Friday, March 28, 2014

Batman-the Silver Age Newspaper Comics: 1966-1967

Longtime readers of this blog will recall that the 1966 BATMAN AND ROBIN newspaper comic strip has long been a sort of holy grail for me. Although DC, seemingly embarrassed by the camp flavor of its early story arcs, had indicated it would never be reprinted, I had managed to gather--in varying quality--scans of about 80% of the strips over the years, including a few of the GALEXO strips! Thanks go out to all the individuals who passed them along to me! But now, wonder of wonders, we have the real thing!

IDW has actually partnered with DC to bring out the BATMAN strip in three gorgeous volumes! No word yet on whether they will include the ultra-rare Galexo strips but I would presume at least an article about them in the final volume.

Thanks to IDW, I received a preview copy last week of Volume 1. Let's be honest. These strips are fun on various levels but they are NOT in of themselves great. Their presentation here, on the other hand, most certainly IS impressive!

The whole package gets first class treatment. It's a hardcover volume with a nostalgic cover in the style of Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella done up in a perfect design by Pete Poplaski who also did the covers for Denis Kitchen's 1940s BATMAN strip reprint collections of some years back.

Joe Desris provides the first part of a history of how the strip itself came about up front and there's an extensive set of knowledgable annotations on each story at the rear, each section ably illustrated by little-seen promotional art.

But what of the stories themselves? Well, in the beginning, the camp style of the TV show was all-pervasive with the Caped Crusader stopping to help a little old lady across the street in route to the Commissioner's office or buying a ticket to the Policeman's ball while pulled alongside a motorcycle cop. Longtime Bob Kane ghost Sheldon Moldoff was the artist at first, although the early years of the strip later featured Infantino and finally Giella as well.

At first, the writing was by Whitney Ellsworth, the former DC editor who had gone west to oversee the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN TV series a decade earlier and stayed.

One of the conceits of the series, of course, was that famous guest stars would often play the villains. This really wasn't possible in the strip so it was cleverly decided to instead have actual celebrity guest appearances. Thus we have Paris Hilton's hotelier great-grandfather Conrad Hilton attempting to create a Bat-resort and, more importantly, a sequence featuring the legendary comedian Jack Benny assisting the Dynamic Duo to save his prized violin! After that, the idea was dropped.

Early days villains here include the Penguin (with his own version of Harley Quinn!), the Joker, the Catwoman and the then brand new Posion Ivy. New to the strip were others including pirate Jolly Roger and the evil Little Napoleon.

You even had Alfred! Bat fans will no doubt recall that Bruce Wayne's iconic butler had actually been killed off in the comic books after 1964's "New Look" came in and would only be reluctantly brought back in late summer of '66 as TV fans flocked to the comics and were surprised NOT to see Alfred. And yet here he was in the strip!

And Batgirl! The comic book Batgirl and the TV Batgirl debuted around the same time and yes, she, too is here in the strip, complete with a slightly different backstory than in normal continuity.

I won't even mention Batchap and Bobbin except to say that I always remembered them because they were my Dad's favorites!

Which brings us to the factor that explains why all this Bat-foolishness and Bat-folderol are worth it! The nostalgia factor. The stories are just okay. Nothing special. But if you're a fan of the classic 60s Batman, here's some occasionally gorgeous art you haven't seen lately if at all! If you're a fan of the TV series-itself about to finally get released on DVD--then this tie-in is a must. But best of all, if you were 7 like I was in '66 and anticipating every single day until the strip debuted in your local newspaper, then this IS a part of your childhood, your life, that you can now finally recognize and revisit legally, officially and in absolutely flawless quality.

BATMAN-THE SILVER AGE NEWSPAPER COMICS: 1966-1967 is a must for Bat-fans of all ages. You'll never know the full story of BATMAN without it!

Booksteve Recommends very MUCH!

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