve demonstrated who has the greater mentality, you can’t just leave the other person standing there, you need to send them to some sort of limbo, right?” Time well spent, Reed, time well spent.
During the mid-1960s, Batman was determined to use technology to make detective work so easy that he didn’t even have to leave his car. In Detective Comics #364, we learn that the Batmobile has a “Bat-tector” that can gauge noises and determine if they are signs of a crime being committed. Two issues later, though, Batman’s technology gets even more detailed when we see the Batmobile’s noise amplifier, which can measure heartbeats in nearby buildings. Batman has charted what heartbeat patterns signify crimes in progress.
I wonder how many times Batman burst into somebody’s apartment only to learn that the reason the inhabitants’ hearts were racing was because of certain non-criminal bedroom activity?
Chimney Sweep Arrow
Choosing between all of the trick arrows that have been used over the years by DC Comics’ Green Arrow (and his sidekick, Speedy) and Marvel’s Hawkeye is a tough one, as there have been plenty of strange trick arrows over the years (like Green Arrow’s boxing glow arrow). You might have a different pick for the strangest trick arrow, but I am going with the Chimney Sweep Arrow. In Adventure Comics #263, Speedy is upset that Green Arrow won’t raise his allowance, so he goes to work part-time using his archery (and his trick arrows) to do odd jobs around town. Here, he uses a Chimney Sweep Arrow to help a factory. This arrow violates about 12 laws of psychics, but hey, if it works, it works!
To give you an idea of just how prepared Doctor Doom is at all times, in Amazing Spider-Man #5 he turns on the news and sees a story about Spider-Man. It occurs to Doom that this Spider-Man might be a helpful ally in Doom’s battle against the Fantastic Four (after all, the news reports are talking about how much of a menace Spider-Man is). Luckily, Doom happens to have a giant spider on hand, which allows him to create a Spider-Wave Transmitter.
Now that’s preparation! I would like to point out that there is no way that Doom could have known at this point that Spider-Man had the “sensory powers of a spider”, but since Doom turned out to be correct, who am I to mock his thought process?
This one is also perhaps too large to properly call it a gadget, but the idea of Batman creating what amounts to a torture chamber is just too good not to mention.
Introduced in Detective Comics #134, the “truth chamber” is located in the Bat Cave. Batman brings criminals here to essentially drive them insane until they tell him what he wants to know.
Scanning people’s apartments for their heartbeats, torturing them, Batman sure does not care about civil liberties! I can’t wait to we see what Batman comes up with next. “Well, Robin, first I take this Bat-Cloth and put it over the bad guy’s face. I then pour water on to the cloth to make him feel like he is drowning. I call it Bat-Boarding!”
When Hawkman and Hawkgirl first came to earth in The Brave and the Bold #34, they first used telepathy via an electronic brain to learn everything that the inhabitants of Earth knew. This gave them insights into how to interact with the people of Earth, knowledge to get a job on Earth as a museum curator and even the ability to speak to birds (because they connected with ALL of the inhabitants of Earth, even the animals).
A couple of issues later, the device got a much cooler name, one of the coolest names of any comic book device… the Absorbascon!
Peter Parker is a genius. There is no doubt about it. As a teenager he was able to create a powerful adhesive that he could shoot out of mechanical “web shooter..” That’s talking high levels of chemistry and mechanical engineering! However, there’s that and then there’s what Peter cobbled together in Amazing Spider-Man #2. Peter realises that the villainous Vulture is using magnets to power his wings, allowing him to fly (back in the early days of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee tended to believe that magnets and transistors could do pretty much anything imaginable). So Peter goes to work in his bedroom on a gadget. After a few hours, it is done. He fights the Vulture and Spider-Man and breaks out the gadget and saves the day.
Later, he reflects on what the gadget was. It was an “Anti-Magnetic Invertor”. Yes, folks, teenaged Peter Parker invented a device that can cancel out magnetism! As amazing as that is, what is more amazing is that when they fight again and Peter uses the device again only to learn that the Vulture has changes his wings so that they no longer use magnets to run, Peter just forgets about the device for good! “Oh well, it is no longer useful for the purpose I invented it for, it’s not like a device that can cancel out magnetism would ever have any other future use!” No wonder Peter Parker is always strapped for cash!
Roller Skates A-Plenty!
It is reasonable enough that Batman and Robin might find some need for jet-powered roller skates, like in Batman #117, but it is a lot more surprising to see Iron Man using roller skates! However, when Iron Man first used them in Tales of Suspense #45 (just six months after Iron Man’s first appearance), the Iron Man armour was a good deal more bulky and much less powerful…