Friday, June 27, 2008

My first Batman Comic!

About a year ago I was digging through some back issues at Austin Books and I stumbled across Detective Comics #519.

Detective Comics #519 is the first Batman comic I ever recall reading. I think my dad bought it for me and just dropped it on me at some point, right about the summer before third grade. I remember this for a somewhat specific reason, which I'll get to in a minute. It was also the only Batman comic I would read between 3rd grade and 5th grade.

The issue's writing is handled by two of my favorites from pre-Crisis DC. Gerry Conway on plot. Paul Kupperberg on script. Pencils are by a "Don Newton". I don't know Don's work, but its really, really nice. Well rendered in an illustrative style. I don't think this cover is Newton. It might be Aparo, but I have no idea.
(update: The cover is Aparo. And, sadly, it seems Don Newton died suddenly in 1984. Here's a web-gallery of his work for you to enjoy.)

The story is the second half of a tale (which began in the previous issue) wherein Batman confronts a terrorist holding Washington DC hostage with exploding blimps. Its actually a pretty cool story, with Batman unravelling the villain's scheme.

The problem: Not only is our terrorist wearing a grape-colored chauffer's outfit, his nom-de-crime? Colonel Blimp.

Not exactly a name geared toward striking fear in the hearts of the populace. And a little on the nose, I think. I am unsure why Conway and or Kupperberg slacked so badly on the villain's name, but there you have it.

Blimp is also awesome enough to give his henchmen themed outfits.

I can't tell you how much I would pay for exactly that same shirt.

Part of the plot includes Blimp's henchmen trying to hi-jack nuclear subs in the arctic. Robin heads off to run interference, which seems short-sited with his perpensity of wearing green undies and precious little else south of the equator. Fortunately, the Bat-team seem to have ready-to-wear bat-onesies.

Robin looks adorable in his little outfit.

I was especially impressed by a "Batman escapes from the exploding blimp" sequence. Well rendered, well-framed, and with the appropriate sense of tension. Jack Bauer, eat your heart out.

click on these panels for full detail

Now, THAT is an explosion. Well done, Don Newton! It's almost like you didn't use Hindenburg photo reference.

Now, why was this my last Batman comic for a while?

Back in the 80's, DC had opened the door to writers using the words "damn" and "hell". At the Steans house, profanity was taken with all seriousness. We could see movies with "dirty words", but it wasn't until the Eddie Murphy incident of 1984 that blue language began to creep into our household's entertainment with any regularity.

Marvel always substituted words like "blazes" for "hell". And in the X-books, people couldn't make a cup of coffee without telling someone "it hurt like blazes" or to "go to blazes". And I think, honestly, it was part of why I started reading Marve before DC. That, and Marvel was never was all-out weird and apocalyptic as DC could get.

Anyway, all I could recall about this comic 20-odd years later was that it had a swear in it somewhere. Lo, those many years ago I'd been pretty scarred by stumbling across a swear in my funnybook.

In fact, when my third grade teacher put some comics on a shelf for us to enjoy during quiet reading time, I was horrified to see the image of Colonel Blimp and Batman on one of the comics and made a special point of telling Ms. Martin that those batman comics were for older kids because they had swears in them.

After scanning the comic, this is the only use of any four-letter word in the entire comic:

Wow. I was a sensitive kid. My parents didn't even have to find this smut themselves, I was so busy self-censoring.

It was TWO YEARS before I read Batman again. And I honestly have no idea what happened to that copy of this comic. Just as I have no idea where my Bugs Bunny comics, etc... went.

But I don't think Ms. Martin ever pulled those comics off the shelf, for which I salute her

I don't think we ever saw the likes of Colonel Blimp appear again in the Batbooks. Perhaps because it was just a little tough to take even our Dark Knight seriously when he's delivering lines like:

So a salute to sweet, sheltered little Ryan and a life before he used swears with all kinds of regularity. And a salute to this comic, which is still really good after all these years.


Anonymous said...

Man, did I REALLY script this issue?! I'd forgotten all about it until I saw the cover here. You'd think with a villain like Colonel Blimp, it'd be tough to forget. By the way, blame Gerry for the villain's name--I was just the dialog-robot on the story. Really. I swear.

Don Newton was one of my favorite artists from the 70s & 80s--he was a fanzine artist since the 60s, then started drawing for Charlton (his work on THE PHANTOM for them was amazing) before moving to DC. I worked with him a few times, on some DC COMICS PRESENTS stories, but my favorite jobs with him were two "Tales of the Green Lantern Corps" back-up stories he drew in GL #148 and #181, both featuring Ch'p, the chipmunk Green Lantern. He was also a hell of a nice guy...oops! Sorry, didn't mean to cuss again.

Anyway, it's always cool to see people remembering these stories, back from the days when comic books were still fun to read. Thanks for the kind words!

Paul Kupperberg

J.S. said...

Thanks for helping to turn my brother into a lifelong comic geek, Kupperberg!! ;)

If those Hollywood producers know how to sell a movie, I think we ought to be seeing Colonel Blimp going head to head with Christian Bale in some upcoming installment of the Batman franchise...

Seriosuly, though- Batman was a critical component of our childhood (and more of our adult lives than is probably healthy). Thanks for the memories, Paul!

The League said...

I am... a little weirded out by Paul Kupperberg just showing up at the League. I feel like, well, Paul Kupperberg just just showed up at my house and there are socks on the couch, a ferret loose and an empty pizza box on the floor that I can't explain. It's both a complete pleasure and a stunning shock.

I should put on a tie or something.

