4.01.2014

Batman: 1970

Beginning! A series on:


The Bronze Age is that era of comic-book-making from 1970 to 1983 according to eBay or  1970 to 1985 according to wikipedia. According to me? It varies by title. (I'd be an irritating member of any panel to establish firm Bronze Age boundaries.) But 1970 is a good starting point. With the Batman, I'd say the Bronze Age lasts all the way to 1986 (The Dark Knight Returns.) But that's too much to cover. So for our purposes here, let's say 1970 to 1979.

Let's get things started with more preamble!

As mentioned elsewhere I had eyes only for Marvel for most of the 1980s. I associated DC with the Super-Friends cartoon and the Batman TV show, a show whose value as a primary source of 1960s Americana had yet to be rediscovered. It wasn't until the run-up to the Batman movie (1989, but the hype began in earnest in 1988) that I caught Bat-hysteria. I became interested in all-things-Caped-Crusader, which led me to picking up my first Batman comic:

There may have been a Bat-comic purchased before this, but this was the first one I consciously remember taking home with me.
Which made me considerably late to the party. But I then picked up Year One, Dark Knight, et al. and made up for lost time in my usual fashion. I also ended up getting two trades that radically altered my Bat-trajectory:

Covers by (l to r) Walt Simonson and Brian Bolland
It was in these collections that I discovered the world of pre-Crisis Batman. And realized I quite enjoyed it.

KILL THE BUDDHA, BATMAN!
What was it about these stories / this iteration of the character that appealed to me? That's what I hope to discover doing this overview. I liked the supernatural-detective element of many of the stories, the fantastic art, and the more humanized Batman. (I mean, this guy smiled occasionally, had girlfriends, and he didn't want to murder Robin!) I came into Batman (and DC) completely green; literally all I knew was the post-Crisis stuff. 

Quick history lesson: before Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985) DC was built around the idea of a multiverse.


It's a long story, but all you need to remember is that there were two Caped Crusaders in our period of examination, the one from Earth-1 (the one with the yellow oval around the Bat-symbol on his chest) and the one from Earth-2 (the one without it, and the one who married Catwoman and had a daughter, The Huntress.) This whole thing came about as a way to square DC's Golden Age stories and characters with their Silver Age (and beyond) counterparts.

Once a year, the Justice League of America (Earth-1) would have a cross-over with the Justice Society of America (Earth-2.) This was (with a few exceptions) Earth-2's biggest exposure in the conventional (Earth-1) DC universe. Years later, this was all deemed too unwieldy, and starting with Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC began its ongoing tradition of rebooting / re-shuffling its universe every couple of years.

As necessary - and if I remember - I'll make a note of whether or not we're discussing Earth-1 or 2 Batman. Assume Earth-1 as a default. It'll only really be an issue in the stories from the mid-to-late-70s, not so much for these first few blogs. Who cares, anyway! 


More than most characters, the Batman from each decade (prior to the 80s; since Miller, he's kept to the same, grim page) was a wholly different animal. Each era (including the present) has its particular delights. Let's briefly recap those before we get into the 70s. 

1940s: (Well, first appearance, Detective Comics #27, May 1939 - close enough) 


Bill Finger's and Bob Kane's Batman was very much of its time period as far as the storytelling and what not goes, but when future comics creators spoke of returning the character "to its roots," this is the decade / mood they consciously tried to invoke. Personally, I think the more time passes, the eerier all of Batman's earlier adventures seem. They've aged well - weirdly well.

1950s: In response to Frederic Wertham's batshit (ahem) the Batman of the 50s is perhaps the strangest animal of all. 


I don't read any currently published DC titles, but it's interesting to me that there's some renewed controversy over Kathy Kane aka Batwoman. She was introduced to the title as "a plainly obvious beard for Batman." Of this period, Grant Morrison writes in Supergods:

"What made (these) Batman-and-Batwoman-at-the-altar story lines even more bizarre (...) was Kathy Kane's mannish civilian identity as a circus-owning daredevil who wore jodhpurs and rode a motorcycle. Kathy Kane was Marlon Brando in drag (...) a weaponization of the Stepford Wife, the Avon Lady as a Special Forces commando: pixie boots, fringed leather gloves, high-gloss lipstick so red it was jet black and reflective.


