Batman 1978

Pin-up from Batman Family.
Comics weren't doing so well in the later 1970s. At a convention just after the bicentennial, a young Dave Olbrich approached Marv Wolfman and asked what he could do to break into comics. "Don't," said Wolfman. "In 5 years there isn't going to be any comics."

Wolfman was wrong of course - in the early 80s, the industry was booming  - but at the time, it was a reasonable view; all signs pointed to imminent collapse. At DC this was especially true. 1978 was the year of the DC Implosion, with cancellation of almost half the company's titles and mass layoffs.

Much to the Joker's delight, this spread some (mild) chaos in the titles Batman appeared in.
All-Star Comics folded, and the JSA wandered between the worlds before settling in Adventure Comics, as we'll see in 1979.

Power Girl landed in Showcase.
And the Huntress followed in Black Canary's footsteps and went over to Earth-1.
They teased her doing so for a few months before she finally introduced herself. (EDIT: I'm told this is not the Huntress but Catwoman, which would indeed make sense, given that she's walking around with a cat and all. I could have sworn something indicated elsewhere that this was the Huntress, despite that detail, but now I can find no corroboration of this.)
FURTHER EDIT: Yep, I was 100% wrong. Here's Selina Kyle introducing herself to Bruce Wayne in Batman #308. (She's removed the flower from her hat and changed coats, but it's the same person.)
In other media, DC was doing pretty well. Richard Donner's Superman was huge, the Wonder Woman TV show was a genuine pop culture landmark of the era, and the various Batman animated series were all flying high. But the comics were a different story.

(Issues 248 - 253)
Writers: Bob Haney, E. Nelson Bridwell, Gerry Conway, Steve Ditko. Artists: Kurt Schaffenberger, Frank Chiaramonte, Don Newton, Steve Dikto, George Tuska, Vince Colletta, Tex Blaisdell.

In a face-saving move of sorts, DC expanded some of its titles to Dollar Comics as it slashed production elsewhere. World's Finest began featuring the adventures of Wonder Woman, Black Canary, Green Arrow, and The Creeper (written and drawn by Steve Ditko) alongside Superman and Batman. The Creeper ones are cool if you like Ditko (and I run hot or cold on him)

The Wonder Woman stories are actually pretty good. This splash makes it seem as if this is some lurid-race-panic affair, and while it's hardly that at all in the reading, I wouldn't fault you for raising an eyebrow.
The Superman and Batman stories (alas, no Jrs.) are almost all Silver Age throwbacks in conception and execution.

Superman vet Kurt Schaffenberger joined the fold, and while this art looks beautiful to my eyes now, it was very anachronistic for 1978. Comic book art (as Kirby was finding over at Marvel) was moving in an entirely different direction.
Like the Batman can even feel his skull at this point!
Some of the stories are actually pretty surreal. (Though "surreal" and "Silver Age throwback" are interchangeable.)
I am a sucker for any neutron bomb reference. They are fewer and further between than you'd think.
And speaking of weapons of mass destruction: Jon Rambo?
The Marvel family kept trying to find a place in DC's line-up to thrive in the 70s. I'm not sure they ever really succeeded. (Actually, excepting Alan Moore's Marvelman, I'm not sure they ever really clicked anywhere other than the original Whiz Comics from the 40s and 50s.)
They do have a villain named Captain Nazi, though.
(Issues 151 - 161)
Writer: Gerry Conway. Artists: Dick Dillin, Frank McLaughlin, George Tuska

Most of the year falls into this pattern:

Another team meeting.
The women discuss gender roles.
The Atom agonizes over his impending nuptials.
Red Tornado finds time for a self-pitying remark.
Green Arrow gives "that speech" again.
And then this happens.
Rinse wash repeat.

The year's cross-over event has the feel of any bloated variety show or fundraiser from the late 70s or early 80s.
I've said it before, but why DC felt it needed to have a yearly multiverse-threatening crisis that also reintroduced some new arrangement of forgotten or rebooted superheroes is beyond me. There's tradition, and then there's stuff like this, where everyone just goes through the motion in the name of it and draws no reinvigoration.

