Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Girlfriends, Silver Age Edition: Batwoman

As the Silver Age dawned, with it came the Comics Code Authority. It appears likely that the CCA would not have approved of the Catwoman; she was far too glamorous and had a habit of escaping at the end of stories, both of which were at least nominally verboten under the new regime. And so Batman's writers and editors ignored her for well over a decade.

In her place arrived a character with only one letter different: Batwoman. Kathy Kane was a former circus daredevil who aspired to use her athletic talents for crime-fighting. When a rich uncle dies, she adopts a costume and patterns herself after Batman:

At first, however, there is little attraction expressed between Batman and Batwoman. The romance develops instead between Kathy and Bruce:

By the end of the story, Batman deduces Batwoman's real identity. Realizing she would be in jeopardy if the underworld made a similar discovery, Kathy reluctantly agrees to give up her crime-fighting duties.

In her next appearance, Kathy decides to wear the old uniform for a costume party. We can see that she's interested in Bruce:

But at the end of the story, we see that she has the same old problem with him that all his prospective female partners have expressed:

Shortly after that, Batman decides that Batwoman has been careful enough and he lets her resume her night-time patrols. Meanwhile Vicki Vale has been making some irregular appearances in Batman stories, and inevitably, they meet:

Conveniently for plot purposes, the judges have decided to give the two women six more hours to prove who is more accomplished in her field. And to add to the rivalry:

As is perhaps inevitable, Batwoman and Vicki tie, and thus:

That's the first that Batwoman expresses any romantic interest in Batman. They have a whirlwind courtship and:

Just kidding. What actually happens is that Bruce and Kathy go out on a date, leaving Dick behind to study his schoolwork. Dick falls asleep and has a dream where Bruce and Kathy have eloped (in their real identities, not as Batman and Batwoman). In the dream, Bruce eventually reveals to Kathy his crime-busting role, and forbids her to join them on cases any more. However she disobeys him and because she is wearing one of Batman's spare costumes, her mask is blown off. The crooks recognize her and because of her prominent marriage to Bruce, they immediately realize Batman's real identity. Good thing it was all just a dream!

As I have indicated, for the most part the romance was between Bruce and Kathy. However, that began to change when Betty Kane appeared. She was Kathy's niece and took up crime-fighting as Bat-Girl (the original) in Batman #139. She was also very forward about her attraction to Robin, as I discussed in detail a few years ago. And Auntie Batwoman decides to take a few tips from her:

In Batman #153 it looks as if Batman and Batwoman are doomed and:

Well, there's only one possible response to a request like that:

Although you'll note that Batman seems somewhat less enthusiastic about the kiss than his partner. And at the end of the story:

Cold, Batman, cold.

Vicki Vale had disappeared for several years (apparently on a European assignment), but she popped back up again in Detective #309:

And at the end of that tale:

Alas, it was not to be. Vicki and Batwoman both disappeared in May 1964, as Julius Schwartz took over the editor's desk for Batman and Detective Comics. Schwartz set about trimming the Batman family substantially, getting rid of Kathy, Vicki, Betty, Ace the Bathound, Bat-Mite and (temporarily) Alfred.

Before moving on to the New Look, I should mention two other aspects to Batwoman's relationship with Batman. First, Alfred became a writer in the early 1960s, and typed out a few adventures of Batman II (Dick Grayson) and Robin II (Bruce Wayne, Jr.). In those stories Alfred had Bruce and Kathy married and retired from crime-fighting. Second, in Detective #311, #318, and #325, Batman faces the Cat-Man, who makes an effort to woo Batwoman over to his side, with an accurate, if cruel assessment of her chances with the Caped Crusader:

Coming Soon: The other Silver Age love interests!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Audio Dramatization Review: Batman: Inferno

Batman: Inferno is an audio dramatization of the novel by Alex Irvine. It is not a reading of the book although it does contain narrative passages and appears to conform largely to the plot of the book. The story appears to fit in with the Batman Begins/Dark Knight films in that Jim Gordon is not yet the Commissioner and Dr Crane is in charge of Arkham Asylum.

Positives: There is a terrific story and solid voice-acting throughout this audio dramatization, which builds to a powerful and exciting climax.

Negatives: Minor sound effects annoyances but nothing significant.

