The 1960s were good for both the Beatles and comic books. The Beatles broke onto the scene in that decade, became an international sensation and left a path of screaming teenage girls in their wake. It was also the decade when comic books came back from the brink of annihilation and experienced a renewed popularity which insured its survival for decades to come.
It is only natural that there would be a crossover between the worlds of comic books and the Beatles. However, three specific Beatles-inspired comic books act as a snapshot of the stages of development of the band throughout the years and also illustrate the perception many had on the group at that particular time in history.
In the early ’60s, at the height of Beatlemania, putting the Beatles on any piece of merchandise was like printing money. There were bubblegum cards, posters, and even Beatles wigs that looked like the boys’ distinctive hairstyle. That last item plays a role in our first comic book story.
Strange Tales was an anthology title in the early ’60s. Each issue had two stories, Doctor Strange starred in one story and the Human Torch and Thing from the Fantastic Four in the other. The cover to 1965 Strange Tales #130 featured the latter two wearing Beatle wigs and proclaiming proudly that the heroes would “Meet the Beatles.”
Well, “meet” was a bit of a stretch. The heroes had dates with their significant others for a Beatles concert but were drawn away to chase after crooks that robbed the venue’s box office. The crooks, who were wearing Beatles wigs themselves, delayed the duo long enough that they missed the concert, which was a shame because it was probably one of the last concerts the Beatles ever did.
This story shows both the magnitude of the Beatles popularity and how some adults really didn’t understand it. Stan Lee was 42 when this story was written. He didn’t know why the Beatles were popular, just that they were. Even though the story is titled “Meet the Beatles”, the band only appears in eight panels of a 12-page story and utters not even one line of dialogue. Lee knew the Beatles would sell copies, but didn’t really want to make an effort to find out enough about the band to make them part of the story.
The Beatles play a larger part in the next story, yet not as the Beatles. I’ll explain.
In 1970, the Beatles were on the verge of breaking up. But the powers that be at DC Comics didn’t know that when they put out Batman #222. They were familiar, however, with a popular urban legend surrounding the band that first arrived on the scene the year before.
The legend, as most Beatles fans know, is the “Paul is Dead” rumor. The rumor stated that on November 9, 1966, after a recording session for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band, Paul McCartney got into a fatal car accident after leaving the studio. The rest of the band, as the story goes, searched for a Paul look-and-sound-a-like as replacement and carried on like nothing ever happened. However, clues to the ruse could be found by playing “Revolution #9” backwards and on the cover to Abbey Road.
The Batman creative team decided to have the Dark Knight Detective investigate the facts behind Paul’s supposed death. But, perhaps to avoid any legal action, the names of the parties involved were changed. The Beatles became The Oliver Twists, and Paul, John, George and Ringo became Saul, Glennan, Hal and Benji.
Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman, on the urging of his ward Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Robin (who was in college at the time), invites the visiting Oliver Twists to stay at Wayne Manor. While there, Bruce/Batman performs all manner of acoustic tests on Saul’s voice to verify he is the real deal. Of course, while Batman is trying to find out the truth, someone is trying hard to protect it, even going so far as to set up a team of assassins as a trap for Batman and Robin.
In a twist on the real urban lesson, Saul is the only authentic “Twist-er” and the rest of the band are actors hired to replace the originals who died in a plane crash years before. The person who set up the hit on Batman and Robin was Glennan, who didn’t want his gravy train to come to an end.
It’s ironic that a story that so respected the band’s longevity would come out the same year the band would go its separate ways. While definitely an attempt to appeal to a younger demographic, pains were made to keep true to the spirit of the band they were imitating. The story was definitely a take-off on a real-life rumor surrounding the band, but it was executed with attention to detail and a weird sort of respect for the Fab Four and their fans.
By 2008, the Beatles had been disbanded for almost 40 years, but their legend had grown to almost mythic proportions. Every aspect of their careers and lives took on an epic quality. The final story I am going to talk about taps into this.
In a nutshell, Vertigo’s Greatest Hits was what the Beatles’ life story would be like if they wore spandex and had superpowers. The six-issue miniseries follows a British superteam called the Mates from its heyday in the 1960s until the present day through the eyes of a documentary filmmaker with a connection to the team.
The team’s story follows many of the same touchstones as the Beatles’ story. Instead of Pete Best we get a superstrong hero named Golem. Instead of a Japanese-American photographer threatening to break up the group, we get an African-American vigilante.
Comics have often used characters from Greek and Norse mythology to populate their books. What we see with Greatest Hits is that the Beatles have become the new mythology. They are larger than life and their impact will be felt for years to come. Their story will provide the inspiration for many stories now and in the future.