Deck Log Entry # 224 Mort Weisinger and the "Old Look" Batman

If you knew nothing about the Silver Age of Comics except for what you read in my Deck Log, you'd still be aware of the big change in Batman that Julius Schwartz wrought when he became editor of the Bat-titles in 1964.  I've talked about it often enough.  Just last month, as a matter of fact, in the coda to my piece on the Second Batman and Robin Team.


While the early days of the Silver Age resulted in the rest of DC's super-heroes being modernised, or at least, given a polish, Batman had remained the stodgy character he had settled into, a bland crimefighter to whom anything could happen.  He had long lost his cachet as a mysterious creature of the night, wreaking vengeance against evil.  Making things worse, the art on the Bat-tales had lost its zing with the departure of regular artist Dick Sprang in 1963.  This left the Caped Crusader to suffer under the stiff and static art of Sheldon Moldoff.


Incredibly, DC---National Periodical Publications, then---had allowed its second-most profitable production to languish, and by 1964, somebody upstairs finally realised it.  The word came down for Julius Schwartz, the author of the Silver Age himself, to take over Batman and revitalise him.


We all know what Schwartz did.  He upgraded the Masked Manhunter visually---by installing Carmine Infantino as a regular artist and directing Shelly Moldoff to stop imitating Bob Kane, and by adding a yellow ellipse around the bat-insignia on the hero's chest (the only alteration to the Batman's outfit that the DC execs would allow).  He updated the bat-trappings, among which was a new sports-car-style Batmobile and a hot-line telephone to Commissioner Gordon.


Most important, he returned the Batman to his roots, as a street-level crimefighter with a fearsome reputation.  That meant, among other things, eliminating the members of the extended Bat-family---Batwoman, Bat-Girl, Bat-Mite, and Ace, the Bat-Hound---whom Schwartz felt diluted the core product.  It was more than just never using them, again.  All the Bat-hangers-on were exorcised from the continuity, as if they had never existed.


Mort Weisinger, though, had other plans.




In the late 1950's, Weisinger, editor of the Superman line of magazines, had instituted his own renaissance---of DC's favourite son.  Up to that point, there hadn't been much in the way of continuity in the Superman stories, outside of the Man of Steel, his secret identity of Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Perry White, and the Daily Planet.  Oh, a previous foe, usually Luthor, would pop up now and then, but there was rarely a reference to earlier villainy.  Each Superman tale pretty much took place in a vacuum, with no relation to the others, except for the central characters.


Weisinger changed all that.  He fleshed out the Man of Steel's babyhood on Krypton, his arrival on Earth, his upbringing by the Kents, and his career as Superboy and Superman.  And he added details, usually in response to readers' questions, like "How does Superman cut his hair?" and "Why doesn't his costume rip or burn?"  Notably, these details weren't just tossed out and then forgotten in later stories.  Mort tied them all into the narrative of Superman's life, and it was a rare occasion when a writer's script snuck a contradiction past his iron scrutiny.


Such consistency alone was enough to impress the fans, but Weisinger didn't stop there.  Drawing on his background in science-fiction pulps, he saw to the introduction of one startling concept after another.  The Fortress of Solitude.  The bottled city of Kandor.  The Phantom Zone. The Legion of Super-Heroes.  Multi-coloured varieties of kryptonite.  Bizarros.  Supergirl. 


There was one concept, though, that was not his idea, but Mort worked it in.


DC editors gathered the titles they oversaw into carefully guarded fiefdoms, the characters operating in their own individual universes.  A hero from one editor's stable almost never appeared in another editor's title.  With one exception:  Superman and Batman.


Since 1941, DC's two cashcows had appeared together on the covers of World's Finest Comics, while both enjoying a solo story within.  But in 1954, the magazine's page count was cut in half.  So, World's Finest Comics # 71 (Jul.-Aug., 1954) saw Superman and Batman merged into a single series presenting the "two favorite heroes . . . in one adventure together!"  Up to this point, they had only bumped into each other a couple of times in All Star Comics.  But there was some history from the occasional episodes in which the Man of Steel had teamed up with Batman and Robin in the Adventures of Superman radio programme. 


