It was 1975, and the Batman franchise was in dire straights. Bat-mania had dwindled away with the cancellation of the television series eight years earlier, that same series leaving the wrong impression about Batman and his mythos in the minds of many impressionable readers, DC was still struggling to chase the high school and college demographic that had been making theirs Marvel for a decade by this point, and now Marvel was innovating with new formats (especially including their Giant-Size books) as a means of conquering new spinner rack real estate and pushing the competition out.
Batman Family was, essentially, a response to all three problems at once: reinvigorate the Batman brand by moving his teen and twenty-something affiliates to the forefront in a book with the pages and price point necessary to compete with Marvel's Giant-Size books (as sister title "Superman Family" was already doing).
And it worked. For a little while, at least.
As someone who has always loved Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon more than Batman himself, it's amazing that I haven't read this series prior to now. I amassed the full run nearly a decade back but decided to wait until I was at the right point in my Teen Titans from the Beginning reviews, as there will be some overlap between the two review threads.
Truly though, I know very little about this series beyond its initial commercial success. So I am going in both blind and extremely excited. As always, feel free to contribute your own knowledge, thoughts, and opinions on the topic. I look forward to learning from the community as I move through an era of the Batman franchise with which I am not familiar.
While Man-Bat's origin will get recapped in the very first issue, it's the story of Dick Grayson and Batgirl that were the primary draw for this series, and both characters' histories prior to this point were a bit convoluted.
Both Robin and Batgirl had been given backup features almost since the start of Batman's post-TV series re-branding in 1969. Robin's took place at Hudson University, where he attended as a student and got into costume once per story in order to bridge the volatile generation gap. Most of these tend to run together with pretty unremarkable repetition, but "My Place in the Sun" (Detective #402) stands out as being the only one to concern itself with further developing Dick Grayson as a character. Generally speaking, the rest of the bunch can be skipped without missing anything.
And, of course, Robin has spent nine years leading The Teen Titans by this point, but I don't expect that to get acknowledged in Batman Family until Bob Rozakis begins writing for both titles simultaneously.
Batgirl's solo stories were also initially quite disposable, but her final three made up an incredibly significant story arc that leaves a lasting impact on this Batman Family series that follows:
In Detective Comics #422 (April 1972), Barbara Gordon attempts to help a reformed ex-convict Batgirl had once sent to prison, only to learn that prison simply taught him how to be a better thief:
This drives her to reveal her identity to her father (who had already figured as much) and run for congress, where she feels she can make a more meaningful impact upon crime and criminal reform:
(from Detective Comics #423)
She wins the election in Detective #424, in a story entitled "The Last Batgirl Story," and then leaves for DC, presumably to give her full energy to lawmaking and never fight crime again:
Both the idea of a crime-fighter realizing s/he can affect more change by getting involved in politics AND of a mid-twenties FEMALE congressperson were extremely progressive. We're talking forty six years prior to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, after all.
But the story didn't end there, after all. We next saw Congresswoman Gordon a year later in Superman #268 (October 1973):
where she dusted off the mothballs to fight crime once again:
She then went on to make several more guest appearances, ultimately being slated to appear with Robin in an issue of DC's 1st Issue Special, but that story ended up becoming the lead feature of Batman Family #1 instead.
Fond memories of the Batman Family comic! The first one I recall reading was Batman Family 16 which had a cameo from Betty Kane as Batgirl. I had all the issues from there until the cancellation and have most of the run today. Back then the series was such a big deal to me with all the stories in one issue. I recall Michael Golden providing art for some of the Batman and Man-Bat stories and thought the look he gave them was so cool. He did the final few covers too, I believe. I enjoyed the Batgirl and Robin team ups. One that stands out features them along with Red Tornado and Elongated Man. Another I remember is when Huntress shows up and meets the Earth 1 Catwoman.
Post by codystarbuck on Nov 19, 2018 13:37:36 GMT -5
I read a couple of the early ones and those with Batwoman and the Joker's Daughter. That pairing ended up leading to a guest-starring appearance of the Bat-ladies in the final 2 issues of The Freedom Fighters.
"Fortunately, ah keep mah feathers numbered for just such an emergency!"
Our first action-packed issue of...well...mostly reprints. Batgirl and Robin get a decent lead story together, but the rest of the book seems entirely unsure of who constitutes "The Batman Family". Do readers actually want stories of Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, and Man-Bat? Let's throw some reprints at them and find out.
Batgirl and Robin: "The Invader from Hell!" Script: Elliot S! Maggin Pencils: Mike Grell Inks: Mike Grell Colors: ? Letters: ?
Benedict Arnold is back from the dead, infused with strange super powers, and attempting to take over Washington with a ghostly revolutionary army. If that doesn't sound ridiculous enough, just wait 'til you find out he's working for The Devil in a quest to corrupt the American ideal.
Look, I get it. The Bicentennial was around the corner, and folks were getting a little carried away with patriotism, but this is just ridiculous:
Fortunately, there's a lot more to the story than its absurd plot. Elliot Maggin does a great job with the writing and, most importantly, we get the beginning of a Batgirl and Robin partnership, as we learn that Dick is working as Babs' aid while on break from Hudson University, and (at the same time) watch them negotiate the terms of their relationship:
Dick (and out readers) are going to have to get comfortable with the idea of the woman calling all the shots in this friendship/partnership/potential romantic relationship. And Maggin and Grell drive this message home beautifully on the final page:
Both the comic book and TV series had suggested, on several occasions, that Batgirl was a potential romantic interest for Bruce Wayne, and that always felt...creepy to me. It was more the norm back then for women to date and marry men twice their ages, but the pairing of Batgirl and Robin makes a lot more sense to me.