"The Wayne-Kane era comes across in a welter of mind-warping, emotionally charged psychosexual hysteria. The two adults' cruel treatment and emotional manipulation of a clearly distressed Robin (...) motivated Les Daniels to observe 'If a comic book could actually turn people gay as Doctor Werham had suggested, this one might have the power to do it.'"

1960s: As the movie did for the youth of the late 80s, the Batman TV show inspired a wave of Bat-mania that transformed the comics completely. Campy stories were the order of the day.


Once the popularity of the show faded, Frank Robbins and Irv Novick (under the direction of legendary editor Julius Schwartz) jettisoned the camp altogether. Schwartz had already gotten rid of Batwoman (and Bat-hound and Bat-mite) and as the 60s wore on, Robin and Batgirl found themselves pushed out of the main stories and relegated to back-up features. (Batgirl's popularity kept her on the marquee.) It wasn't until Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams joined the creative team that this non-camp version of Batman finally clicked. Their version proved so popular (and so self-evident) that it was more or less copied (and copied pretty well) by the other Bat-teams in the Schwartz stable.

Another important development in the 60s: Bob Kane's contract with DC was renegotiated:

"(His) new contract with DC removed him from producing artwork for the title.  Now all Batman artists would receive credit.  Bob Brown and Irv Novick became the artists for Batman's new "Noir" look, as writers Mike Friedrich and Frank Robbins ushered in the era of the Darknight Detective."

His other co-creator, Bill Finger, had no such contract, which is why to this day some people still think of Batman as being wholly created by Bob Kane, a perception not exactly dissuaded by Kane himself. It's a long-ish story; the relevant take-away is that Bob Kane was kind of a dick to Bill Finger.

Reprints of the Kane/ Finger/ Jerry Robinson era would be a feature of Bat-titles for most of the 70s, of course, so we'll come across some in our travels.

I absolutely love this. I already forget why they needed to get on the penny farthings, but the fact that they are on them is fantastic.
Depending on your tolerance level for Golden/Silver Age storytelling, these are either a delight or a nuisance.
And this bring us to our era of consideration:
1970. Richard Nixon is the US President, and these guys -


are still together. (In name, anyway.) This particular issue (222, cover date June 1970) deals with the whole "Paul is Dead" thing.

This rumor was pretty popular at the time. I still get a kick out of the idea.
If you're interested only in what the best Bat-story of 1970 is, skip to the end, I won't mind. But if you'd like a more eccentric if not particularly informative tour of all of it, let's start things off with:

WORLD'S FINEST COMICS
(issues 191 - 197)

Everything about this cover (195) is awesome.
Although the series changed to a Superman-plus-guest-star format - only to revert to Superman and Batman again in later years - in 1970, World's Finest was Batman and Superman, published every month. (And the two characters seemed to get along a whole lot better back then.) World's Finest definitely houses the goofiest of Batman's adventures in 1970, but - again depending on your tolerance level for such things - they're a lot of fun.


It can be a bit of a shock to see Batman doing such comic-book-y things as traveling through time or to Krypton or what have you if you only know the post-Crisis version of the character.


Let's take a closer look at a two-parter from World's Finest 192 and 193. Superman picks up a distress call from Lubania, a country behind the Iron Curtain. His UN membership allows him to cross the borders of any country that belongs to the United Nations, but Lubania doesn't belong. So, knowing he might create an international incident, he tries to get in and out as quickly as possible. But as soon as he gets there, wham! Something steals his powers! Now he has to hoof it out on foot and evade the Lubanian secret police and army, who, of course, orchestrated both the distress call and the loss of powers via their synthetic Kryptonite beam.

Superman knows of a radio frequency monitored by the West, though, and calls in, hoping he'll get Batman... perfectly reasonable.

I love how the guy impersonating Batman over the radio dressed up like him to do so.
If you're thinking "Dude, why didn't you ask Supergirl or some other super-buddy who could fly in and fly out with no problems? Hell, how about the Flash?" I sympathize, truly, but those are the sort of questions a comics audience of the time wouldn't be concerned with. It'd be like asking an ancient Greek when Apollo's birthday is; non-sequitur.

