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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In 1989, the year we married, I took my wife Gayle to her first comic convention in San Diego. Bob Kane was there, and he was obnoxious then too. He made a smarmy reference to the canard that Bruce and Dick had a sexual relationship so that everyone could hear him. Both of us took an instant dislike to him.

That was after the enormous success of the Batman movie. His ego must have been out of control!

Richard Willis said:

In 1989, the year we married, I took my wife Gayle to her first comic convention in San Diego. Bob Kane was there, and he was obnoxious then too. He made a smarmy reference to the canard that Bruce and Dick had a sexual relationship so that everyone could hear him. Both of us took an instant dislike to him.

Kane of course conveniently forgot to mention that according to the terms of the contract he signed way back when, he and only he was to be listed as sole creator of Batman, despite what input other people may have had. Of course, these sorts of contracts have long been popular on comic strips (in fact, today's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN strip still carries Stan Lee's name), years after he stopped writing it and a couple months after he passed away.

Very timely finding this discussion as I just got done reading every issue up to the first New Look, took about fourteen months on and off. I'd read Detective 327 ahead of time, but even so the change when read striking, like Batman suddenly stepping from an old faded photograph into the modern world(well, modern for 1964, at any rate).

The only thing I can compare it to is the change in Wonder Woman when O'Neil, Sekowsky and Giordano came in, although in that case it was even more of a dramatic shift as Kanigher's stint on the strip went on so goddamn long (has anyone else ever been writer/editor on the same title for such an extended period?)  firstly as a "ghost" of Marston for ten years, then another whole decade with his revised version of the character. Much like with Batman it felt like Wonder Woman had lost touch with the modern world(Kanigher trying to push her back to a pale approximation of the Golden Age probably didn't help!), so regardless of whether the Mod Era revamp failed or not, it was a necessary re-invention at a time of stagnation for the comic, and I'd say the same was true of the arguably more successful New Look era.

Although the 57-64 period was a bit of a trial at times, I still got a bit melancholy reading the last ever "Batman II & Robin II" story, knowing it was basically one last runaround for the Bat-Family of that era. Although I do find the framing device that's it's basically Alfred's fan-fiction quite amusing, and that seemingly no-one else find his hobby in any way strange.

Hey, Phil! Welcome to the Board!

My own Bat-collection originally began just a few issues before the "New Look," so my knowledge of the "sci-fi era" was limited to what was reprinted in 80-page Giants. What I saw there was an occasional good story ("Robin Dies at Dawn"), the fun Batman II and Robin II stories you mention, and a bunch of silly stuff that seemed aimed at kids. (I guess everything back then was aimed at kids; the Batman stories didn't bother to disguise it.) I wasn't a big fan of the "house" style of Kane impressions, either. (Those tiny hands! Those giant props!) So the Li'l Capn felt he jumped on the Bat-wagon at just the right time. 

I've pushed my DC collection back to the early '60s across the board, including the Bat-books. But my initial impression hasn't changed much. As you said, it was like Batman stepped out of an old photograph into the modern world (of the time).

Certainly the Infantino artwork helped make that case. I was reading earlier than that, when Batman was essentially a super-acrobat and challenger of the unknown (and fashion plate). They had their charm, but a lot of the stories didn't require a guy running around in a bat-costume, so you kind of had to take them for what they were.

OTOH, those stories can probably be justified today much easier than billions of Jimmy and Lois stories! All those titles were aimed at smaller kids and older kids who could turn off their brains and go with the flow. I was both at various times. As Cap says, Superman stories hid it a little better behind some great art.

WW's changes came about for much different reasons, at a time when ALL superheroes were losing sales and popularity primarily due to cultural changes and the raging against any authority figure. DC's heroes faced that more than Marvel's, but superheroes generally weren't in vogue.

WW arguably was easier to change into an adventure hero because she could add elements of fashion, romance, girl power and other themes that any of the guys couldn't pull off so well (although GL tried).

WW's stories have a lot of fans, and they could be fun because they were so different. But most of them weren't really WW stories in any way--which may be good considering Sekowsky's total disregard for any character's past continuity.

-- MSA

Both Batman & Wonder Woman were portrayed more Silver Age-ish in JUSTICE LEAGUE than their own titles.

I thought it was interesting that, while Julius Schwartz was pushing the New Look in Batman and Detective Comics, Mort Weisinger was only conceding the yellow oval on Batman in World's Finest and pretty much continuing the old continuity with villains and sometimes the otherwise-banned Bat family members.


The 1967 appearance of Bat-Mite in WORLDS FINEST #169 *may* be even more telling.

I was surprised to find out that that one was a very early script by Cary Bates, whom I didn't remember doing anything in the 1960s.

Cary Bates actually began writing Superman family stories in 1964, although only a handful until 1967, when he became a mainstay on Superman and WF. You can look it up. They didn't have credits, so there was no way of knowing.

-- MSA

Another fun fact I forgot to mention: Batman's New Look actually made its debut in...World's Finest #141, which came out two weeks before Detective #327!

It's not on the cover because it's made up much earlier. Apparently Weisinger was aware of the changes and made them for his story, scooping Schwartz's Batman titles.

You wouldn't believe how many bar bets I've won with that oddity!

-- MSA

Mort Weisinger treated World's Finest Comics like an additional "Super"-title using Brainiac, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl, Bizarro, Mister Mxyzptlk and referencing the Legion of Super-Heroes. But he also had a lot of Bat-gimmicks seen. He had to in order to justify Batman's presence in the stories.

But when the BATMAN TV show debuted, more elements from the Bat-mythos and from the show itself popped up often such as spotlighting the Bat-foes, mentioning Chief O'Hara, using Batgirl and portraying a younger Commissioner Gordon looking like Neil Hamilton, the actor who played him!

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