Silver Sightings: Batman's Silver Age: What Took So Long?

Beyond Commander Benson's examination of Batman's "New Look" period which began in 1964, I was always puzzled that the Caped Crusader was so behind the times as far as his Silver Age "entry" in Detective Comics #327 (Ju'64). View the cover of Detective #326 and #327 and Batman #163 and #164 below. They are a month apart but could be years apart for all anyone might know!

The Silver Age proper began with Showcase #4 (O'56) with the revised Flash and it took three years until Flash #105 in 1959. By that time, we saw the debut of the new Green Lantern, changes in Aquaman and Green Arrow and Superman evolve throughout that time with the introduction of Supergirl, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Bizarro and other elements into his mythos.

Yes it could be said of Batman as well with Batwoman, Bat-Hound and Bat-Mite but they corresponded, more or less, to the additions of Superman and were not innovative to the character.

But by 1964, we had the Justice League, Adam Strange, the Atom, Hawkman, Metal Men and Doom Patrol. Lois Lane got her own title. None of the new Bat-spinoffs did. Batman was being left behind despite appearing in both World's Finest Comics and Justice League of America. Indeed, Batman was already "revised" by being in those titles. Yet his own books were hardly on the same level, being stuck as they were in the 1950s. Truth be told, I enjoyed the reprints on those 50s tales but I was given the best of them to read.

So why the five-year wait to something different with Batman? They made changes to Superman albeit not artistically though you could see a maturation to Curt Swan's work. 

When Julius Schwartz began a new age of Super-Heroes in 1956, the higher-ups at DC/National were not convinced. That's why it took the Flash three more tryouts in Showcase (#8, #13, #14) to achieve his solo book again. When he did, Mort Weisinger didn't want Superman to appear staid and boring so he and his writers contrive to introduce something new to the various Super-titles every six months or so to see what was successful or not. But they always could be easily dropped.

With Batman, perhaps they did not want to make such drastic changes to their Number Two Guy. If all these new titles bombed, at least Batman stayed the same, a comforting constant to their readers! But with the stunning books coming out of DC in the early 60s, sales on Batman and especially Detective were getting dangerously low. Rumor had it that Detective might get cancelled! Finally the Caped Crusaders replaced his sci-fi alien adventures and his copycat supporting cast and gained a yellow oval on his chest and more cerebral stories fitting the Darknight Detective!

Could anyone see them doing a TV series based on the Pre-New Look Batman? And did that thematic changes help pave the way for Teen Titans? And if there was no change, would Batman have become DC's Ant-Man?

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Two amusing things are that the youth serum got rid of Gordon's mustache and that Gordon and White are inside the Batcave, somehow not learning Batman's secret identity.

 ...I have read that in the mid-60s, then-perpetually number three network ABC had great success with the twice-weekly nightime soap opera (Thrice-weekly at it's height) soap opera PEYTON PLACE. Following that up, ABC decided to try a likewise-split adventure serial...and first wanted to do DICK TRACY - a more respectable newspaper comic, not comic book, character and one who had had far more media visibility in the preceding years. When that didn't go through, ABC/Dozier decided to try the Caped Crusader.

A DICK TRACY pilot was shot in 1967 with Victor (King Tut) Buono as the villain, Mister Memory. And Bonnie Braids was to have been played by Eve (Jan Brady) Plumb!

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

 ...I have read that in the mid-60s, then-perpetually number three network ABC had great success with the twice-weekly nightime soap opera (Thrice-weekly at it's height) soap opera PEYTON PLACE. Following that up, ABC decided to try a likewise-split adventure serial...and first wanted to do DICK TRACY - a more respectable newspaper comic, not comic book, character and one who had had far more media visibility in the preceding years. When that didn't go through, ABC/Dozier decided to try the Caped Crusader.

They used the amnesia standby where Perry and Gordon don't remember what occurred when they were evil!

And ask the Golden Age Air Wave and the Jaguar about reappearing mustaches!

Richard Willis said:

Two amusing things are that the youth serum got rid of Gordon's mustache and that Gordon and White are inside the Batcave, somehow not learning Batman's secret identity.

Mustache?  Did someone say mustache?

Which I NEVER noticed as a kid. Only did that when we got a better TV!

Dave Palmer said:

Mustache?  Did someone say mustache?

...I've heard of such a pilot, but I'm not referring to that.



Philip Portelli said:

A DICK TRACY pilot was shot in 1967 with Victor (King Tut) Buono as the villain, Mister Memory. And Bonnie Braids was to have been played by Eve (Jan Brady) Plumb!

Emerkeith Davyjack said:

 ...I have read that in the mid-60s, then-perpetually number three network ABC had great success with the twice-weekly nightime soap opera (Thrice-weekly at it's height) soap opera PEYTON PLACE. Following that up, ABC decided to try a likewise-split adventure serial...and first wanted to do DICK TRACY - a more respectable newspaper comic, not comic book, character and one who had had far more media visibility in the preceding years. When that didn't go through, ABC/Dozier decided to try the Caped Crusader.

As a kid, it was the crazy super-villains that most appealed to me in the Batman tv series.  I hadn't read too many Batman comics, but for the most part the DC comics I read in the late '60s and early '70s failed to hook my interest the way the Marvel comics I read did.  In the mid-80s I did collect some older Batman stories by Englehart & Rogers and O'Neil & Adams, but by then it was more for the writer/artist team than for the character.