Specific ratings:

Story: The story concerns a riveting three-way battle between Batman, the Joker and Enfer, a firebug with ambition. The plot develops well and the climax is very satisfying. I give the storyline a perfect 10.

Voice-acting: Almost note-perfect. The Joker, a difficult character to portray, is particularly well-done. 9.5 points out of 10.

Sound effects: I'll ding the CD a bit on this score. There's one scene between Captain Gordon and Dr Crane where the birds chirping in the background get quite annoying; it should be enough to hint at this in the beginning of the conversation and then taper it off. This is followed by a sequence of Gordon at the office where the background music gets overbearing. But aside from those two scenes the sound effects were generally pleasing and I particularly liked the background music for the last several scenes as the story builds to its climax. 8 out of 10.

Batman characterization: Very good job on this; the only thing that bothered me was Batman's occasional musing about whether to kill the Joker. This seems out of character. However, given the mayhem that the Clown Prince of Crime commits, perhaps it is not unrealistic. 9 out of 10.

Villain characterization: Excellent, with only a few quibbles. Enfer, the arsonist, is well-realized, with a solid back-story. The Joker is the Joker. My only real problem is the scene with the Joker saving a young woman from an apparent gang-rape. This appears to be intended to confuse the public as to whether he's really a villain. But then a few scenes later he nearly kills a 7-year-old boy by quite publicly throwing him off a building (Batman saves the lad); so what was the point of helping the girl? 9 out of 10.

Overall rating: 9.5 out of 10. I thoroughly enjoyed the dramatization; it provides excellent entertainment and is well-produced. I have no hesitation in recommending it highly for Bat-fans.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Golden Age Girlfriends

Bruce Wayne and Batman have had many girlfriends over the years, and this post will be an effort to catalog them all. It's going to be an enormous undertaking and I invite assistance from my fellow Bat-historians.

Julie Madison: Julie was the first love interest. She did not appear in the initial four issues, but in Detective #31, she was introduced as Bruce's fiancee:

In Detective #39, Julie becomes a movie actress. Batman saves her life from a crazed old actor named Basil Karlo. And we see at the end that perhaps she is not fated to marry Bruce:

In Detective #49, Julie's name is changed by a Hollywood publicity man to Portia Storme, and she becomes a major star. Disappointed in Bruce's apparent dissolute lifestyle, she breaks it off with him:

As far as I know, Julie did not appear again in a non-reprint until the late 1970s when she popped up in an issue of World's Finest.

The next significant woman to pop up was a Batman love interest. In Batman #1, he has his first encounter with the Catwoman (in that story, known only as the Cat). She makes him an offer here:

But at the end of the story, Batman lets her escape.

I could fill pages and pages with the on-again, off-again relationship of Batman and Catwoman, so here are just some highlights. In Batman #62, we learn that the Catwoman had been a stewardess, who lost her memory in a plane crash and became a criminal. For several years after that story, she became reformed, and worked to help Batman on a few cases. It is noteworthy though, that almost from the moment she ceased being a criminal, Batman stopped expressing any romantic desire for her.

In Detective #203, Catwoman resumes her life of crime in anger after a newspaper published a story about the many times Batman defeated her. Detective #211 contains The Jungle Cat-Queen, one of the greatest Batman stories of all-time, but after that tale, the Catwoman disappeared for many years. When the Batman TV show started, she was a frequent guest villainess, although she did not reappear in the Batman comics until Batman #197, as the show was ending its run.

In the 1980s Catwoman again teamed up with Batman on several occasions, fighting crime and romancing Batman. I believe that relationship continues to date. Incidentally, the Earth II Catwoman apparently never resumed her life of crime and eventually ended up marrying Batman.

The next significant love interest was Linda Page. She was a former socialite in Bruce's circle who has gotten serious and become a nurse. In the story, her neighbor's son has fallen in with a rough crowd. Batman lends a hand and convinces the youngster to go straight. In the end, as he takes her to a restaurant she raves about the dash of Batman and makes the usual unflattering comparisons to Bruce.

In Batman #6, Batman saves Linda's father's life and his oil business. When Bruce shows up, inevitably too late, she doesn't have much time for him:

This highlights one of the problems facing Bruce in the romance department. The gals he likes are unlikely to stick with him given his supposedly dissolute lifestyle. And he's unlikely to be attracted to the ones who would be happy to party all the time.