Incidentally, is this falcon on the colonel's arm (Katchi) calling the shots? Must be. Look at his eyes and that calculating determination.

Awesome.
The trap is sprung. The secret police, dressed as Batman, comb the city.
Batman (who came in to look for him on his own accord - plot twist!) and Superman are captured and sentenced to hard labor at one of Lubania's "famed death camps."
But... they escape. ("Koslov's Pet?" Batman, that's their leader.)

Turns out, though, that the Superman and Batman who escape are decoys. The real plan was to get their double agents into the Pentagon to report back to Lubania.

Note to world: do not mess with Batman or Superman, or the US will re-organize its entire arsenal. Lubania is crafty. And able to synthesize Kryptonite.
 

Three guesses as to how it all turns out. (To the best of my knowledge, Katchi never returns to DC continuity - a pity.) World's Finest also reprinted older DC tales, some of which are a real historical curiosity, such as:


One final panel, simply because it amuses me that Robin is saying this aloud:

I mean, to verbalize "T-E-E-N-W-O-N-D-E-R" in the span of one punch takes mad skills on the mic.
BATMAN 
(issues 218 - 227)

Mostly written by Frank Robbins and Denny O'Neil and mostly illustrated by Neal Adams. Adams' art is the real draw, here, even when it's being done by Irv Novick. 


Irv - and Bob Brown - both were told by editorial to "draw like Neal." No one minded, as, according to Neal anyway, this was just how people did it back then. All of them have had a lot to say on the subject, but we'll get to that in turn. Suffice it to say, Neal Adams was the gravitational center of comic book illustration in the early 70s even beyond the Bat-titles.

Again, they didn't shy away from giving Batman a supernatural-detective bent in these.
The stories are for the most part fun enough, but a little on the monster-of-the-week side. Or with silly resolutions. Not 60s-camp-silly, to be sure, but just little things like Batman stopping a hijacking by inflating a set of clothes and fooling the terrorists while he switches to Batman, etc. Or this oddity, for example:

I love this explanation / motivation. Batman is a man of many angles.
 

And as with his time travel in World's Finest, something like this Christmas tale might seem insurmountable to any who only know the grim Batman from later years:


But it wasn't too big a deal in 1970 for Batman to sing some carols with Commissioner Gordon and the boys down at the precinct. A Christmas story was more or less expected from any major superhero. 

If "This Murder Has Been Pre-Recorded" is not a movie title - and according to imdb, it doesn't appear to be - that's a low down dirty shame.
I love that Trouble in Tibet pic up there. (The story within is less interesting.)
Here's a panel that is downright wonderful out-of-context:


It's fair to say that the stories in Batman 1970 are designed more for the casual reader, someone who might pick up an issue and want an entertaining adventure/ mystery but not necessarily want to invest in longer-form storytelling. This was the DC approach of the time, at any rate; it would change in the years to come. ("Make it more like Marvel" was more or less an editorial dictum around National Publications in the late 60s / 70s.)


DETECTIVE COMICS 
(issues 395 - 406)

Probably the best collection of Bat-stories from this year, although it shares the same self-contained-adventure approach as Batman, described above. But the creative team (Denny O'Neil, Frank Robbins, Gil Kane, Irv Novick, and Neal Adams) keeps things fun.


Most of the back-up stories deal with Robin (aka Dick Grayson) at Hudson University.

Leading to a lot of fish-out-of-water / generation gap/ groovy student protest type stories.
These back-ups alternate with


Batgirl was pretty cool back in the day. I never liked what they did with her later in DC. But she (and Batwoman, though she remains absent from Bat-lore of the 70s) had great costumes. The Catwoman, too, of the 70s, looked so much better than later versions. She's had some amazing artists illustrate her adventures to be sure (looking at you, Cameron Stewart) but I'll just never understand how the coolest comic book costumes get turned into generic leather outfits so damn often.