Wide eyed boy superhero working as undignified underling for a powerful and fearless woman who enjoys playing hard to get -- this feels prototypical of the 1990's Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman television series. Man, I loved that show:
Of course, whereas the fun with that show (and, really, with the Superman mythos in general) was that Lois didn't know Clark was really Superman, we're in for double the fun here, as neither Babs nor Dick know the other's identity at this point, as they keep tiptoing around one another whenever trouble stirs and even go to change in the same supply closet, only moments apart:
I suppose, in a sense, this is the feminist answer to Superman -- two equally empowered crime fighters both working to protect their identities from the other. Well it's definitely fun this time around!
- Dick Grayson is a temporary aid working in Congresswoman Barbara Gordon's office
- Neither knows the other's secret identity
- Batgirl and Robin begin teaming up to fight crime.
- Why is no one questioning why either Gotham-based crimefighter is now active in Washington DC? Why aren't they asking each other that question? In fact, if Robin moved from Gotham, to Hudson University, to Washington DC at exactly the same times as Dick Grayson did, isn't someone going to piece that together? You'd think one of Batman's craftier villains would be taking note of all the changes in locale.
- It always takes some suspension of disbelief to watch Batman and Robin fire off cable guns that cling to rooftops on the first try, swing themselves around town, and then remove those cables just as easily, but I find it particularly hard to accept here, where Robin appears to throw a loop around the Washington Monument, swing on it, and then just leave it dangling there after:
Clearly, Grell didn't give a f***.
Alfred: "The Great Handcuff King!" (reprinted from Batman #28)
Script: Don C. Cameron ?; Joe Samachson ? Pencils: Jerry Robinson Inks: Jerry Robinson Colors: ? Letters: George Roussos
A surprisingly fun little tale in which Alfred unwittingly takes down a gang of safe-crackers with two pairs of handcuffs he bought in an effort to learn to be a real detective:
We're used to a more dignified and all-knowing Alfred in the Post-Crisis Era, but this Golden Age romp is positively delightful in contrast.
"Comedy Cover Capers" grade: A
An incredibly fun little feature in which new joke captions are added to classic Batman covers.
I sincerely hope they'll continue this into subsequent issues.
Commissioner Gordon: "Commissioner Gordon's Death-Threat!" (reprinted from Batman #186)
Script: Gardner Fox Pencils: Sheldon Moldoff [as Bob Kane] Inks: Joe Giella Colors: ? Letters: Gaspar Saladino
A Pre-Crisis Commissioner Gordon story is as terrible an idea as it sounds, as no one prior to Frank Miller seemed to know how to write the guy as anything other than old and slightly helpless. It doesn't help that this story is full of hokey implausibilities. And yet, the real problem with including this story here is its depiction of Robin as still being Batman's permanent sidekick, with no life of his own beyond the Batcave:
This is NOT the Robin that teens and college students were buying this issue to read.
It would have seemed more logical to have given us a solo Batman story here, as a means of selling new readers checking out this comic on all the good stuff that O'Neil, Adams, Englehart, and Rogers were turning out in the other bat books that weren't selling too hot at the moment.
Man-Bat: "Challenge of the Man-Bat" (reprinted from Detective Comics #400)
Script: Frank Robbins Pencils: Neal Adams Inks: Dick Giordano Colors: ? Letters: John Costanza
A reprinting of Man-Bat's origin and first appearance as a means of plugging his upcoming solo title. I'd never read this story before and was a little surprised by how lackluster it was:
I suppose Man-Bat came into his own more because of the horror craze sweeping comicdom in the mid 1970s than because of anything particularly worthwhile in his original outings.
Alfred: "The Alfred Story"
A one-page retelling of key moments in Alfred's career, including his first appearance, his serving as a double for Batman, his near death, and his briefly becoming a villain known as The Outsider, with accompanying reprinted panels from each story.
All in all, a mess of a first issue. At this point, Batgirl and Robin are clearly the only real draw this title has, and even that initial offering had its weaknesses. Curious to see what will become of the B-stories in future issues.
Last Edit: Nov 19, 2018 14:23:41 GMT -5 by shaxper
Boy, am I conflicted about Don Heck's artwork from this period. It's well drawn, but his own inking kills it. Panels are generally clear and well-composed, faces and figures are expressive, but it feels rushed. The random lines in the "nothing, nothing, nothing" panel look sloppy and call attention to the lack of background, and the "shadows" on Batgirl's costume don't look like anything besides blobs of ink. It's really a shame. (Though, there was a period in the 70s where it seemed like DC really had a dearth of good inkers.)
Even worse was when they gave Heck inking jobs over other pencillers. I'm sure there were reasons, but it really hurt his rep--took a decade or more for people to start saying good things about him again.
“If you’re not good enough to be a cartoonist, maybe you can be an artist." --S. Clay Wilson