Making my way down the aisles of Derby City Comic Con, I saw fans dressed as their favorite characters and artists with their sketches and books for sale—many of both categories include the Caped Crusader in one form or another. Batman came into the world in 1939, seven years after Johnny Cash, and is still going strong today. He’s been featured in comic books, prose novels, movie serials, a television series, and several successful and high-profile movies. For several years after his inception he was portrayed as a gritty, vengeance-driven hero that worked outside, or sometimes against, the law. The character slowly morphed into something different adding in science fiction aspects and storylines. After that the camp of the 1960s television show crept into the comics before writers and artists took him down another path turning him into the World’s Greatest Detective and placing him in more street level situations. A successful movie franchise started in 1989, but died out after the fourth film, but Batman Begins rebooted the Batman movie franchise in 2005 meeting with critical acclaim and commercial success while 2008’s The Dark Knight grew the franchise on both counts. The movies featured an angst filled Bruce Wayne learning to become the Dark Knight and it was apparently what fans of the character were hungry for. In November 2008, riding the wave of success generated by the movie, a new animated series called Batman: The Brave and The Bold debuted pairing Batman with other superheroes and presenting a more kid-friendly version of the hero.
Now, what’s all this got to do with Johnny Cash? Well, two things. First they both have gone through several eras of identity, each different than the last, and some seemingly contradictory to a past or future identity. Fans of both Batman and Cash love to cherry pick their favorite aspects of both and decry–or completely ignore–the aspects they don’t love. Midway through the first season of Batman: The Brave and The Bold Bat-Mite appears. Introduced to the comic world in 1959, Bat-Mite is from the 5th dimension and has inter-dimensional reality-warping powers. He is also Batman’s biggest fan. In this episode he appears and continues to pit Batman against ever growing threats to illustrate why Batman is the world’s greatest hero. First he morphs Batman into a new costume and in doing so runs through several of the characters comic book incarnations from his early suits to his Frank Miller Dark Knight Returns gritty look. He then pits Batman against one of his rogues gallery, which turns out to be the Z-list villain Calendar Man, who Batman quickly defeats. Bat-Mite then morphs Calendar Man into an over-muscled villain with a multitude of holiday inspired goons at his disposal. The episode is an attempt to showcase how more than one aspect of the character can coexist without negating the history of Batman. At one point in the episode Batman and Bat-Mite are on the stage of a comic convention, joined by the creators of the show, looking out over a sea of fans dressed like Batman and Joker. One fan steps to the microphone and says that he always felt Batman was best served as a gritty crimefighter and that the lighter version has no place in the characters mythos. After the creators quickly confer they hand a piece of paper to Bat-Mite who reads: “Batman’s rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways. To be sure, this is a lighter incarnation, but is certainly no less valid and true to the character’s roots as the tortured avenger, crying out for mommy and daddy.”
The same goes for Johnny Cash. Many love the dark elder statesman of the American Recordings era and want to completely forget about the playful jester who recorded Everybody Loves A Nut. Or their vision of Cash stalking the stage of Folsom Prison can’t be reconciled with Cash strolling the stage of a Billy Graham Crusade. But in both cases, as Bat-Mite said, are “certainly no less valid and true to the character’s roots.”
But that’s the great thing about Johnny Cash. With such a long career that produced over eighty albums there is truly something for everyone.
The second thing they have in common, they’ve both starred in sequential art.
As I was putting together the Johnny Cash FAQ, I had originally written a chapter about Cash’s comic appearances. As I got further along in the book I decided to focus on the music, so this chapter didn’t really fit in with the rest of the book. But I thought it was fun enough to save rather than just scrap. So now I offer it to you for signing up for my mailing list. I promise your address stays with me and I’m not going to bug you all of the time. (If you really want the chapter but don’t have any desire to be on the mailing list, email me and I’ll get it to you.)