Batman in the Bronze Age: Coda

For the past two months I've read nothing but 1970s Batman and Ernest Hemingway.

I didn't plan it that way, that's just how it played out. It actually allowed me to see some connections between the two that I never would have considered otherwise. Some enterprising autodidact out there should take up this line of inquiry - there's a surprising overlap of thematic concerns, shrugging off unbelievable and relentless personal injuries, PTSD, obsession and drive, colorful rogues galleries, and plenty more. I wish I'd taken notes as I went along, but it didn't make itself apparent to me until only a few days ago.

I originally wrote - or tried to write - an entirely different intro than the above, one where I did not mention Hemingway at all and where I tried desperately to work in a description of the Bronze Age as "those brackish waters between the seas of the Silver and Copper ages..." without sounding like Bob Costas (or whomever you like - grandiose instead of grand.) But I failed.

Besides, who needs another definition of the Bronze Age? The internet's full of 'em.
But then I read something from one of these Hemingway-on-writing sites that resonated with me about this series of blogs, and here it is:

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.

Better explorations of both the Bronze Age and the Caped Crusader's journey through it are out there, but I hope you got some sense of the good and the bad and how the weather was from these things. I discovered at least for myself that the Batman works quite well as a two-dimensional diving suit for Bronze Age immersion, suitable for operation at any and all depths.

Though I stopped at the end of 1979, the Bronze Age Batman continued for a few more years, until (most agree) either The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One.

Image from here.
At Marvel, the passing of the Bronze Age was more subtle; later, it began rebooting its characters and compartmentalizing its history, but in the early-to-mid 80s, the characters you read in Amazing Spider-Man or Thor or Fantastic Four looked and sounded "more modern" but retained more or less the same continuity / personality as they had in the Silver Age. DC, on the other hand - and of course that includes Batman - celebrated the change in eras by explicitly dismantling everything that existed before to re-set the clock entirely post-Crisis, the once-in-a-lifetime move the company has repeated 5 times in the 30 years since.

As with heroin, rebooting in such a manner seems to require stronger and more frequently-administered doses once the first one is absorbed by the system.
Which means that all the stories we've looked at over the past two months were erased completely. Remember that for later in the program, if you would.

Unlike many of his cohorts, Bronze Age Batman received a few honorary burials before being relegated to non-existence. We've already seen one of those - the Adventure Comics storyline that killed off Earth-2 Batman - but for this last post, I'd like to look at 3 stories written by Alan Brennert, each of which comments on the passing of the Bronze Age in its own unique way. 

To amuse myself, I'm taking a page from Charles Dickens and presenting these as the Ghosts of Batman (Batmen?) Past, Present, and Future.

Let's begin logically enough with the Ghost of Batman Past:

Illustrated by Joe Staton and George Freeman. (Cover by Jim Aparo)
Possibly my all-time favorite stand-alone Batman story. Both Earth-2 Catwoman and Earth-2 Batman had been dead a few years when this came out in April 1983, so this was a bit of an anomaly at the time and still is. 

I know what you're thinking. "Hey! That says Golden Age Batman. What gives, you f**king lunkhead?!" First, really, so quick to anger! Eat more fiber. Second, yes it is a tale of Golden Age Batman, which is another way of saying "Earth 2 Batman." Third, it is very much a late Bronze Age reflection of all Batman, despite that Golden Age tag. Still friends? Good.

The story is told as an excerpt from Bruce Wayne's autobiography, written two years after the death of his wife, Earth-2 Catwoman. It has a "Reflection from Beyond the Grave" quality to it, aided considerably by the Silver Age look of the art. (Sidenote: Joe Staton never looked better than he does in this issue. It's almost as if he felt burdened by the hack deaths he illustrated in AC and felt the need to pay proper tribute in this Brave and the Bold. But I could be reading into things.)

He does an especially good job conveying the various phobias the Scarecrow throws our heroes' way.

If you recall, it was revealed that Bruce and a reformed Selina Kyle married and had a child (the Huntress) in a few panels of Adventure Comics before it was also revealed that Selina was killed, thus providing the Huntress a convenient tombstone over which to swear her oath to fighting crime. Brennert obviously felt these deaths needed a little fleshing out and justification, bless him, and so we get this poignant, lavishly-illustrated tribute that masquerades as an "unknown case of Batman."

He performed the same kindness for Batwoman in The Brave and the Bold 182, which I decided not to cover, but there's a good write-up here.
The story (after a prelude with Commissioner Gordon, where we discover the Scarecrow is out and about) begins with Bruce Wayne at former girlfriend Linda Page's society wedding, where he entertains the sort of soul-searching familiar to anyone who spent their adolesence listening to The Smiths or The Cure.

