Top Ten Batcave TrophiesA column article, Top Ten by: Zack Davisson
Batman is, in his heart of hearts, a rank sentimentalist. You don't believe me? All you have to do is look at this grim avenger of the night's choice of sidekicks. Like a heartsick pet owner who keeps naming the same breed of dog the same name over and over again, Batman has collected a string of black-haired boy Robins in his time. Even when he branched out with a new breed – a blonde girl, no less – he still put her in the familiar costume and name. Like I said, he's a rank sentimentalist. And then there is the trophy room.
Batman keeps souvenirs. He keeps costumes of old friends and foes, oversized props and mechanical dinosaurs. A quick look around the vaunted Batcave shows that Batman is just an old softy, decorating his home with relics and memorabilia of his own past. And he has been doing this for a long time. The Hall of Trophies and Batman's underground headquarters – not then called the Batcave – both appeared in the same issue, Batman #12 (1942). Though at the time they were unconnected: the Hall of Trophies was above ground in Wayne Manor.
I think the trophies are a nice touch for the Batman mythos. In the hands of the wrong writers, Batman can become a one-dimensional parody of himself, the driven vengeance-seeker. But there are more sides to the character. No matter how terrifying and focused Batman is, you need only glance at the giant penny lurking in the shadows to see that the boy that was Bruce Wayne is still lurking somewhere inside.
I chose my Top Ten list based on the criteria of longevity – what are the true icons of the Hall of Trophies? What items put in an appearance year after year, decade after decade, artist after artist? That means that some of the cooler items – like the Terminator's sword or the skull of Hunter Rose – didn't make the cut. Familiarity trumps obscurity.
10. The Penguin's Artifacts
The Penguin has had a sea-change as a character over the years, from a goofy, waddling minor menace to an underworld power broker. But from his first appearance, the Penguin has always had an arsenal of trick umbrellas and mechanical penguins to aid him in his schemes. The gun-umbrella has been standard, but there he's also used fire-shooting-umbrellas and helicopter-umbrellas and tangling-umbrellas.
Batman's cache of Penguin artifacts is not from any specific case; it's just an odd assortment of gear he has accumulated over the years by taking them away from the bad bird. But the Penguin artifacts are the oldest items in the Trophy Room. A statue (or robot) penguin is one of the few recognizable items in the room's first appearance in Batman #12 (1942).
9. The Mummy's Case
This is one of the more obscure trophies to make the list. It doesn't always make an appearance in the Batcave. Sometimes artists draw it in, sometimes not. But the Mummy's Case was the showpiece of the famous Batman Trophy adventure "The Thousand and One Trophies of Batman" from Detective Comics #158 (1950).
In this story, the villainous smuggler Dr. Doom (yes, really!) sneaks into the Batcave inside a mummy's case, and then uses Batman's assorted trophies to battle with the Dynamic Duo. Batman and Robin finish off the evil Doctor, and then claim the Mummy's Case as trophy #1,001 for the Hall of Trophies.
8. The Big Dice
Batman faced off with this relic from the Joker in Batman #44 (1947), in "The Case of the Gamble with Doom." It is a fitting name, as in the later Batcave story Dr. Doom rolls the big tumbler and tries to attack Batman and Robin with giant gaming pieces.
Maybe there is something iconic about dice, or maybe they are just easy to draw, but artists drawing the Batcave just can't seem to resist throwing in a giant set of dice somewhere. They are rarely in the giant tumbler that that Dr. Doom used to poor effect, but usually are instead hanging from the ceiling like Batman's version of tricked out rear-window dice.
7. The Red Hood's Costume
The Red Hood's outfit doesn't always appear in Trophy Room depictions, but when it does it is an ominous reminder of the origin of Batman's greatest villain. The Red Hood debuted in Detective Comics #168 (1951). That story follows a disheartened Robin whose science experiment seems to have failed when the hair he finds on the trail of the Red Hood turns green. Of course, by now we all know who was under the Red Hood, and why that hair was green.
The Red Hood's costume is a later addition to the Batcave. In the original story, Batman didn't claim the costume for this Hall of Trophies like he did with the Mummy Case. But it is usually there tucked away in the glass-cased costume collection of modern depictions.
6. The Chess Pieces
The Chess Pieces have no real history that I know of. They first appeared in "The Thousand and One Trophies of Batman" as souvenirs from what Batman called "The Case of the Chess Crimes." The Chess Pieces didn't play much of a part in that story, and rated about a panel. But they are persistent.
Originally a full chessboard with all the pieces included, they have slowly faded away to just a couple of chess pieces - usually the rook, bishop, and knight. But no matter the quantity, even more than the Big Dice or the Red Hood costume, the Chess Pieces have steadfastly appeared in ever iteration of the Hall of Trophies over the decades.
5. Thomas Wayne's Batman Costume
The first costume that Batman put on display in the comics wasn't even one from his own adventures. It was from the Batman who came before him: his own father, Thomas Wayne.
I've always thought this was a rather dubious addition to Batman mythology. In Detective Comics #235 (1956), Bruce Wayne finds a secret door in an old chest containing an old Batman costume. As the memories come flooding back, he remembers how his father, Thomas Wayne, once dressed like a bat man for a costume party and did some crime fighting of his own. The costume leads to the discovery of Moxon, the man behind the Wayne Family murders, and the solving of that case. (Moxon was the man who hired Joe Chill. It turns out the Wayne murders were not a random robbery.)
