Good morning everyone,
I’m feeling a bit silly and what better to satisfy sizey silliness than with Batman hijinks pulled from the Silver Age! First off, we’ll explore the perils of strange gases within the pages of Detective Comics No. 292 published in June 1961. It’s a thoughtful, cautionary tale concerning the perils of exposing costumed vigilantes to “upper atmosphere samples.” Of course, as we all know, such odd vapors cause rapid growth!
Additional Silver Age tropes included crazy situations like cracking a safe open with a bazooka! (SIDE NOTE: It suddenly strikes me that “bazooka” may be one of those terms which is slowly passing out of popular usage. It’s a word that seems to be rarely used in modern media. For those unfamiliar, a bazooka is a rocket launcher intended to be used against armored vehicles.)
Furthermore, there were allegations in the mid-1950s, most famously made by anti-comic book crusader and psychiatrist Dr. Frederic Wertham, that Batman and Robin were homosexuals. For example, there are the following snippets taken from Chapter 7 “I Want to be a Sex Maniac” of Wertham’s 1954 book “Seduction of the Innocent”:
Several years ago a California psychiatrist pointed out that the Batman stories are psychologically homosexual. Our researches confirm this entirely. Only someone ignorant of the fundamentals of psychiatry and of the psychopathology of sex can fail to realize a subtle atmosphere of homoerotism which pervades the adventures of the mature “Batman” and his young friend “Robin.”
Later in that same chapter Wertham comments on their luxurious accommodations:
It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.
To be clear, they were never explicitly written as being gay. However, several comic book panels, like the one below, could be interpreted as confirming that they were in a romantic relationship.
This history was mentioned to explain the inclusion of Bat-woman (a.k.a. Katherine “Kathy” Kane) during the Silver Age. Her character was introduced to emphasize that Batman was most assuredly straight! (NOTE: Refer to the topmost picture to see her at work.) She first appeared in July 1956 in Detective Comics No 233. (SIDE NOTE: At some point after her introduction, Batwoman lost the hyphen between “Bat” and “woman.”) She prominently appeared in both of these Batman comics. Her niece, Betty Kane, became the first Bat-Girl in 1961 and was Robin’s love interest.
Eventually, in 1964, Batwoman was removed from Batman and Detective comics. (NOTE: She would not return until 1977 and then only for a brief appearance.) Batwoman was effectively replaced by the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl. That Batgirl was more like Batman with similar weapons and a utility belt of her own. In contrast, Batwoman used items which resembled traditionally feminine items like makeup and purses.
Turning to the plot of Detective Comics No. 292, the growth agent was introduced in a rather random fashion. Batman chases Rockets Rogan and his gang, they ride in a rocket-car by-the-by, who flee into a “great laboratory.” In that lab, Rockets Rogan, the leader of the gang, overturns a table full of upper atmosphere samples which swiftly enlarge the world’s greatest detective.
This element of the story felt random because the characters never went back to consult with the unnamed laboratory scientist. Furthermore, no effort was necessary to return Batman to normal. He merely shrunk back after some time passed. It seems that the comic creators shoehorned the giant plot at the last minute with minimal effort.
(SIDE NOTE: On that topic of this comic’s creators, Robert “Bob” Kane famously claimed to be the sole creator of Batman. However, in reality, he leaned heavily on ghost artists and writers. Most significantly, ghostwriter Milton “Bill” Finger actually created many of the now-iconic aspects of the Batman character. To learn more about that topic, I suggest watching “Unspeakable: Bob Kane Stole all the Credit for Creating Batman” by ComicTropes on YouTube.)
The climax took place in an international fair within a castle used by the Beravian Government to exhibit their Kominar diamond. There was even an appearance by Superman which I don’t want to spoil. Overall, this was a fun, wacky story.
Of note, the giant Batman segment runs for 13 pages. The rest of the comic includes ads and backup stories. One about Roy Raymond TV Detective and the second about Martian Manhunter, a.k.a. Detective John Jones a.k.a. J’onn J’onzz, and his Ex-Convict Club. Included in those ads was an unintentionally humorous one-page public service message entitled “Parents have rights, too!“
Switching gears, we’ll now examine a more monstrous Batman which also featured Batwoman in one of her final Silver Age appearances. Let’s dive into “The Batman Creature!” from Batman No. 162, March 1964.
This comic dares to ask the tough questions. Like “What if the Island of Dr. Moreau technique was used in the service of crime?” Ergo, what if thieves turned animals into rough-looking men who retained some of their beastly characteristics? A villain called Eric Barroc uses an electronic ray to transform zoo creatures such as a bull, a gorilla, a jaguar, and a lion. These animal-human hybrids retain their original distinctive characteristics in the form of a super-strong gorilla-man, a charging bull-man, etc.
Batman followed the bull-man to Box Canyon outside of Gotham. Alas, before the cowled crime-fighter can defeat the evil doers, Barroc turns the ray on him!
Initially, the metamorphosed crime fighter was seemingly mindless. The Batman creature uproots a tree, bends a streetlight, and wrecks some poor homeowner’s white picket fence. He even gets to reenact King Kong’s famous scene atop a towering skyscraper. However, Robin comes to the rescue and waves off the attacking aircraft.
The monster~ified Batman eventually aids Batwoman and Robin in combat against the ferocious beasts and their criminal owners. Safe to say, a happy ending was achieved and the status quo restored.
All in all, this was another wacky tale emblematic of an era when DC Comics was more interested in avoiding public condemnation (by sidestepping controversy and stressing that their heroes were definitely heterosexual) than telling engrossing stories. Still, for historical-minded folks these comics are worth a read.
(SIDE NOTE: Another version of Batwoman, Kate Kane, was published in September 2006. In a nice twist, this particular heroine, based on a 1950s character who was first made to cement Batman’s reputation as a totally straight man, was rebooted as a lesbian. She can be seen in this image to the left taken from issue No. 11 of the “52” series.)
That’s it for today folks. Until next time, keep growing!
P.S. If you enjoyed this look at classic illustrated stories then I also recommend Size themes during the Silver Age when Super Hero Comics were Reborn.
This review was written by SolomonG and is protected under Fair Use copyright law.
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