A lot of you guys aren't DC or comic nerds, so let me introduce you: This is PAUL KUPPERBERG. He's been a writer, editor and scripter at DC, which means I've seen his name. A LOT. (And he's the man I am going to point to as the one who corrupted my fragile little mind with that anonymous henchman's unbelievably crass dialog)

WOW. Thanks so much for stopping by!

And I'm heading down to Austin Books to look for those back issues tomorrow (this is exactly the sort of excuse I need. Also, sir, if you could also cite some issues of Superman comics you worked on, too, it'd be great. My wife will HAVE to let me get them if Paul Kupperberg says I should).

The League said...

And thank you so much for sharing your memories of Mr. Newton. His work in this issue is terrific. I hope those panels I scanned of the "Batman escapes the explosion" do you, Mr. Conway and Mr. Newton credit. Just great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, guys. I love the old pre-CRISIS DCU and especially loved being able to play in that wonderful, wacky world that allowed us to do characters with names like Colonel Blimp and, in Superman, Terra-Man. I was extra-lucky in having the opportunity to write for, and become friends with, the late, great and legendary Julius Schwartz, who edited the Superman line in those days (this past June 19 would have been his 93rd birthday).

Anyway, tell your wife I said you HAVE to have those Superman comics! It's vital to your health and well-being.

I did my Superman writing starting in 1982 to 1985, in issues between SUPERMAN #377 - 407, and in ACTION COMICS #547 - 580. Some of my favorites were SUPERMAN #378, #397, #404 (an imaginary story that I really liked!), #408, ACTION #557, #561 & #564. I also did a batch of writing for DC COMICS PRESENTS, like #54 (with Don Newton), #56, #65, #75. Plus two-year runs on SUPERGIRL and SUPERBOY in their own titles...and about 400 other stories for everything else DC published, including DOOM PATROL< VIGILANTE, ARION, CHECKMATE...

Jeez, it's no wonder I'm so tired!

By the way, Gerry Conway--who I recently got back in touch with--is semi-retired in California after a very successful TV career, including a stretch as producer/writer on one of the LAW & ORDER shows.

Anyway, thanks again for sharing the fond memories...and, Ryan, clean up your room. Really! Tghis place is a disgrace! (Now I feel like I'm talking to my 12-year old.) ;)

Paul Kupperberg

Unknown said...

This isn't just blowing smoke. Leaguers should know that era of Superman is a heck of a lot of fun, and I actually have quite a few issues from around then (I just read Action 547 last week).

And I have to give a special tip of the hat to Terra-Man and the team who brought him into existence. He's a cult favorite villain and a prime example of why I pick up that era of Superman.

I highly recommend you all hit the back issue bin and catch up with Mr. Kupperberg's work!

Thanks so much for coming by, Mr. Kupperberg!

I am off to convince my wife I need more back issues!

mcsteans said...

(With all due respect to Mr. Kupperberg). Ryan, food is also vital to our health and well-being. If you can find it in your comic budget to buy Superman back issues, have at.

Having said that, it was great to hear from you, Mr. Kupperberg! You've made Ryan's day :)

The League said...

I think we can all agree i can do with less food. But fewer back issues? That's up for debate.

FanBoyWonder said...

Hey "The League"

Thanks for posting this issue. God It brings back some memories. As I recall this came out during the summer between 6th and 7th grade for me.

Don Newton remains one of my favorite Batman artists and it's a crying shame that he's all but forgotten to this current generation of fans. I was stunned when he died suddenly in '84...he had just left Batman to draw for Roy Thomas and Infinity Inc.

More is the pity as this reminds me of Batman the way he should be...dark and all business but a human being not some arrogant, marginally sane aristocrat.

I most enjoyed the friendship displayed Batman and was this issue or the part one that preceeded it that Batman was injured the scene had Robin driving the Batmobile and Batman riding shotgun.

Like that would ever happen today. This was about a year or less before Pre-crisis Jason Todd was introduced and before Robin became Nightwing in the New Teen Titans and Gerry Conway started slipping in little "Titans" references here and there planting the seed.

I know Chuck Dixon is the toast of the town right now for giving DD the finger but I'll never forgive him for re-conning Bat-history so that Bruce fired Dick (shaking head).

Sorry to ramble but damn this brought back some good memories.

Thanks for listening,

Michael Corley said...

This "style" of batman is what I was familar with growing up. The bright blue and gray costume, the vaugley Roger Moore look to Bruce Wayne, the cape floating about at every turn.

Man, I'd love to seem Cap. Blimp on screen.

The League said...

Like I was saying, it's a great story with great art. I actually think that this would have made a great two part episode of a Batman cartoon, with or without the name "Colonel Blimp" attached.

I also miss this look for Batman, but I'm not going to say that I dislike some of the art going on in modern Bat-books. Time marches on, and not all art is equal. I might like this look and not necessarily think that it should have disappeared, but that's also sort of the magic of back issues, I think.

And I think I understand where fanboywonder is coming from. I had about had it with the post-Dark Knight Returns take on Batman, as it slid further and further down a path of "and I'm supposed to like reading about this @#$% because of why?"

I think Dini and Morrison have done a good job of pulling Batman back from the abyss, at least as far as I think its possible for the generation of fans who grew up on post-Miller Batman. And, Morrison made it make sense with his story within 52.

Its not perfect, but I do feel that the Bat team is making amends for readers like myself. And the more movies like Dark Knight paint a grimmer picture of Batman, the more that idea will be cemented in reality.

In the meantime, DC needs to put this sort of stuff into collections, in one form or another. I think readers would enjoy seeing this take, just as much.