Pulp Fiction #3: Batman At 80

Whether you call him the Caped Crusader or the Dark Knight, it’s hard to believe Batman has been in the public eye for eighty years! Making his debut in Detective Comics #27 (cover dated May 1939) in a story titled “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” by co-creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Batman has gone from mere comic book crimefighter to king of all media! Not bad for a poor little rich kid from Gotham City!

BATMAN BEGINS 

Artist Bob Kane (1915-1998) had been toiling in the nascent comic book field for three years when DC’s superhero character Superman took off like a rocket. Comic houses were scrambling to compete in this new genre of costumed cavorters, and Kane came up with some sketches of a masked vigilante, basing his design on Lee Falk’s Phantom, Douglas Fairbanks’ ZORRO, and the 1930 horror/mystery THE BAT WHISPERS. Kane asked writer Bill Finger (1914-1974) to look at them, and it was Finger who came up with some suggestions: Batman’s iconic cape and cowl, gauntlets, and dark color scheme. Though Kane got sole credit for decades in Batman’s creation, without Bill Finger, the character probably would’ve faded into obscurity like a thousand other masked men gracing the pages of early comics. Finger also wrote that first story, and contributed to much of the Batman Mythos, like secret identity Bruce Wayne.

The Bat-Man (as he was originally called in that first story) was heavily influenced by the pulps of the era, especially Walter Gibson’s The Shadow. He worked outside the law, and even carried a gun, but soon evolved into his own (bat) man. Batman’s utility belt was introduced in Detective #29, complete with chemical pellets, grappling hook, and sundry other Bat-devices added later on. The Batarang, Batman’s most well-known weapon, debuted in Detective #31, along with the Batplane. The Batmobile was at first just a red car, but as time went on morphed into the familiar batwinged vehicle we all know and love.

Batman’s origin wasn’t explained until Detective #33, as we learned millionaire Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed by a mugger when he was just a child. Young Bruce vowed to wage war on crime, and studied voraciously, learning everything he could about the criminal mind, becoming proficient in science, and immersing himself in the fighting arts. Batman proved so popular he was given his own comic in 1940, and featured in other books like World’s Finest (where he’d have a long-running team-up series with DC’s top superhero Superman beginning in 1954).

THE FRIENDS OF BATMAN

Commissioner Jim Gordon was featured in that first Bat-story in Detective #27, at first an antagonist to the cowled crusader, later becoming a trusted friend and ally. Gordon’s main way to communicate with Batman was through the Bat-Signal, introduced in Detective #60. His daughter Barbara later became Batgirl during the height of the camp craze (but we’ll get to that later).

Butler Alfred Pennyworth made his first appearance in Batman #16. Originally a chubby comic relief character, Alfred later lost weight and became Batman’s sounding board. Alfred was popular enough with readers to have his own four-page featurette in Batman Comics lasting thirteen issues, with the (then) bumbling butler solving crimes on his own.

Now we come to Robin The Boy Wonder, introduced to the world in Detective #38 as an eight year old, growing over the years into a teenager. Robin was the first comic book teenage sidekick, for better or worse, created to give kids someone to identify with, but I never identified with any of those those (as Mad Magazine once called them) “icky teenage sidekicks” – I’d rather be Batman! Be that as it may, young Dick Grayson debuted in 1940, a circus aerialist whose parents are murdered by gangsters. Bruce Wayne adopted Dick as his ‘ward’, leading Batman into some hot water with a certain psychologist – but like Batgirl, we’ll get to that later, too!

Robin was popular enough to be featured in his own solo adventures, in the pages of Star-Spangled Comics from 1947-52. The Boy Wonder was also one of the founding members of Teen Titans, along with other “icky teenage sidekicks” Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, and Aqualad. They made their debut in The Brave and the Bold #54 back in 1964, getting their own mag in ’65, and have been comic book staples ever since.

