Batman 1975

Let's make up for the relative brevity of my last post with a double-sized extravaganza for Batman '75. Pour a cup of tea and settle into your armchair, lots of ground to cover.

This was a transitional year for the Batman. 1974's 100-page experiments came to an end (although a couple of them will be covered here, since they have 1975 cover dates) and three, count 'em, three new Bat-titles were introduced. One of which only lasted two issues and which I won't be covering.

Sorry, Man-Bat.
There's some fun Ditko art, but it's just such a silly inversion of the concept. ("Whoah, what if he's, like, a literal Bat-man? MAN-BAT!") Well within the bounds of Bronze Age acceptability, of course, but I'd be the wrong guy to argue its merits or demerits.

As mentioned elsewhere, though, I greatly enjoy playing the character in Lego Batman.
As for the other two:

(Issues 1 and 2)
Writer: Elliot S. Maggin. Artist: Mike Grell

What would prove to be the best-selling Bat-series of the '70s debuted somewhat modestly at the end of the year with a Spirit of '76 story and a whole bunch of reprinted material. As I'll be ending this blog with the other notable Spirit of '76 Bat-story that appeared in the at the tail end of 1975, it seemed like a logical place to start.

That will be the last place "logical" applies in this section.
The countdown to America's bicentennial was observed by most comics and tv series of the day. Each of the major networks ran an "And that's the way it was, 200 years ago tonight..." segment in its respective nightly news. (Something referenced in issue 1 by Congressman Barbara Gordon - fun little contemporaneous detail.) What distinguishes the Batman Family observation of the bicentennial from all others in any medium is the appearance of both Benedict Arnold and Satan himself.

As the story goes along, it is reiterated that this is actually supposed to be Benedict Arnold. One gets used to these sorts of things as robots, illusions, etc. But nope - this is the actual guy. This is problematic only because the Arnold we see sure knows a lot about cameras and television and other things from after his time. The explanation? He has spent his post-mortal-coil time being tortured in Hell, where apparently the Devil has kept him up to speed on the latest technological achievements. (Perhaps to torment him with news of man's scientific progress? All the nifty inventions he was born too early to appreciate? Who knows.)

I find it encouraging that the Devil thinks so much about the American spirit that he even bothers. But more importantly, I find it marvelously batshit. As I do the other Bat-centennial (and sorry for all the Bat-puns; it's just too difficult not to do) story, which we'll get to later.

Here's a fun pin-up from 1961 reprinted in issue 2. Four of the folks in this picture had been missing from Batman's pages for years - was this a sign that Batman Family intended to bring back some gone-from-the-charts but-not-from-our-hearts familiar faces? This would indeed be the case in the years to come.
(Issues 1 - 4)
Writers: Denny O'Neil, Elliot S. Maggin. Artists: Irv Novick, Dick Giordano, José Luis García-López, Ernia Chua

The Clown Prince of Crime got his very own series in '75.

The good news? The art is lots of fun, and there are a few fun moments here and there.

The bad news? Publishers still kowtowed to the Comics Code, so an ongoing series about a super-villain was compromised from the go. Every issue, for example, had to end with the villain in prison. Kind of hard to keep inventing scenarios where the Joker leaves prison at issue's beginning and is back behind bars at issue's end.

The Creeper issue is pretty good, though, easily the best of the lot.
I mentioned the art, most of which is handled by Ernie Chua and the immortal José Luis García-López. When I was growing up, his style guide was to DC what John Romita Sr.'s character models were for Marvel; when you saw the characters licensed on drinking cups and underoos and elsewhere, it was their versions of the characters you most often saw. García-López, along with Curt Swan, George Perez, and Jim Aparo more or less remain what I think of when I think DC art.
I imagine for most younger folks, it's Bruce Timm? That'd be my guess.

