Before the holiday break, I had been talking about Aunt Harriet, the character introduced in 1964 by newly appointed Batman editor Julius Schwartz. The idea was to deflect accusations, first suggested by psychiatrist Frederic Wertham, that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson---the Batman and Robin---maintained a homosexual relationship. But certainly, it would have occurred to Schwartz that inserting a middle-aged and somewhat clueless spinster into the household wouldn’t do a whole lot of deflecting. No, the obvious thing to do, if you wanted to validate Bruce Wayne’s red-blooded heterosexual credentials, was give him a steady girl friend. And then toss in an occasional scene of the romantic couple doing some canoodling.
I suspect Schwartz was thinking the same thing because, two months after Aunt Harriet’s arrival, he and writer France Herron presented Batman fans with another female character.
Enter Patricia Powell---and she wasn’t anybody’s matronly aunt.
Pat Powell was introduced at the beginning of her career, in “The Dilemma of the Detective’s Daughter”, from Batman # 165 (Aug., 1964), and you can’t say she didn’t hit the decks running. At the annual graduation ceremony of the Gotham City Police Academy, rookie Pat is honoured as the first recruit in academy history to rank first in all four categories of training---academic, physical, firearms, and overall. She comes by it honestly. Her father is Detective Lieutenant Mike “Bulldog” Powell. That Pat is a knockout blonde is the one thing that she didn’t get from her father.
The Batman is on hand to present the award to the newly minted officer, and after the ceremony, he sticks around to indulge in some small talk with both Powells and Commissioner Gordon. After Gordon and Lieutenant Powell get back to work, the Masked Manhunter, clearly smitten with the beauteous Pat, pulls the old “Why don’t you give me a tour of the academy?” move. Turning on the old Wayne charm, Batman and Pat are chatting like best friends in no time. That’s when the girl confesses to having developed a serious crush on a fellow.
“Lucky man,” replies the Gotham Gangbuster. “Who is he?”
“Bruce Wayne!” says Pat.
The Batman is caught off guard by that curve. He’s never seen Patricia Powell before to-day. But a couple of “innocent” questions bring forth the solution to that mystery. Though she has seen Bruce Wayne on several occasions, he has never seen her face. The first time was during a sorority rush stunt, when Pat, disguised as a pirate, asked Bruce for the brass knocker from the front door of Stately Wayne Manor. Then, while diving, she had a chance encounter with him, but her scuba mask obscured her features. The last opportunity arose at a New Year’s Eve masquerade party they both attended, but Bruce suddenly departed (“Look! It’s the Bat-signal!”) before the mid-night unmasking.
Policewoman Powell starts work the next day. Because of her exceptional performance at the academy, she has been assigned to plainclothes duty, working for---surprise, surprise---her dad, the ol’ Bulldog himself. Their first case together is investigating the disappearance of Professor Ralph Smedley, who has developed a flashless, smokeless explosive for the U.S. Army.
Somewhat surprisingly, given that most of the time he was ready to pull the switch on the Bat-signal if there was an outbreak of hubcap thefts in Gotham, Commissioner Gordon is perfectly satisfied with letting two of his detectives handle the case. But he rings the Batman on the hot-line anyway because . . . .
“ . . . You wanted me to let you know what Pat Powell’s first job would be! She and her dad are on the Smedley case!”
Purely a professional interest on the Masked Manhunter’s part, no doubt. Heh heh.
Sending Robin off to follow another thread, the Batman rushes to Professor Smedley’s home, only to find Patricia there already. The rookie policewoman has already strung together minute clues establishing that the professor was taken away against his will. It’s a reasonably good bit of deduction, too. But Batman has caught one sign that Pat has missed, one which reveals where Smedley has been taken.
The Batman and Pat rush to that location, where a gang of safecrackers is forcing Professor Smedley to prepare some of his special explosive. The Caped Crusader draws the crooks’ attention while Pat slips into the stronghold and rescues the professor. Our Hero makes an impressive accounting of himself, good enough that the fight is almost out of the bunch by the time Robin, Lieutenant Powell, and a squad of Gotham’s Finest arrive. No slouch at sleuthing himself, the Boy Wonder decyphered a clue to Smedley’s whereabouts that the professor himself had managed to leave and rounded up the cavalry.
Pat was brainy, sharp-eyed, athletic, but unseasoned. Quickly, Batman assumed the rôle as mentor to the rookie policewoman. He called her attention to the overlooked clue at Professor Smedley’s house and walked her through its importance. (While Pat’s other deductions were impressive, frankly, the one she missed was the most obvious one; it would have been the first thing I noticed, and I’m no Batman.)
The wrinkle of Pat being love-struck over Bruce Wayne, whom (as far as she knew) had never seen her unmasked face, was entertaining, but obviously had a short shelf-life. Now that Bruce was aware of her interest, and it was mutual, it would be difficult to prolong the never-having-officially-met business without seeming contrived.
