What defines a comic book superhero as a unique character? Is it a name, or a costume, or a power set? What about a hero’s “secret identity”? Does it even matter who’s wearing the costume?
For what it’s worth, I suspect that the majority of people reading this post have a general conception of “Superman” as a single, unique character, albeit one with multiple versions — “pre-Crisis”, “New 52”, “Golden Age”, and so on. It’s probably the same with Batman, or Wonder Woman — or with Captain America, Iron Man, or the Mighty Thor, for that matter. Even if these heroes undergo occasional costume modifications or power fluctuations — and even if someone else steps into their heroic role for a time in the service of a storyline — there’s still a sense of a core character underneath it all — an “ur-Superman”, an “ur-Batman”, and so forth. 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
About two years ago, a couple of months following the debut of this blog, I wrote a post about the first issue of Justice League of America I ever bought (#40), a comic book I credited with making a significant contribution to my personal moral development. As I said at the time, I thought that that particular issue, though missing the mark in some ways (and simply feeling dated in others), still held up pretty well as an earnest endorsement of individual ethical responsibility, informed by an awareness and appreciation of the common humanity we all share. Since that time, I’ve been looking forward to re-reading and re-appraising Justice League of America #57, an issue with a similar theme, produced by the same writer, penciller, and editor as #40 (Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, and Julius Schwartz, respectively) — and expecting that it would hold up just as well.
Now that the time has come, however, I regret that I have to say that the book doesn’t hold up quite as well as its predecessor — at least, it doesn’t for this reader. Which is not to say that it’s wholly without merit, or that it’s not worth a visit (or re-visit), fifty years after its original publication. Read More
This issue of JLA features “The Negative-Crisis on Earths One-Two!”, a story written by Gardner Fox and illustrated by Mike Sekowsky and Sid Greene. It’s the second part of 1967’s Justice League – Justice Society team-up, an annual summertime tradition that DC Comics maintained from 1963 all the way through 1984. I blogged about the first half of this tale a few weeks ago, and I’m sure you’re all eager to find out how our heroes get out of the mess they were in at the conclusion of JLA #55. And we’ll get to that pretty soon — but first, I’d like us to spend a little quality time with the book’s cover.
To begin with, it’s just a great piece of work — one of the final, as well as one of the finest, products of penciller Carmine Infantino and inker Murphy Anderson’s long and profitable collaboration. And as perhaps the first comic book cover to feature what would become an everlasting motif in the superhero genre — two line-ups of superheroes charging each other — it has historic significance as well. Read More
From June, 1966 through May, 1967, DC Comics published nine issues of Justice League of America, all of which capitalized on the enormous popularity of the Batman television show by prominently featuring the Caped Crusader on their covers. Upon its publication on June 13, 1967, Justice League of America #55 clearly marked the end of that year-long run of exploitative, Batman-dominated covers.
Um, sort of. OK, not really. Because this issue’s Mike Sekowsky-Murphy Anderson cover, featuring the debut of “a grown-up Robin” whose costume was an amalgam of the duds traditionally worn by both the Boy Wonder and his august mentor, was obviously trading on Batmania as much as any other JLA cover that editor Julius Schwartz had seen through production in the last twelve months. Read More
It may be difficult for some younger comics fans to believe, but Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman haven’t always been perceived as a “Trinity” of characters standing head and shoulders above the rest of their fellow DC Comics heroes, in the Justice League and elsewhere. That’s not to say that fans in earlier eras didn’t appreciate the special status of these three characters — the only superheroes to remain in virtually continuous publication in their own titles from the 1940s to the present day — but that appreciation didn’t necessarily equate to seeing the characters as equals.
When I first started reading comics in 1965, Batman and Superman were each headlining two titles of their own in addition to co-starring in World’s Finest, and were also appearing regularly in Justice League of America. Add to that the two titles featuring Superboy, and (from late 1965 on), Batman’s frequent co-starring turns in The Brave and the Bold, and it was clear to me that these guys were DC’s Big Two, and no one else was in the same class. Wonder Woman, after all, starred in just one title, and also appeared in JLA — which simply put her in the same good-sized camp as Aquaman, Atom, Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman. Of course, Princess Diana also had the distinction of having been around in the same incarnation since the Forties, unlike most of those guys, as well as the unique quality of being the only female superhero with her own comic book, which put her a step ahead of Supergirl. Still, all that wasn’t enough to give her iconic status — at least, not in the eyes of the (admittedly ignorant) little boy I was at the time. Read More
I’ve written before on this blog — several times — about my admiration for comics writer Gardner Fox’s reference library — a library I don’t really know anything about, but the existence of which can (or must, even) be inferred from the assortment of off-the-wall factoids (mostly, but not exclusively, related to mythology and folklore) to be found scattered throughout his Sixties ouevre. The Justice League of America story featured in today’s post — “Secret Behind the Stolen Super-Weapons!” — is another sterling example of this penchant of the prolific scripter’s; but before we jump right into the story, let’s take a moment for a look at the cover. (It’ll be brief, I promise.) Read More
Somehow, someway, in the 18 months that I’ve been doing this blog — during which time I’ve written 26 posts tagged “Batman”, 8 tagged “Detective Comics”, and 14 tagged “Carmine Infantino” — I’ve neglected to write about a single one of the Batman stories Infantino drew for Detective during the corresponding span of time in the 1960s. And since I believe that Infantino’s artwork for the Caped Crusader holds up better after half a century than virtually any other aspect of the “New Look”/”Batmania” era of the character, that’s an oversight that needs to be rectified — which I am happy to do, at last, with this post. 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
“Batmania” may have dominated the pop culture landscape in 1966, but it was by no means the only thing going on at the time — not even within the smaller sphere of pop-cultural activity that was of special interest to nine-year-old boys such as myself. For one thing, there was also The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (that’s the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, for those of you who don’t already know, and yet might actually care for some reason), in addition to being something of a mini-phenomenon of its own, was of course also part of the larger wave of popularity of the “super-spy” genre in the early-to-mid-Sixties. The wellspring of this popularity was author Ian Fleming’s James Bond, the hero of a series of espionage thrillers who’d debuted in 1953, but who’d really taken off (especially in the United States), when it was revealed that President John F. Kennedy was a fan. By 1966, the enormous success of Agent 007 had yielded a crop of imitators as well as variations on the “spy-fi” concept, including TV’s spoof Get Smart and Western-spy-fi genre hybrid The Wild Wild West, not to mention comics’ Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents series. Read More