The Scarecrow disrupts proceedings and releases his trademark hallucinogenic gas, causing anyone who inhales it to live their deepest fear. The Batman gets a good whiff of it and begins to have a full-on Beverly-Crusher-from-"Remember-Me" style freakout.

It's all handled pretty well, with omnipresent narration alternating with the Batman's pov in the captions.

If it was just this Scarecrow / Batman's inner-fears-made-manifest story, it would still be cool, but as we see at story's end, this Scarecrow plot is simply the hook for the story of how the Batman and Catwoman got together. He recruits her as an ally since everyone he knows and loves has "disappeared."

As we saw with all the concussions, this sort of thing wasn't talked about a lot in Batman back then, so it was ahead of its time.

When Catwoman begins to disappear, too, the Batman is forced to make a choice. It's tempting to read this whole bit as literalizing the perceived out-of-step-ness of Golden Age characters in a Bronze Age set-up.

As the Batman notes, they don't even bother finishing the chase for the Scarecrow. Which is perhaps a dereliction of duty on the Batman's part, but he's earned it.
I found all of this very romantic when I first read it, and I still enjoy it as one of the better depictions of comic book romances. All the more remarkable in that it existed in just two single issues: proverbial grains of sand on the beach. (A sidenote: whenever I say "proverbial" to myself, I hear it in my head as if Leonard Nimoy was saying it. I don't know. There it is.)

And these last few panels bring it all home:

It is precisely because of all of the above that when Catwoman #1 (2011) premiered, I was particularly offended by how stupidly the topic was re-introduced in New 52 continuity. Let's have a quick look. (Enlarge for an exasperating a better view.)

Good lord, where to begin... First the art. Horrendous. Anatomy itself is insulted, or at least I am on its behalf. Second, the Sex and the City style of narration: so ridiculous to put these characters in that context. Third, if anyone thinks for a moment that it is at all appropriate - not from a moral standpoint but from a characterization one - to write the Batman as the sort of guy who's going to have a rooftop quickie, that person belongs absolutely nowhere near the Batman. It fits the Catwoman's character a bit more - she seems like the sort who might get a thrill out of such a thing and hey more power to her, whatever - but the Batman? Particularly in the shadow of all the above? ** Massive fail at every level from Dan Didio on down to the editor (Rachel Gluckstern) to the writer (Judd Winnick) to the artist (Guillem March).

** Not that it really was - lot of water under the Bat-bridge between The Brave and the Bold # 197 and Catwoman #1.

I remember reading at the time that people who objected were simply "slut-shaming." Maybe. But not the Catwoman, dumdum. And it was more "dumbass-shaming." Because maybe the World's Greatest Detective shouldn't be acting like one of these dudes you see on "Caught on Camera." (And maybe Selina and Bruce deserve better than some Brazzers sketch? I don't know. Maybe I'm missing the joke and sound ridiculous. It's been known to happen.)

Anyway, back to the Ghosts business. Superman got a similar sort of farewell to "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne" in Alan Moore's and Curt Swan's excellent "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow." I've gone back and forth on that one over the years, but I enjoyed it much more than I ever had previously on last re-read. Which was only a few months back. What changed? I'm not sure. Beyond my scope here, just worth mentioning. If this had been a Superman in the Bronze Age series instead of a Batman one, that would undoubtedly be the story I'd choose to end on.

On to the Ghost of Batman Present:

Illustrated by Dick Giordano.
Robin and the Batman find themselves mystically drawn to Crime Alley, whereupon the Phantom Stranger appears in his usual manner, offering the Batman an unusual opportunity:

Stranger claims he is simply doing this as a friend. Which in retrospect is a little silly, sure - I mean, in an Infinite-Earths-scenario, the Batman could do nothing else but save his parents and thus himself, over and over and over again, and he'd still be getting murdered/ young-Bruce-traumatized an infinite number of times...

But who cares? Off they go (the Batman insists on going alone, but Robin jumps into the swirling dimensional rift before he can be stopped) Kirk-and-Spock-in-"City-on-the-Edge-of-Forever"style.

Some of my favorite moments come during Robin's exploration of this alternate Earth.
There is, however, Sherlock Holmes, as you'll see in a little ways down.

Robin begins to suspect that for the good of the many, perhaps Bruce's parents should be allowed to die. The Batman somewhat understandably refuses to entertain the idea but leaves young alternate-Bruce under Robin's watchful eye just the same as he goes around town hunting for Joe Chill.

Quick aside - Robin in the window, there, really cracks me up.
Surveillance Fail. Perhaps the Batman never taught him the whole hide-in-the-trees-from-a-distance technique that he himself employs.
Naturally, Robin has a change of heart, and... well, let's let the screencaps do their jobs.

