Golden Age Showcase: The Face

You know who everyone loves?  Batman.

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You know what one of his greatest lines is?

“Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot”.

I love that line because it sums up Batman perfectly.  So much of his character is about instilling fear and dread into his opponents and it’s an integral part of the costume, especially the mask.

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This is part of what made Batman so popular and as we all know, popularity breeds imitators.

Today we’re going to talk about one of Batman’s earliest, and least successful, imitators simply known as…The Face.

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Hold on to your seats ladies and gentlemen.

Origin and Career

The Face was one of the hallmark creations of a little known comic book publisher called Columbia Comics.

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The company was formed in 1940 through a partnership between a newspaper company called the McNaught Newspaper Syndicate and a man named Vin Sullivan.

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Interesting fact: Vin Sullivan was the man who bought the rights of a little known character named Superman from Siegel and Shuster for a company called National Allied Publications, although you know them better as DC comics.

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Anyway, Columbia’s biggest seller was an anthology comic called Big Shot Comics and the Face was in the very first issue published in May of 1940.

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He was created by an artist named Mart Bailey.

As for backstory, the Face was the superhero identity of humble radio station announcer Troy Trent who decided to fight crime just because he could.

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In order to do this he decided to don a horrifying green mask with red hair, long fangs, and yellow eyes.  This disguise proved to be incredibly helpful since it struck enough fear into his enemies’ hearts that he could either get the jump on them or wrangle a confession from them quickly.

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In his first adventure the Face helped save a group of sick orphans who were being poisoned by food supplied by a greedy businessman who was pocketing government aid money and selling sub par supplies back to the people that needed them.

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No, I am not joking, this comic was absolutely serious.  I know that it may seem a bit much for our more developed brains to accept a story where the bad guy is just that evil and the good guy’s job is to save a bunch of orphans, but I thought it was sincere enough and just well written enough to make for a pretty good story.

Come to think of it, “pretty good” describes most of the Face’s stories.  The art work was pretty good, for Golden Age comic book standards, and while he never graduated past fighting crooks and gangsters his stories were either interesting enough or had some twist to them that made the writing a step above most of the crap that was being published at the time.

The character had a nice gimmick, with a good artist, and some good storytelling behind him.  He would wind up becoming one of Columbia Comic’s greatest heroes and I could easily see him making the leap into modern times along with more well known heroes like Batman and Superman.

So what happened?

The same thing that happened to Columbia Comics, he disappeared after they went out of business in 1949 due to declining sales.

Despite the fact that the Face was successful the sad fact of the matter was that superheroes just weren’t selling in the late 1940’s and by the early 1950’s the entire comic book industry would be on the ropes.

Sadly, the Face’s career was over.  However, a new hero who was heavily based off of him called “Mr. Face” did appear in Dynamite Comics’ Project Superpowers comic book series.

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His powers got a much needed update after being thrown into a mystic object known as the Urn of Pandora.  When he emerged he realized that people would see their worst fears come to life if they looked at his face and mask.

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Boy, this is a short section.  I wonder if there is anything I can do to add to this article?

How could he be remade?

What’s this?  A new section for long time readers in an attempt to remain fresh and interesting?  Well alright then.

In this section of the article I’m going to take a look at the character of the week and see if he/she/it could be remade and how it could be done.  Think of it like a pitch for a superhero revival only I’m not being paid for it.  Also, if anyone reading this should take a look at the article and be moved to turn it into a story of their own please feel free, I wouldn’t have put this on the internet if I didn’t want people to copy it.

Alright, so here’s what works.  The Face has a cool gimmick and costume.  Sure Batman has the whole “strike fear into criminals using the costume” deal but he also has decades of training and a bottomless bank account to help.  Our modern take on the Face would double down on the “using the mask to cause fear” idea and not rely on martial arts as much.

Maybe he could use the mask in conjunction with a fear inducing chemical like the Scarecrow,

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or maybe it could be some sort of mystic curse or ancient deity like a much more serious version of the Mask?

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What doesn’t work that much is the backstory and secret identity.  Having a superhero fight crime and have a life outside of crime may have been okay in the 1940’s but that just won’t fly here.  We need to give him a semi plausible backstory and motivation for fighting crime.

So, without further ado, here’s a short paragraph describing my idea for a revamped Face.

Tony Trent is a government scientist working on a top secret drug for the United States government.  He is a brilliant chemist working in conjunction with a psychologist named Tanya Ferguson (his love interest and helper) and they have been partnered together  in order to develop a drug for what they think is for crowd control purposes but is actually a powerful hallucinogenic drug for interrogation and discrediting enemies of America.  Tanya discovers the project’s true purpose and threatens to go to the press with the news.  Fearing reprisal the government shuts down the project and attempts to liquidate both Tony and Tanya.

