I am looking forward to getting my hands on IDW’s reprint of the Sixties Batman newspaper strips. Reprinted in the UK on the front cover of Smash! weekly, they -and the TV Tornado text stories- form my earliest print memories of the Gotham Guardian. I was brought up on the Adam West series before I could actually read.
This 80-pager- Batman 185 cover-dated Nov 1966- was my first experience of a Batman Giant. It was also released at the height of Bat-mania. The inside cover carries an ad for the movie and the back cover, one for the Aurora Batmobile and Batplane kits.
Inside the comic, there’s a tiny ad for “The Joker’s Original Robberies”- the very first issue of Batman bought for me. I may have got the B&B Metamorpho/ Bat-Hulk comic first though.
The theme of the issue is stories that revolve around Robin.
Batman Jr: Robin uncovers the secret of Batman’s first partner and become jealous and confused. John Vance was a school athlete whose Bat-identity was effectively a witness protection scheme. When the adult Vance joins the Dynamic Duo to wrap up the case, Robin’s anxieties are allayed.
Robin Falls in Love:…with Vera Lovely, a teenage ice skater. This is my second-favourite story: a fable about first love and the publicity-hungry media.
Robin’s New Boss: Mr. Marvel, a hooded crimefighter with fantastic weaponry is in fact an alien blackmailing Robin. This was my favourite as a kid but the alien’s “prank” now seems contrived. Roy Thomas would probably have made the antenna-sporting alien a Durlan.
The Super Boy Wonder: a slick and modern-looking short by Jim Mooney, but it isn’t as inventive or charming as any of the other stories. Robin gains super-strength when he is the amnesiac captive of a Mayan tribe. This was my very first sighting of the Whirly-Bat.
The Boy Wonder Confesses: is a masquerade to foil another blackmail plot. This is my favourite as an adult- largely for the quirky appearance of the villain, Mr. Camera.
Secret of the Ant Man: My first sighting of Ace, the Bat-Hound. Interestingly, the Henry Pym Ant Man predates the eponymous character by about a year. This doll-sized Ant Man is a crook, shrunken in a freak chemical accident. Batman is off-camera in this tale because he’s involved in an experiment featured in…
Robin Dies at Dawn: Batman’s ordeal on an alien world of aggressive plants sees Robin killed by a living stone idol. The experience is an hallucination experienced at an astronaut testing project. But will it end the Caped Crusader’s effectiveness? This story is the springboard for Grant Morrison’s Batman RIP/ Black Glove story arc of 2008.
Often, this scrappy circus kid is the victim of misunderstandings in this collection. His adolescent emotions are prey to casual adult cruelty-although it’s often unintentional. As an orphan ( in horrible circumstances), of course Dick Grayson is insecure!
There were two other 80-page giants that loom very large in my early childhood. One featured the World’s Finest Heroes and I associate it with the long-gone Odeon picture house in Hamilton. It’s simply one of my favourite comics of all time. The second -another immortal favourite-reminds me of sunny afternoons in our back garden and the acrid stink of racing pigeon dung from my dad’s three lofts.
The prominent placement of Batman illustrates how much of an impact the character was making. I love these wild, sci-fi team-ups against robots, alien tyrants and magical monsters – although I didn’t know then how indebted they were to the wartime exploits of the JSA.
Inside the comic, I should also mention the 2-page advert for “CBS Saturdays featuring Space Ghost; Dino Boy- a cartoon I’ve never seen- and the Impossibles/Frankenstein Jr. double bill, which I loved as a preschool child:
Coming soon: yet more Batman Giants- at least four or five!
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