Fifty years ago I bought my very first comic book: Justice League of America # 45 (June 1966). I don’t know the exact date, but the on-sale date was April 26, 1966, so I must’ve bought it within a week or two of that date. The reason I bought that particular comic book was simple: It had Batman prominently displayed on the cover, and this being the first spring of “Batmania,” I couldn’t find a copy of Batman or Detective Comics that first time I went out in search of a comic book.

Had it not been sold out, it’s more than likely that my first comic book would’ve been Batman # 181 (June 1966), which would’ve been a pretty cool comic to have, since it featured the debut of Poison Ivy plus had a full-page pin-up of Batman & Robin by Infantino & Anderson. But that issue went on sale a week before JLA # 45, so instead of a Bat-comic, I was tossed into the deep end of the Silver Age pool, being introduced to the entire Justice League on my very first sojourn into comics (unless you count my brief exposure at some point in 1965 to a friend’s copy of some random issue of Turok, Son of Stone, but Turok didn’t really interest me).

 

So why, if the “Batman” TV show debuted in January 1966, did it take me till late April/early May to finally buy a comic book? The reason, again, is simple: My family moved from Knoxville, Tenn. (where we’d been living since fall 1964), back to my hometown of Rockford, Ill., in February 1966, so understandably I wasn’t watching a whole lot of TV at the time since most of our worldly possessions were in the process of being packed in boxes (although I do sort of remember seeing previews for “Batman” on some random TV show I was watching, probably during the Christmas 1965 holidays).

 

By the time we were all settled into our new house in Rockford and I had started going to my new school (I was in 2nd grade at the time), “Batmania” was in full swing and just about every boy in my class carried at least one comic book with him to school every day, and many of them described the stories they’d read during “Show and Tell.” I was the odd-boy-out, the new-kid-in-school from Tennessee who didn’t even watch “Batman” every Wednesday and Thursday night (as it so happened, “The Munsters” was on at the same time on one of those nights, so the thought of abandoning Herman and Lily had never occurred to me). Peer pressure being what it is, though, I quickly enough convinced my family to let me watch “Batman” (luckily, we had two TV sets, though both were black-and-white), and while I had managed to miss the first 10 or so episodes, by that March I was a regular viewer, and I definitely remember seeing the False Face episodes because I was over at my grandparents’ house, and they had a color TV set, so I was able to watch all the POWs! and BIFs! in glorious living color that night.

It took longer to convince my mom to let me buy a comic book (maybe she just thought they would rot out my brains, which now that I think about it, she probably was right), but finally by the end of April or beginning of May, on a trip to Village Pharmacy near my home in Rockford, I managed to wear her down and she agreed to let me spend 12 cents of my hard-earned money on a comic book. Gosh, I don’t know how long I spent poring through every overstuffed pocket of that spinner rack of my dreams, looking for Batman but being bedazzled by a whole new world of four-color fabulousness! Ultimately, the only comic I found that fit the bill was, as I said, JLA # 45 which, truth be told, is one of the weaker entries in the Fox & Sekowsky run, but of course I didn’t have anything to compare it to at the time. What ended up happening, though, is that by the time I finished reading (and rereading, and rereading) that comic book, I was much more interested in learning more about the Flash and some of the other heretofore unknown heroes in that comic than I was with Batman.

 

In any event, I took that JLA comic to school the next day, and the gang all decided, maybe the new kid from Tennessee was okay after all, seeing as how he not only had a Batman comic book, but it was Batman and the entire JLA in a comic book. So that was cool.

 

The first actual Batman comic that I ever bought was Batman # 182 (the one after Poison Ivy’s debut), and that comic book forever sealed in amber my idea of what the perfect Batman comic should be like. You see, it was an 80-Page Giant, spotlighting the “Strange Lives of Batman and Robin,” with artwork by Dick Sprang and Sheldon Moldoff, and featuring such classics as “The Joker Batman,” “The Rainbow Batman” and “Batman, Jr. and Robin, Sr.” Man, I was hooked! These stories were just as good as the adventures on TV, and though soon enough I would discover the contemporary “New Look” Batman stories by Broome, Fox and Infantino, I would always prefer the Batman stories in the 80-Page Giants to the newer stuff. Even to this very day, 50 years later, I’d much rather read one of those pre-Silver Age Batman & Robin stories (not the bug-eyed monster stuff, but the earlier stuff) than any random regular issue.

