DETECTIVE COMICS #327 May 1964
Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella original artists
|Friends, this particular issue made a bigger impression on me that anything else DC Comics published in the early sixties!|
|Okay, okay--granted, I naturally have an
ingrained fondness spurred on by nostalgia
for those very specific issues that introduced
me to each and every one of their far-flung
stable of super-stars. And, storywise, "The
Death of Superman", "Flash of Two
Worlds", and that first JLA/ JSA meeting
would certainly qualify as being more intrinsically
memorable than "The Mystery of the Menacing
Mask", but the giddy excitement that
ran throughout my body merely upon picking
DETECTIVE COMICS 327 off of the wooden racks
at Heisenbuttel's General Store transcended
whatever the meager literary merits of the
lead feature may've been. No, it was all
about wiping the slate clean--and doing it
in such a magnificent manner!...
As you may've read in my commentary regarding the previous entry--1963's BATMAN 156--the Caped Crusader was badly in need of a conceptual makeover. Apparently, editor Jack Schiff's misguided direction emphasizing alarmingly out-of-place sci-fi elements was floundering badly--and not only in my eyes, but on the sales charts as well! Hard to believe, but DC actually found themselves on the verge of canceling a pair of books that had long headlined their (once) second most popular character. But rather than just give up on Bob Kane's sugar-batty, the bigwigs at National (as the firm was alternately known in those days) gave the dying franchise one last desperate chance, turning both the BATMAN and DETECTIVE books over to editor Julie Schwartz, the man who had recently worked his magic reviving the Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom, Hawkman, and creating the Justice League of America. Who better, after all, than the estimable Julie to provide the down--but not quite out--Dark Knight with a much needed "New Look"??
Ah, those two glorious words! "New Look"!! Attach "Batman and Robin" onto the end of them and you've got yourself a phrase that will unfailingly bring a warm smile to my face from now until the day I emigrate on and up to the realm above! And remember, this big switch all came down back in the archaic days when there weren't rampart publicity machines working over-time, trying greedily to sell the comics consumer on the latest--and lamest--180 degree revamp on some once-beloved character or another. No, THIS monumentally important face-lift slipped out quietly, with perhaps only a few full page house ads in other DC titles to announce it--that, plus the squib at the end of the "J'onn J'onnz, Manhunter From Mars" episode rounding out DETECTIVE COMICS 326 that indicated that the green-hued Yul Brynner lookalike would henceforth be found within the pages of HOUSE OF MYSTERY. Those were about the only clues readers got that SOMETHING was up. Something BIG, as it turned out...
That first issue literally stunned me. Beyond the fresher, more up-to-date looking logo design, there was so much to take in. First off, Batman was suddenly in the oh-so-capable hands of my very favorite DC artist, the magnificent Carmine Infantino! Wow! And then, zipping past a delightful splash page, I was practically disoriented when I came to the start of the story proper. It was set in Gotham Village, a mirror image of New York's artsy Greenwich Village--and a locale that was NEVER to be seen again in a Batman story, at least not in such an atmospherically illustrated manner. Didn't matter--the Cafe Weird and other hither-to unhinted-at exotic environs served their unstated purpose, clearly announcing to all that a new sheriff was in town! And if that weren't enough, my first glimpse of the Dynamic Duo in their civilian identities at the bottom of page two was eye-popping!
Dressed in matching trench-coats in lieu of their usual stereotypical rich guy and teen-age ward garb, the pair had never looked so much like, well, actual human beings! All of sudden, Bruce Wayne found himself with a normal looking chin for the first time in MY memory, as opposed to a jaw was in danger of giving Vicki Vale a decidedly nasty cut were she to lie her head on the ostensible playboy's massive shoulder, getting all too close to the sharp edge! And Dick Grayson! The Boy Wonder actually resembled a young teenager as opposed to the round-faced, puffy-cheeked eight-year old he'd long appeared to be. And when the two donned their work outfits and retired to the Bat Cave, I'll be doggoned if master designer Infantino didn't manage to infuse their headquarters with a rock-like reality never before seen!
