Thursday, April 06, 2006

In Which I Get Far Too Verbose About Batman's Duds...

...and no, the title of the post isn't a reference to Knightfall. (HAR!) Belated thanks for the support for the Marvel Writer's Meeting I posted a couple of days ago. Thanks go out especially to Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Steven Grant, and Aaron Albert for driving waves of traffic my way!

Today's topic: I have a problem with the way Batman looks, which ties directly in to a maudlin point I make at the end of this post. Also, because I won't post again till Monday, I wanted everyone to see this before the weekend so they get a good running start at my first attempted meme.

But first, a bit about Batman's costume, with apologies to Blockade Boy.

We'll start from the top down. First, the ears. In my mind, Batman needs long ears. Short stubby bat-ears a la Adam West just do NOT look cool. Batman's ears should say, "Hey! Not only can I probably hear very well, if necessary I could impale you with a head butt, and don't go thinking you can just sit on my head without feeling some pain, either!" Now, they shouldn't be lawn darts either, but relatively long proportionately.

Next big point of contention for me: the cape. I likes me some long, flowing Batman capes. Because with all the roof-jumping, ledge-diving, and grapple-climbing the man does, let's face it: without a big-ass cape waving stylistically around in the air all menacingly, those panels are just as boring as your average junior high track meet. (Memo to self: prepare for the onslaught of track fan hate-mail.) Also, short capes are unequivocally for sidekicks and weenies. Batman, dear reader, is no weenie.

Color-wise --- and I warn you, this is going to sound like blasphemy --- I need the blue-and-gray Batman outfit back. I just do. I know that the original costume was black and gray. I know it's probably more frightening to criminals that way. I. Don't. Care. The black is boring and depressing. And not much fun. If you don't think the blue/gray outfit is cool, take it up with Jim Aparo, Neal Adams, Norm Breyfogle and company.

(Side note: DAMN, Jim Aparo was good.)

(Additional side note: Neal Adams is no slouch, either.)

(Son of Additional side note: Why doesn't Breyfogle ever get mentioned in the "Top Batman Artists Ever" discussion? Explain.)

Which brings us to the chest symbol. The chest symbol, classic though it may be, just isn't cutting it. We need the yellow oval with a bat in it back. Stat. Superman has the "S". Green Lantern has the, erm, "Lantern". Flash has the "Lightning Bolt", you get the picture. Easily recognizable symbols, contained within defined borders so as to be usable as computer icons, seat designations, signatures, or shorthand code for a particular character.

(And before you laugh, I will remind you that in the past year DC has used them for ALL of the purposes I've just mentioned.)

So why, God, why, do we have the freeform bat on Bruce's chest instead of the black-on-yellow symbol? It's just dull, and I don't care who's drawing it, I don't like it. Besides, DC knows this: if you look on the sleeping bags and lunch boxes and pencils and all the other licensed materials, you see the oval! So why the hell isn't in the comic? This bothers me to no end.

All of which leads me to a schmaltzy, corn-laden point: everything you just read was an adult rationale for a childish point. It's what I (and, I think, a lot of us grown comic readers) do for fun: rationalize the irrational.

I started reading comics in 1982. I wasn't sure when exactly in 1982, until I tracked down the first comic I ever read. I know it was the first comic I ever read, because the cover image has been burned into my head since I was 6 years old.

(I'll give you a moment to compute my age, as is the natural instinct with those kinds of sentences. If you answered "30 or 31", then you probably aren't on the Marvel Editorial staff.)

I tracked the cover down thanks to the GCD. I found out then that the first comic I ever read, I mean really READ, was Detective Comics #513. Here's the cover that's been in my head for 23 years, and immediately springs to mind whenever I hear the word "comic".

That is one kickass cover, my friends, and you can't convince me otherwise.

I remember seeing the cover on the spinner rack in the gas station my Mom and I had stopped at and thinking, "Holy shit! Two-Face finally got Batman! If he got Batman, who's to stop him from getting ME? Quick, back in the car, Mom, and step on it!" She bought me the comic, and it was the gateway drug in to a life of superheroes and four-color adventures.

And that's the way I want Batman to look like. Because no matter how ass-hatty he gets written, no matter who this week's Robin is, no matter how much stubble Jim Lee gives him, the Batman on the cover of Detective Comics #513 will always be "my" Batman.

