A couple of the other staff members here at Biff Bam Pop! have given their reminiscences of their first Batman comics, so I thought I’d join in. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a child of the 1966 “Batman” TV series, and that was my gateway drug into comics. Meet me after the jump to find out what my first Batman comics were…
Kids with Scissors
What is it with kids with scissors? Earlier this week, JP Fallavollita talked about cutting up a favorite Batman comic to paste it on his school notebook. I did that kind of stuff too, but for a far less cool reason. I grew up in a time before action figures, even before Mego, and playing with such toys was the equivalent of playing with dolls, so I made do. I cut my heroes out of paper.
I had lots of comics in the days before I was a reader, and then a collector, that were cut up all to hell. One such Batman comic, and the earliest that I remember, and I’m sure I destroyed was Detective Comics #383. It stands out for several reasons. The first of course was my lack of knowledge of esoteric things like Chinatown, fortune cookies, and the like. My kindergartener’s mind just didn’t know, and was amazed at learning that English was not the only language read and spoken in the world. It was a learning experience.
I also remember the Elongated Man back-up story, and at first glance thought the character dumb and his name unpronounceable. What did I know? I wouldn’t learn how cool Ralph Dibny really was until I started ‘borrowing’ and reading my big brother’s Flash comics.
Batman Around the World
The next Batman comic I remember from my long ago youth was a very special one indeed. We’re talking about Batman #223, which was a twenty-five cent Giant featuring several reprint stories, all brought together under the theme, as stated on the cover, of Batman and Robin face danger around the world. I distinctly remember cutting the seemingly flying English Batman and the super cool white costumed skiing Canadian Batman out of the cover to play with, as well as dozens of images inside the comic.
This comic book, like the one above, was also a learning experience about the world outside the United States. Who says comics aren’t educational? I learned more about bullfighting here than in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, about the Canadian Mounties, Madri Gras, the Himalayas, and I also learned, most importantly, that Batman had different costumes for different sorts of missions. Hmmm… maybe that Moon Knight guy over at Marvel Comics got his costuming ideas from Batman’s cool Canada garb?
Batman and the Demon
Not really one of my first Batman comics, but a landmark still. Batman #244 was the first comic book I bought all by myself with my own money. This dark story was seemingly the conclusion to an ongoing battle with a then-unfamiliar villain called Ras Al Ghul. With words by Denny O’Neil and visuals by Neal Adams, this was a decidedly adult story with a strikingly different Batman than I had ever encountered before. Things had changed in the few years between the TV series and now, and they would never be the same.
I was struck at once on the first page by a foe who had not only died, but come back to life stronger and crazier than before. This was a Batman drawn more realistically, who was in real danger, and was romancing not a campy humorous Julie Newmar Catwoman, but the dangerous daughter of his deadly enemy. And oh, that very adult kiss at the end… the shock, the cooties! Ras was not playing around, no cliffhanger movie serial traps, but a duel to the death in the desert.
And Batman faced Ras alone, with no Robin. As I learned in the back-up story, Robin had grown up and was attending college. Wow, things had really changed, and I liked it. I wanted more. I stopped cutting up my comics. Batman ’66 was the gateway drug, but this, this was my heroin…
Batman and the Devil
My next landmark comic with Batman was a biggie. Brave and the Bold #98 was the very first comic book that I read from cover to cover, every word, all by myself. It may not sound like much, but let’s face it, comic books are a visual medium – you can pick up the story by just looking at the pictures. And this comic, holy crap, based on the content of the lead story, it’s proof that comics don’t rot your brain and destroy your moral compass… or do they? Brace and the Bold #98 featured a team-up between Batman and the Phantom Stranger as they uncover a tale of demon possession and Satanic cults, and eventually confront The Devil.
Yeah, and I turned out all right, didn’t I? Don’t answer that. Seriously, there was more learning involved here. I used the exercise my big sister taught me (she also taught me to read, she rocks) that when I didn’t know a word to look it up. This one comic book took me on a very interesting journey not just through the dictionary, but encyclopedias, and eventually the library. This particular Batman story probably provoked my interest in horror, and my research skills, more than anything else.
It also gave me a very healthy respect for the Phantom Stranger as a character, and in the back-ups, introduced me to the Challengers of the Unknown, all, along with my first solo reading and researching mission, a most excellent experience. From there, the world was my oyster, or should I say, the comic book multiverse was my playground – and I owe it all to Batman… and my big sister.