BHOC: BATMAN FAMILY #4

Another month, another issue of BATMAN FAMILY. The lure of the oversized comic book packed with reprints was impossible for me to resist. This is a solid cover–that brown color is a somewhat odd choice, but it definitely makes all of the elements pop well. And the art image by Ernie Chua is crisp and well-defined.

BATMAN FAMILY is a bit of a schizophrenic title, in that half the time it would lead off with new team-up stories starring Batgirl and Robin, and the other half of the time there would be shorter solo stories of the two heroes. This issue had the latter, beginning with a Batgirl entry in which she and he father Commissioner Gordon work together to save a gunman that Gordon and Batman had once arrested from being assassinated by the criminal syndicate. The story is set in Washington DC, as this was the period in which Barbara Gordon had become a United States Senator. That was a status quo that I liked, giving her stories a different environment and her a different point of view. 

Next is a Robin story that more overtly makes reference to the fact that this issue was released in December, near to Christmas. The story involved Hudson University’s Student Center collecting charity donations through donation boxes manned by people in Santa Claus costumes, and an attempt to steal the $10,000 collected. It all seems like a lot of complicated effort for so paltry a sum, but there you go. At the end, Bruce Wayne shows up with the entire Bat-Family in tow so that the snowbound Dick Grayson can have a happy Christmas anyway.

The issue also carried this ad for the forthcoming SUPERMAN VS THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN tabloid comic, which would soon be released. I think this would have been the first time I had heard about the project, having no connection to fandom just yet. Even as a young kid, I knew that this was an unprecedented milestone. But we’ll cover this book later on.

Then came the reprints. The first was an entertaining story from the 1950s revolving around a circus clown who had built up an act around the persona of Batman, portraying him as a klutzy, clumsy Fatman. But the clown actually worships the Dynamic Duo, and wants to do more with his life. Batman and Robin allow him to accompany them on a patrol, the trio winds up embroiled in an adventure, and in the end Fatman proves his mettle by using his clowning skills to get Batman and Robin out of danger. His self-worth restored, he happily returns to his old life. A fun story.

And the issue closed out with a longer Batman adventure guest-starring the Elongated Man–which meant, of course, that it was illustrated by E-Man’s co-creator, Carmine Infantino. It’s a beautiful job, as the two heroes, plus Robin, battle an international criminal–it seemed very modern, even though the story was a decade old by the time I read it.

Author John Broome even puts in a quick appearance, narrating the encounter between the maniacal General Van Dort, a.k.a The Phantom General, and the three sleuth crime-busters. 

Nobody depicting stretching super heroes with quite teh same dynamism of Carmine Infantino. He would typically pick extreme angles and use powerful foreshortening to add speed and distance to the Elongated Man’s elastic stunts, as in the page above, where he creates a dynamic left-to-right vector in both panels that almost forces the eye to race along with Ralph Dibny as he extends his neck and head-butts a would-be sniper.

One final feature in the issue–and this was a hot topic all the way through the 1970s–was a spread of readers’ designs for a new look for Robin. Now that Dick Grayson had grown to college age, his current bare-legged pixie-boots look was seen as being a bit undignified, so there was a movement among fandom to get him an updated costume. This would eventually bear fruit in the 1980s, but these design pages give a good idea as to what fans were thinking at the time. A few future comic book superstars were represented in this feature in its various appearances, though none are present in this particular issue.

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