BATMAN’S ROGUE’S GALLERY

One of the best things about Batman has always been his enemies, the most colorful collection of costumed criminal creeps in comic book history! With apologies to all you Bane enthusiasts, here are Batman’s Top 10 Most Wanted:

THE JOKER (Batman #1, 1940) – The Dark Knight’s greatest adversary, this chalk-white, green-haired killer has been a thorn in Batman’s side from the get-go. According to legend, Joker was a crook called the Red Hood, chased by Batman into a chemical vat, causing his grotesque visage, and warping his mind as well. The killer became the Clown Prince of Crime after the arrival of the Comics Code, but returned to his murderous glory in the 70’s thanks to the Bat-team of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. Joker is one of the few super-villains to star in his own comic series, back in 1975.

CATWOMAN (Batman #1, 1940) – Selina Kyle was a slinky jewel thief whose relationship with the Caped Crusader has always been a bit complicated. Though she’s usually on the wrong side of the law, let’s just say she and Batman are more than just frenemies!

DR. HUGO STRANGE (Detective #36, 1940) – This maddest of mad scientists was Batman’s first recurring foe, until he was killed off in Detective #46, brought back to nefarious life in Detective Comics during the 70’s by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers in the story arc “Strange Apparitions”.

THE PENGUIN (Detective #58, 1941) – Oswald Cobblepot, that waddling master of foul play, used bird and umbrella motifs to commit his heinous crimes, always fouled by Batman. Penguin is certainly the most dapper of Batman villains!

THE SCARECROW (World’s Finest #3, 1941) – Psychologist Jonathan Crane, bullied as a child, used chemically-induced fear on the Dynamic Duo for two appearances in the Golden Age, returning with a vengeance during the 1960’s to become even more scarier!

THE RIDDLER (Detective #140, 1948) – Edward Nigma (E. Nigma, get it?) was a puzzle-obsessed crook compelled to leave cryptic clues at the scenes of his crimes. Riddler was really a minor figure in Batman’s world until Frank Gorshin brought him to life in the 60’s TV series (yes, we’ll get to that later, I promise!).

POISON IVY (Batman #181, 1966) – The beautiful botanist’s kiss put a spell on Batman, and like Catwoman, there’s more than meets the eye in their love-hate relationship. Poison Ivy emerged in full bloom in her debut, and it wasn’t until much later readers were given her full back story. In an interesting side note, Ivy’s look was originally based on pin-up girl Bettie Page!

MAN-BAT (Detective #400, 1971) – Dr. Kirk Langston, seeking a cure for his hearing loss, mutated into the hideous Man-Bat, terrorizing Gotham City. Code restrictions were loosened during the early 70’s, and horror-themed anti-heroes proliferated (ie, Spider-Man’s vampire foe Morbius). Like The Joker, Man-Bat also had a brief run in his own title.

RA’S AL GHUL (Batman #232, 1971) – This ancient eco-terrorist believes the world can achieve balance by wiping out most of humanity. Ra’s replenishes his life by frequenting The Lazarus Pit, and is leader of the League of Assassins, chief among them his daughter Talia, another villainess who’s more than fond of Batman! Speaking of more than friends….

THE SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT 

In 1954, eminent psychiatrist and world-class kook Dr. Fredric Wertham published an ominous tome titled Seduction of the Innocent, in which he claimed comic books were the leading cause of warping young American minds. Not just EC’s graphic horror and crime comics, but… well, I’ll let Dr. Wertham state his case:

“Sometimes Batman ends up in bed injured and young Robin is shown sitting next to him. At home they lead an idyllic life… Bruce Wayne is described as a ‘socialite’ and the official relationship is that Dick (Grayson) is Bruce’s ward. They live in sumptuous quarters, with beautiful flowers in large vases… Batman is sometimes shown in a dressing gown… It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.”

Well. Who knew?

Apparently nobody who read comics, but adults were up in arms about Wertham’s claims, which not only painted Batman and Robin as gay lovers, but Superman as a fascist and Wonder Woman a bondage-loving lesbian! Of course, newspaper editorials expressed their outrage over these four-color abominations corrupting American morals, and of course a Senate subcommittee was formed, led by headline-hunting presidential wannabe Estes Kefauver.

