Batman gets a new look: The Caped Crusader in 1964

SHOWCASE PRESENTS BATMAN captures the first year or so of the 1960s’ New Look Batman. Both Batman and Detective Comics had been foundering saleswise due to the emphasis on alien invaders and freak changes to characters——so Julius Schwartz came onboard as editor with his stable of talent (primarily Carmine Infantino, Gardner Fox, and John Broome) working on the stories. The art and style of the stories changed (click on my link above for more details).Among the changes were an increased emphasis on detective work; killing off Alfred in favor of Aunt Harriet (Schwartz said the goal was to dispel the homosexual overtones of Bruce, Dick and Alfred all living together); introducing a new villain, the Outsider (who debuts off-screen in “The Man Who Stole From Batman”); and replacing the clunky SF stories with ordinary crooks or non-costumed villains with distinctive gimmicks. There were some really clever stories such as “Two Way Deathtrap,” which deconstructs death-trap stories — why not just shoot him, as Scott Evil would later say — years before I remember comics doing that.

While it stopped the sales hemorrhaging, the New Look didn’t make Batman into a star; that took the Adam West TV show, which led to a much more gimmicky, campy take on the Caped Crusader. That, in turn, led to a backlash that made Batman, in the hands of Frank Robbins, Irv Novick, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, a dark figure of the night again (even when he’s fighting in the middle of the desert).I’m not sure how this era plays to someone reading now. I wasn’t that into the New Look as a kid; now that I’ve been rereading the Silver Age, the transition from the previous phase (even though I’m quite fond of 1950s Batman) appeals to me a lot more. But this version of the Masked Manhunter is much lighter in tone than the O’Neil/Adams era, and that’s the one that has defined the character ever since. I’ve already picked up the second volume but YMMV.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Sheldon Moldoff, Carmine Infantino and Neal Adams, all rights to images remain with current holder.

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