It's a great what-if/ time-travel sort of story, and I genuinely enjoy the fact that while the Phantom Stranger's stated aim is not very logical, the Batman jumps at the chance just the same. It would be a nice touch if it was established that in addition to protecting Leslie Thompkins once a year on the anniversary of his parents death, he hits up the Phantom Stranger to let him save his parents on some random earth.

In the epilogue, we learn that young alternate-Bruce seems destined to become the Batman just the same.

I love this panel.
And finally, for the Ghost of Batman Future, let's go all the way to 1989:


In case you forgot, Deadman's power is that he can temporarily possess people as part of an afterlife deal with Rama/ God, and he's an anguished sort. Christmas finds him taking temporary command of various people's bodies - in some cases, using them to correct their own awful behavior, Sam-from-Quantum-Leap-style, and in other cases simply hovering about in other people so he can enjoy the physical sensations of Christmas. This cheers him up considerably, until he realizes:

As he understandably bemoans his fate, he is visited by a mysterious woman:

"Magic and I have never been boon companions, I'm afraid." In old DC-code, that means she's from Krypton. Could this be Supergirl? Reintroduced into post-Crisis continuity? No, it couldn't be. Supergirl not only died in Crisis, it was repeatedly established that she never existed.

I sense a message to the reader, here...
See that was the weird part about the late 80s at DC. It wasn't enough to reboot everyone and everything, there seemed to be an awful lot of going out of the way to reiterate how totally, utterly forgotten and consigned to oblivion forever pre-Crisis characters and circumstances were.

You might even say they beat you over the head with this message, repeatedly.
Which made the DC guard at the time seem a little like Orwell's Ministry of Truth or the Committee of Public Safety from the French Revolution, un-history-ing whatever it wanted to. And it had the effect on me personally of drawing my attention more and more to pre-Crisis DC, if only to figure out what had existed that they felt had to be so pointedly (and repeatedly) "corrected."

It all seems silly now - I mean, the same year (1989) DC began publishing alternate-timeline stories but brand-repositioned them as "Elseworlds" - but at the time, something like this was very hit me as an anti-regime act smuggled to the viewer under Christmas cover.

Making Deadman the vehicle for it not only made sense but was about the only way you could do this at DC in '89.
So, while Earth-2 Batman does not appear at all in this story, he very much does, if you take my meaning.


Before I go, let me mention two of the other stories in this Christmas Special. I bought it at the time it came out but hadn't looked at it in years and had completely forgotten about John Byrne's contribution, an Enemy Ace Christmas tale that just may rank among the best things he's ever done:

Considering Byrne's c.v., that's saying a lot. (Finished art by Andy Kubert)

Definitely worth checking out. Also worth checking out and much more germane to this blog series is this story by Gray Morrow of the Batman's career from the perspective of the Bat-cave itself.

It seemed an appropriate note to end on.


  1. There was one final comic I was thinking of this whole time. It was called Whatever happened to the Caped Crusader, and it was written by Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite writers.

    I'm not asking for anything, and just to prove it, here's the wiki-link that I found it at:


    The New 52 panels are telling, and they just keep confirming for me, at least, that aside from Burton, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, DC comics apparently doesn't know or care about writing entertaining stories much these days. Still, I think those past and present stories make a good way to go out on this segment. Congrats.


    1. Gracias, Chris - much appreciated.

      I have that Gaiman story. At the time it came out, I was slightly disappointed. I've been disappointed with most non-Sandman Gaiman, unfortunately for me. But reading that overview made me want to read it again. Maybe this time its charms will manifest themselves in my direction.

  2. Ah, "slut-shaming." What a ridiculous concept. Sluts are awesome. They are nothing to be ashamed of, or to shame. Just think of how many heavy/hair-metal videos would blink right out of existence if you somehow removed sluts from the eighties. I probably COULD think of something more awful than that, but I don't want to try, so I won't.

    "Dumbass-shaming," on the other hand, is something that I consider it not only my right but my duty to participate in. And from the very little of the New 52 I have read, you can find plenty of opportunities for it. I actually read that "Catwoman" issue, back when I foolishly thought it might be a good idea to use the New 52 as an opportunity to get back into reading DC.

    That panel of young Bruce -- should that be typed "Bruce"? -- casting a shadow of Batman is pretty great. That issue all around sounds pretty great, actually.

    1. The only New 52 title I enjoyed was OMAC. Naturally, it was one of the first to get the ax. Ah well. I should know better. I just ended up needing a new long box for a whole bunch of crap that'll never sell on eBay. Just like Before Watchmen. You got me again, DC!!

