Making the Grade: Ways to Contact Super-Heroes


The Bat-Signal
Criminals may be a cowardly lot, but it’s no less true that superheroes can be damned hard to find when you really need one. And since holding office hours and hiring receptionists goes against the whole “mystery man” credo, some heroes have come up with creative — one might even say flamboyant — ways for police and citizens to contact them. Probably the most famous of these is the Bat-Signal, a device tasked with blazing a trademarked bat symbol across the heavens (assuming optimal weather conditions) in the hopes of bringing Batman running to police headquarters (assuming he isn’t sleeping, down in his cave, out of town, already in pursuit of Arkham’s finest, or tied up and about to be dunked in a giant vat of frozen tapioca). Beacon of hope that defines the Gotham City skyline, or five-minute warning for every sniper in the greater Gotham area to get in position? You decide! B-

The Bat-Phone
“All righty, Mr. Wayne, your new phone line is installed and ready to go. Not sure what a rich fella like you needs with a blinking red phone that only dials one number, but hey, I don’t judge what you rich folks do. Heh, talk about coincidence — I just finished installing that exact same phone in Commissioner Gordon’s office, and you know what I heard Chief O’Hara call it? The ‘Bat-Phone’. Wait a second. That means you… you’re… Mr. Wayne, I swear I won’t tell anyone, honest… Noooooo!” And the pile of contractors, repairmen, Wayne Manor servants and former sidekicks at the bottom of the Batcave grows larger by one. Sure, Batman, your lectures about the importance of seat belts and good dental hygiene might someday save my life… but will they save your soul? C-

grade-signalwatchJimmy Olsen’s signal watch
Well, gosh, which superhero with super-hearing wouldn’t want to hear ZEE ZEE ZEEEEE screaming in their ears every time some freckle-faced suck-up gets his bow tie caught in a revolving door? I’m surprised Superman doesn’t hand out a special signal watch to every inbred loudmouth who brags to all his friends — well, “friends” — about how Superman is totally his personal bodyguard, gofer and all-around best pal. It totally makes sense that Superman would give this special watch to Jimmy, because if I had a chance to witness the final, excruciating moments of someone as thoroughly annoying as Jimmy, I wouldn’t want to miss the show, either. D

The Trouble Alert
Why? Why would a collection of the world’s most powerful super-heroes have a two-way videoconferencing system that any world leader, military commander, concerned educator or stay-at-home parent could dial up at a moment’s notice? Why did the thing always scream “TROUBLE ALERT” no matter who was on the line? Wasn’t it even remotely possible that maybe some world leader just wanted to catch up, maybe trade recipes? Why did the monitor screen change size from one episode to the next? Why did someone give the Wonder Twins a Teen Trouble Alert that any nosy teenager could use to get Zan and Jayna racing to their doorstep, because God knows teenagers are the perfect judges to determine what constitutes an actual life-or-death emergency? It’s these kinds of logical inconsistencies that keep me from enjoying an otherwise impeccably crafted episode of The Super FriendsC-

Hijacking radio/TV broadcasts
This is a tried-and-true method by super-villains to get the hero’s attention, and for good reason. It’s immediate, it plays into the villain’s sense of drama, and adding a few FCC violations to the ol’ rap sheet is small potatoes compared to the kidnappings, armed robberies and other acts of mayhem the villain is announcing to the world. This was probably a more reliable message delivery option back in the days when everyone closed their shops early and stayed home to watch I Love Lucy; these days, hijacking a TV broadcast probably means having to wait until the hero pulls up that week’s episode of Game of Thrones or The Big Bang Theory on his DVR for him to see your inserted message. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine your average attention-seeking super-villain not having a Twitter account these days to help publicize all his upcoming sprees, so maybe it all evens out. B+

Placing an ad in the paper
Remember the Spider-Man cartoon from the ’60s? Remember how the super-villains were always placing articles in the Daily Bugle to let Spider-Man know where they’ll be committing their next crime, or how Peter Parker was always getting fake stories placed in the paper to bring that episode’s villain out of hiding? It all seems so quaint now. What would the modern-day equivalent be, a really nasty message on the hero’s Facebook wall? The thing I love most about the old “place a challenge in the newspaper to goad the hero into action” gambit is imagining the villain hunched over his Underwood typewriter, searching for the perfect phrase to start his classified ad, and then haggling with the newspaper over whether “mwha-ha-ha” should count as one word or three: “Okay, so how much would it cost if I take out the ‘come face your destiny’ part? Because I’m really not married to that line.” C

Putting yourself in mortal peril
The favored method of the mentally ill and nosy reporter girlfriends — not to suggest those two groups are mutually exclusive. For obvious reasons, it’s a pretty extreme way of getting a hero to return your calls, and you can only pray he or she is nearby at the exact moment you step off that ledge, because that is going to be one awkward eulogy if the hero is off in another hemisphere stopping a typhoon or, you know, doing anything slightly more important than whatever personal crisis or work-related deadline you’re facing. I think my favorite example of this dubious method of hero-beckoning was Lois’s plunge into the Niagara River in Superman II — so confident was she that Clark would save her and reveal his secret identity, she didn’t even realize there were at least a half-dozen ways he could have saved her without changing his clothes. Now, if I were Clark, I would have let her drown, fly around the Earth to turn back time, then let her drown again, and then repeat a few more times just for the entertainment value. For this and many other reasons, it’s probably a good thing I’m not the last son of Krypton. D+


2 responses to “Making the Grade: Ways to Contact Super-Heroes

  1. Dear ComicLists, (I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to call you.)
    May I please steal the DVR scene for a story in my blog? It is a (bizarre) fanfiction involving the Joker and Deadpool. I would credit you, and put a link to your blog. Have an excellent day!
    Zarion Kreena/Zachary Krishef

  2. Hi Zarion/Zachary,
    Of course! No need to ask permission. We’re all just having fun here enjoying the silliness that is comic books, after all.

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