Welcome to the Silver Age Serenade here at First Comics News! As you’ve no doubt already inferred (the name of the column is a big clue, right?), I’ll be examining the history, trends, talent, themes–heck, just about anything having to do with comics’ Silver Age, 1956 to–1971, 1972? (Hey, your guess is at good as mine!) But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean I’ll totally ignore the Golden Age, the Bronze Age or any other metal associated with comics; those will be examined here as well. And I’ll also cover today’s fare. I will state upfront this column will focus on mainstream publishers, chiefly Marvel and DC… plus Archie, Dell, Fawcett, Gold Key, Quality, etc. But let’s face it, the majority of superhero characters who are around today were created during the sensational Silver Age, so that’s why the Silver Age rules! That, plus because it’s when I started reading comics. I hope you’ll enjoy this walk down memory lane and I welcome any comments you may have.
What I Read Back in the Day I’m going to start by revisiting some of the earliest superhero comics I read. Like a lot of kids, I watched cartoons and whenever I saw a comic that featured one of my cartoon favorites on the cover, I had to have it. So at an early age I devoured comics that featured such luminaries as Woody Woodpecker, Casper, Wendy, Donald Duck’s nephews, and so on.
Naturally it followed that when I started watching the Batman TV show–you know, the Adam West one–I had to have a Batman comic. Batman #181 was my very first Batman comic… and my very first DC comic! And do the math: it was 45 years ago this very month when Batman #181 was published in April 1966. Look at that striking Infantino-Anderson cover; sure, our heroes are in floating head mode but they look appropriately hot and bothered as they eye Poison Ivy.
Some random thoughts about this epochal issue (Batman, not Woody…okay, so I’m probably the only one who considers Batman #181 epochal): first, the cover boasted the famous (some say infamous) DC go-go checks! I didn’t know it at the time, but these were introduced in response to the heated competition it was facing from fast-rising Marvel. Since comics were often sold in newsstands with only the top portion of the covers visible, DC reasoned the go-go checks would make their comics easily identifiable. Alas, the go-go checks did not last very long; they appeared in DC covers starting with comics released in late December 1965, and were gone by early June 1967. Apparently the go-go checks did not help DC sales–it’s been said the distinctive pattern instead just alerted kids what not to buy!
Then there was the splash page that included a “Bob Kane” credit box. I’d seen his name in the credits of Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse cartoons (they rode around in a Catmobile!) so I felt his name in Batman was stamp of approval. Of couse many of us since discovered his name was on the story because of a lucrative deal he’d struck with DC that gave him sole public credit for Batman, and that he was neither the artist nor writer of what I was reading.
But even as a kid I felt the actual stories themselves–there were two in #181–were simplistic. In the lead story (written by Robert Kanigher) Batman predictably falls under the spell of Poison Ivy, Robin is annoyed, and the whole thing is wrapped up a bit too quickly (this story is 12 pages long). It was in the vein of the TV show, but without the actors much less involving. Shelly Moldoff, Kane’s ghost at the time, did the art
Is Batman #181 an Important Issue? Well, it does mark the debut of Poison Ivy. But more importantly, despite the one-dimensional stories–reading Batman #181 was a rite of passage for me; I felt I’d graduated from the kiddie comics like Casper to something more serious and mature. The exploits of Batman and Robin seemed infinitely more exciting and glamorous than Wendy’s, Casper’s or even my beloved Woody’s. So yeah, for this reader anyway, you’d better believe Batman #181 is important!
In memory of Dick Giordano 1932-2010