The comics industry, rather than succumb to governmental oversight, created its own Comics Code Authority, to which every publisher was to adhere. Among the many do’s and don’ts were no more use of the words horror or terror in their titles (effectively killing off EC Comics), all crime must be punished, respect for authority, no sexual perversion or abnormalities, no excessive violence, and no drawings of excessive female pulchritude. Or as Dean Wormer said in ANIMAL HOUSE, “No more fun of any kind!!!”.

Batman and his costumed cohorts (of which there were few, superheroes having gone out of vogue) were essentially deballed. The Dark Knight took on a much lighter tone, and the Dynamic Duo wren’t so dynamic anymore. Batwoman and Bat-Girl were introduced, just to prove Bruce and Dick weren’t sexual deviants after all. They were even given a pet pooch, Ace the Bat-Hound, who aided in their crimefighting efforts. Stories about inter-dimensional imp Bat-Mite were played for “laughs”, and all in all it was a terrible time to be a Bat-Fan.

ENTER JULIUS SCHWARTZ 

Batman was boring, so boring DC was seriously considering cancelling it’s line of Batman comics, until editor Julius Schwartz took over stewardship in 1964. Schwartz, a literary agent who’d once represented Ray Bradbury and H.P. Lovecraft, entered the comics field as an editor in 1944. He helped usher in the Silver Age of Comics with revivals of The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Justice League of America, and now set his sights on returning Batman to his former glory. The “New Look” was initiated; gone were Batwoman, Bat-Mite, and all that silliness, and the writer/artist team of John Broome and Carmine Infantino brought back the detective aspect of Detective Comics. Batman was even given a little costume freshening, with the now-familiar yellow oval encircling the bat on his chest. Things worked out for the best, and Batman was Batman again… thank you, Julie Schwartz!

HOLY CAMP CRAZE! 

Batman first appeared onscreen in a 1943 serial starring Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft as the Dynamic Duo, battling the evil machinations of Japanese spy Dr. Daka (J. Carrol Naish). They wouldn’t return until 1949, this time with Robert Lowery and Johnny Duncan taking on criminal mastermind The Wizard (Leonard Penn). Batman and Robin wouldn’t be seen in live action form until 17 years later, this time on television.

BATMAN  debuted as a mid-season replacement on ABC January 12, 1966. To say it was an immediate hit is to put it mildly. This was the age of James Bond and THE MAN FROM UNCLE, of pop art and rock’n’roll, and the series’s style reflected the era. It was camp, it was hip, and it self-knowingly winked at its audience. Every kid in America with access to a TV set was talking about the show at school the next day (including Yours Truly!). Adam West and Burt Ward were perfect as the Dynamic Duo, helping to make BATMAN not only must-see TV for the small set, but getting teens and adults all a-buzz about it (remember kids, back in the day, there were only three TV networks!).

High camp was in, and every star in Hollywood wanted to get in on the act. Special Guest Villains were a prestige gig, and stars like Cesar Romero (Joker), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), Julie Newmar (Catwoman) and the aforementioned Frank Gorshin (Riddler) were the Big 4 in Bad Guys. But there were plenty of others: Victor Buono (King Tut), Vincent Price (Egghead), David Wayne (Mad Hatter), Roddy McDowell (The Bookworm), Joan Collins (The Siren), Cliff Robertson and Dina Merrill (Shame and Calamity Jan). Mr. Freeze was played by three different actors: George Sanders , Otto Preminger, and Eli Wallach . Rock stars Chad & Jeremy and Paul Revere and the Raiders took part in the fun, and a cameo role on BATMAN became the in thing to do; Dick Clark, Sammy Davis Jr., Andy Devine , Phyllis Diller, Jerry Lewis , George Raft, and Edward G. Robinson all popped up in brief bits.

Despite the initial outbreak of Batmania, the show lasted just two and a half seasons. Even bringing on Yvonne Craig as Batgirl failed to boost ratings, and the Bat-Craze of the mid-60’s came to an end just as fast as it began. But oh, what a glorious time to be a Bat-Fan it was!

