Today’s post puts a spotlight on the first issue of the Batman Family from the autumn of 1975. This series effectively replaces the Batman Giant and is a mix of new and reprinted material. I only read one issue of BatFam in the Bronze Age ; obviously it was a a sister title to Superman Family, the anthology formed by the amalgamation of the Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen comics.
The Batman figure on the cover is in fact a modified Superman, from the cover of Shazam:
The Invader From Hell: this is a surprising story for several reasons. The corny humour of tongue-in cheek Elliot S! Maggin usually irritates me but here he treats the lead characters with respect and affection. Mike Grell’s colourful, stylised figures can look posed and plastic but here again, the sunlit setting of the US capitol is refreshing, after months of gloomy Gotham.
The biggest surprise in this fanciful tale of the resurrection of an infamous American figure is the revelation of the real villain- the Devil! We are used to overt Satanic reference at 70s Marvel ( Ghost Rider, Satana and Son of Satan, obviously). In a bat-book it’s very jarring but it does give the first team-up of the Dynamite Duo a unique quality. I probably would have enjoyed an ongoing Grell series starring Babs & Dick.
The Great Handcuff King: amateur sleuth Alfred buys some handcuffs- steady, Dr. Wertham- and accidentally apprehends the Hurton Gang in primitive slapstick from 1945.
Commisoner Gordon’s Death-Threat: a tedious short by Fox, Moldoff & Giella from one of my earliest Bat-books, although I have no recollection of it.
A conviction from 40 years ago haunts Gordon- suggesting he may be in his early sixties. Hipster Robin quips: ” Like man, those rat-finks never learn”.
Challenge of the Man-Bat: this Robbins/Adams/Giordano short was originally published in the 400th issue of Detective Comics. Not only does it introduce were-bat Langstrom in an atmospheric tale of high-tech crime and Gothic horror, we also get to “dig this experimental car”- the sleek, ultra-realistic 70s Batmobile.
I’d read this story once before in the b/w Superheroes UK monthly of the very early 80s. I would direct you to Kid Robson’s Crivvens blog to see a gallery of vibrant covers from that mag.
The comic also features text and clip-art features on the origins of Batgirl and Robin and Alfred’s history- from rotund Cockney to the bizarre Outsider.
Interestingly, the Dynamite Duo was originally scheduled for First Issue Special 6 ( actually Kirby’s 70s kid gang, the Dingbats).
First Issue Special was an odd idea- a revival of the Silver Age Showcase but only in the sense that it was a “try-out book”. The original Showcase devoted three consecutive issues to the concept but each FIS was only ever a one-off. There was no way of measuring sales on the title, thereby learning which feature might actually have an audience. Nevertheless, many of the oddball creations in FIS have gone on to be revived in the last decade and a half.
Metamorpho and the Creeper were 60s cult characters who had garnered a few guest appearances in the Bronze Age. Manhunter and Starman were revivals of Golden Age names and the former, probably, had the biggest impact in the DCU, thanks to Englehart.
Dr. Fate was a gorgeous comic- and the first FIS I ever got- but others were dated (Lady Cop) or terribly bland (Codename: Assassin). or just terrible, like the Outsiders ( the “Super Freaks”).
The one “palpable hit” appeared to be The Warlord. Mike Grell’s Burroughsian fantasy was clearly DC’s only genuine rival to Marvel’s Conan.
Marvel of course also launched one-off comics in both Marvel Premiere and Marvel Spotlight in the same time period. Those concepts included revivals ( Sub-Mariner); spin-offs from the b/w line (Satana again); solo stories for b-listers (Hercules); movie tie-ins ( Sinbad) or nostalgia ( Liberty Legion). In fact Marvel may have been more successful in this endeavour, given the longevity of Spider-Woman and Moon Knight.
Next time, we’ll look at the second issue of BatFam and hopefully, the Silver Age comic strips, reprinted by IDW and originally featured in the 60s Smash weekly.
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