Over the past 50 years, I’ve read probably close to 1,000 Bat-stories, though truth be told, probably my all-time favorite era would be the Silver Age World’s Finest stories, when Batman and Robin were basically extended members of the Superman family. Although Julie Schwartz edited some of my all-time favorite comic books, I think in my heart of comic book hearts, my very favorite editor will always be Mort Weisinger, as it didn’t really take very long for me to discover I was a bigger fan of Superman and the whole Superman family of comics than I was of Batman. Of course, back in 1966, Batman didn’t really have much of a family at all. He had his own eponymous title, plus Detective, and he became a JLA mainstay (especially on the covers), but he hadn’t yet taken over Brave & Bold every issue (B&B # 66 also had an on-sale date of April 26, 1966, but it cover-featured a team-up between Metamorpho and the Metal Men, all of whom were completely unknown to me, so I probably didn’t even give it a second glance while pawing through the spinner rack). And then of course, there was World’s Finest, which had Superman’s best artist, Curt Swan doing the artwork, and the writer of what would rapidly become my favorite comic book of the Silver Age, Adventure Comics, Jim Shooter, writing a lot of the stories. DC’s comics didn’t have credits back then, and I didn’t even know the names Curt Swan or Jim Shooter, or any other creator, but I knew what I liked, and the Batman I found in World’s Finest was the closest I could find to the type of Batman I liked best.

 

I guess I’ll also always prefer the classic team-up Batman & Robin stories to the post-Silver Age solo Batman era. When Robin took off for Hudson University, my interest in Batman comic books dropped off precipitously, which is why my collection has a lot of 80-Page Giant Batmans, but not a single regular-sized issue from the 1960s. revived only when the writing and/or art chores were handed over to some really talented people. When DC published six volumes of SHOWCASE PRESENTS BATMAN, I read every one of them (even buying a few, rather than merely checking them out from the library), and was astounded at how few of those comics I could remember ever reading. Really, from about the time that DC started running house ads in 1968 about a new kind of Batman (this would be about the time that Frank Robbins, Bob Brown and Irv Novick arrived on the scene, and Robin appeared less frequently on the covers), all the way to today, I’ve pretty much just cherrypicked Bat-stories, rather than reading his adventures every month without fail.

 

So I missed the entire first run of Neal Adams Bat-issues, though I’ve since gone back and read all of them, some of them many times. Fortunately, I heard that the early buzz on the Englehart-Rogers Detective issues, so I was able to follow that whole short-lived run when it first came out. I would say, though, that my favorite Bat-comic of the 1970s was the 100-Page Super-Spectacular that featured the earliest appearances of Two-Face. That one I read and reread till it disintegrated into pulp, and then bought a replacement for it so I could reread it again!

I would still pick up an occasional issue throughout the 1980s, up until the Crisis wiped out the Silver Age once and for all and launched DC on its never-ending quest to recreate that which it so recklessly threw away. Since then, I’m not sure I can think of a whole lot of regular issues of Batman that I’ve read. Many characters that have been around for decades now, I have yet to actually read any story about them, such as Harley Quinn, Azrael, Damian Wayne or Bane. And I’ve never read any of the supporting titles, such as Nightwing or Batgirl or Birds of Prey. So you could say, Batman and I had a parting of the ways by the time the Bronze Age had drawn to a close, and have never really quite reconciled, at least when it comes to comic books. But I’ve seen every movie and am a big fan of “Gotham,” so my interest in the basic character has never been shaken, no matter how goofy or unsettling any particular comic book run might be (not that I pay all that close attention, though I have read JLA pretty steadily, with some occasional years-long gaps, since 1966), so I’ve kind of kept up with Batman that way.

I stopped buying comic books altogether more than a year ago (I’ve got plenty of my own back issues to re-read, plus there are still a ton of SHOWCASE PRESENTS and MARVEL ESSENTIALS volumes yet to read), but I couldn’t just let the 50th anniversary of my first purchase of a comic book go unacknowledged, so I went into one of my long-time comic book shop haunts, and fished out a Silver Age comic book that I’d never read before. And no, it wasn’t a Batman comic book (I’ve now read every Batman appearance since 1964 through the end of the Silver Age thanks to various SP volumes). Nope, I went with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen # 59 (March 1962), which actually predates when I first bought comics by several years, but what the heck? It includes a story that’s never been reprinted, “Stranded in Evolution Valley,” and I’m at that point where I’m tracking down back issues for single stories now, having already glommed onto as many reprint collections as I can find. And I tell you what, no offense to my pal Batman, when it comes to pure Silver Age goodness, nothing beats an issue of SPJO!