Mr. Silver Age said:

No question, Dozier looked at current Batman comics for his inspiration and adapted that issue in particular. But his take on it was that it was too silly to possibly take seriously, which is ironic because Schwartz was attempting to ELIMINATE some of the silliness of aliens and monsters.

The fact that Dozier wanted to play up the costumed supervillains, who were ludicrous to anyone but a comics fan (and who weren't appearing that often), was why he focused on that issue. In the same period in Detective, Batman was solving mysteries and being hounded by the Outsider in many issues.

The point is that, as with Stan looking at the JLA and creating the FF, lots of people could've looked at the first year of Schwartz's Batman issues and done entirely different things with it than create the Batman TV show we got, with its focus on silly death traps and costumed villains who chewed the scenery. 

But I think the same is true of the pre-New Look Batman. Dozier cherry-picked the elements he wanted to use to fit his vision of what a "comic-book" Batman was. He could easily have used pre-New Look comics to replace the supervillains with aliens, mad scientists and time-travelers. Whereas someone else could have looked at either pre- or NL options and done something entirely different and more serious. 

-- MSA  

A point to bear in mind is that prior to the Schwartz period Batman commonly carried two of three stories. So the covers don't tell you everything that was going on. Detective Comics had the Martian Manhunter's feature in the back pages.

I suspect in the 1950s DC thought of Superman and Batman as little kids' stuff and aimed other comics in the line older. The war comics were apparently aimed older, and I think the Schwartz SF titles too.

The earlier 1960s Superman comics were still aimed young - take Insect Queen and Super-Monkey - but because of their imagination and humour adults like us can like them.

I think that's why Julie hadn't been using the supervillains so much, they appealed to little kids and he was aiming older than that with his "detective" version. He was mixing in a few costumes, but they weren't the main focus.

But for a producer, it's likely that those bright costumes, odd idiosyncrasies and opportunities for guest stars were really appealing. And they obviously worked, at least for a while.

That approach also worked with the movie-serial cliffhanger style that was used, which was melodramatic and heightened the "camp" aspect.. Having 2 half-hours on consecutive nights was a new idea (and hasn't been used since). 

I don't know if a producer would have had as much high-profile success if they'd used Julie's detective version as their base. The more serious Green Hornet didn't last long.

The Batman show left an indelible mark on comics and their perception that took a long time to fade. But would I rather have had what I got or a 1-year flash-in-the-pan? Hard to say. I would've hated to miss out on Batgirl...

-- MSA

Admittedly, I'm not that familiar with Batman stories in either Detective Comics or his own title of the Silver Age, but it did surprise to read that even this late, there were still multiple stories in one issue of his own title, prompting me to wonder, if Julie was aiming at older readers, perhaps even acknowledging what Lee was doing right over at Marvel and trying to attract some of their fans, when did Batman stories at least go full length, taking up the entire mag.  Also seems to my limited knowledge that most DCs, with rare exceptions, didn't start having regular multi-issue stories until well into the '70s.  I'm sure there would have been much resistance to that, risking arousing the ire of fans who prefer complete stories in one title so they don't have to worry about whether they'll miss part of the story in a multi-issue arc, but I'm certain that Marvel taking that route was part of what kept older readers loyal to them as they enjoyed the more complex stories that weren't quite as formulaic as standard done-in-ones could become.  And during the 1960s, from sales indexes I've seen, DCs and even Archie Comics, typically outsold Marvels, but Marvels were steadily creeping up in sales and several titles edging ever closer to overtaking DCs bestsellers.

Regarding the Green Hornet, I wonder if that character was too obscure for most kids in the '60s to attract their attention, and just not the sort of thing most adults of the period would bother with.  Maybe a Dick Tracy live action show would have been more successful, as Tracy had by then been in many newspapers across the nation for three decades by then and even without super-villains, the strip featured a colorful assortment of weird gangsters.  Obviously, Batman's collection of costumed baddies were largely inspired by Dick Tracy's collection of non-costumed but often odd-faced baddies, and I'd guess that Chester Gould took inspiration for many of those baddies from the many sobriquets pinned on notorious criminals by newspaper reporters of the 1920s and '30s -- Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Ma Barker, Machine-Gun Kelly, Legs Diamond, Mad Dog Coll, Arnold "the Brain" Rothstein, Albert "Mad Hatter" Anastasia, etc.

When I started reading the Superman and Batman families of books in the late 50s it was common to have three 8-page stories in the Superman books and (I think) two stories in the Batman books. Batman would have only Batman stories. Detective Comics had the Martian Manhunter. Superman would have only Superman stories while Action and Adventure would have backup stories featuring Aquaman, Congorilla (previously Congo Bill), Green Arrow and later the Legion of Super-Heroes.

When Julie took over Batman and Detective (not his decision, IIRC), he continued the existing backup story in Detective, switching his Elongated Man character out for the Martian Manhunter. He had recurring costumed villains in his Flash, Green Lantern and Justice League books (less so in The Atom), so he wasn't against using them. I think he was (perhaps) swinging the pendulum too far to get away from the alien-of-the-month, Bat-Mite and Batwoman stories. Even though the books hadn't been under Weisinger, there were also a fair amount of stories involving women trying to expose Batman’s identity, IIRC. He chose to emphasize the detective aspects of Batman and Elongated Man, which IMO made for less-interesting stories. He wasn’t particularly familiar with Batman lore and infamously made the mistake in one story of having him handling and prepared to use a handgun.

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