(Issues 227 - 234)
Writer: Bob Haney. Artists: Dick Dillin, John Calnan, Curt Swan, Tex Blaisdel

All in all, another year of World's Finest Comics that makes you wonder if the title of the book is meant ironically. I had high hopes for one of the 100-pagers that starts the year off:

but neither the anti-Superman nor the anti-Batman turn out to be especially interesting. (The Rip Hunter story on the left is actually pretty fun, though, if you don't mind the Gee-willickers silliness of Rip and his sidekicks.)

The only gem of the bunch - and it's a gem that shines much differently than its creators likely intended - is issue 233, where the Super-Sons descend upon a Town Without Men...

"Holy --! A police chick??"
I recently re-read F. Scott Fitzgerald's Taps at Reveille, a book which contains for my money one of the best short stories of the 20th century, "Babylon Revisited." It also contains "Family in the Wind," which like every other story collected in the book is brilliantly constructed, but the racism of its era (and perhaps its author) is transmitted loud and clear. It's a thorny issue. One of the least interesting things in the world to me is banging on and on about racism of yesteryear. It's only ever the racism of the present that actually matters, and all too often people transfer a one-to-one understanding of the former to the latter and think they've proven something. Which is not always the case.

Why am I bringing all this up? Because, I feel - as Hemingway and Fitzgerald and many of the so-called Lost Generation writers did - that a writer only has an obligation to the truth. Which is to say that sometimes in order to accurately recreate one's time, one has to remove those portions of one's writing that editorialize, lest the writing become at best silly and at worst propaganda. (Contemporary literary appraisals are almost comically failing in this regard, but that's a rant for a different day.) So, part of me thinks when I read something like "Family in the Wind" or a lot of Hemingway's stories, Wow, this is crazy-racist, because there is no attempt to insert an "And this is wrong" into any character's mouth and its absence is jarring to 21st century eyes. But there's another part of me that knows it's not just unfair (and sometimes completely at odds with intent) to evaluate the author him-or-herself by the racist circumstances on display but also potentially very dangerous: that's lynch mob thinking.

What I'm trying to say is: there are stories you read from yesteryear where you can safely assume the author shares the prejudices of his or her era/ on display, and then there are ones where that assumption is much more problematic. This is important and distinguishes those who truly care about social justice and fairness, etc. from those who simply maintain the appearance of doing so.

And then there's stuff like World's Finest 233.

It would of course be unfair to evaluate this issue alongside short-story-heavyweights like Hemingway or Fitzgerald. Comics just weren't written with that sort of context in the 70s. (Which is what makes the Relevance movement a little silly in retrospect - necessary and admirable, sure. Like JM DeMatteis has said, it kicked down walls for other writers. But the characters and conceits of the medium were horribly abused in pursuit of its concerns.) But this is an example of one of those stories where the author doesn't seem to truly understand the sexism of either himself or his era but nevertheless tries desperately to make a point about it all. And the resulting train wreck is just fascinating. Amusing, horrifying, and, certainly - perhaps even more than an academic examination - very illuminating about the feminist concerns of the era.

I'm tempted to let this one speak for itself, but some things are worth pointing out.
Bruce and Clark, Jrs., stumble onto a small town, Belton, that appears to be run entirely by females. Bruce, Jr., in particular, can't believe it, and immediately revolts against the town's strictly-enforced rule of No Touching of the Females. He and Clark, Jr. allow themselves to be captured so they can get to the bottom of all this (i.e. "isn't there a man we can talk to?!")

Indeed there is. Not just a man but...
An enormous, phallic, slimy alien from outer space!
Clark, Jr. puts it all together.
All that it takes to reverse this complete abomination of the social order is some hot lips-on-lips action with Batman, Jr.

"Oh, brother!" - how right you are, sir.
After presumably a giant Super-Bat-orgy, the Super-Sons leave the town. Time has resumed its shape; all is as it once was. The chicks are back to needing men to figure shit out for them. Crisis averted.

I mean, even for its era, the implications here are just staggering. I've spent a bit more time on this than intended, and you can undoubtedly see for yourselves. But man. (No pun intended.)

