Over the course of writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams’s classic early-’70s collaboration on Batman, the team was responsible not only for introducing one major new adversary (Ra’s al Ghul) to the ranks of the Darknight Detective”s greatest foes, but also for reclaiming and refurbishing of two vintage baddies who’d fallen out of favor in recent years. The second of these restorations to appear, “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge!” (Batman #251 [Sept., 1973]), is doubtless the best-remembered of the two, due to its ultimately having had such a dramatic impact not only on the Bat-mythos, but on the DC Universe as a whole — rehabbing what had become a joke of a character (no pun intended) during the camp “Batmania” era of the mid-Sixties into the comics medium’s quintessential avatar of psychopathic evil — a character arguably more popular than all but a small handful of DC’s best-known superheroes, and one with enough cultural gravitas for screen portrayals of him to have earned Academy Awards for two different actors.
Back in December, I wrote about the departure of Dick Giordano from his position as an editor at DC Comics. Giordano’s last day on staff at the publisher appears to have been November 4, 1970 — but, since the processes involved in producing periodical comic books don’t stop (or start) on a dime, the fruits of his stewardship would continue to appear in the titles he’d supervised for another few months, even after he was no longer the editor of record. The same principle had of course applied at the beginning of his tenure at DC; and thus, just as Giordano’s first issue of Teen Titans (#15, May-Jun., 1968) had featured a story almost certainly procured by his predecessor, George Kashdan, the first issue edited by his successor, Murray Boltinoff, would present a tale that had actually been written and drawn under Giordano’s direction.
Well, mostly written and drawn under Giordano’s direction. While the story in Teen Titans #32 is solely credited to writer Steve Skeates and artist Nick Cardy, its actual provenance is… rather more complicated. Read More
Throughout my fifty-four years of reading comic books, it’s hard for me to think of another cover that was as much of a pleasant surprise on first sight than Neal Adams’ cover for The Brave and the Bold #85. This goateed, grimacing tough guy, aiming an arrow out in the general direction of the viewer that didn’t look the least bit “tricky”, but rather looked quite deadly — this was Green Arrow?
The thing is, I actually already liked Green Arrow. Not that he was one of my very favorite characters, or anything like that; in fact, I’m fairly certain I’d never even read a solo tale featuring DC Comics’ Emerald Archer at this point, though that may have been mainly because I’d never really had the chance. (GA had lost his regular backup slot in World’s Finest in early 1964, a full year-and-a-half before I began buying comics; and though there’d been a few of his tales reprinted here and there since then, I’d missed them.) But I enjoyed seeing him in Justice League of America, perhaps at least in part because of his underdog status. While I generally favored JLA tales that focused on the team’s heavy hitters — Superman, Batman, etc. — I also appreciated those stories that allowed the “lesser” heroes their time in the spotlight, the way that Justice League of America #57 did for Green Arrow. I didn’t even mind all that much when the storytellers (writer Gardner Fox and artists Mike Sekowsky and Sid Greene, in this case) subjected the Battling Bowman to such silliness as the scene below, where GA, facing four armed criminals, takes the time to set up a trick shot because… it’s just more fun, I guess? Read More
For the first year or so of the Justice League of America’s existence, the stories of DC’s premier superteam followed a fairly strict formula. Beginning with the team’s three tryout issues of The Brave and the Bold in 1959 and 1960, the tales told by writer Gardner Fox, penciller Mike Sekowsky, and editor Julius Schwartz played out according to a prescribed pattern; the team members (Aquaman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, the Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Wonder Woman — and, from JLA #4 on, Green Arrow) would come together at (or at least near) the beginning of the story; then they’d encounter or discover a menace; then they’d split into teams to battle different aspects of said menace; and then, finally, they’d come together at the end to secure their ultimate victory over the menace. Also as part of the formula, at least for the earliest adventures, Superman and Batman took no active role in the central team-up chapters, and sometimes didn’t even show up for the group scenes at the beginning or end; this was due to editor Schwartz deferring to the preferences of editors responsible for those heroes’ own titles, Mort Weisinger and Jack Schiff, who didn’t want DC’s two marquee characters overexposed. Even after the restrictions on using the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader eased up somewhat, there were issues when they were entirely absent (“on assignment” in Dimension X, or something else of that sort), and neither of them appeared on a cover until JLA #10 (March, 1962). Read More
1968 was a watershed year for my first favorite comic book, Justice League of America, though I don’t think that my then eleven-year-old self fully realized that at the time. Sure, artist Mike Sekowsky — who’d drawn every single issue since I’d started buying the series three years before, as well as every earlier JLA story I’d seen reprinted in DC Comics’ “80-Page Giants” — had left the book with issue #63, with Dick Dillin coming in as penciler starting with the following issue. And Gardner Fox, who’d written every League story I’d ever read, was gone as well, just two issues later. But Sid Greene was still inking the book (for now), so it still looked very much the same* (to my young and unsophisticated eye, at least). But, even with both Greene and (more importantly) editor Julius Schwartz still in place, there had most definitely been a changing of the guard; and JLA #66 represented the beginning of a new era — whether I knew it or not. Read More
The topic of today’s post is, I believe, one of the most important single comic books in the evolution of Batman to appear during the character’s nearly eighty-year history — probably ranking in the top five or so such comics. Chronologically speaking, it’s certainly the most important Batman comic that DC Comics had published since 1964’s Detective Comics #327, the issue in which editor Julius Schwartz and artist Carmine Infantino debuted a “New Look” for the Caped Crusader — and I think that a strong case can be made that there wouldn’t be another single Bat-book quite so significant until the publication of the first installment of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight, in 1986.
