Today's weekly Robin starts with an extract from a short story titled "The Joker's Greatest Triumph":
With a swift movement, The Joker crashed the armored car into the side of the Terminal Building!That may read like fanfiction, down to the casual disregard for commas (especially around nouns of direct address). It may read like something Penrod would write, albeit with shorter sentences. But in fact it's the early work of a postmodernist master!
"Great Scott!" Fredric said to himself. "Batman is stunned! He's helpless!"
"You foiled my plans Batman," The Joker said, "but before the police get here, I'm going to lift that mask of yours and find out who you really are! HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!"
Fredric watched, horror-stricken. "Great Scott! The Joker has unmasked Batman! Now he knows that Batman is really Bruce Wayne!"
At this moment Robin, who was supposed to be at Andover, many miles away, landed the Batplane on the airstrip and came racing toward the wrecked armored car! But The Joker, alerted, grasped a cable lowered by a hovering helicopter and was quickly lifted skyward! Robin paused at the armored car and put the mask back on Batman's face!
"Hello Robin!" Fredric called. "I thought you were at Andover!"
"I was but I got a sudden feeling Batman needed me so I flew here in the Batplane," Robin said. "How've you been?"
"Fine," Fredric said. "But we left the Batplane in the garage, back at the Bat-Cave. I don't understand."
"We have two of everything," Robin explained. "Although it's not generally known."
"The Joker's Greatest Triumph" appeared in Come Back, Dr. Caligari, the first short-story collection from Donald Barthelme, subject of a laudatory new biography. Barthelme's second wife recalled that he wrote it in the "spring of 1961" and then struggled to sell it to a magazine. However, the title and some details are lifted from Batman, #148, which had a date of June 1962.
Barthelme's story finally saw print in his book in 1964, coincidentally the year of the "New Look" Batman. That was of course before the Batman TV show, the big Hollywood movies, or the rise of fanfiction as a hobby of thousands. Barthelme played in the Batman sandbox shortly after Roy Lichtenstein started adapting comic-book panels into his fine art, when such appropriation was so novel and brazen that it had to be originality rather than the opposite.
What should we make of Fredric, the faceless observer who's nonetheless privy to Bruce Wayne's secret identity and liquor cabinet? (Barthelme was a lifelong drinker.) He's the biggest new element in the story, such as it is. Is he a "Mary Sue"? No, Fredric's not interesting enough to be wish-fulfillment for the author. But I note that Barthelme wrote this tale when his younger brother Frederick was still in his teens.
[ADDENDUM: The original comics story titled "The Joker's Greatest Triumph!" appears in the Batman in the Sixties collection.]