(Issues 115 - 125)
Writers: Cary Bates, Elliot S. Maggin, Martin Pasko, Gerry Conway. Artists: Dick Dillin, Frank McLaughlin

A fair to middling year for the world's greatest superheroes. The JLA/JSA two-parter is worth a mention, though. It opens in the office of Julius Schwartz, as Cary Bates and Elliot Maggin pitch different ideas for the year's traditional crossover story.

This all leads to Cary and Elliot descending into the two-dimensional reality of our heroes and getting superpowers themselves, before things are put back to normal.

Your enjoyment of this one will depend on how flexible you are with the concept. Myself, I can see how this sort of thing must've been fun at the time, but it didn't do much for me. I like Grant Morrison's appearance in the pages of Animal Man because it served a very real point to the goings-on in that title, but more often than not, when an author appears in his or her own story, I find myself cringing a little. But it's all harmless enough.

(Issues 260 - 270)
Writers: Denny O'Neil, Mike Fleischer, David Reed. Artists: Irv Novick, Dick Giordano, Ernie Chua, Rich Buckler, Berni Wrightson, Tex Blaisdel

Answers below.
Even more concussions! (At least he's almost alerted in this first panel.)

And despite the pop art majesty of this particular panel -

all told, it's not an especially fantastic year for Batman.

How'd you do?
(Issues 116 - 123)
Writer: Bob Haney. Artist: Jim Aparo.

While The Brave and the Bold is often the unsung hero in the year-to-year Batverse of the '70s, that's not the case this year. There's some typically wonderful Aparo art:

And this story where the Batman and the Spectre battle a modern-day Thuggee points to the conceptual terrain of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

But with one exception, most of the stories are fairly run of the mill. Not a bad mill, but worth boring you with recaps and screencaps? Nah.

I was intrigued by this team-up.
but it doesn't really go anywhere. One of these days - perhaps even here at the Omnibus - I'll explore Kamandi from top to bottom, but this Brave and the Bold story doesn't add much to the mythos.

(Issues 444 - 454)
Writers: Len Wein, Denny O'Neil, Elliot S. Maggin, David Reed. Artists: Jim Aparo, Ernie Chua, Walt Simonson, José Luis García-López, Dick Giordano, Mike Royer.

The stories from this stretch of Detective can be summed by one panel:

Half the year is devoted to one storyline: Batman is framed for the murder of Talia and has to prove his innocence.

It leads to some repetitive cover design.


Actually, that last one comes just after the storyline I mention. As does this one:

but the "Bat-murderer" theme is still going strong.

The Batman clears it all up and delivers perhaps the clumsiest of all his considerably-clumsy-wrap-ups/all-is-revealed on the very last page of the storyline.

I think my favorite issue was this bit of weirdness where the Batman becomes... well, the cover says it for me:

This Mickey McConnell fella, though, decidedly disagrees.
And the concussions continue.

STORY OF 1975 IS...

Well, "greatest" is not quite accurate. But the one worthiest of comment? This:

As 1975 drew to a close, the countdown to America's bicentennial was in full swing. But it was also the middle of the 1970s, when the cultural revolution of the previous decade was arguably at its peak. Only a few years earlier, Easy Rider and M.A.S.H. had shocked audiences with their unapologetic criticism of traditional American values. By 1975, the considerably more controversial Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon and Deep Throat were being discussed at the dinner table (well, some dinner tables) and round the proverbial water cooler. In the wake of Watergate and other revelations about widespread and entrenched abuse of power by American officials charged with upholding both domestic and international law, cynicism was as mainstream as it was ever going to get.

America couldn't quite look back on two hundred years of itself without waving away some of the smoke in the air, whether from the still-smoldering wreckage of certain assumptions and attitudes or from Cheech-and-Chong sized spliffs, take your pick. And steaming into the fray? The Doomsday Express:

Not a very subtle title. God bless 'em.
I'll present this one with a minimum of commentary and just let the screencaps do the talking. (Minus my captions.) What follows is a highly-parsed version of events - let's jump right in.
Oh, they certainly will, Batman...
Knocked unconscious again! Sorry if I hit this note too much, but how many will we catalog before decade's end?
And here's where we go a bit kablooey.
I did not add the arrow pointing to "Crime," in case you're wondering. Nice Easter Egg, though, however unintentional.

