Batgirl, alias Barbara Gordon, made her television debut on September 14, 1967, in the premiere episode of the third season of the Batman TV series. I know that, because I just looked it up on the Internet. But I actually have no memory of seeing that episode, or indeed any episode that featured Yvonne Craig in the role of the Dominoed Daredoll, until the show went into syndicated reruns a number of years later. As regular readers of this blog know, however, I’d been a faithful viewer of Batman ever since it began in January, 1966 — so what was the deal? How’d I manage to miss Babs Gordon on the teevee during Batman‘s original run?
I’ve discussed the matter with old friends who grew up in the same television market I did (the greater Jackson, MS metropolitan area), and as best we can figure, none of our local stations aired the third season of Batman when it was originally broadcast. We only had two television stations in Jackson then, you understand — and with three national networks providing programming, it was something of a crap shoot as to what those stations would decide to air in any given time slot.* As has been discussed in earlier posts on this blog, the Batman series’ ratings had declined during the second season, and it appears that whichever of our Jackson stations had been showing it decided to cut their losses in the fall of 1967, and show something else instead.
But the sad fact that I didn’t get to see Batgirl’s live-action television debut in September, 1967 didn’t mean that I was deprived of any opportunity to encounter the character. Although she had been developed by DC Comics at the express request of the Batman TV show’s producers, Batgirl had actually made her comics debut some nine months prior, in Detective #359. I’d managed to miss that issue, somehow, as well as her second appearance (in Detective #363) — but I had picked up World’s Finest Comics #169, which featured the new superheroine teaming up with the more-seasoned Supergirl to “plot” against Batman and Superman. So I was already familiar with Batgirl’s basic shtick — her secret identity, her Bat-Bike and other crimefighting accessories, etc. — by the time Detective #369 appeared on the stands.
I expect I was immediately sold on the book by the dynamic cover by Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson — a relatively rare foray by Kane into the Bat-world, at least for that time. (Of course, it can be seen now as a sort of harbinger of things to come, as Kane would become the regular artist on Batgirl’s first solo backup series when it launched in Detective #384, some fifteen months later.) The interior art for “Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo!”, however, was by a different artistic team — though it could hardly considered a letdown. The artists were the same penciller and inker who’d done the honors on Batgirl’s first two featured outings, namely Carmine Infantino and Sid Greene; and, though neither I nor most other fans knew it at the time, it would turn out to be the last pencilling job by Infantino — not just on Batgirl, but on the “Batman” feature itself, for many years to come — ending a long regular gig on Detective that went all the way back to editor Julius Schwartz’s introduction of the Caped Crusader’s “New Look” in issue #327.
The story, written by Gardner Fox — the final member of the creative team that had produced Batgirl’s first two outings in Detective — gets to the action right away:
Thanks to her Bat-bike’s “improved multi-color light tracker beam” (no, I don’t have any idea how it works either, but doesn’t it look cool?), Batgirl is able to follow the trail of the escaping crooks right into the heart of Misty Swamp, and fisticuffs immediately ensue. After a few enjoyable pages of Infantino-delineated combat, Batman and Robin arrive in the Batmobile to help even the odds — although one gets the impression that Barbara could and would have handled the malefactors on her own, eventually. The Dynamic Duo just helps her wrap things up more quickly:
Babs apparently has a very busy social life, but she’s willing to sacrifice a whole week’s worth of “date-nights” to guarantee Batman’s safety. Wotta gal!
The next night, Batgirl shadows the Dynamic Duo as they patrol Gotham City’s streets in the Batmobile — and when Batman and Robin stop to foil some crooked goings-on at a factory, Batgirl turns up to horn in on the crimebusting action:
And there’s our cover scene! One thing you’ve got to say about editor Julius Schwartz’s covers of the era — as wild as the concepts often were, Schwartz and his creators generally played fair. If you saw it on the cover, you’d very likely see it (or something very much like it) in the story as well.
From this point on, how the story plays out is almost 100% predictable, and that’s a problem. I’m inclined to believe that the cover idea came first, and the whole story was built around it — but while “why is Robin ditching Batman for Batgirl?” may be a great hook to bring the reader in, it has a hard time sustaining interest for 13 1/2 pages, since the reader is given all the information needed to understand the situation from the beginning of the story onward. There’s no mystery, and no real suspense, either, save for the mild amount generated by the question of how long it will take for Batman to succumb to the swamp fever.