About a year or so ago, the “Batman” TV show finally was released on DVD, and I’ve been slowly working my way through all three seasons, loving every hokey, campy minute of it (though the further into the sets I go, the hokier the stories seem to get). But it's reminded me all over again how much I loved that basic idea of Batman & Robin fighting bad guys in the daylight, getting ensnared in hopeless death traps, and using their wits to escape and bring the villains to justice. Loved it then, love it now!

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Thanks for sharing, Dave. That's a great post!

Good for you that you can remember your first comic - I can't even remotely remember which one was my first.

I can also remember my second comic: Donald Duck # 107 from Gold Key. The reason I remember it so well was because of where I bought it: in a comic book vending machine, which were briefly popular in the late 1960s up until the early 1970s. These machines were usually found in the lobby of drug stores or department stores, near the gumball machines. There would be, I dunno, maybe 16-20 stacks of comics, probably about 4-5 deep each, and you could only see the comic book in front, but sometimes you could sort of guess at what comic was next in the stack. So if you thought there was a comic you wanted but it wasn't in front, you'd gamble 12 cents that the next comic would be what you wanted. I don't remember what comic book I thought was underneath it, but I gambled 12 cents on that Donald Duck comic, but what was behind it wasn't at all what I thought it would be (hey, I was only 7, I hadn't gotten good at spotting logos yet), so I just kept the Donald without buying anything else.

In 1966, you'd put a dime in one slot in a vending machine arm (similar to the arms you'd find in a laundry-mat), two pennies in another slot, shove the arm in, and when you pulled it back out, your 12 cents were gone and a comic book would slide down to the bottom of the machine, where you'd pull it out and feast on four-color goodness. The machines were retrofitted in the late 1960s, which I distinctly remember because I went to buy a comic book but the machine wouldn't take my two pennies. "What the --" I muttered, till I noticed all the comic books now said 15 cents instead of 12 cents (talk about collusion!), so I fished in my pocket for a nickel. When comics jumped in price in 1971 to 25 cents, the machines quietly vanished.

Great story, Dave. I share your love of those 80 Page Giants.

The comic book vending machines were always a last resort when I needed a comic book to read. I remember well buying something I didn't really want in the hope that there was a better title in the rack behind it. That was how I came to buy the one and only issue of  Fox and Crow I ever owned.

Yes, thanks for sharing, Dave. I remember all of my early comics (those I acquired between 1968 and 1973), but there weren’t that many. My first two “Batman” comics were issues of Detective (#381 and #388, for the record), but they would have been picked at random by my mother for me to read in the car while enroute to our annual vacation. But the first Batman comic I chose for myself, was that 100-Page Super-Spectacular you posted above. It’s a little worse for wear these days (I read the pages thin), but I still have it.

Dave, I entered the fray around the same time as you. I bought my first comics in the spring of '65, and they were Superman family books (80-Page Giant #11, the greatest Superman-Luthor duels; Jimmy Olsen #85, "King of Olsen Island;" and JLA #36, "Case of the Disabled Justice League"). But I bought my first Batman comic a few months before the TV show debuted: Batman #176, an 80-Page Giant that included three stories that were later adapted for the show. I remember bringing it to show-and-tell the day before the first Mr. Freeze episode aired, but none of the other kids in my first grade class seemed to think that comic books were cool (no pun intended).

Wow, Bob, that's fascinating that your classroom experience was so different from mine, especially since it sounds like we're just one year apart (I was in the second grade in spring 1966, while you were in the first grade). I dunno if it was an age thing that 7- and 8-year olds in the second grade were so passionate about "Batman" while kids a little younger might not have been so into it, or if it just took longer for the kids in your class to catch on to how cool that show and comic books were. I know I never bothered with comic books, and was just barely aware of them, growing up in Tennessee, but once I got back to Illinois, "Batmania" was in full force and it sucked me right into the comic book maelstrom.

Yeah, your school experience was different from mine, too I only knew a couple kids who read comics (or if more did, they didn't let it be known), and it wasn't especially admired. No doubt regions and even specific schools worked differently. There were a few times where I met someone I knew in a drugstore and had to surreptitiously got my comics and got out.