      I realize that the comics/ characters I knew in the Bronze Age have gone through several dozen revolutions/ devolutions since that time and I can't reasonably expect DC to cater only to my understanding of the characters. But good lord, come on... I can't believe it actually has to be explained to some people that the Batman's not the kind of dude to have a rooftop quickie. Or that Selina and Bruce might deserve more. In all the hoopla about this issue (and the Starfire awfulness from... I forget, now, dangit, but it was another stellar failure of good taste/ judgment/ characterization from that time) I saw plenty of the usual Janelle-Asselin-style outrage about women in comics. But nothing about how the Batman was actually the one being degraded here.

      The panel where they kiss and their silhouetted in red is a nice one, too. Demonstrates the simple but effective use of color, to be sure.

      I love that Bat-shadow panel. Years later, my then girlfriend sent me a postcard of Star Wars Episode 1 with a young Anakin casting Darth Vader's shadow and I had that on my wall (right up until I saw the movie, of course, and then it came down) and whenever I see one, I think of the other.

    2. "their silhouetted"

      * I swear, blogger edits my comments and erases words or swaps in they're/their mistakes just to eff with me... knowing I cannot possibly move on without adding an edit. Somewhere, as always, the gods laugh from their mountaintop home...

    3. Oh dear crap, what a note to end a series of posts as good as this.

      I know the Starfire controversy you mentioned. Here's one video I found that I think explains it. Don't know what kind of shaming it deserves, though; continuity perhaps?:


      I forgot it also mentioned the Jason Todd controversy.

      To end on some light note (and to bring Gaiman back into the picture), while I admit I've never really read one of her issues, I noted an outline of the current concept behind Wonder Woman.


      I find it interesting, because the basic underlying 52 concept for the character actually sounds like a riff on Neil Gaiman's American Gods, which takes as it's premise the idea that all the pantheons of ancient Norse, Greek, Hindu, Haitian etc. mythology are actually living beings and roam the earth in search of worshipers. Gaiman's book itself is an interesting reflexion on belief just as a thing, as something people always get stuck with, whether they want it or not, and often how it can be both lifeline and tormenter all at the same time.

      This current Wonder Woman, at least if the article is anything to go by, sounds a lot like the Gaiman premise. They even manage to draw a comparison between the Amazonian Princess and the music of Tom Waites. Interesting.

    4. I enjoyed the first few issues of New 52 Wonder Woman. Interesting reboot of the character and written/ illustrated pretty well. I approve. The animated movie they made with Keri Russell providing the voice for Diana and Nathan Fillion for Steve Trevor was really good, as well - that was based more on the post-Crisis Wonder Woman by George Perez more than anything, which was cool to see.

      One of these days I will make another attempt with American Gods. I started that with high hopes but couldn't get out of the first 100 pages. I just feel like everything non-Sandman I've read by him suffers from comparison to Sandman. Which is another way of saying I love Sandman too much, I think - anytime he attempts to re-explore conceptual terrain from there, as in AG, I just want to go back and read "Brief Lives" or "The Kindly Ones." (Or any of them - man, the Sandman is good.)

      I actually thought of doing three blog series, one for each decade. Starting with 70s Batman, then 80s Spider-Man, then 90s Sandman (which wouldn't have lasted all through the 90s - and would have had to start a little before the decade began - but I was okay with that.) But in addition to just the time involved being too daunting, I really can't think of much to say about the Sandman without lapsing into Chris Farley (i.e. "MAN! THAT WAS AWESOME!!") speak.

      That Starfire comic is so abysmally written. It and Catwoman deserved even worse press than they received. Whew. I mean, what were they thinking?

    5. "That Starfire comic is so abysmally written. It and Catwoman deserved even worse press than they received. Whew. I mean, what were they thinking?"

      Very little, honestly, more like as not; at least as far as I can tell. I'll admit, I wondered once if the Fourth Wall guy's theory was true or not (it also made me think briefly about living in "desperate ages" but that' a thought I've never cared to follow). I think it's telling that there were aspects of that comic I'd forgotten about until I relooked at that review.

      I will say this though, a crossover that's not likely to happen but probably should, the 52 Wonder Woman run being revealed as set in the Sandman universe. That would be interesting.

      To end this particular series on a final positive note: Party on, Dudes!:



    6. Also, now that I think about it. Why the hell NOT go ahead with a Sandman series of posts!!!!

      I doesn't have to be ALL the issues, it can just be like a greatest hits or favorite series type of thing, and the best part is you could start from almost anywhere, as the comics are really more a series of moments, although they do have a full storyline.

      You could literally go anywhere with this idea (although if you wanted to get Mr. Mercedes out of the way first, that's fine too)!