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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The "New Look" changes to Batman during the Silver Age occurred because sales had finally slipped into the danger zone. There are apocryphal tales that they were on the verge of canceling it, but most people in the know seem skeptical that anyone seriously said that, much less that it was an option.

IAE, they finally decided to give Batman to Schwartz to change things and he jazzed it up. Dozier saw some of Schwartz's comics and decided it was so ludicrous he did it in a comedy/camp style. 

Keep in mind, ABC already had planned to do a Batman TV show; Dozier was being considered to produce it, and HIS apocryphal story has him stopping at an airport newsstand on the way to the meeting, seeing the comics and coming up with his pitch. How much of that is true is hard to say, and most people put it up there with Martin Goodman hearing about the JLA's sales during a golf game.

The key point is that Dozier DIDN'T come up with the idea of a Batman TV show, pitch it to ABC and convince them to put it on the air.

There's little question that, without the Schwartz version, the show would have been different. But maybe instead of all those old-time villains Schwartz began resurrecting faster, it would have focused on SF themes (which would've been in keeping with the popularity of Star Trek) and taken a more serious approach. Or they could've gone in their own direction altogether. There are probably not many worlds in the multiverse where ABC's Batman became a campy comedy.

I won't get into your reference to Batman's "entry" into the Silver Age except to say that, IMO, the Silver Age began with September 1956 cover dates, and an Age is a period of time, not a style or theme in some select stories.

-- MSA 

One point is that Batman debuted in January 1966 while Star Trek first aired in September 1966.

Also, I'm not saying that Batman entered the Silver Age in 1964, only that it took them that long to make the necessary changes. (In fact, Who's Who #2 {Ap'85} stated that the first appearance of the Earth-One Batman was Detective #327, a ludicrous claim!) He clearly was there from 1956. Indeed Batwoman was an Earth-One character despite later giving her an Earth-Two doppelganger! 

Batman debuted first, but it's possible that the ideas that brought about Star Trek could've affected Batman earlier, if all his adventures at the time were SF-based. I don't know that they would've wanted to send him to other worlds and such, but shows with aliens and tech stuff or even mad scientists with weird monsters, might have had appeal in a space-age country. 

OTOH, if Schwartz saw the benefit of taking Batman back to his detective roots, maybe another producer more familiar with Batman's history would've done the same on his own if Schwarz's version wasn't there. As with the JLA leading to the FF, I don't think that Schwartz's Batman leads directly to Dozier's Batman show without a very specific vision behind it.

IOW, I'm not willing to say the Batman TV show would've been worse without Schwartz's version. It might have been better--at least for comics fans. It might not have been as hugely popular, but it still only lasted 2 1/2 years.

-- MSA

We all assume that Batman before the New Look was dominated by space aliens and science fiction, and the New Look returned him back to his detective roots. 

Let’s test that.  I looked at the year and a half of Detective before the New Look (#309-326, starting with the November 1962 issue and ending with April 1964).  That should be enough to get a sense of a trend. ‘Tec was monthly and maybe, given its title, would be a little truer to Batman’s roots.  I don’t have any of these to read (hey DC, I’d buy a collection) but there are some clues sprinkled about the internet.

Of these 18, I’d say four and maybe six really fit the science fiction/space alien label.  Now, of course, the others may be “silly” in their own right, but not necessarily because of space aliens.  

The four I’d include are #310 with Bat-Mite, although every time I see that cover I think Elongated Man.

#320 where an alien device turns the duo green so they hide behind mummy bandages (well, of course), but beyond that little bit of sci-if business the story appears to be a “how can we outwit Vicki Vale” story.

#322, Batman becomes a genie

And #326, okay, that one is easy

My maybes are #315, which involves some criminals tricking a “Tarzan” lookalike to fight Batman, and #316 where Batman creates an energy double of himself to fight Dr. Double X.  

Of the others, nine involve super-criminals in what appear to be typical superhero vs. supervillain antics (Cat-Man 3 times, including once where Batwoman becomes Cat-Woman, Clayface, the Condor Gang, Dr. No-Face, the Terrible Trio, Zodiac Master).  Three (#309, 313, 314) appear to be crime/mysteries.  

Many of the covers involve fantastic science-fictiony death traps such as #313.

Or dress up a murder mystery as a fantasy such as #309, but it obviously isn’t a real dragon.

Just imagine if Neal Adams had drawn a cover in 1972 for a story entitled “The Mystery of the Marci Grad Murders.”  We’d still be talking about it.

