Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Dark Knight Departs

DC Comics is doing the world a great favor printing their Batman Chronicles books. These are inexpensive trade paperbacks that reprint the Batman's adventures in chronological order, starting with his first appearance in Detective Comics #27. Volume 1 covers Detective 27 - 38, and Batman #1.

Among the milestones in this volume are the first appearances of the Joker, the Cat (who later became Catwoman), and Robin. It's the latter's appearance that inspires this little column.

The mythology of Batman comics is that our hero was originally some hardcore loner, who moved in the shadows and dispensed his own unique brand of vigilante justice. However, some time in the 50s, he turned into this cheery guy who was seen in the daytime and palled around with Superman. It wasn't until the late 60s that he returned to his roots.

For an example of the vigilante, check out the last panel of "The Batman Meets Dr. Death" (Detective 29):

Yup- his third appearance, and he takes the villain's suicide in stride.

In part two of "Batman Vs. The Vampire" (Detective 32), he's a bit more pro-active in seeing his enemies off:

So, yeah, this is really the Dark Knight of mythology.

But how long did this dark period last? Not having access to the complete Batman library, it seemed that he was like this for quite a while and had built up quite a library of these moody stories. The myth was that the comics code of the early 50s ruined Batman, and that Neal Adams brought him back when started drawing the comics in the late 60s.

Having the Batman Chronicles was like a splash of cold water on my face- because Batman doesn't even make it to the end of the first volume before he becomes wussified. In Detective 38, Batman witnesses the murder of young Dick Grayson's parents, and becomes the boy's ward. Dick becomes better known as Robin, and Batman loses his dark aura. Here's the panel that signals the new, lighter, Batman:

Look at it- he's smiling, and calling Dick a "reckless young squirt." Not only that, but he's a bit of a nag, too:

So much for "Death to Dr. Death" Batman. Say hello to "Reckless Young Squirt" Batman. And how long did it take to make the transition? Less than a year- Batman debuted May, 1939 and Robin popped up April, 1940. A 12-month golden age.

It wasn't until 1968 that we saw this Batman again:

So- one year dark, 28 years light. Quite a ratio, eh?

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