Here's the kicker: I can't remember a single thing that happened in that issue. Not a one. But that cover's always stayed with me. I haven't been able to track down a copy in a bin or box, and someone always outsnipes me on eBay any time I manage to find it there. F#$%ers.

It's completely irrational. It's devoid of objective, qualitative evidence. It's a pure, wanton selfish desire to wallow in nostalgia and the carefree days of an overly-romanticized past.

But then again, isn't that what comics are all about?

Out of sheer curiosity (ooh! I'm giddy! I've never done this before!) : I hereby anoint next week "First Comic Week"! I'm interested to know: what was YOUR first comic? (Even if, like me, you don't remember much of it.) Also, because I'm a lazy bastard I'm tagging anyone reading this post to join in the fun! I want to come back next week to the comicsblogoweb and see what everyone else's gateway drug was!

Oh, and if anyone 's got an extra copy of Detective Comics #513, let me know. :-)


Blogger Greg said...

Breyfogle is simply excellent. I DO wonder why he's not on the short list of great Batman artists.

My first comic was, ironically enough, Batman #426 - the first of the Death in the Family story. I was late to the game - I was 17 when I bought my first comic.

But you have inspired me. I'll have to post something next week about that issue and my first comics.

7:57 PM  
Blogger Scipio said...

That is one kickass cover, my friends, and you can't convince me otherwise.

Ah, yes; the issue with the lunch tray and the steam vent...

8:51 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Dammit, Scipio knows all about what's in this issue and I don't! ARGH! Lunch tray? Steam vent? (Actually the steam vent part sounds familiar.) Must....get....this....comic!

6:28 AM  
Blogger CalvinPitt said...

I too, shall post about my first comic within the next few days.

I'm with you on the yellow bat design. I do understand the whole "it's like a target on his chest" argument, but that's what Kevlar is for.

And that's what the huge cape is for. It distracts the villains by making them think "How the hell does not constantly trip over that thing?"

7:28 AM  
Anonymous Jeremy Tobin said...

I agree with the Breyfogle comment. I started reading Batman when he was on it and Breyfogle gave Batman a look that mad him scary and more then human, but not so much that you couldn't tell he was a human. But you knew damn well if he was around you better be scared. Breyfogle's Batman is my Batman.

9:08 AM  
Blogger The Fortress Keeper said...

The first comic book I ever owned was World's Finest #168, which featured Superman, Batman & Robin getting their butts kicked by the Composite Superman. I posted a summation of the issue a few months back at

(Sorry, my html skills suck)

And yes that is a kickass cover. Breyfogle is my second favorite Batman artist after Marshall Rogers.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe this (Tec 513) was my first Batman comic (though it may have been the very late Brave and the Bold that had the Joker not killing the Penguin). I could not resist that cover... I was really disappointed that it wasn't a full length story but then again even as a seven year old I knew the denouement of this story made very little sense unless Two-Face was just a complete moron. And then the old scare Robin on the last page gag so we have a cover scene...heh.

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Cove West said...

I got into the Gotham scene during the latter part of Kelley Jones' Batman and Scott McDaniel's Nightwing, so I'm definitely inclined toward the Breyfogle Bat. And I'm similarly dumbfounded by his lack of appreciation; a quick look at the GCD shows him working on like a hundred issues of various Bat-titles! He was THE Batman artist of the pre-Knightfall era.

My first comics were a bunch of early-Silver Age Superman comics my grandma gave me when I was hit by a terrible flu when I was five or six. Unfortunately, the delirium resulted in a memory block preventing any pinpointing of exactly what issues they were. So my first identifiable comic was years later when I picked up X-Force #1 in the San Diego airport. Looking back on Liefeld's art, I can only wonder if I somehow wasn't still delirious.

4:10 PM  
Blogger redlib said...

Have you seen Breyfogles work on Of Bitter Souls? Great story, excellent art.

Actually just got back my first set of comics from my mothers house...Silver Surfer vol 3's 1988. They include those priceless Sales Leadership Club ads for prizes..Sell 21 items get a senior chemlab set!

5:30 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

And that's the way I want Batman to look like. Because no matter how ass-hatty he gets written, no matter who this week's Robin is, no matter how much stubble Jim Lee gives him, the Batman on the cover of Detective Comics #513 will always be "my" Batman.
Aha, but by that logic, Batman should always have that weird green half-face thing going on, no?