The assassination attempt fails and both of them manage to flee.   The rest of the comic is the two of them trying to find the people responsible for trying to kill them and shutting the project down.  Tony is able to use the prototype fear gas, along with a plastic mask that he randomly picks up, as a weapon against anyone who would try to take them out.

From the Golden Age into the Silver Age

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.

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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.

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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

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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

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crime and noir comics

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and horror titles.

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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.

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The hearings, coupled with the publication of the now infamous book Seduction of the Innocent by child psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham,

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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.

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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,

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but he became an incredibly watered down version of his former self.  Instead of taking care of criminals as a pretty violent vigilante

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There was…this

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Batman was the same way too.  While the early Batman had few qualms about killing people

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The Batman of the 1950’s became this…

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(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

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And the late 1950’s saw the introduction of most of the Flash’s current Rogues Gallery, so there was that.

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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

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and Alan Moore’s Watchmen

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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,

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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

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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.

 

 

Golden Age Showcase: Catwoman

It’s no small secret that the world of comic book superheroes has been something of a boy’s club and that statement rings especially true for the Golden Age villains.  Although it was previously mentioned that Superman’s first powered villain, the Ultra Humanite, did transfer his mind to a woman’s body the world of Golden Age comics just couldn’t conceive of female mad scientists, gangsters, or Nazi soldiers.

In that case I do think it’s kind of ironic that the Golden Age would wind up giving birth to one of the most iconic female villains of all time, one who would prove to be one of Batman’s most intriguing and beguiling rogues: Catwoman.

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Origin and career:

Selina Kyle was created by the original creators of the Caped Crusader: Bill Finger and Bob Kane.  She appeared in the very first issue of June 1940 in a short story entitled “The Cat”.

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In her story Dick Greyson, the first Robin, disguises himself as a steward aboard the yacht of a wealthy socialite named Mrs. Travers.  After a drawn out showdown where a group of gangsters attempt to rob the passengers on board it is eventually revealed that Mrs. Travers was actually a famed jewel thief named “The Cat”.

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While The Cat attempts to persuade Batman to join her in her life of crime Batman nobly refuses and vows to take her in.  However she manages to escape at Batman simply lets her go, thus starting one of the longest and most painfully drawn out love/hate relationship in comic book history.

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The Cat would go on to appear in the very next issue, this time dressed in a hood and cape.  She managed to escape being caught by the Batman again by offering him information on the whereabouts of the Joker.

In the next issue she appeared sporting a cat mask along with her cape.

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And Batman allowed her to escape on account of his feelings towards her.

Their cat and mouse game would continue and the two would develop even deeper romantic feelings towards each other as time went on and in Batman #10 Catwoman would adopt her more traditional black jumpsuit.

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And Catwoman would adopt several personas and disguises to flummox the Dark Knight.  However, things would come to a head in Batman #15 when Batman learned that Catwoman had been impersonating a woman he liked named Linda Page, leading to the Batman actually arresting Catwoman for the first time.

For a while the two would follow a familiar pattern of Catwoman attempting to reform, reverting back to crime, Batman stopping her and letting her escape, and the two of them sharing a romantic tension that was almost unbearable. However, Catwoman accidentally hit her head in The Brave and the Bold # 62 in 1950 and reveal that her actual name was Selina Kyle and she was actually a former stewardess with amnesia who simply thought she was Catwoman.

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Batman wanted to help her and Selina vowed to hang up her costume for good, even going as far as to help Batman apprehend one of her former criminal acquaintances.  Sadly it was revealed five years later that this had also been a ruse.

Catwoman’s final Golden Age appearance was in 1954.  After retiring as Catwoman Selina came roaring back after an unflattering article about her past life was published.  After making off with a shipment of diamonds she actually managed to catch Batman but eventually relented, let him go, and surrendered to the police.

So what happened?

The Comics Code happened.

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Andthe Comics Code juuuust couldn’t stand having a femme fatale who was capable of being a bad guy with any sort of emotional complexity.

However all was not lost.  When DC comics re introduced the old Golden Age heroes and villains in a parallel dimension known as Earth 2 in 1961 Selina and Bruce re started their romantic relationship and in 1987 the two were actually married and had a daughter named Helena Wayne.

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However, the two were heroes and it is verifiable comic book law that super heroes never get a happy ending.  Selina was found out by a former criminal acquaintance named Silky Cernak and black mailed her into helping him commit a robbery.  Batman managed to stop them but not before Selina caught a bullet and fell to her death.  She died in Batman’s arms.

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Their daughter Helena would go on to become the costumed hero Huntress.

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Catwoman would go on to become one of the most popular female figures in comic books.  She would undergo various re imaginings and various changes to her backstory as time went by that are far to numerous to talk about here but one thing still remains: she is and forever will be one of Batman’s greatest rogues and his first and greatest love.

Golden Age showcase #6: Batman

Today we are going to talk about Batman

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Yes as a matter of fact, that Batman.