Linda made quite a few appearances in the next couple years, but her finale came in Detective #73. After that she simply disappeared. One presumes that Bruce got tired of her constant hectoring him to make something of his life.

The final love interest of the Golden Age was Vicki Vale. Vicki was a photographer for Picture Magazine who first appeared in Batman #49. Bruce is interested right away:

One thing Bruce definitely likes about Vicki is that the moment excitement happens, she dashes off and deserts him for a photo opportunity, giving him the chance to become Batman. However, she's also too smart not to notice things:

This sets the stage for much of Vicki's Golden and Silver Age appearances. She becomes something of a secret identity pest, like Lois Lane in the Superman series. However, unlike Lois, she doesn't work alongside the man she suspects of being a superhero, and thus her appearances in the comics are much less frequent.

In Batman #79, she becomes the Bride of Batman:

It's an incredibly convoluted tale. Vicki meets a foreign potentate who is so taken with her beauty that he proposes to her on the spot. Not wanting to cause an international incident, but also not wanting to marry "that funny little man", she desperately blurts out that she's already engaged to Batman. A rival photographer, suspecting that Vicki's lying, turns the heat up by announcing a date and sending out invitations. The Shah decides to be the host and it looks like Batman will be forced to the altar to avoid diplomatic embarrassments for the US. Vicki admits to her rival that yes, it was all a ruse but now that she's got Batman trapped she's the happiest girl on Earth. But the Shah insists that the wedding be canceled when he learns that Vicki would have to undergo plastic surgery to disguise her after the wedding so criminals could not get revenge on Batman. And fortunately his custom demands that he not marry anyone previously betrothed to another.

Vicki disappeared for about five years from 1958-1963, then returned for a few appearances in the Silver Age during the latter part of the Jack Schiff era. I'll talk about those stories in an upcoming post on the Silver Age girlfriends of the Caped Crusader.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Detective #29-30

Although he's not commonly known today (and was unheard of in the Silver Age), the villain in these two issues is very significant in Batman's history, as he's the prototype for much of what would follow.

Dr Death:

1. Is the first villain to set a death trap for Batman. The death traps became something of a cliche, especially during the Batman TV show.

2. Is the first recurring villain.

3. Is the first villain to have a huge henchman, something that became common in the years to come.

4. Is the first villain to become horribly disfigured, something that would happen to major Batman antagonists like the Joker and Two-Face.

5. Is the first villain to recognize that he has to plan on Batman interfering with his operations.

Note that despite all those first, Dr Death is not the original villain with a monocle and Van Dyke beard; that honor went to Frenchy Blake in Tec #28. He is troubled by the possibility of Batman interfering with his schemes, so he puts a personal ad in the paper, telling Batman to check at the post office for a letter addressed to John Jones and:

This illustrates another difference between the early Batman stories and what would come later. Because Batman was wanted by the police, he could not simply go around investigating on his own, and Bruce often did some of the legwork. Indeed, this was the whole rationale for having Bruce be a friend of Commissioner Gordon.

The letter tells Batman that the writer plans to commit a murder on the 14th floor of an apartment building. Batman climbs up the outside of the building using suction cups on his hands and knees (an invention that would not appear again as far as I'm aware). When he gets to the top, he discovers that he is to be the murder victim:

As death traps go, it wasn't very elaborate, but every tradition has to start somewhere. Jabah shoots Batman and in an amusing scene, Bruce gets treatment for his wound from the family physician. Later, he spots Jabah about to kill a man with a deadly powder:

This is Dr Death's plot. He threatens to kill wealthy men with the powder, and if they do not pay his protection money, he sends Jabah out to slay them. Bruce saves the man's live by placing a handkerchief over his mouth, and trails Jabah back to Dr Death's hideout, where he changes into the Batman. He disposes of the henchman with a rope around the neck (possibly killing Jabah). Then he and Dr Death have their battle, during the course of which, the laboratory catches fire and:

Dr. Death apparently dies in the fire. However, he returns in the next issue, making him the first "resurrected" villain, although far from the last. Comic book writers often kill of the villain at the end of a story as it saves time in the denouement and also makes it ironically easier to have the villain return since there is no need for a parole, just an explanation of how he escaped death.

