Family Jewels

This morning’s post examines a triptych of Batman Family issues from 1976. As we’ve seen, this series began with a repackaged First Issue Special team-up of Batgirl and Robin. Subsequent issues team them again or carry solo exploits of the pair.

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BatFam 5  June 1976

The Princess and the Vagabond: the ceative team of Maggin, Cary Bates, Curt Swan and Vince Colletta deliver a classy ( if a little hokey) exploit for the Dynamite Duo.  Princess Evalina and poet Alexei Brund -both natives of a postage-stamp European country- are targets of a terrorist organisation called MAZE. Clark Kent guest stars and, rather unusually, Superman doesn’t appear.

While the strip is a little staid, it presents a DC equivalent to groups like the Secret Empire or AIM.

Ace the Bat-Hound: the “masked four-footed wonder” with the skills of a police dog is an absolutely charming addition to the Dynamic Duo. Jim Shooter writes wistfully in his blog of how much he wanted a dog as a little boy. Ace fulfills the same function as the Blue Peter pets and was endearingly stuffy in the Krypto cartoons.

The Signs of the Signalman: of course, the Signalman starred in Wanted no.1 , one of my favourite series of all time. The “bizarre bandit who uses signs for crime” returned in June. 1959 with a plot to steal Batman’s collection of international police badges.

Perhaps because of his low self-esteem (the underworld wouldn’t have him), Sig next surfaced as the Blue Bowman but was unseen for 15 years until he turned up in December ’76.

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While it’s gaudy and takes up space,I have a fondness for this logo.

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Sig then made a colourful comeback in a JLA/JSA crossover pencilled by George Perez in the summer of 1981. In more recent years, he’s been a member of the Secret Society in the New 52.

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BatFam 6 Aug 1976

I actually bought this comic a year ago and read it during a weekend stay in the Badaguish Centre near Loch Morlich in the Cairngorms.

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Loch Morlich

VERY cold by the lochside, even in late August.

Valley of the Copper Moon: as the cover says: Batgirl celebrates the “bison-” tennial *Hee!*. Political intrigue at a rodeo on the Matituk reservation. Legislator Babs is a bit less interesting than librarian Babs but Maggin dramatically dubs her “the lady shrouded in midnight”. There’s an odd reference to an untold story with the Matituks but the Native American characters seem quite unrealistic.

The Joker’s Daughter: one of the most significant contributions of BatFam is the introduction of Duela Dent, who would briefly become the new Harlequin. A more grisly incarnation inhabits the New 52 ( of course*sighs*); here a rosy-cheeked Clown Princess of Crime uses lipstick bullets and fake rocket-powered hands(!) to confound Robin on the Hudson Unispan. (This is a pedestrian bridge, like the one at Harthill Services on the M8, circa 1978.)

In the Soup: Alfred accidentally solves a turtle soup theft in an antique caper from Dec 1945.

The New Crimes of the Mad Hatter: I was surprised to find this dated from Feb. 1964 just a few months away from the darker Infantino New Look.

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David Wayne’s effete Jervis Tetch is one of my favourite tv Bat-villains. Here, the “zany criminal…hobby-robber” disguises himself as a fireman, an archer, a chef ( with a spring-powered hat) and a magician with a giant escape balloon-hat.

This version of the Hatter has been largely superceded by the Lewis Carroll-inspired incarnation. In the New 52, Tetch had drug treatment to help him through puberty; this treatment affected his appearance  and personality. With mind-control gimmicks and a sexually-frustrated muderous MO, I find this Hatter a little distasteful and too reminiscent of the modern Joker.

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BatFam 7  Oct1976

13 Point to a Dead End: Batgirl and Robin are kidnapped by Sportsmaster and the Huntress and forced to compete in gladiatorial combat. The winner will be coerced into retrieving a priceless ruby from a Mayan temple.

This is my favourite Maggin story so far. Again, Swan’s art is a little too clean and poised for urban heroes and Maggin’s encomiums are laid on too thick: “(Robin has) the agility and speed of a boy and the strength and cleverness of a man”.

However, Maggin’s characterisation of the bickering married villains is great as they cattily refer to each other’s age and failing prowess. The Huntress and Sportsmaster are ideal opponents for Dick’n’ Babs. I can’t understand however why he felt he had to introduce Earth-1 version of Mr. and Mrs. Menace- why couldn’t they have accompanied the Wizard to E-1 in Secret Society of Super-Villains?

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The bickering marrieds would return two months later in one of the zaniest comics of that year: DC Super-Stars 10, where they would pit heroes and villains in a baseball game. It was a favourite of mine: while not being a sporty kid, I loved seeing obscure DC crooks. ( And you get to see Wonder Woman teamed up with Plastic Man, as drawn by Dick Dillin!)

The Amazing Dr. Double X: another gaudy foe from the late 1950s, Dr. Simon Ecks is a sci-fi Jekyll and Hyde. Having “separated” his personality using SCIENCE , Ecks decides to create an energy-duplicate “Batman-X” to join him in CRIME. But Bats employs phosphorous and a Batman robot to foil the mad scientist.

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Mike W. Barr would revive Dr. Double X in Brave and Bold in 1983 . In the tv series of the same name, Ecks helped create Firestorm. (Barr also revived Jervis Tetch in his 80s Detective run with Alan Davis.)

The Broken Batman Trophies: a humdrum story taking place on Gotham’s annual Batman Day. Bats destroys gifts he receives to ruin tv close-ups that would give away his Bruce Wayne identity.

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When you compare DC’s output with Marvel in the summer of 76, the House of Ideas seems more radical and challenging. (the latter pair I read in Grab Bags in Morecambe in 1978) Nevertheless , they have a silly charm all their own.

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll revisit the Legionof Three Decades Ago and look at some Sword and Sorcery comics of nearly forty years vintage. Meanwhile, I’m heading back down south to Scotland’s Book Town in a few days.

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners

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