Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bat-Celibate for World War 2

Bruce Wayne commonly is referred to as a "playboy" in the comics. In the Golden Age he was linked to a number of women, and engaged to a few as well. From a statistical point of view, the most interesting feature is the steep drop off of romantic activity at the end of 1942 and beginning of 1943. After this point Batman has virtually no romantic activity for the duration of World War 2.

Between 1940 and the end of 1942 Batman was in some way romantically linked to women named Julie Madison, Linda Page, The Cat (Catwoman), The Canary (a short lived Penguin accomplice), Viola Vane, Elva Barr, and a woman only called 'Queenie'. A total of at least seven romantic partners, with two being prolonged marriage engagements that spanned multiple stories.

From 1943 until the end of World War 2, Batman was not seen as romantically linked to anyone.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Batman killing in his eponymous series during the Golden Age

As mentioned, Batman's killing diminished sharply  in Detective Comics after Robin's first appearance in April of 1940.

That same month began Batman comics, and especially in the beginning Batman's adversaries regularly ended up dead. The main difference being that Batman related deaths were now often due to less direct means. Deaths in Batman comics generally happen one of two ways: someone else shoots the antagonist during a fight with Batman or the antagonist falls to their death during a fight with Batman.

Some early Batman related deaths in Batman comics:

Batman #1: The second story has the only killings in the first issue, and is arguably the most violent pre WWII material. (This is why I feel it should be considered the last Pre-Robin 'original' Batman story) In it he shoots people from his plane, and gruesomely hangs one of the 'monstermen' from a noose, amongst other killing. Batman's quote: "As much as I hate to take human life, this time it's necessary." Batman ends up leading to seven deaths if you count the mentally ill people that Dr. Hugo Strange has turned into 'monstermen.'

Batman #2: In the second story Batman punches the antagonist (who has stopped attacking at this point) down a flight of stairs, where he breaks his neck and dies.
In the final story "The Case of the Missing Link" Batman fights with pygmies on the roof of the train and four are struck by a low bridge, later Batman & Robin cooperate to knock a giant caveman to his death off a high scaffold. Would being struck by a bridge while standing on the roof of a train moving at full speed kill a pygmy? Is this a question fit for Monty Python? Yes and yes.

After these two issues, things change. Deaths in Batman comics gradually decrease in frequency, by 1945 there would be maybe one person indirectly getting killed due to Batman's involvement every 4 or 5 issues. This means approximately one indirectly caused death per  200-250 pages of material. In contrast, Batman very clearly killed eight people in the original 110 pages of Detective Comics at the beginning in in 1939, or approximately one death every 13.75 pages.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Batman vs. Advanced Degrees

I'm definitely not the first person to point out the number of super villains with advanced degrees, but early Batman is such a great example of the trope.

There are eleven Batman antagonists that appear two or more times during the Golden Age. Dr. Death, The Monk, Dr. Hugo Strange, Clayface,  Dr. Matthew Thorne, Two-Face, Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, Scarecrow (Dr. Jonathan Crane), Catwoman, Penguin, and the Joker.

Of the eleven, four of them are Ph.D.'s or M.D.'s, (and one is a Lawyer). In 1940 less than five percent of the population had a four year college degree, in the golden ages about 45% of Batman's enemies had advanced degrees.

The Details on Batman Related Deaths in Detective Comics Pre and Post Robin.

There were eleven issues of Detective Comics (May 1939-March 1940) before Robin's appearance.  Batman kills his enemies, and the occasional henchman, in eight of them. Batman also repeatedly shows no remorse for causing the deaths of his enemies. This means somebody (henchman or antagonist) was getting killed in 72% of the stories.
  • Detective Comics #27  - Batman punches Mr. Stryker into a vat of acid, as Mr. Stryker takes a shot at him. Afterwards Batman notes: "A fitting end for his kind."
  • Detective Comics #28 - Batman kicks a thug off the roof of a tall building, later the narrator notes "The body of the man that went over the roof has attracted the police," implying his death.
  • Detective Comics #30 - Batman snaps a "Cossack's" neck with a kick.
  • Detective Comics #32 - Batman shoots two vampires in order to kill them and free his girlfriend from their control.
  • Detective Comics #33 - Batman knocks out a guard to escape, and then puts his Batman costume on the guard, knowing the antagonist is going to (and does) execute Batman, leading to the guard's death. Elsewhere, the primary antagonist is killed in a plane crash caused by his fight with Batman. The first is my personal favorite, because Batman really didn't need to put his costume on the guard once he had been subdued.
  • Detective Comics #34 - Antagonist, the Duc D'Orterre, is killed in a car crash in a fight with Batman.
  • Detective Comics #35 - Batman knocks the antagonist, Mr. Lenox, out the window of a tall building. "With bitter irony, across the crushed body falls the blood-red idol, Kila, God of Destruction!"He also punches a Chinese swordsman onto another swordsman's sword.
  • Detective Comics #37 - Batman kills a 'foreign agent' by punching him onto a sword stuck through a door.
Total of 8 Batman stories where somebody dies due to Batman's involvement.

