REAL FACT COMICS #5 and the True Story of Batman and Robin

I promised Jerry Ordway that I would do a piece on this particular story, and given that Batman Day was this weekend, it seems like a fitting moment to revisit this story. REAL FACT COMICS was a post-war innovation on the part of DC Comics. It was part of a small but widely-spoken-of effort to provide better, less lurid material in the comics–all part of the same impulse that led to the creation of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED and competing titles from competing firms such as TRUE COMICS. The stories in these books were all sourced from real life, supposedly. But that didn’t prevent the thing that REAL FACT COMICS is recalled for today the most being the first appearance of long-running DC future hero Tommy Tomorrow. REAL FACT had a, how shall we put it, loose relationship with the truth. And nowhere is that better in evidence than in this story from REAL FACT COMICS #5 which purports to tell the true story of how cartoonist Bob Kane created Batman.

This issue of REAL FACT COMICS came out in fall of 1946, so I’m not sure what might have motivated this extended hand-job for Bob Kane. At first, I thought it might be one more thing to help keep him on side as elsewhere, Superman’s creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were becoming agitated and unhappy with their relationship with DC’s owners. But the timing there doesn’t really line up properly, so my guess is that this may be as simple as a way to justify featuring the popular Caped Crusader on the cover to spark sales of what may have been a sluggish title. But if anybody has any greater insight into why this story may have been done, I’d love to hear about it.

According to the Grand Comics Database, Bob Kane himself wasn’t involved directly with the making of this story at all. Rather, it’s the work of DC editors Jack Schiff and Mort Weisinger, with some contributions from Bernie Breslauer. The artwork for the strip was provided by Win Mortimer. And while the story claims to be a faithful and accurate recounting of just how the talented Bob Kane originated the Darknight Detective, it is rather a blatant bit of in-house promotion that leaves truth and fact by the wayside in its attempt to canonize a situation that simply isn’t accurate, to promote Bob Kane as the singular creative force behind Batman.

It’s well-known these days that for reasons having to do with enriching himself, Bob Kane maintained the fiction that he was the wunderkind behind Batman to the end of his days. It was an open secret in comic book circles for years that Kane used ghosts to produce much of his artwork, and of course there were several different scriptwriters, especially as time went on and the character began to appear in an assortment of different places. But Kane’s arrangement with DC stipulated that his byline alone would run on any Batman stories, in the manner of a newspaper cartoonist.

Of course, the missing man here is writer Bill Finger, who developed the Masked Manhunter with Kane virtually from the start, and who contributed many of the key concepts and characters to teh strip, as well as writing its earliest stories. The contributions include the character’s bat-eared cowl, his scalloped cape, the fact that his eyes would become white slits when the cowl was donned, and even its gray color. He also originated the Batman origin, which has been expanded upon and riffed on ever since. But Finger was a hired hand–Kane was the go-between with DC on all things Batman, and so even when Finger was able to establish his own relationship with DC, his role in teh creation of Batman was problematic, and for many years kept quiet.

Bill Finger sadly died at a young age before his situation could be redressed. In recent years, however, arrangements have been made that require his inclusion as a creator of Batman whenever such a created by line is called for, which is a wonderful redress of injustice. As for this story, it’s fanciful bonkers nonsense, and clearly aimed at young and undiscerning readers–was anybody expected to believe that Bob Kane had his mother make up a Batman costume that his friend could model so that he could visualize the character? That all said, in 1946 there wasn’t yet a whole lot of public interest in how the comics came to be, and so this sort of fanciful encapsulation of history was perhaps more permissible–though that doesn’t make it any less egregious.

This issue of REAL FACT COMICS also includes this fun single page puzzle feature that includes two characters freshly arrived from the All-American Comics side of the street, the Flash and Wonder Woman. It was still rare to see the Amazon Princess and teh Fastest man Alive rub shoulders with Superman and Batman, to say nothing of the Boy Commandos. (And, hey, somebody had big dreams for Dover and Clover, huh?) Jon Small was the artist of this page.

REAL FACT COMICS also ran one of the earliest letters pages in DC Comics history. This was decades before letters pages became a regular thing in most DC releases, and while certain other companies would try to have them from time to time–in particular Fiction House and Lev Gleason both regularly printed letters pages prior to this–this wasn’t standard operating procedure at DC yet. So I’m guessing that the editors were hoping to use this page to get a better sense as to what features their audience might respond well to and be interested in.

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