Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

DC’s Batman in 1967

When I was a kid, the Batman TV show was amazingly cool. A superhero, right there on the TV, and in live action! I hadn’t seen the George Reeves Superman and didn’t know it existed, so Adam West was my first.

It appears some television viewers prefer “Batman”, shown March 17, 1966, over the Gemini 8 coverage. The ABC-TV network, which airs the show on Wednesday nights, reported 1,000 telephone calls protesting the interruption of the show for reports on the space flight. Adam West portrays the hero in the series. (AP Photo)

In my teen years, I retroactively cringed from the show: to think the mass of non-comics readers identified comics with that camp silliness? It was a common reaction back in the day, though like many fans I mellowed about the show with time. The existence of the TV-based Batman ’66 comics shows the two Batmen can coexist happily.

That said, I don’t think Silver Age DC comics benefited from trying to cash in on the TV’s Bat-bonanza. The TV series had no trouble taking comics scripts and putting their own distinctive spin on it but except for Batgirl’s debut, it didn’t seem to work when the comics took the tone of the TV show and tried working it into the DCU.As I discussed in that previous Silver Age Reread post, the TV show’s success initially affected Brave and the Bold and Justice League of America more than Batman and Detective Comics but they didn’t escape entirely (the goofball story above is one example). By mid-1967 the TV show’s ratings were dropping but it was still influencing the comics. Case in point, the John Broome/Sheldon Moldoff “House The Joker Built” in Detective #365.May I say I love that cover? The story, not so much. It starts with a man in a Joker mask showing up in a department store to offer Joker merch undercutting licensed Batman shirts and such. Surprise — under the Joker mask it’s the real Joker! This kicks off a series of encounters in which Batman notices the Joker periodically freezes for no reason. It turns out he’s posing for the camera: his new project is Joker-TV, available to the underworld for a pricey subscription. His capers have no purpose other than to bring the Dynamic Duo on the scene where they can give his audience a thrilling clash of titans, as in the cover scene.

The idea of the Joker becoming a TV star of sorts certainly fits with his ego. Overall, though, this is a story that might have worked well on TV but it doesn’t in the comics. TV’s Batman and the comics’ Batman worked best when they danced to their own drummer, as in the remaining comics I’m looking at today.

“The Curious Case of the Crime-Less Clues” by Fox and Moldoff the previous issue is much more comics-Batman. The Dynamic Duo keep running into clues left by their Rogue’s Gallery such as a riddle —— a joke —— and the cover scene with the Getaway Genius once again pulling off an impossible escape. Only the villains seemingly responsible are all in jail and there’s no crime follow-up to the riddle or the joke. So what gives?Batman eventually deduces it’s a warning delivered by Alfred’s subconscious. Although they defeated their supposedly dead manservant as the Outsider (see this link again) he left a deathtrap in place for them. Alfred’s sleepwalking to set up the seeming crime clues as a warning warning about what’s coming, hence his being so tired in that one scene above. Realizing this, the Dynamic Duo let it appear the deathtrap has worked—— which banishes the Outsider forever (only until Batman Family #13 but we didn’t know that then).

Next up we have another awesome cover which artist Carmine Infantino says got a lot of pushback from the higher-ups: tinkering with the logo and putting it lower on the page were not seen as winning strategies. Unfortunately the art inside for Gardner Fox’s “The Blockbuster Goes Bat-Mad” was by Moldoff again and he doesn’t draw the bludgeoning Blockbuster as well as he does ordinary hoods.

In his last appearance in JLA Blockbuster got brain-damaged enough fighting Solomon Grundy that he became peaceful. Now, though, he’s going on rampages again and Batman’s trick of showing Bruce Wayne’s face — as Bruce, he saved future Blockbuster Mark Desmond from drowning in quicksand — doesn’t pacify him.

It turns out Blockbuster’s been compulsively returning to the quicksand to re-enact the most traumatic moment of his life; when Bruce doesn’t show up to save him, he feels completely abandoned and starts lashing out. In the end Batman finds him and saves him, at which point Blockbuster finds inner peace. He’d stay peaceful until the Wizard recruited him for the Secret Society of Super-Villains a decade later.

This is, incidentally, the first story where Blockbuster’s learned to speak instead of just snarling “Gyaaah!” at people. I used to think his speech pattern (“Me hate Batman! Blockbuster kill Batman!”) was a ripoff of the Hulk but Blockbuster did it first. Hulk in mid-1967 talks much closer to the Queen’s English. Fox wrote Solomon Grundy‘s dialog the same way as Blockbuster so I guess he got a kick out of it.

