Monday, March 10, 2008

Larry Eischen - 1950s/1960s

sgLarry Eischen - My favorite hero of the 50s was unceremoniously cancelled in the spring of 1964. I bought every one of the three titles he appeared in. He was one of those non-powered grim avengers. His parents had been killed when he was young and with steely-eyed determination, he trained himself to fight crime. And they cancelled him. No relegation to Earth-2, no nostalgic reprints today, just flat out gone.

My favorite hero of my youth--Bruce Wayne aka Batman.

But, I can hear you say, Batman was never cancelled. He's still going, more popular than ever. A Batman is still being published, but not mine. For a kid in the late 50s, Batman was an adventurer who took on a wide assortment of foes. He fought gimmick villains-losers and bums who took names like Signalman to use the knowledge of signals and signs to commit crimes. Mostly they were one and done, but one guy kept coming back-the Joker. He was there bedeviling Batman at every opportunity with thefts that usually centered around a them of some sort or another lastest gimmick of his own. Never lethal, he was a trickster who worked more to embarass Batman than kill him.

My Batman fought aliens, usually an interplanetary villain who saw easy pickings on Earth. Green, blue, red, Batman fought them all (along with the earth gang they recruited)...sometimes Batman would actually travel to another word to fight crime among the ET's. He was a symbol of justice for all, even those on far off worlds.

And the changes-my Batman became a giant, a baby, a, creature. a water breather, a duplicate of himself, a negative photoimage of himself and, my favorite, the zebra Batman-a weird elctromagnetic creature (the zebra stripes were patterns of force) who inadvertently rained destruction everywhere.

And the hangers-on, Bathound, Batwoman, Batgirl. I loved them all. I hated Bat-Mite though. When he showed up the stories just got silly. I bought every issue of Batman, Detective and World's Finest. To this day, I can't describe any of the Roy Raymond or J'onn J'onnz stories from Detective, but loved those Batman stories.

The highpoint was issue 156 of Batman. It featured a booklength epic. Today's version of a booklength story is a twelve-part mini with crossovers. That's how exciting it was back then. The story "Robin Dies At Dawn" featured Batman and Robin, Batwoman and Batgirl in a science fiction adventure on alien worlds. The cover showed a grim Batman carrying Robin's body through an alien landscape. I loved that story, cover dated June 1963. In my memory, it was always the last gasp before disaster. My Batman hung around for another year but in my memory, that has always been the last Batman book.

In June 1964, issue 164 featured the "New Look" Batman. He fought common criminals and sometimes Joker and Penguin and the like. I stopped buying Batman and Detective. I'd check every once in a while to see if my old friend was back, but he'd disappeared. When I finally saw a Ras al Ghul story, he'd been around a few years already. Joker turned lethal. Catman was replaced by the old standby Catwoman. I bought the titles here and there but three issues in a row would be a long run of the title for me. I bought Brave and Bold if I liked the team-up partner, not for Batman.

Latter, I found a run I liked. Batman and Catwoman were an item. She'd renounced crime and was joining him on adventures. The Joker caught wind of this and turned her evil again. Oh boy, this was going to be good. Then came one of the "Events", Crisis or Legends and the storyline was dropped and Batman re-booted. Damn, they got him again.

My Batman is gone. The Showcase reprints start Superman in 1958, Jimmy Olsen in 1954. The Batman Showcases start with the new look issues. I hear rumors that the current Batman author is slipping the stories back into continuity. I miss my Batman.


Anonymous said...

As someone from a slightly younger generation, I didn't discover this period in Batman history until 1979 when I was able to acquire a dozen or so issues of Batman from the late 50s/early 60s. Although it wasn't my favorite era, it certainly was an exciting one and the stories had a certain charm that was lost once the "new look" took hold. It was as if the writers said, "Batman's caught enough bank robbers; let's have him battle monsters!" It was different and fun. I also agree with you about how they messed up Batman in the mid-80s.

Anonymous said...

Dear Larry-

Great essay - thanks!

Interesting because - and I mean absolutely no offense hear - I don't think I've ever heard a fan call this one, of all the Batmen, his fave.

Coming to the game a bit later than you, I did love the 80 pg. Giant reprints of '50's stories; but I'll admit, I prefered those that were still just solid "World's Greatest Detective" stories, by the likes of Finger & Sprang.

My personal preferred Batman, I guess, would be the early Bronze Age one, where O'Neill & Co. returned him to his Robin-less, somewhat darker, roots (but before Miller & Co. pushed him into psychosis.)

Second choice, probably the mid-'40's, early-Robin ones, with a very Chester Gould feel, by folks like Jerry Robinson, Lou Sayre Schwartz, & the radio show team.

All best,
-Craig W.

Anonymous said...

My love of this version is probably because he's the only version I knew until the 'New Look". The 1st Batman book I can remember owning is the one where he becomes the "Merman Batman". I would have been around 6 when I got that, 11 or 12 when the "New Look" hit, so we're looking at 5 years or so of the Science fiction Batman. To go from that to the "New Look" was a radical change.

Anonymous said...

One thing that always gets under my skin about so-called Batman fans who disavow the Adam West tv show as being nothing like the comics...they're completely wrong! Those late 50's - early 60's Batman yarns were the perfect template for that fun & wacky show.

Anonymous said...


Yes, and no...

DC's stories were goofy - but still designed as Straight Adventure.. if, Children's.

Dozier actually is on record saying that he thought the only possible way to produce his TV show, was to Camp it - there's a self-aware self-ridicule there that's not in the paper version.

As I think Larry's first-hand recollections confirm, he didn't think the stories he read back then were comedy at all.

-Craig W.

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite Batman, too, but I wasn't born until 1974. I have no use for "realism" or "grittiness" in children's adventure stories. I loved the rapport between father figure Batman and adopted son Robin; they always seemed to be having fun even when threatened with deadly perils. My next favorite Batman is the one from the Super Friends television program.

Anonymous said...

The comics were not as self-consciously silly or self-mocking as the TV show, and the kids did not see them as comedy. But then, the TV show was subtle enough that the kids were watching it as a straight action-adventure show, while adults were enjoying it for the campy comedy and satire. The 1966 TV series was really only a slight exaggeration.

Unknown said...

1976, first grade. The first Batman I discovered was reruns of the Adam West series. I loved it! I took no notice to the campiness. Every day after school, I'd rush home to watch it. After that would be the Aquaman/Superman hour. On weekends I'd watch the Batman cartoon as well as Superfriends.

All the Batman paraphernalia, all the cartoons, were based on that 1966 series. THIS was my favorite Batman.

The comics of the 70's were taking a complete opposite path. I like my comics to be an escape from the drama of reality not upset me by creating more drama!

The Batman of Adam West & Superfriends reminds me of the best days of my childhood when anything was possible.

Rob, With the thousands of "Earths" in the DC universe, I'm sure one of them is your Batman! :D