Detective, like many Nationals (aka DC) of the period, has a lot of fun inserts like these:

This feature in particular should really make a comeback.
Perhaps 1970 is most notable for the introduction of Man-Bat, created by Frank Robbins and Neal Adams. I never liked the character, though, so I'll just namecheck him.

He's fun to play in Lego Batman, though.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD 
(issues 87 - 92)

Mostly written by Bob Haney and illustrated by Irv Novick, Ross Andru. My favorite Batman story (issue 197, April 1983) appears in The Brave and the Bold, so I've always had a soft spot for collecting it. Even if it's not the greatest title at times. I've been meaning to sit down and watch the whole animated series.

It's a team-up book, so it's designed to be a series of one-and-dones with dubious connection to anything going on in other DC titles. The 1970 stretch chronicles team-ups with:

The "all-new, all-different" Wonder Woman:


Wildcat:

The Phantom Stranger:

 

Adam Strange:

I still think Adam Strange would be ideal fodder for a TV show.
a never-seen-again (to my knowledge) trio of eccentric British would-be-sleuths dubbed "the Bat-Squad:"


and Black Canary, who is also Batman's would-be love interest in our final entry:

JLA 
(issue 78 - 85)

Written by Denny O'Neil and Robert Kanigher (reprints written by Gardner Fox and E. Nelson Bridwell) and illustrated by Dick Dillin, Gil Kane, and Neal Adams.

Black Canary is a character with a long history, but she was essentially the girl in the fishnet stockings who couldn't decide between Green Arrow and Batman for much of her inglorious outings in 1970.

Naturally! This allows for Green Arrow to move in... creepily.
Uh-oh.
(heavy breathing)
She was an Earth-2 character who switched over to Earth-1 and joined the Justice League at the end of the 60s. Primarily associated with Green Arrow for most of her comic book (and other media) history.

 

I didn't find any of these stories particularly memorable, except for those reprinted in issue 85, which were quite charming.

Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky were responsible for arguably the greatest stretch of JLA, from 1960 to 1968.
If only that faith was as strong today as it was in 1970! Well, according to Batman, anyway.

AND THE GREATEST BATMAN STORY 
OF 1970 WAS...


Not just a fantastic tribute to Enemy Ace, that wonderful Kubert / Kanigher creation, but a great Batman story. Checks off all the boxes. At this point in time, Bruce Wayne is dabbling in movie production, which brings him to a troubled movie set.


Naturally, Batman uncovers the mystery and is confronted and challenged to an aerial death-duel by one of Von Hammer's descendants.

But is he supernaturally helped by Von Hammer himself from beyond the grave?

This was one of the ones I read in that Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told trade that opened my eyes to previous eras of Batman. A gateway drug, of sorts. The more I delved into pre-Crisis Batman, the less current incarnations of the character appealed to me. Which isn't to say all the good Batman came out pre-Crisis or anything crazy like that. Just that there's a whole lot of it back there, and I've never gotten sick of exploring it.

Next stop, 1971.

12 comments:

  1. Oh, oops. That panel of Batman getting slapped (under Brave and the Bold) is actually from JLA. It's Black Canary, not Wonder Woman. (I already forget why she's a brunette - I'm a terrible tour guide.)

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  2. I didn't know there was a Death in the Family issue prior to the new 52. That is interesting to me. I wish older comics weren't so hard to find. I also only recently learned about the bronze age/silver age etc. The Demon of Gothos Mansion looks sooo good! Speaking of Arrow... I have been watching the show and it has inspired me to take an archery class. My first one is this Saturday.. be very afraid for me!

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    1. ha! That is awesome. Good luck!

      I hear you on the prohibitive pricing of older comics. (And good eye on the Demon of Gothos Mansion - that art is fantastic.)

      What is this new Death in the Family about? I've seen ads and have wondered if it was a reboot of the 80s story or something new altogether?

      I appreciate your reading these things if you've no familiarity with the older stuff. I hope I've been able to present the material in a somwhat comprehensible fashion!

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    2. To be clear, the new one is titled "Death OF the Family," which both is and isn't a major distinction. Oddly, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Damian Wayne death story which happened in one of the books.