You being a few years younger than me impacted our experiences, too. I'd been reading comics for about five years when the TV show came on, and I was hugely excited--until I realized that they were making fun of Batman. So I cringed through the episodes, still fascinated that a superhero that I knew was on TV (as opposed to Captain Nice and Mr. Terrific, which were obvious sitcoms).

The biggest problem was that the Silver Age, as you imply, was not Batman's finest hour. Between camp and a lot of Kane-like artwork, it wasn't a high point with all the other good comics. It was easy to be drawn to Schwartz pseudo-scientific nonsense and guys who were buddies with other heroes (and had girlfriends if not wives).

I think it was a wise move to buy a SA comic to celebrate. I'm even amazed you found one (which I assume was pretty cheap). Going into a bookstore or finding some other spinner rack to buy a JLA comic to replicate the idea would have been a waste.

Needless to say, I doubt too many kids today will have that type of experience to share in 50 years. Kids that young don't read many comics, I don't think, even though I think the experience still holds true. In some ways, it's easier to get involved, since finding a Batman comic today is fairly easy if you go to a comics shop, and you could buy all kinds of back issues. But they're pretty expensive and not too satisfying as individual issues.

A lot of people have fond memories of those 80- and 100-page issues, which introduced them to new worlds. They're so well thought of that BACK ISSUE could even devote an entire issue to them despite them being reprints of earlier stuff. Those earlier comics are even easier to get these days, but I don't think that sense of wonder and discovery still surrounds them.

All that said, my first comic was Superman Annual #4 (Winter 1961), and I was hooked. Nothing before that issue looks familiar, and almost everything after it does. If I didn't start buying comics immediately, I soon did. And I've bought comics every month since then.

-- MSA

What a wonderful post, Dave. Thanks. It brought back some memories for me, with my first Batman comic being Detective Comics 317, which came out in 1963, less than a year before the "New Look" revamp. Although I liked Carmine Infantino's artwork, I didn't like the new style of the stories and dropped out a few months before the TV show and moved over to Marvel.

It looks like you got into Justice League just as I was getting out of that, too. I never saw the Shaggy Man until I read that story in a reprint many years later, and I don't think I missed much.

I only knew a couple of kids who read comics in grade school, and there wasn't any "coolness" or lack of it factor involved. I just went to a rural school where most kids didn't like to read much of anything.

Hoy

doc photo said:

The comic book vending machines were always a last resort when I needed a comic book to read. I remember well buying something I didn't really want in the hope that there was a better title in the rack behind it. That was how I came to buy the one and only issue of Fox and Crow I ever owned.

My 7-year-old self existed in 1955, just before the Silver Age started. I probably was 8 when I started buying comics. Not quite sure. Everything back then was either spinner racks or magazine racks in drug stores. I was in a suburban area and there were no newsstands. I probably started with Carl Barks' Ducks and Turok (Dell then, not Gold Key). Fox and Crow was in there somewhere. I was buying Sad Sack, not realizing it was reprints from the 40s. I'm sure that Superman family books were my first superheroes, after which I bought some Batman. In late-1959 I started buying Blackhawk, probably starting with the T-Rex cover. Shortly after that I bought Brave and Bold #28, my first exposure to Flash and Green Lantern. Then started with the Schwartz books. I was buying occasional Atlas monster books and started with Marvel with FF #5. By then comics had finally gone all the way up to 12 cents.

As I said, I started reading comics before the first grade, and didn't know many others my age who were into them, at least not to the degree I was. I had maybe two or three comics fan friends over the next 8 years, and they didn't live anywhere near me. In 1973, I made the acquaintance of a fellow named Bob Rozakis, who drove a bizarre vehicle called the Comicmobile past my house.

Then, in 1974, I was working as an assistant in the computer lab at school when I noticed one of the other students typing in a list of Marvel heroes and villains. I said to him, "I've always been a DC fan, myself." He introduced me to another DC fan in the room, and the three of us became close friends. We started a Comic Art Club the next year, bringing more fans out of the woodwork, and Bob Rozakis came to speak at one of our meetings -- and invited us to visit the DC offices! (After we left, someone suggested that we go over to Marvel and see if they'd give us a tour, too. They didn't -- but as we were leaving, Stan Lee followed us into the elevator, and we didn't let him out until we each had his autograph.)

BobRo also said that he was going to write our club into a story. He did -- sort of -- and we became a skateboard gang called the Rocket Rollers in Teen Titans #49.

Mine , too !...........

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