In order for the pairing of the overwhelmingly powerful Man of Steel and the skilled-but-mortal Masked Manhunter to be even halfway accepted by the fans, the World's Finest tales quickly established that they were good friends.  The groundwork for this had been laid in "The Mightiest Team on Earth", from Superman # 76 (May, 1952), when the two heroes learnt each other's secret identities and finally spoke more than a half-dozen words together.


Mort was stuck with this when he took over as editor de jure of the Super-titles---and he ran with it.  In "The Super-Key to Fort Superman", from Action Comics # 241 (Jun., 1958), he showed Superman and Batman to be truly best buds, and not just teammates of convenience.  The Caped Crusader would continue to make appearances in Weisinger's titles a couple of times a year, usually to protect Superman's identity as Clark Kent.  The Man of Steel would return the favour by popping up in editor Jack Schiff's Batman and Detective Comics on a few occasions.


And if that wasn't enough editorial line-jumping, Julius Schwartz' Justice League of America occasionally made mention of the close comradery of the World's Finest Team and, in fact, Gardner Fox used it as a critical plot point in JLA # 12 (Jun., 1962).




Then came 1964.  DC removed Jack Schiff as editor of Batman and Detective Comics, and replaced him with Julius Schwartz, who promptly launched the Caped Crusader's New Look.


Schiff had also been editor of World's Finest Comics.  That title had been taken away from him, too, and turned over to Mort Weisinger.  The addition didn't faze Unca Mort much.  He simply converted World's Finest into another Superman family title.  Classic Man of Steel artists Curt Swan and George Klein took over the art chores, while Edmond Hamilton, one of Weisinger's stable of writers, cranked out scripts that placed emphasis on elements from the Superman mythos.


That didn't mean he was overlooking the Batman.  In fact, Weisinger's first-credited issue of World's Finest Comics, # 141 (May, 1964), raised the collective eyebrows of fandom, as evidenced by a letter than appeared in the magazine's letter column two issues later:


WFC # 141 had come out on 12 March 1964, while the landmark Detective Comics # 327 didn't hit the stands until 26 March.  Weisinger had jumped the gun on the most visual indicator of Schwartz' Big Reveal by two weeks! 


Was it one-upmanship by Weisinger, or had he and Schwartz worked out a sly way of inveigling some interest in what was going on with Batman?  I've never come across anything that said one way or the other.  The point of it, though, is that Mort knew about the change to the Batman's insignia. 


But, as for the other ways Schwartz upgraded the Masked Manhunter, Weisinger apparently wasn't paying attention.


The second panel of the first story-page of World's Finest Comics # 142 (Jun., 1964) shows the old bubble-topped Batmobile sedan parked in the Batcave.  Now, to be fair, Batman # 164, which featured the début of the snazzy new Bat-convertible, had come out only two weeks before.  Mort might have missed it.  But there's no getting around the main story in WFC # 144 (Sep., 1964), which showed Batman and his temporary partner, Jimmy Olsen, tooling around Gotham City in the clunky, bat-headed model.


It took six months for the new Batmobile to become established in any of Mort's titles---WFC # 146 (Dec., 1964), to be precise.  But it looks like he was asleep at the switch when, a couple of years later, the main story in Lois Lane # 70 (Nov., 1966) depicted the Dynamic Duo back in their old car.  A missive from Sheila Fyfe of Palantine, Illinois, published in a subsequent "Letters to Lois and Lana", called Weisinger on the error.


Ye Olde Editor lamely explained, "The new model was in the garage for an overhaul."


Weisinger was more stubborn about the entrance to the Batcave from Wayne Manor.  In WFC # 145 (Nov., 1964), Bruce Wayne was depicted as still using the winding staircase hidden behind the grandfather's clock to descend to the Batcave.  The subterranean stairway would continue to be seen in most issues of World's Finest until # 165 (Mar., 1967), when we finally see the Dynamic Duo use the elevator Julie Schwartz had installed three years earlier.