That’s because “The Track of the Hook”, written by Bob Haney and illustrated by Neal Adams, serves as the clearest point of origin for the most thorough overhaul ever of one of comics’ most iconic heroes — an overhaul that has often been called a return to the character’s original 1939 roots, but is probably more accurately viewed as an approach based on what comics writer Denny O’Neil once described as “remembering how we thought it should have been” [emphasis mine]. It was an approach which returned an air of mystery, a touch of noir, to Batman and his milieu — one which did indeed recover visual and thematic elements that had been present, or at least implicit, in the character’s earliest published adventures, but which explored and elaborated on those elements in a more sophisticated fashion than readers had ever seen before. And it all started with Brave and the Bold #79, and the art of Neal Adams. Read More
Back in 1967, when DC Comics’ newly-promoted Art Director, Carmine Infantino, discovered Neal Adams toiling away in a production room on one of the company’s “third-string” (Infantino’s words) titles — The Adventures of Jerry Lewis, perhaps — and determined that the young artist’s talents could and should be put to better use, one of the first better uses he put them to was to produce covers for DC’s “Superman family” books. These comics had been under the editorship of Mort Weisinger for a long, long time — decades, in some cases — and their covers all had a particular “look”, typified by the style of artist Curt Swan. The advent of Adams’ more dynamic style represented a sea-change for the Superman books, and, by extension — given the Man of Steel’s flagship status — the rest of DC’s line, as well. Read More
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. Read More
Throughout the 1960’s, as their upstart rival Marvel Comics distinguished itself with the development of a complex and more-or-less consistent fictional universe that linked all of the company’s heroes, villains, and other characters into one ongoing meta-story, DC Comics resolutely continued to operate as a collection of mostly independent fiefdoms, each under the dominion of its own editor. Sure, all the A-list heroes showed up for Julius Schwartz’s Justice League of America, regardless of who was editing the heroes’ solo series, and they could also pair off in George Kashdan’s (later, Murray Boltinoff’s) The Brave and the Bold — but, by and large, DC’s editors didn’t pay much attention to continuity across the line.
Within an individual editor’s purview, however, there were occasional stabs at crossovers and other signifiers of a shared universe — especially within the books guided by Schwartz. As we’ve discussed in a previous post, one way Schwartz accomplished this was be establishing close friendships between pairs of his heroes (Flash and Green Lantern, Atom and Hawkman) which provided frequent opportunities for guest-shots in one another’s books. Another way was to set up a plotline in one book that would carry over into another book — as was done in the classic “Zatanna‘s Search” story arc that ran through multiple Schwartz-edited books from 1964 through 1966, culminating in Justice League of America #51’s “Z — as in Zatanna — and Zero Hour!”. Read More
People who’ve known me for a while are likely to know that as much as I love comic books, they’re not the only thing I geek out over. Another of my abiding passions, going back more than forty years, is the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, in all its cultural manifestations — classic literature, modern prose fiction, art, films, music, and — of course — comics. Over the last few decades I’ve been fortunate enough to have had several opportunities to combine my interests in Arthuriana and comics in ways I can share with others — beginning with an article in the late, lamented fanzine Amazing Heroes in 1984, continuing with contributions to academic (!) works such as The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, and more-or-less culminating in my web site, “Camelot in Four Colors: A Survey of the Arthurian Legend in Comics” — est. 2000, and looking every day of its age (still, you should check it out, OK?).
I got the Arthurian bug in a big way around 1973 or thereabouts. It was sparked by a number of factors, among the most significant being T. H. White’s novel The Once and Future King (as well as its stage and movie musical adaptation, Camelot), Mary Stewart’s Merlin novels, and C. S. Lewis’ contemporary science fantasy That Hideous Strength. Those were all manifestations of the Arthurian legend that I encountered as an adolescent in the early Seventies — but, of course, like many if not most other English-speaking people of the modern world, I was first exposed to King Arthur and his mythos during the earlier period of my childhood. And what was probably one of the first truly significant exposures came along in September, 1966, in the form of World’s Finest #162 — in which the ranks of the Round Table knights were joined by none other than my two favorite heroes, Superman and Batman. Read More