The next evening, Batman drops Robin off with Batgirl at Police HQ and then heads out on solo patrol — unaware that the “new Dynamic Duo” (riding a Bat-bike newly modified with a sidecar for Robin — it even has an “R” painted on the side!) has already cut ahead of him on his regular route through Gotham’s streets, ready to respond to any crime in progress before Batman can arrive.
And of course, that’s what happens almost immediately, as Batgirl and Robin interrupt a jewelry store robbery and make quick work of the malefactors:
Night after night, the story is the same — until finally, on the seventh night:
Yes, Batman is in such great shape, the swamp fever couldn’t lay him low until the final night of its incubation period! Wotta man!
Luckily, Robin and Batgirl arrive on the scene just in time to save the incapacitated Caped Crusader from being capped:
Yes, wouldn’t it be something if Jim Gordon, a great detective in his own right (or so we’ve been told on numerous occasions) finally gets a clue? To the best of my knowledge, however, neither Fox nor any other Batman writer picked up on this idea — not until years later, anyway.
And that’s it for this issue’s Bat-tale, save for a final, half-page epilogue that’s really more of a tease for the next issue of Batman (and the kind of in-story plug that was still pretty unusual for DC at the time):
The return of Catwoman to the pages of Batman after thirteen years was a big deal, believe me — but, as the final caption above indicates, it wouldn’t be published until October 19, 1967. So you’ll need to check back in a few weeks for our 50-years-later look back at Batman #197.
That 13 1/2 page Batman story wasn’t the only story that ran in Detective #369, of course. There was also the latest installment of the Elongated Man back-up feature, which had debuted in the same issue of Detective that introduced Batman’s “New Look”, #327, and then had gone on to appear in every issue since (except for a couple of times when the Stretchable Sleuth teamed up with the Dynamic Duo for a single book-length story). The strip had been pencilled for most of the strip’s 3 1/2 year run by EM’s co-creator, Carmine Infantino — but in the past year, as Infantino began transitioning into a full-time behind-the-scenes role at DC, his involvement had become more spotty. Murphy Anderson, Irv Novick, Gil Kane, and Sid Greene — veteran DC artists, all — had all had a go at the feature over the last twelve issues. But #369’s Elongated Man adventure was drawn and inked by a young artist who’d never appeared in Detective, or, indeed, in any other DC superhero comic book until now. Maybe you’ve heard of him. His name was Neal Adams.
Neal Adams — 26 years old when this story was published — had actually first tried to break in at DC Comics way back in 1959, right after he graduated from high school, at which time (according to several interviews he’s given over the years) he was basically told, “go away, kid, the industry is dying, and there’s no room for anyone new”. Undeterred, Adams went off and found some work at Archie Comics and elsewhere, then moved on to become the illustrator of a syndicated newspaper comic strip based on the TV medical drama Ben Casey (a nice gig that, ironically, many of the veteran comic book artists whose presence presumably hindered Adams’ entry into the field would probably have loved to have had in his place). But the young artist still wanted to do comic books, and, following the end of Casey‘s run in 1966, he eventually approached DC again. This time, he managed to get his foot in the door, and landed some relatively low-profile assignments on books like Star-Spangled War Stories and The Adventures of Bob Hope. Then, Carmine Infantino — by now DC’s official Art Director — discovered him working in one of the company’s production room, and, in his own words**, “was knocked out by his work. He… was being wasted on a third-string title, so I started assigning him covers and pushed the top editors to hire him for interior work.” Soon after that, Adams made his debut as a superhero comics artist with his cover for Lois Lane #79. That issue was published on September 26, 1967; two days later, Detective Comics #369 joined it on the stands.