      "Death of the Family" isn't actually all that great, in my opinion. It's all buildup (cool buildup, granted) with an extremely weak resolution that everyone more or less ignores beginning the next issue anyways.

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    3. Thanks for the clarification. Damian Wayne is after my time, but I picked up a couple of the Morrison-penned Batmans and puzzled my way through them.

      The Starlin/Aparo Death in the Family really isn't all that great. And the "You decide whether Robin lives or dies" toll-call gimmick was a bit ghoulish. (I mean, it resulted in the Joker beating Jason Todd to death with a crowbar, then blowing him up. Kind of overkill / fan-bloodlust. Ah well. Aparo's art was, as always, fantastic.)

      Does Tim Drake still exist in current Bat-comics?

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    4. Yes; I think he is currently Nightwing. Or is that Dick? I don't really know. I only read Batman at all because I'm a Scott Snyder fan; apart from that, I've got virtually no interest in modern DC.

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  3. There is almost too much gold here to even begin commenting on.

    (1) " Let's get things started with more preamble!" Sometimes I feel like all of my posts consist of nothing BUT preamble. I was working on an upcoming one the day and realized that I'd written what must have been three pages of introduction. Sigh...

    (2) I don't know what the story is with The Rainbow Batman, and I kind of hope I never find out, because there's no way it can live up to what I imagine to be the case.

    (3) That "Paul is dead" cover is one of the best things I've seen recently.

    (4) Right up until I saw the "World's Finest" #195 cover, of course.

    (5) Lubania seems like a mighty nation. Maybe they can help us out with this Crimea situation.

    (6) I like how it used to be a universal signal of men being destitute and broken for them to have facial stubble. I mean, when do I NOT have crappy-looking stubble?

    (7) Robin may not be in the F.B.I. or the C.I.A., but that is some B.U.L.L.S.H.I.T. writing. Glorious, though.

    (8) Batman gone caroling. Good lord.

    (9) I right-clicked the hell out of that "Science Says You're Wrong If You Believe That" banner, and I suspect I will put it to good use in the future.

    (10) That close-up of Green Arrow breathing down Black Canary's neck is creepy as hell. I can practically hear lube being slathered on to something. *shudder*

    My big takeaway here is that comics were mostly just better back then. Or maybe I'm confusing "much, much worse" for "better" again. I don't think so, though.

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    1. ha! I make that confused deduction all. the. time!

      Glad you enjoyed this one. The rest of this series will probably stick to this format, so happy it works all right out of the gate.

      I often wonder if these throw-away nations/ characters / killer falcons (or hawks, whatever Katchi is supposed to be) are ever resurrected for any League-of-Gentlemen-esque purposes by current DC writers. I doubt it, but it would amuse me if Lubania was the lynchpin in some international crime syndicate of some kind.

      I can definitely relate on the preamble business. It's easy to get carried away - I do it constantly. I usually don't think these things read too top-heavy (or preamble-heavy) after a few weeks of looking at it, but it always seems too much when I hit publish.

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  4. "It's fair to say that the stories in Batman 1970 are designed more for the casual reader, someone who might pick up an issue and want an entertaining adventure/ mystery but not necessarily want to invest in longer-form storytelling."

    That pretty much sums me up in terms of superhero comic knowledge.

    Nonetheless, I spent some time immersed in the DC-verse in the form of the early 30s comics, the Tim Burton Batmans, and the Paul Dini DC Animated Universe, and that's about it for me.

    One of the things that I did like about this entry was how it captured a sense of fun that really seems to have gone out style for these types of comics. In fact, I remember one comics fan asked this question, "Are Superheroes being turned into a bunch constant whiners (I've cleaned up the language of his question here, a bit)?"

    My answer to that is...search me. I've read through Grant Morrison's book, and he goes a bit into the creation of the new "Dark Age" as he calls it. For Morrison, it seems to have been essentially the "Revenge of the Angry Young English Majors". You'd get this whole dark tone mixed in with a bit of literacy (hence Superheroes who could quote T.S. Eliot.).