More specifically we’re going to take a look at the Golden Age Batman to see what his creators were originally doing with the character, the mythos, some of his most famous villains, and what if anything changed over the years.

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Origin and career

With all due respect, if you don’t know Batman’s origin story than greetings alien visitor, welcome to Earth!

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What’s a bit more interesting is the real life story of the hero.  The first issue of “The Batman” appeared in May 1939, a little less than a year after the first appearance of Superman.  He was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger (side note: it should be noted that while Kane gets a lion’s share of the credit for Batman’s creation it has slowly come to light that Bill Finger was the man responsible for most of Batman’s iconography, supporting cast, and early stories and doesn’t get all the credit he rightly deserves) and was a hero who introduced a lot of firsts to the superhero genre.

He was the first hero to have a troubled origin and motivation for his actions.

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and he was the first hero to have a kid sidekick in Robin, who appeared in April of 1940.

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But what makes Golden Age Batman really interesting is just how dark and violent the original character was.  Most people like to use Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as the pinnacle of Batman as the dark and violent type,

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But truth be told, the first Batman stories put Miller’s work to shame.

Before we delve into the character of Batman it’s worth looking into the characters that helped inspire him.  Batman has his roots in pulp adventures and other action novels that were popular at the time.  Looking at Batman throughout the ages it is easy to see the costumed heroics of the rich aristocrat from Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel

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The swashbuckling heroics and black costume of the rich aristocrat turned defender of the innocent Zorro,

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and the dark and often violent adventures of the radio serial heroes like the Shadow.

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All of these influences would play a huge part in creating the Batman as a character and a pop culture icon, let’s take a look.

Let’s start with the character himself.  Right from the start Batman was a wealthy socialite who could become a superhero mostly because he could afford to become one.

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His equipment was pretty simple: some rope, a keen set of detective skills, his costume, and his utility belt.  There was no Batcave, no detective lab, no Bat computer, and no Batmobile (although there was a Batplane).  Instead he had a large black car with no roof, a confusing choice when considering it would leave him frightfully exposed to bullets.

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The Golden Age Batman also had no qualms about killing people, apparently the creators realized that any rich kid who lost his parents would probably take their anger to the most logical extreme.

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Batman had no qualms about letting his opponents die horrible deaths by either punching a man into a vat of acid and believing it was for the best,

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kicking a man in such a way that he impales himself on someone else’s sword.

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or straight up machine gunning two men driving in a truck because he believed it was “worth it”.

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And while the Batplane has always been armed one thing always remained constant, Batman’s refusal to use guns.

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Just kidding!  The original Batman had no qualms against using guns and would routinely break out the firearms against would be criminals.  Naturally this put him at odds with the police who had orders to arrest, or even shoot, Batman on sight.

With Batman being something of a cold blooded murderer himself it would make sense that many of his longest lasting villains would have equally violent beginnings, and for the most part it’s true.  The Golden Age saw the creation of two of Batman’s most iconic foes: The Joker and Clayface.  Out of the two of them Clayface was the one that changed the most.  Instead of being a mutated lump of clay

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The original Clayface was an actor named Basil Karlo who wasn’t a mutant, he was just really good at disguising his face as a twisted and grotesque monster who started killing actors that pissed him off or threatened his acting career.

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And then we get to the Joker.

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Strangely enough the Joker’s journey is almost the complete opposite of Clayface.  While Clayface underwent a dramatic change the Joker has remained relatively consistent over the years.

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The Joker, who was based off of the 1928 German Expressionist film (by the way if you ever want inspiration for a horror villain look at German Expressionist films from the 1920’s, they are terrifying) The Man Who Laughs,

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is cold, conniving, brutal, and a master chemist who has perfected a serum which he calls “Joker Venom” that kills its victims by twisting their faces into smiles.

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His origin was kept ambiguous and he remained an enduring foe of the Batman well into the modern day.

So what happened?

The 1950’s happened.  I’ve talked about the Comics Code Authority and its impact on the industry in the 1950’s in my article about the Golden Age Ghost Rider, but it hit Batman especially hard.  Parents didn’t like the idea of having their children reading stories filled with grotesque violence, death, and general mayhem and they made their displeasure known with public comic book burnings.

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While Batman tried to be a bit more kid friendly with the addition of Robin and more fanciful storytelling it didn’t work and in response to public outcry the industry created the Comic Code Authority: a review board that censored comic books to make them more palatable to American parents.

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Batman would obviously survive, he was just too popular.  That being said, his stories were significantly neutered.  In accordance to the Comic Code all criminals were to be caught and thrown into jail, there would be no violent deaths, and the police were to be always portrayed as a force of good resulting in Batman having a more friendly relationship with the police.

While Batman has changed significantly over the past 75 years, it is important to know where he came from…and what the original Batman was willing to do in the name of justice.