There was an interesting transitional phase after Robin appeared. Batman still killed people but it was in a less direct way. To understand the difference in the comics that occurred with the appearance of Robin, look at the difference between the eleven issues of Detective Comics after Robin's introduction and the eleven issues that were published before Robin. Deaths trailed off after Robin appeared, but at the same time Batman was still definitely killing people.
  • In Detective Comics #39 Batman pushes a statue onto six swordsmen and it is stated that they are killed.
  • In Detective Comics #42 Batman & Robin's exposure of a plot leads the antagonist to shoot himself in the head in front of them.
  • In Detective Comics #46 Batman punches Hugo Strange into a deep ravine, where he "Topples to his Doom."

A total of 3 Batman stories with explicit killing.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Great Quotes from Batman Killing People in the Golden Age

'There is a sickening snap as the Cossack's neck breaks under the pressure of the Batman's boot' - Detective Comics #30, page 8, August 1939.

'He must have sunk like a log. I might as well go collect the volitell and return it to the hospital." - Batman #8, page 26, August/September 1941.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Basics of Golden Age Batman Comics

In the beginning Batman's appearances in comic books are limited to short stories, between six and fifteen pages long. Starting in Detective Comics in May of 1939, each issue featured one Batman story placed first before a range of other material. The Batman comic book started in the spring of 1940, with each issue featuring four short Batman and Robin stories. Batman's first appearance in Detective Comics #27 is six pages long, and the four stories that made up a Batman comic of the era would each be about thirteen pages. The shorter, early Detective Comics would feature about eight or nine panels per page, while Batman comics would feature six or seven.

Most of the original Batman stories are self standing, the longest running narratives run across two stories, usually in consecutive issues.

The first bit of  this material will cover the first two distinct phases of Batman comics. My understanding is that all pre-1946 Batman would be considered by definition 'Golden Age'. I am not a comic historian in any sense, but anyone can see a distinct style change that took place in the Golden Age comics that is worth noting for visualization and analysis.

May of 1939 to March of 1940 is the original Batman who worked independently, was more violent, and had a tenuous relationship with police, but was on good terms with Commissioner Gordon. (Commissioner Gordon is in the very first appearance of Batman, and he pre-dates all other Batman friends or foes) This Batman wears black. Updated versions of this Batman are in Tim Burton's Batman film, The 2004 The Batman Saturday morning cartoon and the recently released First Wave comic books. One of the most interesting things about the 'original' Batman is that he only was in this state for 11 monthly issues of Detective Comics, with the first stories being six pages long, and eventually growing to 12. There are only 110 pages of this material.(with a possible addition of 12 more, see below) These stories are often of business deals gone bad, mad scientists, and werewolves. They could potentially be considered thriller/horror in terms of genre.

April of 1940 is when Robin, the Boy Wonder appears, and sets the tone for World War II. His appearance directly coincides with World War 2 escalating in Europe. Batman becomes less violent, and has a very positive relationship with police. This Batman wears blue. As soon as Robin appears the tone of the comics changes drastically. The comics become increasingly light in tone, and the colorful Batman Rogues appear. The costumed hero versus costumed villain pastiche begins to appear clearly as these comics progress.Within six months of his introduction there are more pages of Batman & Robin than of Batman's previous solo comic.

Although it is not a perfect split, the change in the comics happens with the appearance of Robin, in Detective Comics #38 and Batman #1.The second story from Batman #1does not include Robin, and this is the story advertised as the next issue of Detective Comics in Detective Comics #37 (it's also the only episode where Batman kills people). By appearances the third and final appearance of Dr. Hugo Strange in the Golden Age should be considered the last original black Batman.  It is also not a complete tonal change. Some of the early comics including Robin could be fairly dark, in Batman #6 Robin wrestles a guy into shooting himself in the head.

Thus for expediency April 1940 will be used to designate 'The Batman' (pre April 1940) from 'The Dynamic Duo' (post April 1940).

Long story short, if you want to know when the original scary Batman we all have heard about was phased out for happier Batman, it was when Robin arrived in April 1940.