And yeah, I get your point but I do also the like short-eared, black and grey, no yellow oval Batman design. There's a simplicity to it that I appreciate. Perhaps yours can be Earth-1 Batman and mine can be Earth-2 Batman? :)

I'll have a think about my first comic, and I'll post something myself. Probably after the weekend. It definitely wasn't my first comic, but the first one I remember vividly was a reprint collection of Judge Dredd with, I think, Brian Bolland art.

9:28 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

My first comic was Uncanny X-men #191. It's a really great issue ... I think I'll post about it on my blog in the near future.

Personally, I'm a fan of the bat without the yellow oval. Couldn't really say why, I just like it that way.

I do agree, though, that Norm Breyfogle doesn't get the credit he deserves.

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" I do understand the whole "it's like a target on his chest" argument, but that's what Kevlar is for. "

Indeed, it's probably an advantage if he can attract fire to a known area, that can be given some extra bat-kevlar, while reducing the amount needed elsewhere.

Unless he's being attacked with a kryptonite lightsaber jab to the chest symbol. Then the bat-kevlar doesn't have a chance.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Grotesqueticle said...

Breyfogle is my Batman artist.

My first comic? One of the 80 page giants from '69 or '70. Superman. I knew the basic Supes backstory from re-runs of the TV series. Those 80 page giants always had the coolest covers, alluding to stories that (usually) didn't appear inside.
"Superman, a COMMUNIST?" "Why is Clark Kent marrying Catwoman?" "I was a Superman's Siamese twin."
Great stuff. I became a full-fledged junkie when Kirby moved to DC.

7:52 PM  
Blogger Ragnell said...

Breyfogle was drawing Batman when I started reading. Whatever happened to him?

2:48 AM  
Blogger joncormier said...

I'm going to have to find the details for my first comic. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the first comic I ever bought but it's the first one I REMEMBER buying. It was a Fantastic Four special I believe. Sub-Mariner and Atlantis rose up to attack New York and the FF (and I believe Spiderman) fought them off. I'm pretty sure I bought it because there were no Spiderman comics at the gas station and this one had Spidey on the cover. It was summer vacation and I read it at the cottage when it rained... ahhh memories.

6:11 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Ragnell - Breyfogle is working on Of Bitter Souls, which is a pretty decent book, actually, even though it's late and now moving to a new publisher because of the demise of Speakeasy. He also has a web site - I did wonder where he went during the 1990s, but he is back, and it's good to see.

3:50 PM  
Blogger brdaykin said...

Ah, Chris... how can you not remember? The years have not been kind to me in some ways, but I continue to recall this issue, like you, quite fondly.

Detective 513... This is the 2nd part of a two-part carry-over from Batman. Two-Face bested Batman with two sets of thugs over in the title mag, and this issue opesn with Robin looking for your missing hero...

... who is being held captive in a locked cell with a plate-glass front in Two-Face's felonious front: a half-way house (natch). Our villain won't kill him... because the coin keeps turning up unscarred. Rotten luck.

Do you remember Two-Face's girlfriend? I think her name was Margo. She was beautiful, of course, but wore some sort of purple jumpsuit. She feeds Batman his meals on trays through a small slot in the plate window. She begs Two-Face to destroy Batman because, she says, biting a nail, "he frightens me."

So how does your hero survive? Venting steam from a heating pipe, Bats heats the plastic meal tray until it's pliant, molds it so it resembles Two-Face's scarred visage, and fakes a horrific "accident" when Two-Face arrives, emerging from the depths of the steam-filled room and presenting Two-Face with a "reflection" of himself. The n'er-do-well panics and releases the "beast" within, and Batman takes the villains down.

Sigh. How awesome he was in those days.

I believe I still have a copy of this book in storage somewhere. I may not send it to you, but if I ever unearth it, I'd be more than happy to scan it for you and mail it on CD?

2:21 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Rosenpoint, that would be awesome with a capital 'awe'.

I shall also continue my quest in the bins and boxes around this great land!

7:41 PM  
Blogger brdaykin said...

Consider it done. A warning to the impatient: it may take me several months to access my old longboxes (they're out of state).

5:59 AM  
Anonymous Chuck T. said...

Thanks for reminding me about Grand Comics Database, and my first comic! I spent my afternoon looking. My cousin had a bunch of '60's Legion and Superman comics that were probably the first I read, but my first comic may have been Star Trek (Gold Key!) #27.
I want to keep looking, though: someone mentioned World's Finest, and I remember one with Vigilante on a camping trip...

7:19 AM  

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