Along with Joe Chill, the Thomas Wayne Batman story has long since been retconned. And with good reason. Shedding too much light on that act of random, nameless violence that was the Batman's birthday ruins much of the mystique. But continuity be dammed, the Thomas Wayne Bat-costume still finds its way into modern Batcave scenes as a little nod to a past that no longer officially exists..
4. Jason Todd's Robin Costume
By far the most emotionally charged memento in Batman's collection, the glass-encased uniform of Jason Todd has always been a somber reminder of failure amidst all of Batman's successes. The empty costume stares at every young hero and hero wannabe like a challenge, a reminder of the price they might eventually pay.
Strangely enough, in the years following Jason Todd's death Bruce Wayne was notorious for keeping no reminder of the dead Robin. In one issue, Dick Grayson wanders the trophies of the Batcave noting how Bruce kept nothing from Jason's stint. It wasn't until Frank Miller and The Dark Knight Returns (1986) that Jason Todd was given his memorial. Now Batman has an entire collection of empty costumes, including the Barbara Gordon Batgirl suit, as grim reminders.
3. The Oversized Playing Card
The Joker card is one of the Big Three of the Hall of Trophies. It is always there, no matter what, no matter when. Surely it has some cool backstory, some crime where the Joker used it to ill effect?
Nope. The Joker Card, just like the dice and the chess pieces, is memorabilia without a story. I am sure that at least once, and more than once, the Joker used a giant playing card in his schemes. But rather than representing any particular case, the Oversized Playing Card is an effigy of Batman's archenemy, the Clown Prince of Chaos, the madman who is everything Batman fights against.
In fact, in the old incarnations of the Hall of Trophies, it wasn't even a card, but a giant papier-mâché mask of the Joker's face. The mask morphed over the years into the familiar Oversized Playing Card that can be seen hanging from the ceiling in almost every depiction the Hall of Trophies. The card has some history in that it resembles the actual Joker playing card that was artist Jerry Robinson's inspiration and first drawing of his proposed new character.
2. The Mechanical Dinosaur
The second of the Big Three, almost any Batman fan can imagine a familiar scene of Alfred up on a ladder dusting off the giant mechanical T-Rex down in the Batcave. It is the perfect juxtaposition of dull normality with the insane world that Batman inhabits.
The dinosaur is one of the few Hall of Trophy items with provenance. It comes from a story from Batman #35 (1946), "Dinosaur Island." In that story, a scientist creates a Jurassic Park-style amusement park complete with robotic dinosaurs, which is then taken over by a bunch of crooks that put Batman through the ringer.
When I read the original story, I was surprised to discover that the Mechanical Dinosaur was at first a brontosaurus, not a T-Rex. (Although we see them now as peaceful giants, there was a time when the brontosaurus was thought to be a scary, vicious killer. Just watch the original King Kong.) But it didn't stay a brontosaurus for very long. By 1948, when Jim Mooney drew a cut-away of the Batcave in Batman #48 there was a big old t-rex in the Hall of Trophies.
1. The Giant Penny
You simply cannot have a Batcave without a Giant Penny. I don't care who you are or when you are drawing; if you are depicting the Batcave you will inevitably draw a Giant Penny in there somewhere. Earth-1 Batman. Earth-2 Batman. 1940s Batman. 2011 Batman. Animated Batman. They all have the Giant Penny lurking in the background.
Because it is a coin, I have spent my whole life under the mistaken impression that the Giant Penny was somehow associated with Two-Face. But the real story of the Giant Penny comes from World's Finest #30 (1947), in "The Penny Plunderers." Joe Coyne is a man whose life has been cursed by pennies. As a young boy, everyone around him had dollars while all he had was pennies. When he turns to a life of crime and sticks up a store, the cash register is empty except for just a few pennies. In jail, he vows to make the penny the symbol of his reign of terror, and a themed Batman-villain was born.
Kind of. Joe Coyne turned out to be a pretty lame villain who never appeared again, but his legacy lives on in the Giant Penny Batman claimed as a trophy. The Giant Penny was the showpiece of the Hall of Trophies from the beginning, and Batman has put it to good use. In Detective Comics #186 (1952), Batman flies the Giant Penny in on a helicopter to jam a criminals radio waves. In Batman #48 (1948), he uses the Giant Penny to sever the head of his own Mechanical Dinosaur that has been taken over by a Batcave-intruder. (Actually, this happened quite a few times over the years. Crooks always seem to use that dinosaur against Batman. You would think he would just take out the working mechanisms.) Three hundred issues later, in Batman #348 (1982), Batman and Robin are shown moving the Batcave and having to deal with the transportation and unloading of the Giant Penny.
Like the Big Dice and the Chess Pieces, I don't know why the Giant Penny has become such an accepted icon of Batman. Joe Coyne certainly never joined the ranks of Batman's infamous rouges gallery. There are no casting call rumors for Joe Coyne in the next Batman flick. He didn't even show up on the TV show. But somehow that Giant Penny has become an enduring symbol of Batman. I like to think that even at Batman's grimmest ebb, it sits in the background as a reminder of a time when Batman was a more light-hearted and playful character. When his villains were less brutal and more comedic. When Batman was more Much Ado About Nothing and less Hamlet.
And I have no doubt that, in the decades to come when Batman celebrates his 100th anniversary, the Giant Penny will still be there.