In the following issue, Bruce's attention is drawn to the story of a man who died suddenly. Sure enough, when he confers with the widow:

Bruce returns as Batman that night to temporarily steal the widow's diamond collection (for safekeeping). But Dr Death's backup henchman, Mikhail, is also after the diamonds, and Batman lets him take them so he can follow him back to his boss. After dropping the jewelry off at a fence, Mikhail returns to a flophouse. They have a fight, during the course of which, Batman escapes through the window to his waiting rope. And:

I'd take that as pretty strong evidence that Batman killed both Jabah and Mikhail. He goes back to the fence's residence, where he deduces the man is actually:

Dr Death would return many years later (1982) in a two-part series patterned on the prior adventure with him infecting millions of Gothamites and holding the city for a one-billion dollar ransom.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Audio Dramatization Review: Dead White

This audio dramatization is based on the novel by John Shirley. The CDs run approximately 6 hours long. The story basically follows Batman's attempt to defeat a major terrorist attack by a gang of neo-Nazis.

Positives: Generally solid voice acting and a pretty interesting subplot involving a Gotham City detective and his son attempting to reconnect. Excellent climax and solid drama throughout.

Negatives: One-dimensional main villain. Some annoying parts where the neo-Nazis are referred to as neo-conservatives. Some of the voice-acting is spotty, particularly at the beginning. The narrative passages get tedious in places.

Specific ratings:

Story: I'd give this one an 8 out of 10. The main plot is a little silly and unrealistic, but the subplot involving the detective and his teen-aged son is well-realized and entertaining. There is some gratuitous swearing and a few scenes where sexual activity is at least initiated, although it doesn't get explicit.

Voice-acting: Again, an 8 out of 10. Most of the acting is solid, with only a few embarrassing moments. The character of Skeeve, who is important in the very beginning, comes off as a stereotypical inner-city black but we learn later that he's actually a white supremacist from the south. He does not carry that off. On the other hand most of the other characters manage their roles capably.

Sound effects: 6 out of 10. Nothing special here.

Batman characterization: 8 out of 10. He seems a bit too technology-dependent, with almost no detective work. On the other hand, we do get inside Batman's head thanks to the narration and it mostly works well. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Batman trying to get "in the pocket" (essentially what is usually termed "in the zone" in sports).

Villain characterization: 4 out of 10. The main villain, White Eyes or Big White, is a cardboard cutout with no redeeming features to illustrate how he became a leader. Shirley appears to have constructed a liberal's bogeyman, as not only is he a racist skinhead, but he also talks about defeating the anti-Christ and how he was raised to be a "neocon".

The audio dramatization did manage to entertain and hold my attention despite the significant negatives. Overall I'd give it a 7 out of 10; worth a listen but far from perfect.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Modern Classic: Batman #347

This May, 1982 issue starts out with two young men discussing business:

The more reluctant partner talks about the time Batman foiled a prison break, taking out the escaped cons one by one:

When that fails to dissuade his buddy, the young man talks about morality. Won't someone be hurt by the bank robbery?

Well, for instance, there was a series of arson attacks going on in that very neighborhood some years back. Since the buildings being burned down were abandoned and insured, nobody much cared, and since the arsonist used some stereotypical radical language, he even attracted converts to the cause:

Batman tries to track down those responsible, despite the general apathy. Because the firemen had used up too much water fighting the arson in the abandoned buildings, there was no water pressure when it came time to fight a small fire in an apartment where an elderly couple lived, resulting in the death of the husband. In a rage, Batman grabs the radical leader and drags him into a burning building. The building collapses, and the crowd is undecided as to what to do when the old woman speaks up:

So the crowd rescues the pair and Batman even ends up giving mouth-to-mouth to save the arsonist. And the final page is so good I'm posting it here complete:

Simply wonderful.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Detective #28

Batman's second story was not featured on the cover, although there was a notice that he appeared "This Month and Every Month". As the story begins, the newspapers are full of headlines about the local jewel robberies. Bruce, imitating Commissioner Gordon's voice, calls a stool pigeon and puts pressure on him to give up the gang responsible for the thefts. Gimpy tells him that Frenchy Blake's mob's involved and gives him the location of that night's heist.

Batman fights it out with the crooks on a rooftop and casually propels one hood to his death:

The other criminal is captured by the police, who assume that Batman (who escapes) was behind the robberies.

