Happy Holidays everybody. After a fairly long hiatus we’re back! Ready to talk about all the crazy and glorious moments and characters that make up the history of comic books. Now since we’re at the end of the holiday season and into a new year is there a comic book character can we talk about that incorporates both Christmas and New Year’s into his/her mythology? Is there any super hero or super villain we can talk abou…Calendar Man, we’re going to talk about Calendar Man.
Now the Calendar Man is an…odd super villain to say the least. First and foremost he is absolutely NOT a Golden Age villain. His first appearance was in Detective Comics #259 in September of 1958 and he looked like this.
He was a gimmick villain, someone who committed crimes based around a certain theme or strange line of reasoning and in his case Calendar Man committed crimes based around the seasons of the year. You’ll notice that I’m not talking that much about his backstory or motivation. That’s because Calendar Man only had one appearance in the 1950’s and wouldn’t appear in another comic book issue until 1979.
So why are we talking about this one off gimmicky comic book villain that disappeared for over 20 years after his first appearance? Because Calendar Man is actually a pretty good case study into the history of comic book superheroes after their Golden Age debut.
Calendar Man first appeared in 1958 and it’s important to understand that comic books, and comic book superheroes in particular, did not do well in the 1950’s. After the Second World War ended and the various heroes were done kicking Nazi butt
superheroes began to fade from the public image they had previously enjoyed. Instead people turned towards more mature and grown up comic book subjects and comic book companies obliged with an outpouring of other comic book genres like Westerns
crime and noir comics
and horror titles.
In a move that will probably surprise nobody reading this, the parents of the children reading these titles weren’t all too thrilled to have their precious innocent children risk being corrupted by such filth (certainly puts a lot of more modern talk about how things like video games and rap music is corrupting our youth today doesn’t it?) and things came to a head in 1954 with the Senate subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency held a hearing on whether or not comic books were responsible for an apparent rise in delinquent behavior in American children. You can read the full text of the hearing here.
The hearings, coupled with the publication of the now infamous book Seduction of the Innocent by child psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham,
who just so happened to be the star witness in the Committee hearings, led to a slew of bad press for the comic book industry.
This led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority. The CCA was an industry created organization that was designed as the main censorship body for comic books for the following decades. Rules dictating how much blood could be shown, how the main characters could behave, and what was considered to be “in good taste” were strictly enforced through CCA approved stamps.
Any comic book not carrying this stamp wouldn’t be able to find a distributor and therefore wouldn’t sell.
So what does all this have to do with Calendar Man. Well as I said before, the 1950’s weren’t a very good time for superheroes. A lot of the early superheroes were morally dubious, emotionally complex, and even had no qualms about killing people. All of this went out the window with the advent of the Comics Code Authority. Superman survived, he even became the first super hero with a live action tv show,
but he became an incredibly watered down version of his former self. Instead of taking care of criminals as a pretty violent vigilante
Batman was the same way too. While the early Batman had few qualms about killing people
The Batman of the 1950’s became this…
(kinda puts the Adam West Batman into perspective now doesn’t it?). While Batman and Superman were hit with some pretty dramatic changes in the 50’s it’s only because they were the ones that were able to really survive. Dozens of hero titles were abandoned because they either didn’t sell well enough or were far too violent and dark for the Comic Code Authority.
Back to Calendar Man. If the new wave of censorship hit heroes hard it was even worse for the villains. Not only were the bad guys unable to kill people or enact some sort of crazy scheme that could destroy half the city, they were now forced to always loose by the end of the comic. This led to a stream of strange and often pathetic bad guys during this time period. Some of them…kind of worked like Bat Mite who was introduced in 1959
And the late 1950’s saw the introduction of most of the Flash’s current Rogues Gallery, so there was that.
But you have a lot of very safe, non threatening bad guys who use some sort of gimmick as their trademark and wind up committing crimes that really aren’t that serious, and a villain like Calendar Man is a perfect example of this.
The Calendar Man would appear in the 1970’s looking like this.
He was reworked from committing crimes based around a season to basing crimes around the days of the week (his real life name was Julian Gregory Day, a play on the Julian and Gregorian calendars) and here’s just a taste of some of the costumes he used throughout his career.
like I said, he was a gimmick. However, all that would change in the 1990’s. Up until the 1990’s the old Comics Code had slowly been waning in power and publishers started paying less attention to it. This would result in all the glorious sex, violence, and drug use pouring back into the medium and culminated in 1986 with the publication of two of the greatest comic book stories ever told: Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns
and Alan Moore’s Watchmen
Quick note: there is much more to the death of the Comics Code Authority than these two books but for the sake of time I’m using these two titles to show the return of the “dark” comic book to mainstream media.
So again, what does this have to do with Calendar Man? Well the boom of mature material in comics during the 1980’s left the floodgates open for more dark re imaginings in the 1990’s, and boy did the industry deliver. Although Calendar Man was still treated as a joke during the early 90’s, he was part of a team of second string super villains called the Misfits in 1992,
Everything about the character would change in the 1996 limited series The Long Halloween.
Calendar Man went from a flashy, non threatening, and pretty pointless character to looking like this
It’s a pretty marked difference. Going from a lighthearted gag character that nobody took very seriously to a full blown psychopathic mastermind the Calendar Man became an integral part in one of the definitive Batman stories of the 90’s. This marked a revival for the villain. In one of his most recent he had an appearance in the Arkham game series
Calendar Man is a strange case in comic book history. He got his start as a one off super villain that probably wasn’t expected to go very far. He had a strange power set, a strange gimmick, and an even stranger costume. However, due to the changing nature of the industry, especially into the more modern era, he was re invented and turned into a capable villain who could hold his own against some of Batman’s lesser villains. He’s an interesting case study and the perfect bad guy to kick off the new year.