BHOC: BATMAN FROM THE ’30s TO THE ’70s

It might have been the same trip to my Grandmother’s home as when I picked up SHOWCASE #95, it might not–but I know that I bought my copy of BATMAN FROM THE 30s TO THE 70s at a bookstore in the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream where she lived. It was a big purchase, so I’m assuming it was underwritten by the Grandparents. At the time, it was one of only three hardcover books on the classic DC characters–the SHAZAM volume hadn’t been released yet. Boy, that’s still an awesome Infantino/Anderson cover–it called to me.

Most of the book was in black and white, with certain small sections in color. The contents of those sections was a little bit haphazard–in some cases, stories were run in the wrong era for when they had originally seen print. This is particularly the case in the 1970s chapter, as when this book was put together in 1971, there wouldn’t have been very many Batman stories to choose from. Nevertheless, it was a great and thorough primer on Batman’s career from the beginning to the then-present.

To be honest, i wasn’t all that huge of a Batman fan at the time. I enjoyed the character well enough, but not so much as the other super-powered heroes in the DC pantheon. Some of that was due to the fact that i wasn’t quite on board with the Batman style of the time, which too often plays as though it was trying to emulate the television cop shows of the era. I much more readily liked the sillier, dopier Batman stories of the 1950s and 1960s seen in reprints. So this was a chock-a-block full of such material.

The first story in the volume is a reprint of the first-ever Batman story–with stats taken from its Comics Code-era reprinting in the 1960s, so some of the elements of it had been altered or removed. Following that was a bevy of other firsts; Batman’s origin! Robin’s debut! The birth of the Joker! Clayface! I was especially interested in the first Riddler story, as it had been adapted relatively faithfully in the 1966 Batman TV series, the one story in which John Astin rather than Frank Gorshin had portrayed the Prince of Puzzlers. When that episode came back around in the rerun rotation, I sat in front of my television with the book open, comparing the two.

Even with all of the goodness it contained, the most tantalizing aspect of the book was the chapter-breaks showcasing different Batman covers of the past. Oh, how those long-ago stories called out to me. I wanted to know how Batman became the Superman of Planet X, how Killer Moth became his counterpart in crime, and what the deal was wit the Batman of the future, all of which were tales not included in this volume. Alas, I would have to wait decades for the answers in some of those instances.

The reproduction within the book was varied, depending on what kind of shape materials in the DC archives happened to be in. Certain stories were beautiful, others were falling apart on the page, or printed with super-heavy linework. My young eye couldn’t quite discern these differences, not knowing what he was looking at, but I could tell that some stories looked better than others. Ultimately, though, what I wanted was to read the things, and everything was in good enough shape to allow for that.

The book ran heavy on material from the 1950s and 1960s–the 1960s segment devoted entirely to stories from before Julie Schwartz’s editorial revamping of the character in 1964 (Stories from after tat point wound up in the 1970s section for some reason.) Which was fine with me, I was a sucker for these strange and wonderful batman adventures, whether they involved time travel, crazy super-criminals or aliens from another world. As you’d expect, there was a smattering of stories involving Batwoman, Bat-Girl, Bat-Mite and even Ace the Bat-Hound, all of the stuff that latter day fans of the 1970s decried the most about the strip. 

Editor E. Nelson Bridwell, who had helped to assemble the package, also wrote the introduction. As Bridwell was DC’s historian-in-residence, this was no surprise, and he gave me a greater understanding and appreciation for the history of the character. His recounting of the first time Robin and then Batman appeared on the Superman radio show was a revelation to me–prior to this, I don’t know that I even knew that there had been a Superman radio show, but I desperately wanted to hear episodes of it, something that would also take a number of years to achieve.

The 1970s chapter also wound up reproducing some half-page ads for other DC titles of the period, which also fired my imagination. I would make up stories in my mind as to what these mysterious adventures might have been about. Even all these years later, wit the incredible assortment of reprint volumes of classic material that are now available to be easily purchased, this collection remains a strong sampler of Batman material across these eras. I would eventually read the earlier SUPERMAN volume in the series out of the public library, and even later be gifted a copy of the Gloria Steinem WONDER WOMAN volume by a friend. But this volume went onto the shelf next to the couple of other actual books I owned concerning the history of comics.

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