Wednesday, January 6, 2016

When Batman Was a Robot

Batman’s apparent replacement by a robot was somewhat ironic, given the fact that the people working on Detective Comics 21 years after Batman’s debut were by 1960 largely going through automatic, repetitive motions.
Batman had fallen under the shadow of DC Comics’ star Superman, whose popularity had been sustained and enhanced by immensely popular movies and radio and TV series. Ideas cross-pollinated, sometimes appearing first in Batman titles and other times in Superman’s, but leaving the impression that the Masked Manhunter was a knockoff of the more famous Man of Tomorrow. Sometimes the original idea came from elsewhere, for example Fawcett Comics’ once-popular, now-vanished Captain Marvel (Mary Marvel, for example, preceded Batwoman and Supergirl, just as Captain Marvel Jr. anticipated Superboy).
Superman, under editor Mort Weisinger, had acquired a Supergirl, a Superdog and robot doubles. Batman, under editor Jack Schiff, got himself a Batwoman, a Bat-Girl, a Bat-Hound and his own robot double. Superman’s annoying fifth dimensional imp Mister Mxyztplk had his counterpart in Batman’s cloying fifth dimensional imp Bat-Mite. 
Both heroes were subject to frequent alien encounters and transformations, with Batman, Robin and friends acquiring Superman-like powers almost routinely. In a role reversal, Superman acquired a Fortress of Solitude that echoed Batman’s longstanding Batcave with its giant weird souvenirs. But the universe of aliens, robots and magic in which Batman found himself in the late 1950s was Superman’s, not his.
It was a situation that had to change, and would with 1964’s Schwartz-Infantino “New Look” for Batman.
Nevertheless, this Batman was my first, and the Detective Comics of this era was my favorite anthology title. In addition to Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff’s Batman and Robin, you got Joe Certa’s blue-caped, green-skinned Martian Manhunter with his plethora of exciting superpowers and TV detective Roy Raymond, who faced off against weird menaces made vivid by the gorgeous art of Ruben Moreira. Raymond’s feature went all the way back to 1949, but by Detective Comics 281 his fictional TV show was nearing cancellation. By Detective 293, he’d be squeezed out to make room for Aquaman.


  1. The only Batman family member who didn't get super-powers was Bat-Girl. Even Bat-Hound got them.

  2. Paul Zuckerman makes some good points: "I have to say that I continue to have a certain fondness for Batman Robot. As a kid, it was a shocking story--Batman dead! I read it when I was very young and then again when it got reprinted in an annual. It was a pretty early Batman story for me, though not the earliest, but it's stuck in my memory.
    "Everyone keeps saying that Schiff imitated Weisinger with the Bat Family. But, the evidence actually shows otherwise! On a recent post-maybe it was on this page, I can't recall-I showed that in nearly every case, the bat character came first! Yes, Ace predates Krypto and Batwoman predates Supergirl, And, while it is true that Superman fought Mr. Mxyztplk (note Golden Age spelling) before Batman met Bat-Mite, Mr M had in fact gone into mothballs for several years in the mid-50s, and Bat-Mite predates the re-emergence of the imp from the Fifth Dimension (now named Mxyzptlk.) And, they really are nothing alike, since Mr M wants to harass Superman and Bat-Mite wants to help Batman.
    "While Superman had a fortress of solitude in the 40s (not in the arctic), it was rarely used; so Batman's secret cave was in regular use long before Superman's arctic fortress. Even the name Batman Family came into general use before Superman Family."

  3. Rick Diehl:"Not weak, not weak at all. Just not the Batman we're used to. These were fantastic stories of a Batman who traveled in space and fought interdiminsional monsters. A Batman with counterpart Batmen all around the world. It was a happy Batman who Alfred would write stories about his future children's adventures. It was wonderfully goofy stuff. Certainly the recent Brave & the Bold animated series reveled in these classic stories, adapting numerous issues along the way. One of my favorite Bat-eras."