The hot-line didn't show up in a Weisinger-edited tale until WFC # 159 (Aug., 1966).  Probably because, by then, the influence of the Batman television show was in full sway.  The same story, "The Cape and Cowl Crooks", marked the first comics presence of Chief O'Hara and showed Robin uttering a "Holy _____!" expression in the style of TV's Boy Wonder.




If Mort was behind the times when it came to displaying the modern bat-equipment, he was completely stuck in the past when it came to the extended Bat-family that Schwartz had consigned to oblivion.  The Superman editor was perfectly fine with resurrecting them for his World's Finest stories.  In a couple of cases, they weren't even necessary to the plot; writer Edmond Hamilton just felt like sticking them in.



Ace, the Bat-Hound.  The intrepid canine made a two-panel cameo in "The Feud Between Batman and Superman", from WFC # 143 (Aug., 1964), before joining Streak, Rex, and other forgotten wonder dogs in the limbo kennel.


Bat-Mite.  Magic was one of the few threats that could equally threaten Superman and Batman, and Weisinger meant to take every advantage of it.  Like Jack Schiff before him, Mort had the Batman-worshipping elf join forces with Mister Mxyzptlk to vex the cape-and-cowl colleagues for a couple of World's Finest tales, in issues # 152 (Sep., 1965) and # 169 (Sep., 1967).


Batwoman.  Weisinger didn't use her in any story from the actual continuity.  However, the imaginary tale "The Sons of Batman and Superman", from WFC # 154 (Dec., 1965), sees Bruce Wayne marrying Kathy Kane, and she takes a significant part in the adventure both as Mrs. Wayne and as Batwoman.  Kathy also appears in the sequel, "The Abominable Brats", from issue # 157 (May, 1966), but, that time, never dons her bat-tights.


Vicki Vale.  I don't think Vicki was even on Julius Schwartz' radar when he bottom-blew the rest of the Bat-cast.  She just got lost in the shuffle.  Weisinger and Hamilton remembered her, though, and gave her a brief scene in "The Federation of Bizarro Idiots", from WFC # 156 (Mar., 1966).



Thus marked the final Silver-Age appearances for all of the above characters supposedly erased by the New Look. 


When Batmania swept the country in the spring of 1966, DC made sure that the public's craving for the Caped Crusader was more than satisfied.  The mastheads of Detective Comics and World's Finest Comics were modified to include the Batman logo.  Batman was plastered front and centre on the covers of Justice League of America, dwarfing his fellow members.  He became the permanent star of The Brave and the Bold.  It was difficult to find a DC title that didn't include a guest appearance by the Masked Manhunter or, at least, some reference to him, or his television show, or both.


If anything, the bat-promotion was worse at Mort Weisinger's shop.  Batman had gone from showing up once or twice a year in Superman or Action Comics to appearing eleven times in various Superman titles (other than World's Finest) between March, 1966 and May, 1968.


Still, it provided Mort with the opportunity to revive another abandoned bat-character, one who hadn't been seen in over twelve years.  In the aforementioned Lois Lane # 70 and the following issue, # 71 (Jan., 1967), the plucky newshen runs up against---the Catwoman, whose last appearance had been in Detective Comics # 211 (Sep., 1954).


In the first year or so of the New Look, Julie Schwartz had preferred to pit Batman and Robin against clever gangbosses and some brainier crooks who had gimmicks that were just good enough to put them out of the reach of ordinary police.  Yet, on a few occasions, he slipped in a costumed villain to take on the Dynamic Duo.  Bat-foes like the Joker and the Penguin and the Riddler.


However, the parade of costumed villains on the Batman TV show led bat-fans to expect the same from his comic-book adventures.  Schwartz relented by digging one out of the Gotham Goliath's distant past (the Scarecrow), swiping one from television (Mr. Freeze, Mr. Zero), borrowing one from another hero (the Weather Wizard), but mostly by having his writers come up with new ones (the Cluemaster, Poison Ivy, the Spellbinder, the Eraser).  However, Julie had completely passed on the Catwoman, despite the fact that the history of underlying romantic attraction between her and Batman would have done more to blunt Dr. Wertham's accusations of homosexuality than the addition of Aunt Harriet ever could have.  