It appeared that Julius Schwartz and France Herron had figured that out. After the wrap-up of the Smedley case, Bruce, that ol’ sly dog, sends the Powells a couple of tickets to a charity affair being held at Wayne Manor that week-end. “The Dilemma of the Detective’s Daughter” ends with Pat, dressed to stupefy, arriving at the charity event and prepared to meet Bruce Wayne.
Or so it would seem. The next issue, # 166, brought the sequel, “A Rendezvous with Robbery”, picking up where the previous story left off. But Pat and her father never get one step closer to Bruce.
Suddenly, a loud-speaker warns the party guests to freeze. Their lives depend on it. The grounds of the Wayne estate have been mined with explosives which are now activated. And to prove the point, one of them is detonated by a waiter. All of the waiters, it develops, are in on the crime. Forced to remain still, Bruce, Bulldog Powell, Pat, and the rest of the guests are helpless to prevent the crooks from taking their wallets, purses, and other valuables.
The mines deactivate an hour after the robbers flee. Pat loses her chance to meet Bruce when her father insists they go after the crooks. (“No more time for social activities, Detective Powell! Let’s move! We’ve got a case on our hands!”) Of course, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson plan to do some investigating on their own, as Batman and Robin.
Since Wayne has used the same catering business for years, the Dynamic Duo works the case from the angle of discovering how crooks were able to take the place of the trustworthy caterer’s usual wait staff. Backtracking in this manner, Batman and Robin collect sufficient information to locate the robbers’ hide-out, a split-level home in the near-by suburb of Plainview. But when the crimefighters burst in on the place, they discover it’s unoccupied---except for Bulldog Powell and Pat, whom they find locked in a closet.
Pat really shines here. She worked the case from a completely different angle, using clues she spotted at the party itself. With her father in tow, she found the hide-out a half hour before Batman and Robin did. Unfortunately, they were captured by the gang before they could move in and got stuffed in the closet so the crooks could make their getaway.
The lady cop has another ace to play. On the chance something would go wrong, Pat planted a miniature transmitter on the crooks’ car before they were nabbed. Using the receiver in their police vehicle, the father-and-daughter cops lead the Batmobile right to Secret Villain Hide-Out Number Two, an abandoned gas refinery. Here, they surprise the robbers. Though the Dynamic Duo grabs the lion’s share of the crook-catching, both Bulldog and Pat handle their end of the action admirably. Especially the hood who figures the "dame" to be an easy mark, until she gives him a hip toss and he lands with his face in the dirt. In short order, the gang is in handcuffs and all their loot is recovered.
The story ends on the next day, with Bruce Wayne arriving at police headquarters where Pat is waiting to return his stolen wallet. As Wayne’s private thoughts reveal, “Nothing can stop Pat and me from meeting now!” The final caption would have it otherwise, though . . . .
Don’t be too sure, Bruce---and you either, reader! There are more surprises in store, in the follow-up story to appear in a forthcoming Batman issue!
The narrative had it right. Bruce and Pat would not meet this time, either. But not because of some bizarre twist in the follow-up tale promised in that final caption. The readers never saw that first landmark meeting of Patricia Powell and Bruce Wayne because there was no follow-up story. In fact, Patricia Powell was never seen, again.
With all the principals involved having passed away, why Pat got the heave-ho after such an auspicious beginning is one of those creative decisions that will never be explained. Going by readers’ comments published in the letters column of Batman # 168 (Feb., 1965)---including one by a Mike Friedrich, of Castro Valley, California---fan reaction toward Pat Powell was mixed, but mostly favourable. One liked the character, but did not want a romance between her and Bruce; the rest enjoyed Pat and the idea of a romantic attachment with Bruce, but---as predicted---thought the gimmick of not having them meet face to face had gotten old fast.
On the other hand, Pat had inertia working against her. It had been decades since a writer had tried to saddle Bruce Wayne with a girl friend. There was Julie Madison, who was part of the Batman’s supporting cast even before Robin. But she appeared in only five stories and was gone by March, 1941. She was followed by Linda Page, who figured in more of Batman’s adventures, but her time on stage wasn’t any longer than Julie’s. Linda took her last bow early in ’43. As far as Bruce Wayne was concerned, it was probably good riddance. Both Julie and Linda were wealthy society girls who, nevertheless, constantly nagged “playboy” Bruce over his wastrel ways and lack of social concern.
In 1956, Batwoman was added to the series, and though the writers introduced a little romantic tension between her and the Batman, there didn’t seem to be many sparks flying between Kathy Kane and Bruce Wayne. On occasion, the plot would have Bruce see Kathy socially, but usually it was just a device to work Batwoman into the story.
News photographer Vicki Vale was the longest-lasting female character in the mythos, débuting in 1948 and making it almost all the way to the start of the “New Look”. Vicki might have cast a designing eye at Batman or Bruce Wayne, but her actual function was that of secret identity-snoop. Bruce was just as happy to have Vicki out of town, covering a massive earthquake or erupting volcano. In any event, Vicki, and Kathy, too, were given their pink slips when Julius Schwartz took over.
By then, Bruce Wayne had gone over twenty years without a steady sweetheart.
