Between Gotham City and Casablanca

I’m pretty sure I’m not breaking any new ground by stating that Casablanca is one of the most enjoyable films ever made. This 1942 classic about heartbreak and antifascism in a French colony bursting with contraband and political intrigue manages to succeed on several different levels: it is a compelling spy thriller, a memorable romantic drama, an effective piece of WWII propaganda, and shockingly funny to boot.

It’s not just that Casablanca has a powerful story and witty dialogue – the movie also has the cast to carry them. With his sardonic lisp and weary look, Humphrey Bogart nails even the most unlikely exchanges as Rick Blaine, like when Captain Renault (Claude Rains) asks him what brought him to Casablanca and he replies: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters. When Renault doubts Rick – “What waters? We’re in the desert.” – Bogie coolly throws him off with the dry line: I was misinformed.(even though technically he wouldn’t have been misinformed, since Casablanca is in fact on the coast, not in the desert).

Casablanca

This Warner production was considered a success already at the time, both at the box office and critically, winning awards for best picture, director, and screenplay. Casablanca soon spawned a number of more or less explicit attempts to mimic its formula, including – among many others – To Have and Have Not, The Conspirators, and Five Graves to Cairo. After the war, you would continue to find echoes of its themes and atmosphere on the big screen for decades to come, from the noirish The Third Man to the frothy Macao – all the way up to last year’s Allied (where Brad Pitt plays a straight-faced version of the scene he played for laughs at the climax of Inglourious Basterds).

Casablanca‘s enduring resonance in pop culture cannot be overstated. In 1946, the Marx Brothers spoofed its opening scenes in A Night in Casablanca (one of their lesser vehicles, but with a few funny gags and one-liners nonetheless). By 1972, you could still get away with something like Play It Again, Sam, a charming comedy essentially revolving around references to this Hollywood masterpiece. In the mid-nineties, there was a trashy cyberpunk remake, starring Pamela Anderson.

Comics have celebrated Casablanca as much as any other media while taking advantage of its reputation. For example, Bill Pearson and Don Newton recreated the setting and characters in ‘The Mystery of the Mali Ibex’ (Phantom #70), a clever mash-up of Bogart flicks, including riffs on The Maltese Falcon, To Have and Have Not, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Key Largo, and The African Queen. The people at Rick’s Café Américain also showed up in Martin Pasko’s and Tom Yeates’ ‘Here’s Lookin’ At You, Kid’ (The Saga of the Swamp Thing #8), where Vietnam vets magically brought to life elements from various old films.

Needless to say, Casablanca has been incorporated into some comics featuring the citizens of Gotham City as well. Writer Paul Kupperberg integrated the final scene (in which an unlikely friendship emerges between two characters who had recently threatened to kill each other) into two of his series. In the 1985 Vigilante story ‘Shadow of a Madman!’ – with art by Tod Smith and Rick Magyar, colored by Tatjana Wood – the movie is playing on television when Nightwing gets into a fight with Adrian Chase over Vigilante’s latest killing spree…

Vigilante 21Vigilante 21Vigilante #21

The scene goes on throughout the issue. At one point, the broadcast is interrupted by a special news report that clears up Adrian Chase’s involvement in the killings. As a result, the two heroes make up just in time for Casablanca’s famous closing line:

Vigilante 21Vigilante #21

Paul Kupperberg pulled the same trick three years later in the spy series Checkmate!, about the titular secret agency run by Harry Stein. In the issue ‘A Thorn in Her Side’ (art by Steve Erwin and Al Vey, colors by Julianna Ferriter), the psycho vigilante Black Thorn meets up with Harvey Bullock – the former Gotham cop, at the time working for the feds – during a screening of Casablanca, once again mirroring the character dynamics of the film’s ending…

Checkmate 8Checkmate 8Checkmate! #8

(To be fair, it had already been established that Harvey Bullock was a Casablanca fan… We saw that he had a poster of the movie in his apartment, in Detective Comics #549, and he was shown singing ‘As Time Goes By’ in the very first issue of Checkmate! Years later, in Batman #547, Bullock claimed to have seen it seventy-three times.)

Another writer who referenced the film a couple of times was Chuck Dixon. In ‘Smash Cut/Losing the Light’ (Detective Comics #672-673) – art by Graham Nolan and Scott Hanna, colors by Adrienne Roy – the Joker sought to not just kill Batman, but to turn his death into a cinematic production. In line with the Hollywood theme of the plot, the Clown Prince of Crime temporarily adopted Humphrey Bogart’s persona:

Detective Comics 672Detective Comics #672

In 1994, Chuck Dixon played with Casablanca in a more amusing way, on the pages of a short story starring the Psyba-Rats. The Psyba-Rats were a fun trio of Gothamite thieves who unfortunately never really caught on… Dixon introduced them in Robin Annual #3, then brought them back in Showcase ’94 and in his run on Catwoman as well as in their own self-titled mini-series (all of these were pretty cool!). The gimmick was that two members of the team had odd, alien-induced mutations, with one of them – Channelman – being able to navigate through television airwaves.

In ‘What’s Your Twenty’ (pencils by Howard Porter, inks by Mark Stegbauer, colors by Greg Rosewall), guess what Channelman did with his weird powers…

showcase '94 #3Showcase ’94 #3

Finally, let me draw your attention to the Batman Adventures issue ‘Last Tango in Paris’ (written by Kelley Puckett, penciled by Mike Parobeck, inked by Rick Burchett, colored by Rick Taylor). During his opening run on this title, Puckett covered plenty of different subgenres, from capers to mysteries, from hardboiled crime to screwball comedy. ‘Last Tango in Paris’ is the series’ take on romantic adventure, with the Dark Knight and Talia al Ghul travelling to Paris in order to track down a valuable statue, only to find themselves captured by a villain who looks like a cross between Sydney Greenstreet’s characters in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.

What’s more, the tale ends with a twist on yet another classic line:

batman adventures #13The Batman Adventures #13

 

NEXT: Doug Moench unleashed.

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