Batman and the Metal Men team up to thwart this existential threat from outside America's borders. They search the train (leading to an overview of Americana as cherrypicked as this here screencap-a-thon.)

Shown up by Charlie White Wing! Where were you on that one, World's Greatest Detective?

Completely absent from this metaphorical look over America's shoulder? Black people. Brown people. The atomic bomb. (Well, there is a bomb, I guess, and for dramatic purposes, I suppose we can think of it as an a-bomb, sure. Just saying.)

Why stop there? Women, flappers, jazz, Emperor Norton, the Alamo, Hernando de Soto, etc. Not that "The Doomsday Express" had to include each and every one of these things to be relevant or anything. It's just an interesting collection of omissions.

As a firm believer in the inevitable messiness of social convention, I for one champion its incongruent blend of cynicism, innocence, indignation, patriotism, and silliness more than I would if it were more Billy Jack-like. Moreso than the Town Without Men story from World's Finest 233, at any rate, though perhaps equal to that one in its failure to thoroughly vet its own assumptions.

For better or worse, this is how the Batman observed the bicentennial of the United States.


  1. This is, indeed, a great post.

    That all-female town is just...something else. You pointed out the phallic nature of the alien "man behind the curtain," (one-eyed, to make the symbolism even more heavy-handed).

    The Earth-Prime storyline reminds me of a quibble I have with such stories: the very act of depicting the "real world" in the comic automatically means it ISN'T our "real world." Both Marvel and DC both can't resist both labeling "our" world as being the real, original Earth, and then immediately muddying their own waters by setting a story in it, thus invalidating the distinction. It may seem like a pointless quibble, and I really can't argue with that, but it's something that consistently bugs me a little in comics.

    That first panel of the Doomsday Express story amused me, specifically the monologue being delivered. It only lacks a final "what could go wrong?" line to make it perfect.

    1. For what it's worth, I very much agree with your quibble. I have the same issue with such things.

      I think I unconsciously added the "What could possibly go wrong?!" to that splash page - I had to double check to make sure it wasn't there after reading your comment. Without realizing it, I simply imagined/ assumed it was.

      I refer to the polyphemus alien as a man, but I'm in error. The story's conceit rests on the alien being an exceptionally ugly female of her species. This further turns the volume up on the craziness of the story - I should probably edit that in, but this correction here should do, I hope.

      Glad you enjoyed!

    2. It was a fun read. Batman/Bruce Wayne would have been dead of brain damage pretty early in his career. And what the heck is up with that trope, anyway? Were the writers and editors really that oblivious to what they were doing? Incredible.

      Having the alien being a phallic, one-eyed female member of her species makes the story even odder. Maybe it was some subtext about a female adopting male traits or tactics? Probably not, but who knows?

  2. (1) Benedict Arnold AND Satan?!? That's almost TOO too much.

    (2) "Rip Hunter, Time Master"!!! Fabulous. Can Will Ferrell and/or John C. Reilly and/or Danny McBride turn that into a movie, stat?

    (3) Horrific as some/most of the implications are, I kind of enjoy the idea of the Super-Sons having to f*** the sense back into an entire town of buxom young ladies. Wow. Seventies, you were messed up.

    (4) Is Batman the most-often-concussed character in the history of fiction? Probably one of the cartoon characters like Daffy Duck has him beat, but man . . . not by much.

    (5) "Midnight Rustler of Gotham City" -- did that actually happen, or have I slipped into a coma of some sort and am just making crap up to amuse myself while I wait to wake up?

    (6) Metal Men!!! Holy crow, y'all, I'd totally forgotten about the Metal Men existing!

    (7) Batman getting called a paleface delights me.

    (8) Those "Indians" look awfully white to me, by the way...

    Another great post. These are gold. Gold, I says!