THE LEGEND CONTINUES 

Batman soldiered on in comics, with memorable pairings of writer/artist teams like the previously mentioned O’Neil/Adams, Englehart/Rogers, and Bob Haney/Jim Aparo in the team-up comic The Brave and the Bold. Frank Miller’s 1986 miniseries “The Dark Knight Returns” restored Batman to his dark roots. In 1989, He returned to the screen in BATMAN, with Michael Keaton donning the cape and cowl, and Jack Nicholson a memorable Joker, and hasn’t left since (despite those two awful Joel Schumacher versions!). Batman continues to fascinate fans, whether in comic form, animated TV, live-action movies, or in his super-cool Lego incarnation. So happy 80th anniversary, Caped Crusader… here’s to 80 more! Now everybody Batusi!!:

The Secret Batman-James Bond Connection – Revealed!

FLASH! This breaking news story is brought to you by Cracked Rear Viewer, serving the film community since 2015!

It’s the story America (and the world) has been waiting for – the hitherto secret link between The Caped Crusader and Secret Agent 007. Proving once again this blog will go to any lengths to create some content  bring you the truth behind the Hollywood scenes! Our trail begins in the year 1943. WWII was raging across both oceans, and America needed heroes to defend the homefront. Columbia Pictures secured the rights to the popular comic book BATMAN, and presented a 15-chapter serial starring one Lewis Wilson (1920-2000) as Bruce Wayne/Batman, battling the evil Japanese saboteur Dr. Daka, played by the villainous J. Carrol Naish:

Wilson was married to the former Dana Natol (1922-2004), and in 1942 they had a son named Michael. Though the Wilson’s film career went nowhere, they did manage to costar in the 1951 camp classic WILD WOMEN (also known as BOWANGA BOWANGA) :

The Wilsons divorced a year later, and Lewis dropped out of show business. (The two events had nothing to do with WILD WOMEN!) However, Dana remarried in 1959 to a film producer named Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who with his partner Harry Saltzman brought James Bond to the screen beginning with 1962’s DR. NO :

In fact, it was Dana’s recommendation that helped secure the lead for a semi-unknown Scottish actor named Sean Connery . Her son Michael, Cubby’s stepson, has produced or executive produced every 007 film since 1979’s MOONRAKER, and wrote the screenplays for FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, OCTOPUSSY, A VIEW TO A KILL, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, and LICENSE TO KILL. That’s right – the son of the original movie Batman is now the producer of the still-successful James Bond series!

As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you know….. the rest of the story!”.

Confessions of a TV Addict #2: A Fan’s Appreciation of Adam West

Adam West, who died June 9th at age 88, will never be ranked among the world’s greatest thespians. He was no Brando or Olivier, no DeNiro or Pacino. His early career wasn’t very distinguished: one of Robert Taylor’s young charges in the final season of THE DETECTIVES, Paul Mantee’s doomed fellow astronaut in 1964’s ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS, the bumbling romantic lead in The Three Stooges’ THE OUTLAWS IS COMING (1965). Were it not for one role, no one would be mourning his loss today. But that one role, as millionaire Bruce Wayne aka BATMAN, captured the imagination of an entire nation, and remains the hero of an entire generation.

It’s hard to describe to anyone who wasn’t a kid in 1966 just what BATMAN meant to us. The series was a comic book come to life, before comics became “dark and brooding” little psychodramas for fanboys. Comic Books were OUR medium, written for kids as escapist fare, full of color and action. When BATMAN first hit the airwaves on Wednesday, January 12, 1966, it was an event, and every kid was glued to their set for a half hour as Batman and his faithful sidekick Robin, the Boy Wonder went up against The Riddler (a pitch-perfect Frank Gorshin) and his Mole Hill Mob. The episode features The Caped Crusader doing the “Batusi” at the What-A-Way-To-Go-Go Club, later aped by John Travolta in PULP FICTION. Meanwhile, Robin is captured by Riddler and strapped to an operating table and… TUNE IN TOMORROW, SAME BAT-TIME, SAME BAT-CHANNEL!!

