Wednesday, April 4, 2012

BATMAN in Comics - To Space, Caped Crusader (1950 - 1959)

Surviving the end of the Depression, Batman also successfully maneuvered the pitfalls of potential irrelevance following World War II.

From Commissioner Gordon to Robin to a colorful cast of nefarious villains, the dark knight and his team of writers and artists had laid down the foundations of a burgeoning mythology.

But as the 1950s dawned, Batman would soon be faced with his first official sales slump; one that almost single handedly brought “Detective Comics” to the brink of cancelled publication.

With the display of nuclear devastation that aided to and brought the end to the war, the 50s saw a creative culture whose curiosity was sufficiently piqued.

And thusly film audiences and comic book readers witnessed something truly extraordinary.

The Dawn of the Atomic Age.
The cover of “Batman” #41 had previously featured an alien character in 1947, but the explosive popularity of Science Fiction took Batman and Robin beyond the realm of planet earth with gusto.

Building a Bat-Rocket, the dynamic duo frequently travelled to other planets throughout the cosmos, encountering alien civilizations and alternate realities. One famous cover even featured the Bat-Signal being projected from Gotham onto the moon to summon Batman back to Earth!

Even when they were safely on ground, science fiction elements began to proliferate throughout Batman and Robin’s adventures.

In 1952’s “Detective Comics” #186, the caped crusader and boy wonder began using a Flying Batcave; a giant hele-carrier equipped with several of the real Cave’s computer and scientific amenities.
Several of Batman’s new foes of the decade had a very strong element of science fiction to their background such as Mr. Zero, first introduced in “Batman” #121 in February of 1959. Equipped with a ray gun that could flash freeze people and objects, Mr. Zero’s early designs seemed pulled right out of the pulp magazines featuring Saucer men from another planet. Mr. Zero, in subsequent appearance, would come to be known by the now-familiar name Mr. Freeze.

In the early months of the decade, attempts had been made to flesh out Batman’s supporting characters and villains while also building the character’s ‘Bat-Family.’

Catwoman’s origin was accounted first in the 50s; two months later, “Detective Comics” #168 included the story “The Man Behind the Red Hood;” the first documented account of the Joker’s origin.

But while the decade began with promise, the comic book industry was given a shock.

1953, on record, remains the year of comics’ highest sales to date.

A year later, prominent psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham published his novel “Seduction of the Innocent,” in which he attempted to shed light on the catalyst for a recent increase in juvenile delinquency in the United States.

His target? Comic Books.
In his book, Wertham labeled Superman a fascist.

He indicated that Wonder Woman, with her strength and independence, was an inappropriate role model in stark opposition to what girls were supposed to be, namely domesticated servants that should succumb to the dominance of men.

He felt that frequent occurrences of disrespect against authority and acts of violence were impacting young minds.

Wertham even thought that kids staying indoors to read comics and not playing outside led to asthma!

For Batman and Robin, Dr. Wertham felt their partnership was nothing more than wish fulfillment for homosexual men; the idea of dressing in flamboyant costumes and leaping around together, spending their nights on the town.

Despite the utter absurdity of many of Wertham’s claims, the U.S. Senate held congressional hearings in 1956 about the doctor’s findings.

Fearing government-controlled censorship the comic industry created the Comics Code Authority, a self-censorship institution that would only allow the books to be published once they had been approved and given the CCA stamp on its cover.  
Given the fallout after Wertham’s attack, Batman’s stories began falling into what several fans dubbed ‘The Eisenhower Era.’ Creative output was still abounding, but it became bland, even gimmicky.

One story featured Batman turning into a human fish.

Another had him wearing a different colored Batsuit every night, featuring a Pink Batman, a Green Batman and an Orange Batman and so on.

Yet another featured Batman and Robin taking on an irradiated Rainbow Creature, whose aura could turn the dynamic duo into two-dimensional people.
To deal with the homo-erotic slander, 1956 not only saw the publishing of “Batman” #100, but the introduction of Kathy Kane and Betty Kane, a circus acrobat duo turned crime-fighters called Batwoman and Bat-Girl meant to populate the books with a feminine presence.

The ‘Bat-Family’s ranks were also increased with the inclusion of some not-so-human members.
Batman and Robin were joined by Ace the Bathound in “Batman” #92. A loyal Great Dane with his own bat-mask, Ace became such a detective that he had deduced Batman and Robin’s identities on his own by holding up a picture of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson in his mouth!

Three years later Mogo, the cape and cowled Bat-Ape (!) first appeared in “Batman” #114 in 1958.

The end of the 50s saw the creation of one of the comics’ most bizarre oddities, however, with “Detective Comics” #267 and the one and only Bat-Mite!
A mischievous imp from another dimension, Bat-Mite emulated his hero to such a degree that he wore his own Batsuit. A pest to end all pests, Mite would frequently pop in uninvited and interfere in the caped crusader’s work despite Batman’s constant insistence to the contrary.

Truly, the 1950s represent one of the strangest decades for Batman’s career as the science fiction elements eventually began to fail the books in their use.

But as with all legacies, things were about to end up more even more bizarre than before.

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