Like many small towns, in an era lost to time, Wilmington was home to a G.C. Murphy store that sat directly across the alley from the Allen Photography Studios on North South Street.
The five-and-10-cent store was popular because of their reasonable prices, bulk candy and, in my case, the enormous rack of comic books.
I was a steady customer, buying one comic book per week, usually DC Comics’ superheroes, Batman or Superman.
Each evening, from December to December, tucked in tight, and before I drifted off to sleep, I read my comic books.
One significant date I remember from my readings is April 17th. Over the centuries much has happened on that date. Christopher Columbus inked a contract with Queen Isabella to find a passage to Asia and the Indies. The Roman Catholic Church excommunicated Martin Luther. Sir Neville Chamberlain invented the game “snooker,” and Bruce Wayne, the crime-fighting Batman, was born in Gotham City, New Jersey.
Batman was a good man, but like all good men, he had critics. The Joker, his chief antagonist, was his worst critic.
One of the writers of the Batman series described the Joker with these words: “Next to nothing is known about the Joker, except that he worked as an enforcer for various crime bosses before becoming the ‘Clown Prince of Crime’.
“The Joker first encountered Batman during a botched robbery at the Ace Chemical Factory. He escaped by leaping into a drainage vat of chemical waste, but later discovered the toxins bleached his skin chalk white, dyed his hair fluorescent green, and stretched his lips into a hideous, permanent red grin. It’s easy to understand why such a transformation snapped his already unstable mind.
“The Joker’s methods are simple: gain pleasure in breaking every law and moral decree known to man. His trademark is the laughing gas Smilex, a chemical that infects his victims with the same ghastly grin as his own. Extremely intelligent despite his lunacy, to the Joker, Gotham City is merely a stage on which he performs.”
On one particular day, Robin the Boy Wonder was beside himself. He and Batman had been searching for the Joker who had brainwashed a young cheerleader into going to work for him.
“Is it possible, Batman?” Robin asked.
“It’s an old story, I’m afraid, Old Chum, as old as Eve and the Apple. That snake, the Joker, must have promised her some baubles and led her astray,” Batman responded.
Later that evening, Batman and Robin were looking for the Joker. They entered a swanky nightclub where, for some strange reason, the Joker was scheduled to sing later that evening.
The purpose of the Dynamic Duo’s visit was to conduct an undercover surveillance of their fiendish friend, hoping to blend seamlessly into the formally attired merrymakers.
As the clock struck eight o’clock, Batman and Robin entered the front door of the nightclub dressed in their full crime-fighting regalia and radiant uniforms.
Batman was wearing dark boots, a large black cape with blue leotards, a utility belt, and the famous facemask that resembled a large bat’s face.
Robin’s outfit was compiled of bright green tights covered with a dazzling red overlay that covered his chest. Next to his heart was the large emblazoned “R,” along with a huge green cape that covered the young man’s backside.
A regular patron, Susie Knickerbocker, stopped them, saying, “Batman, I think those are darling little costumes you’re wearing. Where did you get them, in London or Rome?”
“No, we believe in patronizing local craftsmen,” Batman responded.
As the two crimefighters entered the establishment, the maître d’ immediately recognizing the famed duo, approached them and asked, “You are here a bit soon, aren’t you gentlemen?”
“Better three hours too soon than one minute too late,” Batman said.
“I have a reservation for both you and your son,” the maître d’ said.
After an uncomfortable pause, Batman said, “Although I’d be proud if he was, this is not my son. This is Robin the Boy Wonder.”
“Batman, would you like a table down front?” the maître d’ asked.
“No,” Batman replied, “We don’t want to be conspicuous.”
Pat Haley is a Clinton County native and former county commissioner and sheriff.