Any thought that perhaps Batman's assailant survived the fall is dispelled a few pages later:

Note in particular the appearance of the mastermind; the monocle and the Van Dyke beard. Batman would face several criminals matching that description in the next year or so; Kane didn't put a lot of variety in his artwork.

Obviously a confession obtained this way wouldn't stand up in court:

After another bit of fisticuffs, Batman drops Frenchy off at the police station with the confession.

Comments: Last of the very short Batman stories; with the next issue Batman would be expanded to 10 pages. The character is still only roughly formed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Detective #27

Or, where it all began. As the story begins:

Two of the most enduring characters in the canon are introduced right in the opening panel. Note that Bruce smokes a pipe; this used to be a sign of sophistication and intelligence for men. Reed Richards was often shown smoking a pipe in early Fantastic Four issues.

Having Commissioner Gordon be a friend of Bruce's is an important (although mostly forgotten) part of the early series. It enables Bruce to get information that the police have but which has not been released to the press. In this case, it actually introduces Bruce to the crime, as the Commissioner soon learns that Lambert, the "chemical king", has been murdered. Bruce tags along to gather information, and meets the accused killer, Lambert's son, who insists he's innocent.

Bruce hangs around long enough to get the information he needs on Lambert's former partners (Crane, Rogers and Stryker). Crane calls to tell the commissioner that he's received a death threat, but before the police can arrive, he's shot dead by an intruder. Batman confronts the killer and an accomplice on the roof:

Incidentally, that panel appeared (redrawn) in Justice League of America #37 in the mid-1960s; see here.

He easily defeats the crooks. According to the text, he puts the shooter "in a deadly headlock" and throws him off the roof of a two-story home. He recovers a document that the criminals had taken from Crane. This page also features the first appearance of Batman's red car (precursor to the Batmobile):

Meanwhile, Rogers, the other member of the former partnership, has gone to Stryker's home in a panic. He is clubbed by Stryker's assistant, who it appears is behind the murders:

Batman rescues Rogers from death by gassing (first deathtrap in Batman), and kayos Jennings. But it turns out that Stryker himself was actually behind the killings, and to save himself from being shot, Batman punches the chemical magnate, who falls through a railing and into a vat of acid. He wastes no time on false compassion:

The story ends with Bruce Wayne listening with a rather bored attitude to Commissioner Gordon's recital of the facts. Stryker had killed his former partners because they had sold him the business and he wanted to avoid paying off the amount he owed them for their shares. Gordon remarks to himself afterwards that Bruce must lead a rather boring life as he is so disinterested in everything. But at Bruce's home, he is revealed to actually be the Batman himself. As Bill Jourdain noted in a Comic Geek Speak interview awhile ago, this of course comes as no surprise to us with the benefit of 70+ years of the character, but back in 1939, this probably came as a shock to the readers.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Origin of the Two-Face Bust

I noticed a forum post which linked to an old Dick Sprang tribute post of mine, and in the same post, a link to this post about the Secrets of the Batcave poster by Sprang.

Chris Sims has done a great job over the filling in the origins for many of the items shown, but I noticed this:

I can't place the Penguin, the giant Joker and Two-Face Heads, or the 8-ball.

I can only cover the giant Two-Face head for now, although I suspect I will find the other items eventually. The Penguin (in this case a stuffed bird, not the villain), for example, was one of the first objects ever shown in Batman's trophy collection in Batman #12, so we know it's got to come from an earlier story than that one.

The giant Two-Face head comes from Batman #50's The Return of Two-Face! The climax of that story has Batman and Two-Face battling it out atop the giant bust:

Batman explains the origin of the bust to Robin:

This appears to refer to the initial appearance of Two-Face, in Detective #66:

Although you will note that the bust depicted in that story is much smaller than the one in Batman #50.

The bust made a significant appearance in the Silver Age. Batman #108 (June 1957) included Prisoners of the Batcave, where Batman and Robin are trapped in their hideaway, just as a package they received turns out to be a firebomb. Here's the action as seen in that story:

The air inside the hollow bust is quickly used up and the fire dies out, although not without damaging the bust significantly. The material of the bust is described in the text as glass, although there is little doubt that the Golden Age bust was intended to be of stone or plaster.