“Legend of the Lovers’ Lantern!”, written by Gardner Fox (as had been virtually every other Elongated Man solo story to date), was a pretty typical adventure for the Ductile Detective. The story begins with a scene featuring the hero’s wife, Sue Dibny:
Thinking that such an object might help keep husband Ralph safe when he’s off chasing criminals, or at least help ease her constant worrying about him, Sue bids for, and wins, the lovers’ lantern. Unfortunately, a thief steals it out of her hands just as she’s leaving the auction house — though when Ralph shows up to meet Sue in the next moment, it seems all may turn out well after all…
Ralph makes quick work out of these robbers, unsurprisingly — but the solo thief, who has no connection to these guys, gets away with Sue’s purchase.
Sue expects Ralph to get right on the trail of the lantern thief — but, as he tries to explain, with no idea what the guy looks like or where he’s gone, he doesn’t have a trail to follow.
Ironically, however, the mere knowledge that he’s ripped off a superhero’s wife is enough to put the fear of the law into our nameless sneak-thief:
Meanwhile, another layer gets added to the problem when a Mrs. Hanlon, having read the same newspaper story, visits Sue to explain how she’s been looking for a bona-fide lovers’ lantern ever since her archaeologist husband was reported captured by bandits somewhere in central Europe, almost a year ago:
Mrs. Hanlon departs, and just an hour later, a package arrives for Sue by special delivery. The anxious snatch-and-grab man has returned the lantern, with a note of apology. You’d think that might be the end of the case — but…
Having all deduced all these details about the thief in Holmes-ian fashion, Ralph goes to the police and is able to get not only the name of a criminal meeting the description, but even an address. When he shows up at the guy’s place, the hapless hoodlum asks EM (not unreasonably, in my opinion) why he’s even bothering, considering that the lantern’s been returned. Too bad, Ralph tells him; he’s committed a crime, and now “the law must take its course”:
And with that all-around happy ending (well, not so happy for the lantern thief, I suppose) Neal Adams’ first story in Detective comes to an end — the first work of the artist’s (outside of some house ads) that I ever saw. But before I let you know what I made of it all, I feel obliged to mention that Lois Lane #79 and Detective #369 weren’t the only DC comics published that week in 1967 that featured Adams’ work. Also hitting the stands on Sept. 28 were Action Comics #356, featuring the second of many covers he’d do for editor Mort Weisnger’s Superman line over the next few years, and Strange Adventures #206 — for which he didn’t draw the cover (that was by Mike Sekowsky), but did pencil the issue’s lead story, featuring Deadman — meaning that Adams made his DC-superhero-story-illustrating debut with not one, but two comic books published on the same day.
That issue actually featured the second appearance of Deadman, whose debut had been illustrated by Carmine Infantino. But even though Adams hadn’t been at all involved in the character’s creation, he’d soon become closely identified with Deadman, drawing all the remaining episodes of the hero’s eleven-issue run in Strange Adventures (and scripting four ot them, as well). But though I’d eventually dip a toe in that pool, it wouldn’t be for another six months or so. You see, when the first ads for the Deadman strip appeared in the summer of 1967, I thought the character looked a little too scary for my ten-year-old sensibilities — although I had no such compunctions about DC’s other white-faced phantasmal superhero, the Spectre. Ironically enough, Adams would also soon be illustrating (and writing!) the adventures of DC’s Ghostly Guardian as well, and I’d be picking them up without a second thought.
But I digress. The Elongated Man backup story in Detective #369 was my introduction to the work of Neal Adams, soon to become one of my all-time favorite comics illustrators, and indisputably one of the most influential comic book artists of all time. What was the impact on my ten-year-old self, that day in September, 1967 that I first encountered the art of this master?
I wish I could tell you, but I honestly have no recollection of the story making much of an impression on me, one way or the other. I’m not sure if it was simply that it was a back-up story, that I probably read just once and then put away — or whether it was because Adams’ art, though already demonstrating his mastery of the photorealistic rendering style that would soon help make his name, didn’t quite yet evidence the innovative approach to page design and layout that would ultimately account for another large part of his impact on the field. Who knows? It was fifty years ago, after all.
One way or another, I didn’t really have a strong reaction to Neal Adams’ work until the next story of his I read — the third issue of The Spectre, published January 16, 1968. Come back around in about four months, and I’ll tell you all about it.
*We didn’t get Star Trek in its original run, either. Those were dark times.