Batman and Robin: The somewhat early years

Some years back, I was a fan of the Batman Chronicles series which reprinted Batman’s adventures in chronological order, regardless of which comic book (Detective Comics, World’s Finest, Batman) they were in. Unfortunately that series stopped with the early 1943 issues. Now, however, BATMAN OMNIBUS Vol. 3 (which my sister bought me for my birthday this year) covers the last three Chronicles and then goes on (later volumes are now up to 1936) through late 1944.

By this point, much of Batman’s style and tone are set. The close bond between the Dynamic Duo, the Rogue’s Gallery, deathtraps and quick quips. Colorful crimes with the Joker and the Penguin. Bill Finger’s stories, often structured around some kind of interesting, nerdy detail, like the linemens’ lives in Kilowatt Cowboys. There were still changes and additions, most notably Alfred. Debuting in Batman #16, he was the son of Bruce’s father’s butler, who’d rejected the family tradition of domestic service for life on the stage. But his dying father had charged him to return to the fold, find Bruce and butle for him. By the end of the first story, the rather buffoonish Alfred has stumbled into their identities; he’d become more competent and trustworthy over time, though his solo stories were usually comic relief. He started plump but after the 1943 Batman serial showed him skinny, the comic-book Alfred went to a health spa.

There were new additions to the villain roster. The eccentric twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee were fun; the flamboyant collector the Cavalier never quite clicked with me but they obviously thought him noteworthy (his first stories actually form an arc, which is unusual for that era).

As it’s WW II, there are lots of moral boosting stories ranging from Batman and Robin busting spies to reminders about the importance of buying war bonds. Several stories focus on particular specialist cops, such as the Harbor Patrol; two or three employ the idea of an elderly expert (on Batman, on medieval history) duped by crooks into using their knowledge for evil. One that would pay off down the road was the introduction of Professor Carter Nichols in #24. Using hypnosis, he somehow projects Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson’s minds back into the past, where they would, of course, wind up adventuring as Batman and Robin (the implication is they actually materialize in ancient Rome — it’s not just imagination). Nichols wouldn’t appear for another couple of years but he’d rack up almost a score of appearances by 1953.

Obviously the merits of this book depend on how much you like Golden Age Batman. I do, so I’ve already bought the next volume (it’ll be a while before I finish it though). If you do too, it might be worth it.

#SFWApro. covers by Jerry Robinson, all rights remain with current holder.

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