Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

Let’s celebrate Batman’s anniversary with some reboots!

Not a current anniversary but 1968’s Batman #200, “The Man Who Radiated Fear” by Mike Friedrich and Chic Stone. As you can see, DC thought getting to 200 was worth a little bragging. Not to mention the cool Neal Adams cover.The story, however, was hardly the big, epic deal so many later anniversary issues would be. The Scarecrow develops a drug that makes him terrifying to anyone who hasn’t taken the antidote. When Batman and Robin face him they’re so profoundly shaken they’re ready to hang up their capes. Then Alfred reminds them of their origins (a big deal back in the days when origin stories weren’t referenced that much) and why fighting crime is their life’s work. With their determination restored, they hunt down the Scarecrow for a rematch and win.

Denny O’Neil a few years later could have done justice to something like that. Friedrich, writing his second published story, couldn’t mine the drama in it and Chic Stone’s art didn’t help.Over in Detective Comics #373 we have a couple of reboots. First, Gardner Fox and Stone bring back the 1959 villain Mr. Zero, a criminal who has to live at sub-zero temperatures to survive.

The TV show had picked up the character (he’d appeared in a 1965 Batman annual) but gave him a name change, as Robin lampshades here —Mr. Freeze has remained a presence in Gotham City ever since, though it took Batman: The Animated Adventures to give him a more memorable, definitive backstory.

The second reboot was the departure of Aunt Harriet from anything but an occasional cameo role (admittedly she’d rarely been anything more) The plot concerns her going under the knife for cryosurgery only to have Freeze’s ice-tech cancel out the hospitals cryo-treatment. The only way to save her is to take down Mr. Freeze and bring his ice ray back to the hospital as a substitute. It works out, of course —

— but it was the last time Harriet Cooper played a significant role in any Bat-stories. As Commander Benson says, she’d been written in to replace Alfred as den mother and defuse the gay-fantasy aspect of Bruce and Dick living together. They’d never found much use for her outside of one or two stories, and even less of a purpose after Alfred returned. It’s not a formal departure but she’d get nothing but one-panel walk-ons after this and vanished forever (outside of Batman ’66).Superboy #145 gave us a reboot, courtesy of Otto Binder and George Papp, in which the Kents shave twenty or so years off their age, presumably to make the series look a little less stodgy visually. Hardly groundbreaking but the premise is fun: Jolax, an other-dimensional TV producer has been filming Superboy in action and presenting it as a fictional TV show — no staff, no actors, pure profit for Jolax! The sponsors, however, want younger actors in the lead roles so Jolax rejuvenates the Kents, forcing Superboy to creative measures to explain the transformation. Commander Benson discusses the problems this caused (why were they old in the story where they died?) and goes into more details on the synopsis, if you’re interested. As for Jolax, he got his comeuppance when the sponsors changed their minds: bring back the old actors, recast the leading role and make the series Superman instead!

X-Men #42 (Roy Thomas, Don Heck) gave us a much more significant reboot, as you can tell from the John Buscema cover. Unlike so many similar covers it was not a dream, not a hoax, not an imaginary story — though in hindsight yes, it was something of a hoax.The previous issue had Charles and Jean (who since the defeat of Factor Three has been back with the team, her attending Metro College completely forgotten) engaged in some mysterious project which the professor refuses to break off, even when New York is under attack by Grotesk, the Sub-Human. As the bloodthirsty leader of a warrior race, Grotesk reads to me like a dry run for Arkon. The big difference is that he’s now his subterranean race is dead due to humanity’s underground nuclear tests so he wants revenge. Of course, as Grotesk was about to lead his people to conquer and enslave the surface it’s hard to feel much sympathy for him, even though the story paints him as a tragic figure.

In any case at the climax the Professor sacrifices his life to stop Grotesk, then reveals he was terminally ill anyway. While I’m not a Don Heck fan I do think he captures the pathos of the moment in the final splash page.I wasn’t reading Silver Age X-Men at this point and didn’t read the story until long after Charles returned. At the time though, it must have been a major shocker for the book’s (admittedly few) fans. A couple of years later it would turn out the mutant Changeling had replaced Xavier while he was working on a top-secret project, which makes me curious about this scene earlier in #42:It’s hard not to suspect Roy’s seeding here for Professor X’s eventual return by implying it’s not him. Or was it a case of keeping the options open — if X-Men without Xavier sold well enough, Charles could have stayed dead without contradicting anything in that scene.

#SFWApro. Detective and Batman covers by Irv Novick and Curt Swan respectively

2 Comments

  1. Le Messor

    Jolax, an other-dimensional TV producer has been filming Superboy in action and presenting it as a fictional TV show
    Is that where the idea for Mojo came from?

    The sponsors, however, want younger actors in the lead roles so Jolax rejuvenates the Kents”
    Is that where the idea for the MCU came from? 😀

  2. Interesting. A fellow Silver Age buff says he thinks Batman #200 was the first non-reprint retelling of the origin in the Silver Age — and unless you go back to 1956’s “The First Batman” I believe he’s right. Can you imagine going a decade without bringing it up these days?

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