Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I can narrow down the time I became a comic fan to one specific moment when I was seven years old. It was in the spring of 1972 and I found myself captivated by a comic spinner rack in a drug store. From that point, my future geekdom was assured. But before I get to that, I should step back a couple years.

I owned my first comic books before I could read. Having been weaned on the Batman TV show, I always had a love for the caped crusader and, if I saw a Batman comic on the shelves in a drug store or convenience store, I would instinctively point to it and whine my desire for it simply because it had Batman’s face on it. The first Batman comic I remember owning was Batman #220, This Murder Has Been Pre-recorded! This was the winter of 1970 and I hadn’t learned to read yet, but I liked looking at the pictures. And boy, those were some pictures! This was a radically different Batman from the one I saw on my TV screen. He had taller ears on his cowl and his lean, sinewy body made him appear more menacing and stern. Robin was nowhere to be found, so forget about any friendly, “ol’ chum” banter. And while I couldn’t read, I could tell that this story was more like a crime thriller a la Mannix or one of those Quinn Martin crime shows. It was different, a little scary, but way cooler.

Several months later, I talked my dad into buying me Batman #227, The Demon of Gothos Mansion! I was just beginning to read at this point and I wanted desperately to comprehend what was going on in this book, but since none of the dialog said “See Spot run” or “Dick has a red ball,” I was hopelessly lost. But I loved those pictures! This issue was along the lines of a gothic horror story, and for the first time I understood how Batman’s persona was supposed to be utilized. He was the personification of a bat, a symbol of the supernatural and feverish nightmares. (I believe the cover was inspired by the cover of Detective Comics #31, channeling those earlier roots.) Batman was meant to be dark, brooding, grim, and mysterious. I was catching on. Suddenly, Adam West was looking pretty lame.

The back-up story featured Robin, now a college student living on campus and, in his spare time, patrolling the college town of Carthage as Robin, the Teen Wonder. This new environment put Dick Grayson/Robin right in the thick of hippies, drug pushers, and war protesters. Quite a long way from “Holy priceless collection of Etruscan snoods!” but I liked it.

My six-year-old brain was piecing together the evolution from the TV show to the then-current comic. Years later I discovered that, had I bought a Batman comic even one year earlier, it would’ve looked pretty similar to what I had seen (and was still seeing thanks to syndication) on TV. However, with the rapid changes taking place in American society in the late 60s, Batman’s campy television image had become an embarrassingly passé fad, plummeting in popularity just as quickly as it had risen two years before. No one was interested in that old Batman, least of all the baby boomer writers who were taking over the direction of DC characters in the late 60s and early 70s. The metamorphosis of Batman from 1969 to 1970 was beyond dramatic, and I was jumping in right as the transformation had reached completion.

So while I liked these Batman comics, the fact that their reading level was slightly higher than my own prevented me from really enjoying them. By second grade, however, my reading ability accelerated rapidly. So much so that I was moved to the highest level reading class in my grade to encourage my growing interest in books. By the spring of 1972, I was reading whatever I could get my hands on. That’s why that drug store spinner rack fascinated me so much. I was ready to tackle those comics. More on that tomorrow…

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