That’s right, the series ran in two parts, on successive nights, a distinction held only by prime-time soap PEYTON PLACE. You can just imagine the buzz at school the next day; “Did you see Batman last night?”, “It was so cool!”, “Wonder what’s gonna happen tonight?”. Kids across America were instantly hooked, like little druggies ravenously awaiting their next fix. Everyone was singing our new national anthem: “Nananananananana-nananananananana BAT-MAN!!!”. High camp my ass; to us, BATMAN was high art!!

Paul Newman or Sean Connery couldn’t have done any better than Adam West. Playing the part completely straight amidst all the campiness going on around him, West’s Caped Crusader was the ultimate do-gooder, and straight as an arrow. His deadpan acting while wearing that silly costume and fiddling about with gadgetry like the Bat-Compute, flinging his Batarang high up a building and scaling the side, or admonishing Robin to always wear his safety belt, was the glue holding the series together.

West was the show’s moral compass, a total square in a mad pop-art world of florid villains and onomatopoeia sound effects. He held his own ground against a plethora of actors more colorful than he playing his dastardly foes. There were scene stealers galore: Cesar Romero  (Joker), Burgess Meredith  (Penguin), Vincent Price (Egghead), Julie Newmar (Catwoman), Victor Buono (King Tut), George Sanders/ Otto Preminger Eli Wallach (all taking turns as Mr. Freeze), Tallulah Bankhead (Black Widow), Shelley Winters (Ma Parker), and many more, all much more accomplished actors pitted against West and Burt Ward’s Dynamic Duo. Yet it was Adam West we all tuned in for week after week to watch and enjoy as he defeated the bad guys and made Gotham City’s citizens safe once again.

The camp superhero craze didn’t last long. Just three short seasons and America moved on to the next big thing, and Adam West’s career was kaput. I told you about his rise, fall, and rebirth as an ironic icon in yesterday’s post , so I won’t rehash his saga once again. I just want to say thank you to Adam West for making childhood enjoyable every Wednesday and Thursday night during those three seasons of scintillating 60’s superhero action. Job well done, citizen. You’ve earned your rest.

RIP ADAM WEST, TV’S CAPED CRUSADER

News has spread that Adam West, star of 60’s campy superhero series BATMAN, has passed away at the age of 88. In his memory, I’m reposting my piece on the documentary STARRING ADAM WEST, first published 7/22/15 on the website “Through the Shattered Lens”. I’ll have more on West’s career tomorrow:

Holy high camp! STARRING ADAM WEST is a fun documentary about the quest to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for 60’s TV star Adam BATMAN West. The film also serves as a biography of the cult actor, from his humble beginnings as a child in Walla Walla, Washington to his rise as TV’s biggest star of the mid-60s, and his fall after being typecast as the Caped Crusader, reduced to performing in crappy car shows and carnivals. West later resurrected his career as an ironic icon in the 90s and still does voice work today, notably on the animated FAMILY GUY. Through all the ups and downs, the star has retained both his sense of humor and love of family. An entertaining look at a down to earth guy in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of show biz, STARRING ADAM WEST is playing all this month on Showtime.

For the 10 Year Old in All of Us: THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (Warner Brothers 2017)

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Before I start this post, allow me to introduce you to today’s co-reviewer:

james

This is my young friend James. I first met him when I was working with his mother. He was a shy three-year-old whose father had disavowed him. He was mistrustful of most adults, but for whatever reason, he took a liking to me, and “adopted” me as his best friend. I’ve become somewhat of a mentor to him, and we have lots of fun going places like Chuck E. Cheese, the park, the zoo, and the movies. He’s ten now, and a big Lego fan, so naturally we saw THE LEGO MOVIE together. When I asked him if he wanted to see THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, he got super-excited. I must admit I was too, being a huge Batmaniac myself.