    As to whether or not these writers succeeded in bringing Bats back to his roots...search me, again. For the most part, they either were trying to bring to life the Batman of their own memories (as opposed to the original incarnation itself), or else they just wanted to inject some gritty realism into the proceedings, and seem to bear an overwrought antipathy to the Silver Age.

    All I know is if stories like Death in the Family are the result, then whatever promise it might have had to start, there's very little in the way of "maturity" to be seen at the moment. Also, thank gosh I'm not the only one perturbed by the whole Batgirl thing (what worries me more is a lot of the people who were outraged that someone would try to fix it).

    As for the Pre/Post Crises issue, all I know is that the DC-verse is pretty much an Escher-like Etch-a-Sketch. I did have this one theory that I thought explained all the conundrums, though. My basic theory is: what if the world of Superheroes is the fiction within the fiction of Neil Gaiman's Sandman Universe? In other words, what if all the Superheroes (Batman included) were living fictions of The Dreaming, and the rest of the universe unfolded in the Sandman comics was the real one (this one only slightly more down to earth)?

    Well, that's just a theory, and I don't make any big deal about it. For a neat Sandman overview, though, here's a (frankly mind-blowing) review from a series called Pop Arena:

    http://blip.tv/pop-arena/a-fractured-look-into-neil-gaiman-s-sandman-6574057

    ChrisC



    That image of Batman celebrating Christmas (AND ACTUALLY HAVING A GOOD TIME!!!!!!?) sort of says volumes.

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    1. Whoah, now - cool Sandman theory. I like that. Really, we - both as readers and as creators of the fictional 2-D universe contained in these panels and us in our deep-sea-diving suits - are all in The Dreaming, either way. It would make a nice company policy and would obliterate the need or severity of too many reboots while allowing for an infinite amount of them if anyone desired. It's a tidy solution - I quite like that.

      Seeing Batman have fun (and go to Krypton) is jarring at first, but it's fun, isn't it? Ditto for the whole Bat-cast.

      I imagine by about halfway through these, I'll have affixed Bat- to just about everything. I should apologize in advance.

      Everything turned into serial killers by the 90s. (He said broadly.)

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    2. As for a good resource on the actual artistic origins of the DC verse, Gerard Jones goes into great, revealing detail in his book on the creation of DC Comics and it's original super trio, "Men of Tomorrow".

      Reading Jones' book has been something of an intriguing experience, as it sort of forced me to consider the impact of social milieu in which Dc emerged from. According to Jones, DC was created in pretty much the same Mafia culture that Mario Puzo or Raymond Chandler wrote about. In other words, DC grew up in the sort of real life version of Sin City, except the violence was only too real sometimes, and nothing for the audience to enjoy.

      What I still wonder about is how much of that culture is reflected in the DC-verse, both then and now. As to reboots, the only thing I can see dixtating each and everyone is twofold:

      1. The next generation of kids will soon be of reading age and (so the logic goes), since they are kids and therefore ignorant and distrustful of everything, they won't know or care about the current DC superheroes, and thus (still according to illogical-logic) our publication will lose money.

      2. The Solution? Go back and retell every hero's story with a whole new set of circumstances, origins, personalities, and settings.

      The only beneficial thing to come out of such bass-ackward logic, to me, is that they (more or less) corrected the whole Batgirl thing.

      Other than that, the only other thing I know is off topic, but it is nice to know Pixar's moving forward with Incredibles 2. Seriously, check it out!:

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/pixar/10707547/Incredibles-2-in-the-works.html

      Interestingly enough, Disney made a superhero oriented show way back in the 90s, and it's very much in the vein of the Incredibles. Between waiting for the second film, I think this unjustly forgotten series may just fill the time. A good overview of this Disney superhero series can be found here:

      http://blip.tv/the-blockbuster-buster/honest-review-darkwing-duck-6459393

      ChrisC



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    3. Men of Tomorrow is a great read, for sure. For years I got its author confused with the co-author of this one:

      http://www.amazon.com/Comic-Book-Heroes-History-Present/dp/0761503935/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396440919&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Comic+Book+Heroes

      Also a great read. It's kind of the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls of those years (Silver Age to mid-90s) i.e. its veracity is widely disputed but it's the version of events you kind of prefer to believe really happened.

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