The backup story, “Problem of the Proxy Paintings,” is a short puzzle tale involving the Mystery Analysts of Gotham City, a club of mystery buffs, including Batman, that debuted early in the New Look era. One of the members tells the club that someone has replaced his art collection, cheap copies of classic paintings, with the real paintings. Who did it? Why did they do it? It’s a lightweight but enjoyable mystery.

Over in Detective Comics #366, the Fox/Infantino “Round-Robin Death Threats” deals with a crime we haven’t seen much of in the New Look — murder. Most of the villains are into property crimes with bloodshed, if any, incidental; here murder is the core of the plot. Bruce gets a letter which turns into ash, releasing a gas in the process. The gas compels him to follow the letter’s directives: tell no-one about the contents and direct Commissioner Gordon to set his radio to a specific frequency at an exact time that evening.

Despite distracting himself fighting crooks, Batman winds up following instructions. Fortunately Robin shows up before a poison dart from the radio hits the commissioner, otherwise the delayed-action venom would have finished Gordon an hour later. Gordon, having received a letter of his own, spends the next hour carrying out his instructions to set off a death-trap for another man (deadly doorbell). That guy in turn triggers a third trap (deadly phone), which the Dynamic Duo thwart. The victim of that trap then targets Bruce Wayne.

Unfortunately the Dynamic Duo lose track of the last guy so Batman ends the issue knowing the final death could strike him at any second, just by answering a doorbell or picking up a phone. Unable to tell Robin the truth, that a criminal scientist has targeted the four men who once captured him, Batman writes his will, hoping the clues he works into it will enable Robin to save him. Continued next issue …

#SFWApro. Interior art by Moldoff, covers by Infantino.


  1. conrad1970

    I haven’t read many Silver Age comics from DC, I usually manage 2 or 3 at most before I start thinking ‘wow, what a load of crap’.
    I much prefer the Bronze Age.
    Oh and I hated the 60’s Batman show when I was younger and still dislike it now. Thank god for Denny O’Neil and Neil Adams.

      1. conrad1970

        Irv Novick and Bob Brown never really got the credit they rightly deserved. I mean they were never able to match Adams artistically but then again who could during that era.
        They still put out a lot of excellent issues though.

  2. Le Messor

    Unlike Conrad, I loved the Batman show when I was young.
    Like Conrad, I … don’t, now.

    Fraser, could you make it clearer which issues you’re referring to? I had a hard time reading the number for ‘tec #364, and can’t tell which issue the Blockbuster story is in. (I’ve got a few Blockbuster stories, and am wondering if that’s one.)

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    I loved the tv show, then; mostly love it now. The first season is great, both the straight adventure parts and the camp. The movie is far more satisfying than any of the modern ones, for me. Unlike Tim Burton or Joel Schumacher, it’s actually funny and it has a better mystery built into it than any modern film has produced. Sure it gets silly here and there; but it tends to work. Cesar Romero was more like the Joker of the comics than Nicholson or Ledger, in my book.

    The first season is very good, with some great adventure, some real menace and some funny stuff. The second season gets more uneven, with the made up villains usually much weaker than the comic book villains and many of the actors overplay it. Some, like Vincent Price, no how to play the part; but don’t always get material worthy of their talents. The third season gets pretty bad and Batgirl is the only real positive that season; but isn’t really allowed to be the character we get in the test pilot or the debut story, in most of the episodes.

    I tend to prefer more of the Bronze Age stories, in as much as they have fewer cliches and more globetrotting adventures.

    I never had a problem with the camp, in Batman, as they did it better than the attempts to jump on the bandwagon, like Modesty Blaise or Casino Royale, or stuff like Captain Nice.

    The tv series gets a bad rap for the crap that followed it, which wasn’t its fault. any more than Frank Miller or Alan Moore were responsible for third rate hacks trying to do “grim and gritty.” They did it well, the imitators didn’t.

    ps I defy anyone to not laugh when Batman tries to get rid of the bomb, in the film or doesn’t actually feel for Bruce when Catwoman’s mask falls off and he sees that the woman he fell in love with is a criminal arch enemy.

    The rubber shark was just a bonus!

    1. I would have loved to see Romero in something like “The Joker’s Five Way Revenge.” The contrast between his giggling, cheery manner and the body count would be far scarier than Nicholson.
      Ledger was brilliant but he played a character way too glum to be the Joker. However the comics have been playing the Joker as a glum nihilist for most of the 21st century, so i guess it fits.

  4. DarkKnight

    I always felt bad for Sheldon Moldoff. He was either stuck having to do an imitation of Bob Kane or Carmine Infantino artwork. It also didn’t help that most of his issues had those beautiful Infantino covers that set up huge expectations for the interiors.

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