It does give the Batman the occasion to reflect on the child he never had:

(Issues 15 - 20)
Writers: Bob Rozakis, Gerry Conway, Denny O'Neil, Paul Levitz, David Reed. Artists: Lee Elias, Joe Giella, Don Heck, John Celardo, Jim Aparo, Bob Wiacek, Vince Colletta, Michael Golden, Craig Russell, Juan Ortiz, Joe Staton, Bob Layton.

Looks more like Miller to me than Starlin. Early Miller, that is, not angry-big-hands Miller of the years to come. Not that I'm in any way suggesting Starlin isn't his own man, artwise. (And this pre-dates Miller - you never hear much about Miller's art being Starlin-esque, but maybe I'll throw that out there now and see what happens.)
The last year of Batman Family is chockful of good stuff. And a whole lot of Man-Bat. And if those two things aren't mutually exclusive for you, you're in even better shape. Some familiar faces return:


and Batgirl and the Huntress (who gets a back-up along the way) prove they're definitely in the Bat-clan:

Starting with cover date January 1979 (on sale fall 1978) Batman Family was folded into:

(Issues 475 - 486)
Writers: Steve Englehart, Len Wein, Denny O'Neil. Artists: Marshall Rogers, Terry Austin, Jim Starlin, Dick Giordano, Don Newton, David Hunt

Saleswise, Detective Comics was actually the Bat-title on the chopping block, but DC figured it couldn't exactly cancel the series from whose title it derived its initials. So the better-selling Batman Family was folded into it.

That all happened in cover-date 1979, though, so we'll see those next time. This year starts off with perhaps the most well-regarded Joker story of the '70s outside of "The Joker's Five Way Revenge" (back in Batman 251.)

It's a decent two-parter, definitely. People have been telling me for years that Sam Hamm's script for Batman (1989) drew heavily on this for inspiration, but I didn't really see anything in it that wasn't in a dozen other Batman stories (prior to 1978) I can think of. Still pretty good, though.

Steve Englehart was hired by Jenette Kahn to write Marvel-style stories for JLA and Batman, and he certainly does so here, weaving in multi-issue sub-plots with haunted bosses and a girlfriend who guesses the Batman's secret identity. This latter story ends with a Bat-break-up and informs the last page of the Joker two-parter, which comes up often in any discussion of the period.

Otherwise, there's a throwback to "The House that Haunted Batman" from Detective Comics #408 (way back in 1971) and the return of (an all-new) Clayface.

As mentioned elsewhere, I've been playing Lego Batman concurrent to writing all these blogs, on the Hemingway / Wall of Sound principle that things buried in the mix but inaudible/ not discussed add dimensions to the work above the water line. And I feel the need to give a shout-out to Lego Clayface here, as once you unlock him, he makes everything so much easier!

(Issues 139 - 145)
Writers: Bob Haney, Cary Burkett. Artist: Jim Aparo

This year's stretch of team-ups includes Hawkman, Wonder Woman, Black Canary, Aquaman, the Creeper, Green Arrow, and the Phantom Stranger. A pretty familiar line-up at this point, isn't it? Compare it to the variety in Marvel Two in One or Marvel Team-Up of the same few years.

Going through the motions, more or less.
Some cool art as always.
Get a job, sir.

(Issues 295 - 306)
Writers: Gerry Conway, David Reed. Artists: Michael Golden, Sal Amendola, Rich Buckler, Vince Colletta, John Calnan, Dick Giordano, Walt Simonson, Tex Blaisdell

Meh. Nothing really jumps out as particularly worthy of discussion. Feels like a placeholder year for the line.

The David Reed-penned stories are all perfectly acceptable - so are the Conway ones, for that matter - but I've already forgotten what they were about. I look at the covers and images and remember taking them in, but nothing stuck.

I did bring you back a couple of souvenirs, though:

OF 1978 IS...

Note: as with a few other entries to this "Best of..." feature, this one might not be the actual best story of the year.

from Batman Family #18.
We begin with the above - frogmen on the Potomac, advancing menacingly on the Pentagon! Which is, apparently, remarkably easy.

Keep in mind: Barbara Gordon is a congresswoman.
Thank God, though, that her date has chosen this Makeout Point to park, as it allows her to espy the would-be terrorists.

I won't draw it out. The set-up is what blows my mind, there, above. 

If it ended there - Batgirl on this inexplicable date who just happens to thwart a would-be assault on an undefended Pentagon - it'd be chuckleworthy but not showcased. What brings it to the next level is the sudden appearance of:

The Pentagon, you see, was built to harness the mystical powers of the earth. (This might explain the intermittent blood sacrifice the State Department feels obliged to ritually enact once every generation - got to keep The Old Ones happy.)

