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DC Comics/Wikimedia Commons
DC Comics/Wikimedia Commons

7 Lesser-Known Members of the Batman Family

DC Comics/Wikimedia Commons
DC Comics/Wikimedia Commons

Everyone knows Robin, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, and (thanks to the Christopher Nolan movies) Lucius Fox. Fans with a deeper knowledge know Batgirl and Damian Wayne, Batman’s son. But there have been some extremely odd additions to the Bat-family over the years, most of whom were created during the bizarre Silver Age of comics (1956-1970) or in comics paying homage to that wacky era.

1. Ace the Bat-Hound

Krypto the Super-Dog, who first appeared in 1955, was the founding member of a series of DC superpets, such as Streaky the Super-Cat, Comet the Super-Horse, Beppo the Super-Monkey, and (cue Batman TV show theme music) Ace the Bat-Hound. This German shepherd in a domino mask debuted just a few months after Krypto, in a time when no sidekick was too far-fetched. These days, there’s a new Bat-Hound in town: Damian Wayne’s dog Titus was introduced in 2011 and is named after Titus Andronicus. Titus the dog is far more adorable than the play.

2. Mogo the Bat-Ape

In the 50s, one of the Ten Commandments of Comics was “Apes sell,” and there was a mania to put gorillas on comic book covers. When ape fever met Bat-character overload, the result was Mogo—a circus ape who followed Batman and Robin back to the Batcave. As Michael Eury observed in Comics Gone Ape: The Missing Link to Primates in Comics, “Sheesh, if a beast was smart enough to do that, why couldn’t the Penguin or the Joker?” Like Ace, Mogo ended up in a Bat-costume, because even non-human furballs apparently have a secret identity to protect.

3. Batman Jones

Not to be confused with the child on The League named Chalupa Batman, this odd 50s character was a baby named Batman after the Caped Crusader saved him. Batman Jones’s destiny was sealed when Batman took the time to build him a Bat-Coop as a playpen. When Jones became a teen, he put on a Batman costume and tried living up to his name, which caused problems for the real McBat. After plenty of shenanigans, Jones gave up on being Batman and started collecting stamps, because teens are fickle (and writer and Batman co-creator Bill Finger was apparently stumped).

4. Batzarro

While not exactly a sidekick, Batzarro, who appeared briefly in 1966 and 2005, is one of the oddest Bat-characters ever. Just as Bizarro is the “imperfect duplicate” of Superman, Batzarro is Batman’s opposite. While Batman hates guns because his parents were gunned down in Crime Alley, Batzarro uses guns to shoot people in Crime Alley. Batman is the world’s greatest detective, and Batzarro is the worst. Like Bizarro, Batzarro isn’t a straight-up bad guy: he’s more of a confused Bat-Doofus.

5. Bat-Cow

When Grant Morrison began a lengthy Batman run in 2006, he took a unique approach: writing the character as if every Batman story ever, from the wacky TV show to Japanese manga versions, was part of the character’s continuity. This included the wacky 1950s stories featuring Ace and Mogo, who Morrison paid tribute to in the form of Bat-Cow, a genetically modified cow whose markings resemble a Bat-mask. In 2012’s Batman Incorporated #1, Batman and Damian rescued the cow from bad guys, and Bat-Cow has since appeared periodically as comic relief. Nothing breaks the tension during a tense day in the Batcave like a well-timed “moo.”

6. The Batmen of All Nations

The group, created in 1955, was half-weird and half-realistic, exploring a likely effect someone like Batman would have on the world: he would spawn imitators. The Batmen of All Nations were a group of international crimefighters, all inspired by the Dark Knight: The Knight and Squire from England, the Ranger from Australia, El Gaucho from South America, the Musketeer from France, and the Legionary from Italy. This group returned in a terrific 2006 story by Grant Morrison and J.H. Williams called “The Island of Mister Mayhew.” That group evolved into Batman Incorporated, which included another ’50s hero inspired by Batman: Man-of-the-Bats, a Native American Batman.

7. Bat-Mite

The nuttiest Bat-ally of all might be Bat-Mite: an imp from the fifth dimension who tries to “help” Batman and only ends up causing trouble. Like Superman’s foe Mister Mxyzptlk, Bat-Mite has reality-warping powers that make you wonder if the writers and artists were on LSD. Such fifth-dimensional cosmic wackiness is a long way from the gritty crime drama most associate with Batman these days; it’s even goofier than the 1960s TV show. But it shows the versatility of Batman: he can go anywhere, from Crime Alley to the fifth dimension and back.

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
iStock
iStock

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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