And Batman and Robin--oh yeah! The boys never looked better! (All apologies to Dick Sprang, please. I realize NOW this wasn't necessarily a better approach, just a much-needed modernization, one that seemed vastly superior to the artistic tradition that had been maintained perhaps a bit TOO long--and particularly to the Sheldon Moldoff/Charles Paris team that had directly preceded the revamp. But--Sprang good.) The John Broome scripted story--a little thing about a rigged cowl and some scientific mumbo-jumbo concerning mind-control--doesn't quite qualify for the Pantheon, but was nonetheless a breath of fresh air after suffering through three long years of Jack Schiff directed tales. Some folks have vociferously taken issue with the scene in which our hero uncharacteristically brandishes a fire arm at the assembled crooks, but really, what's worse--that, or the cover of the last pre-"New Look" DETECTIVE, number 326's Moldoff illo of the two crimebusters behind bars, helplessly on exhibit for the amusement of some bird-like monstrosities, the likes of whom would easily make J'onn J'onnz's little pal, Zook, seem to be the epitome of sophisticated creature conception, in the title-says-it-all-travesty, "Captives Of The Alien Zoo"?? Hey, I'LL take my Batman packing heat any ol' day, folks...
March 1964--Marvel was at their peak (Fred's considered opinion), the Beatles had just landed (Yeah, yeah , yeah!), and now suddenly, from clear out of left-field, Batman was my very favorite DC character! Ah, but life was good indeed! Would the geniuses in charge be able to maintain the momentum brilliantly established by this impact-laden issue? Read on, and we shall see, we shall see...
Bonus factoid: You might reasonably think that DETECTIVE COMICS 327 marked the very first appearance of the most noticeable cosmetic change brought about by editor Schwartz's "New Look", the yellow oval forevermore to be found encasing Batman's batty chest insignia, but you'd be wrong. And while the first issue of the "New Look" BATMAN title itself, released only a few weeks after this landmark publication, could readily boast to be the first DC comic to actually feature this fashion innovation on it's cover (as you'll notice, something the three tiered scene on DETECTIVE 327's cover coyly avoided), the issue that not only has the distinction of being the very first to hit the newsstands with Batman's uniform adorned by his newest accessory on the story inside was ALSO the last to show him without his newfound bright dab of sunshine on it's cover, and that would be WORLD'S FINEST COMICS #141 (also May, 1964).
Y'see, when they took the two Bat-Books away from editor Schiff, they also wrested control of WORLD'S FINEST from his grasp as well. In an obvious move, the publishers turned it over to the man who was successfully guiding the rest of their Superman Family of books, Mort Weisinger. I know I've mocked good ol' Mort mercilessly here at times, but his initial several months guiding the revitalized team-up feature was absolutely outstanding, with cleverly written Edmond Hamilton scripts illustrated memorably by Curt Swan and George Klein. Eventually, yes, things got silly--don't they always on Weisinger World?--but at first!?! mmmMMM!! Tasty!
And if you're thinking I have some sort of miracle memory, being able to recall the precise release dates of these 3 books, uh uh. Nope. Wish I did. Instead, I stumbled across a query in the letter column of Mort's third WORLD'S FINEST issue. A reader gleefully wrote in thinking he had caught the editor in one tremendously blatant boo-boo, wondering how he could possibly have done anything as silly as put a big ol' slab of yellow on Batman's chest! Gotcha! Mort replied that indeed a number of readers had written in with this very question, but he pointed out that by now they had surely seen the "New Look " changes brought about by co-worker Julie in Bat's two other titles, leading this observer to come to the conclusion that HIS debut issue predated, if only barely, Schwartz's Gotham based bow.
As for that curious cover, Weisinger patiently explained that covers are printed considerably earlier than the guts of an issue, the interiors going to press much later, and apparently that small but crucial detail in the tinkering brought about by the editorial switchover hadn't been conceived of yet--either that, or someone plain forgot to tell Mort!! In any event, it was too late to change the cover to reflect the interior art, so they just left it the way it was in the hopes that no one would notice. No one did, probably--except the knuckleheads who felt the need to write in and complain about this petty detail--AND a guy (who shall remain nameless) willing expend all this energy attempting to explain it on his web-site some 39 years later!!
So THAT'S how Batman managed to appear in both the guises of his old look AND his "New Look" within the very same comic book--while never actually bothering even once to address the lingering issue of just WHY he'd bothered to make the change in the first place within the context of an bona fide story!?!...
Why didn't someone think to ask Mort THAT?...
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