I liked Pat Powell. She had the brains and brawn and beauty to be a perfect match for Bruce Wayne, without any of the baggage of his previous girlfriends. She wasn’t a pest like Vicki Vale, who couldn’t wait to plaster “Batman Is Bruce Wayne!” across the cover of Vue Magazine.
And where Kathy Kane was a dilettante crimefighter, Pat was a professional.
A romance between Bruce and Pat would have set the stage for some intriguing plot developments. Imagine Pat tumbling to a crime in the making while out on a date with Wayne, who naturally would note the same things but have to pretend ignorance to preserve his secret identity. Or them out for a stroll in the park and Pat saves them from a couple of muggers, while Bruce has to stand back “helplessly”.
And sooner or later---probably, sooner---Pat would surely start to pick up on things to indicate that her boyfriend was more than a simple millionaire playboy. She was a sharp cookie, and it wouldn’t take her long to get suspicious of those “fishing trips” Bruce and Dick were always taking.
Which was more than you could say for Aunt Harriet.
Commander Benson said:
I doubt that Schwartz and Infantino were lying when they stated that the Bat-titles were on the verge of cancellation. However, this was not from direct knowledge; they were only repeating what editorial director Irwin Donenfeld had said. Would Donenfeld have had a reason to misrepresent the status of the Bat-books? I don't know, but if so, what was it?
There may have been another factor in play here, which no one else seems to have picked up, here or elsewhere, as far as I know.
Donenfeld (and - more pertinently - DC publisher Jack Liebowitz) may have been trying to weaken or undermine Bob Kane's contractual hold on Batman.
If Kane's contract with DC was coming up for renegotiation, or DC were attempting to buy him out, then what better tactic than to try and make him think sales were tanking, and Batman and Detective Comics were in serious danger of cancellation, thus making Kane amenable to the idea of accepting worse terms?
If the DC hierarchy could successfully sell or convince everyone at DC on the possibility of the books' cancellation, including new editor Julius Schwartz (who would have had to deal personally with Kane), then that it would make it all the easier to pull the wool over Kane's eyes.
From what I have read about Jack Liebowitz, I doubt that he would have great qualms about in effect conning Kane, especially as he almost certainly would have been well aware of Kane's past history of deceit during contractual negotiations with DC.
(Apparently DC bought out Kane's Batman contract in 1968.)
Luke Blanchard said:
John Jackson Miller discusses, and substantially defends, the reliability of the Statements of Ownership figures ...
Miller says that the main reason for the numbers was to state how many copies of a magazine were sent at the special mailing rate. Stating the entire circulation instead of the subscription numbers defeats the purpose, which probably means that no authority paid attention to the numbers. Stating who owned the magazine was the main thing.
So if a publisher had a selfish reason for misstating the numbers in a few cases (like the one suggested by Lee) no one would catch it.
Schwartz's lack of interest may explain why the New Look Batman never really grabbed me the way Flash, GL, Hawkman, etc. did. It was readable, but never anything I'd make an effort to get.
Of course I hadn't read the Schiff-era Batbooks so I couldn't really go "Wow, what an improvement!" the way the Commander and others could.
Now I'm thinking about Robin's love life and it wasn't much better, IIRC. In fact the only Titan who had any dates was Aqualad (I was going to mention Mer-Boy, then I remembered he dated Diana, not Donna).
Actually, I'm convinced that at least some of the Mer-Boy and all of the Bird-Boy stories happened to Donna instead of Diana. Obviously, the character Donna Troy wasn't a gleam in anyone's eye at the time the actual stories were produced, but some of them make a lot more sense if you look at them with the belief that "behind the scenes", young Donna was always somewhere on Paradise Island, training and such during the same time all those "Wonder Woman Family" stories were taking place. When the Wonder Family (all of them coexisting at the same time) was introduced (as opposed to the cleverly edited home movies version of them), Wonder Girl & Wonder Tot were explained as being basically solid holograms generated by a miniature device Hippolyta had mounted to one of her bracelets (essentially the same "Portable Hologram Emitter" tech from Star Trek: Voyager, only decades before the first appearance of the holodeck). My theory is that, since Wonder Woman was shown to be almost constantly on Paradise Island during this period, in at least some of the stories, Donna is the "real" character, and Wonder Woman is a hologram, giving Diana time to take part in her various JLA missions, and to keep Diana Prince from being declared AWOL. As the stories stand, there's some confusion over the issue of Mer-Man/Boy's name, so the one who grew up to be Manno the Mer-Man dated/stalked Diana since they were kids, and the other was a relative of his who dated Donna. Otherwise, we have a real merboy dating a holographic Amazon, or Hippolyta going to the trouble of making a holographic merboy to date a hologram of her daughter. Since DC accidentally retconned a second Wonder Girl into being, we may as well use her to take some of the kinks out of the existing stories, right? Yeah, I know, nothing good ever comes from thinking too hard about Wonder Woman continuity...
Fraser Sherman said:
Now I'm thinking about Robin's love life and it wasn't much better, IIRC. In fact the only Titan who had any dates was Aqualad (I was going to mention Mer-Boy, then I remembered he dated Diana, not Donna)