I looked over the covers to World’s Finest and they seem to fit the mold, but that makes sense.  You need something fantastic to threaten Superman.  And Batman appears that it may have had a higher percentage of sci-fi covers, but it also had multiple stories per issue and that would have to be accounted for.

The New Look did bring a more sophisticated and “serious” approach, but it also had elements that wouldn’t necessarily have been out of place pre-New Look (the Living Beast -Bomb, Blockbuster, the Outsider).

Opps, I left  #324 off of my list of possible super-criminal stories.  Ernst LaRue and his mind controlling camera, and a giant robot head death trap to boot.  I could see LaRue becoming a reoccurring thorn in Batman’s side.

Phillip Portelli said: And if there was no change, would Batman have become DC's Ant-Man?

For one story, he did!

Hoy

The covers of Detective are a small subset of options, though, especially as Batman issues had as many as three stories in each issue. As noted, WF often featured those SF kinds of stories by design to include Superman (often giving Batman little to really do), but that doesn't negate them being out there as one-third of the Batman covers readers saw.

Hoy referenced the most famous alien Batman story, but there were others, along with monsters, time-travelers, a few super-villains (Joker, Clayface) and other options. They definitely mixed it up. (Keep in mind, Batman didn't actually GO to an alien world in Robin Dies at Dawn, it was a high-tech lab experiment).

#160 (Dec 63), for instance featured a lead story with an alien, while the backup was about tracking a murderer on an island of misfits.

The point is, there were many more options for story ideas before Schwartz's detective-based death-trap-escaping version than after. They could have taken any one of a number of different approaches as the path to follow, or they could have done what the comics were doing and mix it up with detective, aliens, monsters, super-villains, secret identity problems, etc. with no two weeks the same.

Or they could've played it even more for laughs by emphasizing the ludicrous notion of an acrobatic detective in a lurid costume running around in the daytime fighting alien invasions. Early 1960s Batman had a lot of themes--none of which apparently were selling well.

Which brings us back to the original point, which was why they waited so long to update Batman (who was already well into the SA). My take is that Weisinger was able to see the handwriting on the wall and introduce cool themes and bits to appeal to his young audience seamlessly, which kept sales doing reasonably well. Schiff wasn't able to do that, and his sales kept dropping. And no matter what style story he tried, nothing worked.

I don't think Schwartz and Infantino were especially happy to leave their SF books to do another superhero they knew nothing about (as the gun-wielding Batman early on showed). But they had the talent to revive the character sufficiently to keep him afloat.

It'd be interesting to know what it was that made ABC decide to do a Batman show of some kind. Was it seeing Schwartz's version on a newsstand? Did someone fondly remember the Superman TV show and figure maybe Batman would work (since the SFX would be much cheaper)?

I was both fascinated and horrified by the TV show. I think better ones could've been made, but I don't know if they'd have been as popular and made so many kids aware of the comics. So I guess I'm glad we got the one we got, at least for 2 1/2 years. That visibility probably made the Burton one possible, which got us where we are today.

-- MSA  

Great discussion, guys -- I'm learning a lot, as I don't know much about this Bat-period. (C'mon DC, give us that collection!) I will add that not only did Green Arrow and Aquaman get new origins in 1959, so did Wonder Woman. Given that Showcase #22 (first Green Lantern) and Flash #105 both arrived in '59, it was quite a year.

Superman's kind of the outlier. Silver Age elements began to be added in 1958, including Brainiac (and the Bottle City of Kandor), Supergirl, Krypto, the Legion of Super-Heroes and the Arctic Fortress of Solitude. 

Did I get all that right, Craig? It was off the to of my head, so I may have gotten some of it wrong.

 I don't know much about this Bat-period

What the what now? I admit, Batman was not one of my favorites in the SA because he was often pretty silly and boring (which is probably why to this day he doesn't appeal to me as much as Superman), but I still bought and read them all! 

You're right about all those origins. I imagine that, with superheroes gaining popularity, editors wanted to be sure new readers knew who these B-list heroes who'd always been around were. Along the way, they updated or changed the origins to suit their new needs, without changing the characters much.

Those make ideal places on those continuing characters to mark where their stories shifted to Earth-1. NOT, I might add, where they entered the SA. People often confuse those two concepts when talking about those continuing characters in the late 1950s, but they're two entirely different concepts. 

-- MSA

The pilot episode of the BATMAN TV show (aired in January 1966) was an adaptation of Batman #171 (My'65), the first Silver Age appearance of the Riddler about a year into the New Look period. That would seem to imply that those books were a big inspiration for the series. When one reads the New Look Batman's first two years, one can't help but see it.

It's not like they were remembering the Riddler's debut from Detective Comics #140 from 1948!

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  

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