It’s a great question. Batman has a giant dinosaur in his Bat-Cave for some reason – but where did it come from, and why does he have it? For the answer, we have to head right back in time to issue #35 of the original Batman comic book.
The Bat-Cave is an ever-changing place: depending on the artist, Batman’s base can either be small and cramped; or a seven-storey wonder of catwalks and platforms, all sat underneath the natural nesting place of what are now thousands of bats. No two artists consider the Bat-Cave the same way, which makes it a constant surprise whenever Batman heads downstairs and we get to see what new arrangement has been concocted for us this time.
There are some constants, however. Usually there’s a big chair for Batman to brood in, a big computer system with hundreds of monitors branching off from it, and space for approximately sixty different forms of vehicle. After the death of Jason Todd, Batman took his sidekick’s costume and encased it in glass, as a tribute and reminder of sacrifices made. He even kept it up once Jason came back to life, which must make it pretty awkward when Jason pops round.
And then there are the trophies from past battles. Batman has a fair few trophies in his Bat-Cave. Three of them, in particular, always seem to show up:
- A giant coin
- An oversized “Joker” card
- An animatronic T-Rex.
None of them make particular sense when you first see them, but in fact all these trophies hark back to some of the earliest Batman adventures, back when Bill Finger was first defining and developing his creation.
The dinosaur, in particular, first shows up as part of the Bat-Cave back in Batman #10, although it isn’t explained how it got there until 25 issues later, when “Dinosaur Island” gives us what’s generally assumed to be the origin story for Batman’s guard-dog.
The issue starts in the office of showman Murray Wilson Hart, who looks a bit like Jack Kirby… as does every other man in the story. He’s trying to work out the next big show he can operate, and settles on an island populated with dinosaurs – years before Michael Crichton had the same idea. He manages to get the whole thing approved within minutes, it seems, buying the island and arranging the dinosaurs within minutes of first having the idea. When he reaches the island the next day, we find out that the dinosaurs are all going to be robotic, and have nearly been completed. Robot cavemen will throw foam rocks at visitors.
There’ll be a dinner on the opening night – which I’m guessing is probably in fifteen minutes’ time, given the productivity Hart has – at which big game hunters will be treated to woolly mammoth steaks. Batman and Robin have agreed to be the guests of honour to the whole thing, as they are also big game hunters… as they hunt “man”. That is tenuous, and also I don’t know why Batman would agree to go to this event. It’s more of a Bruce Wayne gig, surely?
The press meet Batman at the press conference, and immediately a bald Jack Kirby lookalike challenges him to spend 36 hours on the island with nothing but his wits – whilst the journalist controls the dinosaurs and attempts to catch him. The journalist offers a $5000 prize if Batman can escape the dinosaurs, which just goes to show how rich journalists used to be back in the day. Batman and Robin accept, and the next day they arrive on the island with just their costumes to keep them safe.
Unfortunately one of hart’s employees has a moustache, which reveals him to be a scoundrel, and he beats up the journalist with a cudgel in order to take control of the dinosaurs. His plan is to kill Batman and Robin! For… reasons!
His first plan is to use the cavemen, and programs them to throw cardboard spears at Batman, who laughs them off. When they go to throw a rock, however, it’s real, and only Robin’s quick reflexes can protect Batman from being squashed. When pressed, Robin explains “I saw sunlight glinting on its shining surface!” which doesn’t seem like a feature of many of the boulders I’ve seen before. Next, a dinosaur called a Styracosauras charges as the pair, who dodge out the way and into a river. Batman starts to get suspicious now.
They climb onto an island, only to find that the island is a sea monster which flings Robin to land. Cutting back to the water, we see Batman being bitten almost in half along with the helpful caption “Batman is in trouble!” He manages to grab a branch and shove it down the robot’s throat, disrupting the circuitry, so he can escape. This is all really enjoyable stuff, you know.
By this point Batman is aware that somebody is actually trying to kill them (and it should be noted that he’s technically lost the charity bet on account of being partially eaten by a sea monster, but let’s not dwell on that) and asks for answers. This being a better age, the villain gladly offers them. “The name is Chase! We met at the dinner, remember?” He then goes on to yell “tally ho” repeatedly at the Dynamic Duo before sending the cavemen in again for another fight.
Batman knocks the head off one whilst Robin shoots another with an arrow. They carefully announce that these are robots and not humans they’re killing, just in case the Comics Code Authority are paying attention. Without warning, the cavemen suddenly withdraw, as Chase announces that he’s going to give them a night off – and will be back for them in the morning. Crowing about his success, he describes this as being a game of chess.
So… his next move as Grandmaster is to ride an animatronic T-Rex straight up to Batman so he can eat our hero, which isn’t quite the complex and innovative strategic move I was expecting. Batman has a plan though, and is acting as bait! Because Robin has tied himself to the back of a pterodactyl, pulled back a palm tree to he can climb on top, and is now waiting to use the tree as a catapault. Flying overhead and using the robot as a kite, he throws a waterbomb at Chase’s control panel and celebrates as all the dinosaurs collapse at once.
THIS IS WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT.
Batman gleefully uppercuts Chase off a stegosaurus, and puts him in a cage. When the press arrive at the end of the day, the caped crusader points them in his direction, safe in the knowledge that these dinosaurs won’t be used to harm people again. And given the fact that later on DC forget all about this island in order to create a SECOND Dinosaur Island which they use in future stories, that seems like a fairly safe bet, really.
Batman gets his dinosaur from the island, we’re supposed to realise, although that happens off-panel. I don’t know what it’s meant to remind him of. The Jason Todd costume reminds him of the people he’s lost, and he has a letter from his dad which reminds him to never forget his past family. The dinosaur, though… as a reminder to never take esoteric bets thrown out to him by journalists that involve dinosaurs, robots, and highly specific survival odds? Makes for a nice feature piece for the room, though. Good Feng Shui.
Batman #35: “Dinosaur Island”
Written by Bill Finger
Pencilled by Paul Cooper
Inked by Ray Burnley
Lettered by Ira Schnapp