Madame Zodiac feels obliged to let the Pentagon's engineers off the hook, there.
It all goes pretty much as you might expect. I enjoyed this callback to the meteor shower at story's end:

And that's all she wrote. Only one of these left! How did we get here so fast? See you next time for the last year of the Batman's swinging seventies adventures.


  1. (1) That panel where Superman is pulling off Batman's cowl freaks me out.

    (2) "Jon Rambo -- the superstar singer"!!! -- big on the protest-song circuit, one imagines...

    (3) Captain Nazi -- boy, I love it when comic books just bottom-line things for the readers. I wonder if somebody at DC was sitting around one day, though of Captain Nazi, dismissed the idea on account of being sure that Marvel MUST have had a Captain Nazi to fight Captain America at some point, and then got real happy later when they found out Marvel had not in fact.

    (4) That panel of Batman and Huntress makes it seem as if Bruce is contemplating the question of whether it technically counts as incest if you sleep with the daughter of a parallel-universe version of yourself. I'm unsure of the answer, but it seems icky either way.

    (5) "You murdered my husband, Batman! Why? WHY?" Geez, lady, enough with the histrionics. (I love that cover, though.)

    (6) Has Batman ever been knocked out by a blow to the skull in the movies? I can't remember, but I know that if he ever does get shellacked like that in the future, it's going to make me very happy.

    (7) The Batgirl story seems daffy, but in the best possible way.

    1. (2) So many scenarios come to mind that I just can't even name them all. But they almost all involve Rambo's speeches from the end of First Blood and Rambo (FBp2.)

      (4) I thankfully do not get the same vibe from that panel, otherwise I would very much agree. Robin, on the other hand - not that there's any blood relation between them - and the Huntress may have hooked up at one or several points. I have no rational call to find this icky, but... I kind of do.

      (6) I'm totally going to watch them all, now, on the hunt for those. I can think of one possible one, but it may have been playing possum, can't remember.

      I think they should have him knocked unconscious from a shellacking several times in the new one, most definitely.

      (7) Daffy very much indeed. One wonders if Congresswoman Gordon ever followed up on this demon-beneath-the-Pentagon business in her day job.

    2. My guess is that Batgirl is secretly an agent of the Illuminati, so she already knew all about it.

    3. Make that "Annuit Coeptis." Sheesh. Paul Stanley may be the king of the nighttime world, but I am at least a prince of misspelling / leaving words out of blog comments.

  2. That opening panel with the Bat-Family sort of makes me realize how much smoother an operation things must have been in the 70s-80s, even in financial straits. These old comics were about trying to build up and preserve, now it seems as if the Editors are trying to ear everything down.

    Curiously enough, I saw that Wonder Woman cover as just another example of Horny Fanboy Syndrome. My honest thinking was, "Nothing surprising here". At least it's nice to see DC "trying" to make an effort toward sexual equality (though I don't get where Green Arrow's going with that speech).

    Speaking of rebooted or resurrecting forgotten elements of DC's past, I found this review of a Silver Age issue that reflects one of the controversies of the New 52 Shipping (my official position is that it can go with one girl or the other as far as I'm concerned):


    The Laughing Fish story was actually turned into an episode of Batman: the animated series entitle...well, The Laughing Fish. I think it was this episode that introduced the world to Harley Quinn.

    As for Batgirl as a congresswoman, I'm assuming her date's last name was Kennedy (I had to make that joke, sorry)?

    One last thing. I mentioned a Batman story where he travels to the past and saves his parents with the help of the Phantom Stanger. I don't know when it was released, I wanna say 79, but I can't be sure.


    1. It is indeed coming up in '79 - love that story.

      You know, I think there was a character named Kennedy in one of these Batgirl stories, and it never even occurred to me to make that joke. I'm slipping, man.

    2. I stand corrected! Just finished the last Brave and Bold story from '79 and didn't come across that Phantom Stranger one. So I looked it up - "To Kill A Legend" is from Detective Comics #500. Published in '81, so ju-uu-ust outside my scope of review.

      I may cover it just the same. I'm planning on a coda post that covers Brave and Bold 197, so why not.

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