Instead, it was Mort Weisinger who introduced the Feline Fatale of Crime to the Silver Age.




A DC fan of the day couldn't help but notice that Jack Schiff's extended Bat-cast was essentially copied from some of Superman's supporting characters.


Superman had a lady journalist with a romantic interest in him, but was more interested in exposing his true identity; Batman had a lady journalist with a romantic interest in him, but was more interested in exposing his real identity.  Superman was pestered by a magical imp, so Batman was pestered by a magical imp.  The Man of Steel had a Superdog; the Masked Manhunter got a Bat-hound.  And two years after a blonde teen-age girl with a derivative super-costume joined the Superman continuity, a blonde teen-age girl with a derivative bat-costume joined the Batman continuity.


Only Batwoman seemed to have no recurring analogue in the Superman titles.  But she was possibly inspired by Lois Lane's one-story stint as Superwoman in Action Comics # 156 (May, 1951).


I doubt Mort did any finger-pointing.  After all, he wasn't beyond stealing a concept himself.  For evidence of that, one has to go no further than "Superman in Kandor", from Superman # 158 (Jan., 1963).  This is the tale which sees the powerless Man of Steel and his pal, Jimmy Olsen, take on the costumed rôles of Nightwing and Flamebird to combat a rogue band of Kandorians.  Edmond Hamilton's script comes right out and says that the two identities were modeled after Batman and Robin.  Even though Superman and Jimmy would make only two more appearances in those guises, "the Dynamic Duo of Kandor" became a staple of the Superman mythos.


Weisinger probably saw Bat-Mite, Batwoman, and the others as handy analogues when he needed to balance characters from Superman's larger supporting cast.  And he didn't see a problem with that---Schwartz hadn't disposed of them; he just ignored them.  Notably, the Superman editor kept his hands off Alfred the butler.  No doubt because his character was actually eliminated "on camera"---killed off in "The Gotham Gang Line-Up", from Detective Comics # 328 (Jun., 1964).  The trusty retainer didn't appear in any of Mort's titles until after he got better, in Detective Comics # 356 (Oct., 1966).


My guess is that Mort Weisinger wasn't following the changes in Batman too closely.  As far as he was concerned, when he took over World's Finest Comics, he went with the elements of the Batman's continuity that had been seen in that magazine:  the old-style Batmobile, the stairway descent into the Batcave, Batwoman, Bat-Mite, Vicki Vale.  Even Clayface, a popular pre-New Look bat-villain, had shown up in the last Jack Schiff-edited issue of World's Finest.  Julie Schwartz wasn't about to use the shape-shifting crook in his more realistic approach to the Masked Manhunter, but Mort found fit to include him in two more World's Finest tales.


The only New-Look changes that Weisinger had to follow were the alteration in the bat-insignia and the death of Alfred.  Otherwise, he knew he would receive a carload of mail pointing out those errors, and it's alleged that those kinds of letters annoyed the hell out of him.  (Some of his "Metropolis Mailbag" responses to boo-boo hunters have a distinctly brusque tone.) 


Ye Olde Editor ran his own shop his own way.

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Replies to This Discussion

Mort Weisinger's World's Finest also used Jimmy Olsen as Superman's "Robin" more than in his other Super-titles.

And he brought back Two-Face in a way, years before his real revival.

He also used Batgirl, the first time that she was shown outside the Schwartz books.

It's surprising Batman took so long to change when the late 1950s shook up Superman, Wonder Woman and even Aquaman and Green Arrow. I blogged about that over at atomic junkshop:

Reading Vicki's early appearances in the Golden Age Batman omnibuses was a real surprise. She comes off as a smart, daring journalist, instead of a one-note secret identity snooper.

I love the idea of Batman and Superman playing jokes on each other. They'd never get away with that today.

Another Great Piece,,, Thank You again & again,,,

Greg Glaz

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