Artifact: Human Action Comics

Ideas may run the world. But no idea stalled in the world of professional intellectuals can run far. F.A. Hayek wrote that, to thrive, ideas must be spread by such "second-hand dealers in ideas" as journalists and teachers.

But what about a venue as purportedly third-rate as popular comics? At left, Hayek's mentor, the economist and philosopher Ludwig Von Mises, (1881-1973) is the surprising offstage hero in a recent issue of the DC comic Batman Chronicles, which uses the Batman concept in unusual settings. In a tale set in 1939, the "Berlin Batman" (by day the wealthy painter "Baruch Wane") tries to foil the Nazis' theft of Mises's papers. That theft really happened; the papers fell into Soviet hands after World War II and were thought lost until a Mises biographer found them in 1996.

Written and drawn by Paul Pope, the highly stylized comic is resolutely ideological in Mises's support. A postscript in the voice of the Berlin Batman's ward, Robin (here a young woman), describes how "Von Mises' anti-authoritarian ideas were first a threat to the Nazis, then the Soviets, and to all increasingly regulatory governments in our own times. He was against socialism in all its many forms. He was an advocate of individual liberty, free speech, and free thinking...and so, should I add, was the Berlin Batman."

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