    1. (2) Absolutely - capital idea. I've got the Essentials of Rip Hunter, thanks to the generosity of the previous commenter. (Thanks again, JB!)

      (2.5) Incidentally, I can't find the cover with a quick comics.org search but there's one that has a tombstone that reads "Here Lies... Rip Hunter, Time Master!!" That is still number one in the running for tombstones I hope mark my eternal resting place. No dates, no real names, just "Here Lies... Rip Hunter, Time Master!!" Maybe with a carving of me boxing a kangaroo. A boy can dream.

      (3) LOL

      (4) It really is freaking remarkable, isn't it? As said above, it had to have occurred to SOMEONE at DC editorial that he was getting knocked unconscious a dozen times (at least) a year. And while I wonder what the exact average of concussions for other superheroes of the era was, I can't imagine anyone else was getting cold-cocked like this as damn often as the Batman. Also: how is it possible that so many petty thugs can sneak up on Batman? Isn't he a goddamn ninja??

      (5) As Jim Garrison says to Bill Broussard in "JFK," "I'm afraid you're awake, and I'm deadly serious."

      Glad you enjoyed!

    2. To get the serious stuff out of the way:

      I was going to point out the obvious using obvious jokes for that town full of women story. Now that I find out the character is meant to be female...I honestly don't where they were going with that danged story. However it probably never should have left the bullpen.

      As for the one of the Centennial stories. I can understand "why" they might go with the story that they chose to tell, however my ambivalence for it can be summed up with a brief bit of explanation:

      While both my parents are Tex-Mexican, my paternal grandmother was what's known as 100% Cherokee (one of the things I'm proud of is having had the chance to show her "Josey Wales").

      So, while I do understand why that story was told (I'm a 60s-70s connoisseur, after all) I do kinda wish they'd gone with something a bit different, and I say that as a fan of John Ford/Wayne westerns.

      I don't know, and I hope that didn't come off as a kill-joy or anything. If I had to explain myself it would have to be that while not Native American myself, the realization of it just sorta tended to make me what I guess you'd call "naturally sympathetic", and I guess I just tend to, well, be overly (and perhaps unnecessarily (?)) sensitive to this kind of thing. Don't know if that really helps much....Sorry about that.

      Now to fun stuff:

      (1)......Soooooooooo...the point of the Benedict Arnold issue....was that America......was, like, supposed to be Divinely ordained?!!!!!

      (4) Cool fact: An old book of Golden Age Batman cover art that I own revealed that the reason for all the gun butting was because the writers and artists apparently never thought to make the batsuit bullet-proof like Burton and later comics did! The solution? Just make the crooks hit him in the back of the head, instead of like, you know, trying to shoot him or anything.

      (5) You'll really want to see this episode from the fourth season of the animated Dini/Timm series where this maniacal farmer turns loose a whole herd of MUTANT FREAKING CATTLE (!) loose on Gotham City. As Robin says in the episode, "Now that is a lotta bull".

      Also, that comic about a villain invading the heroes' dreams....

      I'm left wondering if Neil Gaiman ever slipped that character into the margins of Sandman, or anything. Not concerned with any of the main stories, but just a maybe minor fan nod trivia.


    3. Oh no, not a killjoy at all. I understand and share your concerns with that one. I sometimes get swept up in the, well, bat-shit of it all, and perhaps should include more disclaimers that I'm sometimes smacking my head while posting some of these things.

      I'm very curious what your grandmother thought of Josie Wales!

      (4) That is great. I figured it was just a shorthand of moving the story along but happy to discover there was even more method behind the madness. I started noticing the abundance of sneak-up/knock-out panels in '73 and now am honestly curious how many more there are going to be before decade's end!

      (5) I'm on the look-out for it, now, definitely.

    4. "I'm very curious what your grandmother thought of Josie Wales!"

      I can still remember her exact words the instant Dan George stepped on screen: "Oh My God!" The rest she kept to herself, but I could tell she liked it I'm just glad she got a chance to see it.