So today we went to check it out. James told me his school friends said it was “cool” and “wicked funny”, and you can’t get any better recommendations than that from a bunch of ten-year-olds! We arrived at the theater early, purchased our tickets, and proceeded to spend lots of my money on video games like “Terminator Salvation” and “Fast & Furious”, as well as numerous claw machine games, which the boy is really good at! Then, after buying our popcorn and sodas (and a pack of Oreo Minis for James’ sweet tooth) at the snack counter, we settled in to watch the show.

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THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is a visual treat, a film that both kids and adults will enjoy. The Lego Universe is different from Batman’s DC Universe, and takes a lot of liberties with the characters. Batman (voiced once again by Will Arnett) is an egomaniac who has difficulty letting anyone into his life, due to the loss of his parents. He can’t even commit to calling The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) his “greatest enemy”, which hurts the Clown Prince of Crime’s feelings. So much so that Joker decides to turn himself in to the authorities, along with the rest of Gotham’s Rogue’s Gallery. New Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) declares there’s no longer a need for a masked vigilante now that all the super-villains are locked in Arkham Asylum and wants Batman to work as part of a team, which really sticks in the Caped Crusader’s cowl.

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But The Dark Knight thinks Joker’s up to no good, and decides to steal Superman’s Phantom Zone Projector to banish the baddie forever. Then he discovers he’s unwittingly adopted a young orphan named Dick Grayson (Michael Cera, who’s pitch perfect). He orders faithful butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) to send the child back, but instead Alfred brings the boy into the Batcave. So Batman trains Dick (now clad as Robin) to bust into the Man of Steel’s Fortress of Solitude to grab the Projector while he keeps Supes occupied.

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The Dynamic Duo accomplish their goal (with a funny cameo by the entire JLA!) and send Joker to the Phantom Zone, only to be locked up for their trouble by an angry Barbara. But the still-on-the-loose Harley Quinn manages to steal the Projector and free Joker, who in turn unleashes the World’s Greatest Villains from the Phantom Zone (including Voldemort, Sauron, Dracula, King Kong, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the shark from JAWS, The Wicked Witch of the West, and assorted Gremlins and Daleks!) to destroy Gotham City once and for all.  Can Batman learn to get along with everyone in time to stop the carnage??

I’ve got to say both James and I were enthralled by the action unfolding onscreen. I know I do a lot of complaining about CGI on this blog, but the graphics were just great. James’ friends were right about this being “wicked funny”, but I think I laughed more than him, mainly due to all the in-jokes and references to Batman movies, comics, and TV shows past (anyone remember Bat-Shark Repellent? Zan and Jana?). All the major Bat-villains are well represented here – my personal favorite was the Vincent Price-inspired Egghead! And the “Who’s the (Bat) Man” song is without a doubt the greatest Batman tune of all time! Big name stars like Mariah Carey, Hector Elizondo, Seth Green, Jonah Hill, Eddie Izzard, Brent Musberger, Conan O’Brien (an inspired choice for Riddler), Channing Tatum (Superman), and Billy DeeWilliams lend their voice talents to the cast, and video game composer Lorne Balfe delivers a jaunty score.

In THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, the Caped Crusader learns that it’s okay to let people into your life, and that families can be made of more than blood ties. Just like me and James.

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4 Shots from 4 Films: RIP George Barris

From THROUGH THE SHATTERED LENS…

Through the Shattered Lens

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films.  As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking. George Barris (11/20/25-11/5/15) was Hollywood’s  car customizer to the stars. Barris is probably best known for designing the Batmobile for the 60’s TV series, but his work showed up in many movies. Here’s a look:

High School Confidential! (1958, director Jack Arnold) High School Confidential! (1958, director Jack Arnold)

Batman (1966 director Leslie H. Martinson) Batman (1966, director Leslie H. Martinson)

Munster, Go Home (1966 director Earl Bellamy) Munster, Go Home (1966, director Earl Bellamy)

The Car (1977, director Elliot Silverstein) The Car (1977, director Elliot Silverstein)

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