The June 1970 issue of the DC Comics title Batman, written by Frank Robbins, parodied the rumour with a story entitled "Dead...Till Proven Alive" in which it is rumored that "Saul" from the band The Oliver Twists was deceased and replaced with a double. A twist ending revealed that an accident had killed every member of the Oliver Twists but Saul. The album that Robin is holding on the cover of the comic book mimics the back cover image on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Issue: No. 222
Date: June, 1970
Publisher: National Periodical Publications, Inc. (DC Comics)
Cover Artist(s): Neal Adams
"It’s Oddball Julius Schwartz Comics Week! Will Batman meet the Beatles -- or will he beat the Beatles? If Paul McCartney isn’t dead, he’ll wish he were – after today’s hard-to-beat Oddball Comic!"
Although their first American record album is titled MEET THE BEATLES (1964), here’s a decidedly Oddball BATMAN cover that looks like the Caped Crusader is about to BEAT THE BEATLES!
He’s been officially retired for a few years, but DC Comics’ editor emeritus Julius Schwartz remains one of comicdom’s greatest editors. One of Julie’s specialties (along with an editorial approach which always reflected an obvious respect for his reader’s intelligence) was concocting brilliantly strange cover situations that required, nay, demanded, the reader to pick up (and hopefully, purchase) the comic it adorned. In the tradition of the pulp magazines of the 1920s through the 1940s, editor Julie often commissioned one of his stable of artists – often the great Murphy Anderson – to draw up a visually arresting and mentally challenging cover, then assign a writer to create a script “around” the cover situation! I have no idea if he used that process to create this cover scene, but the concept of Batman and Robin meeting the Beatles – or at least a band that could easily pass for them – was an outrageously Oddball situation. It was a timely one as well, especially considering that, although the Beatles were in the process of breaking up at the time of this story’s publication, the cover-story “Dead…Till Proven Alive!” was a direct play on the then-still-current “Paul is dead” rumor.
During this period, DC Comics was desperately attempting to court the so-called “youth” market, the comic-reading segment of which usually ignored DC’s product in favor of Marvel’s hipper approach to its material. Although it’s doubtful if editor Julius Schwartz, Frank Robbins or Irv Novick (all well into middle age) were Beatle fans – or even “got” the Beatles at all – but apparently, they were counting on these pseudo-Beatles to lure young readers away from their competition.
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According to some folks, the photo on the cover of the Beatles’ 1969 album ABBEY ROAD (which this cover emulates, from a different angle) – as well as many other Beatles songs, films and album covers -- contained numerous “clues” that all pointed to the same, “secret”. Supposedly, Paul McCartney had died, with a lookalike stand-in performing in his place! Brought into public awareness by a Detroit radio disc jockey in 1969, the “Paul is dead” rumor maintained that “the cute Beatle” had been fatally injured in a car accident, due to a massive head trauma. This led to a supposed cover-up, one that was intentionally “leaked” in a number of creative ways by the surviving Beatles themselves, including backwards-recorded song lyrics claiming that “Paul is dead”. Of course, like many such conspiracy theories, the famous rumor failed to hold up in under close scrutiny. But that didn’t prevent it from becoming one of the most enduringly bizarre popular legends of rock ‘n’ roll. (These days, it looks like the Paul McCartney we all knew and loved has been replaced with someone’s grandmother.)
This issue’s 16-page cover-story, “Dead…Till Proven Alive!”, was written by Frank Robbins, penciled by Irv Novick and inked by Dick Giordano. The tale opens in Hudson University’s men’s dormitory, where teenage Dick (Robin The Boy Wonder) Grayson and his student pals are listening to a radio broadcast of “Summer Knights”, the latest record by the top British rock ‘n’ roll group, the Oliver Twists. The music group is currently surrounded by a mysterious rumor that one of their members, Saul Cartwright, actually died in a motorcycle accident a year earlier! Experimenting with a reel-to-reel tape recorder, playing Oliver Twist tunes at varying speeds – even backwards – Dick’s dorm-mates search for more clues to Cartwright’s condition. When the radio deejay announces that the Twists will be coming to Gotham City, Dick pulls some strings with his wealthy ward, Bruce (Batman) Wayne -- who just happens to be a major stockholder in the Twists’ label, Eden Records -- arranging for the band to have some peace and quiet at Wayne Manor during their stateside stay. Wearing their “Sgt. Pepper” style uniforms, the band – consisting of Saul, Glennan, Benji and Hal – enjoy the hospitality, apparently unaware that they’re being observed, recorded and analyzed by their American hosts – who just happen to be Batman and Robin! The Dynamic Duo soon discover that Saul’s speaking voice doesn’t match his singing voice, but when Robin tries to get his hands on the Twist-er’s mini-recorder for a singing sample, he gets clobbered. Later, they attempt to trick the Oliver Twists into singing “Happy Birthday” to Alfred the butler (here’s a nice shot of the proceedings, showing just how uncannily the Oliver Twists – well, all but Saul Cartwright, that is -- greatly resemble the Beatles), but without a solo performance, their sonogram-analyzer can’t get an accurate reading. When Batman bugs their outgoing phone calls, he learns that the pseudo-Beatles have booked a local recording studio for some test-taping that evening. But when they caped crimefighters show up at the studio, hoping to obtain a tape of Saul’s singing voice, they’re ambushed by a quartet of gun-wielding hoods! Suspecting that Saul (whatever his actual identity) is responsible for setting the unsuccessful trap, Batman and Robin confront the assembled Oliver Twists. Suddenly, Glennan (the Twists’ John Lennon lookalike) pulls a gun on the caped crusaders, but working together, Saul and Robin disarm him. Finally, tearful Saul reveals the truth behind the rumors:
I’M not the phony – THEY are!
You heard me right! These lads are the PUT-ONS! Because GLENNAN >sob<, BENJI…HAL…my good old buddies…they’re DEAD! Killed last year in a crash of a private jet that was taking them to groove with the mysteries of the East! They’re >sob< lying buried somewhere in the trackless snows of the HIMALAYAS! I thought I could keep them “ALIVE” to their devoted fans the world over…by recruiting THREE UNKNOWN LOOK-ALIKES to stand-in for them! Some minor plastic-surgery and almost a year of coaching – and they were good! REAL GOOD! But the big trick was to prevent any wild rumors of their death springing up – and upsetting the applecart! So I dreamed up my “death” – as a decoy to focus all curiosity on me! That way, who would even begin to suspect that ANYTHING had happened to my three team-mates? And then – THEY flew back, out of their incommunicado junket, in a DUPLICATE plane – right back into the HEARTS of their DEVOTEES! I – I only tried to preserve their “IMAGE” – but I hadn’t figured on this ONE weak link! Chumley’s GREED! Which made him go to any length to protect our fraudulent group…and the FASTEST INCOME he’s ever seen in his whole miserable life!
I believe now that you set up this cockeyed scheme with the noblest of motives, Saul – but like all dishonest put-ons, it BACK-FIRED! You realize now that the world has to learn the TRUE STORY, Saul! But if you face up to it and level with them, your fans will understand!
As WE do! Besides, if these boys are as “real good” as you say they are – you may have a new group and a new sound!
Soon, Saul leads his new “smash trio” – now called “The Phoenix” – in a live concert at Hudson University.
It's interesting to note that a bonus track on Faul/Bills 2007 album "Memory Almost Full" contains a track simply titled "222" -