Last night I listened to ‘Remember When’ on 3AW. It was interesting listening to people two to three decades older than me talking about the topic of the night which was cartoons and comic books, which is something that I am interested in. (Duh!) There were a few things said, mainly by Bruce Mansfield that need a little correcting though.
Firstly the Batman comic book has not been cancelled. In 2000 Batman was named the most popular comic book character of the twentieth century and he has at least three comic books (Batman, Batman & Robin and Detective Comics) devoted to his adventures. Sure Bruce Wayne was killed off last year but that proved to be a hoax or something (I dropped reading the book during that run) and he is set to take back the mantle of the Bat in the next few months. The reason Wayne was killed was because… I don’t know really… perhaps it was just some gimmick designed to annoy readers… or perhaps it was because writer Grant Morrison had taken a potent mixture of drugs before he came up with the story line… who knows!
Batman did come close to being cancelled once, in the mid-1960s, and this was caused by a rumour more than anything else. It all started in 1953 when Senator Estes Kefauver decided to run for the office of President of the United States and decided to assert that comic books led to juvenile delinquency. His based his ascertain on the work of psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham, who mainly targeted crime and horror comics put out by EC. As ridiculous as it seems Wertham also declared that Batman was a pederast and that his comic books promoted a gay lifestyle to impressionable children.
Naturally enough this shocked the writers who always maintained that Batman was like a big brother to Robin. As a result of Wertham’s rants many changes were instituted into both Detective Comics and Batman. Love interests in Batwoman and Bat-Girl were introduced for Batman and Robin as was Ace the Bat Hound, Mogo the Bat Ape and Bat Mite, an imp from another dimension who just wanted to create mischief for the Dynamic Duo. Batman and Robin rarely fought crime during this period. Batman now would fly to distant planets, travel back in time or be transformed into a fantastic being, while grotesque criminals like Two-Face disappeared altogether. Batman’s greatest foe the Joker now just played elaborate pranks on the Dark Knight Detective rather than his usual modus operendi of theft and murder.
These changes alienated fans and sales dropped. In 1964 new Bat-editor Julius Schwartz tried to revive the title by giving Batman a new look (the yellow shield on his chest) and by killing off Alfred, whose presence Wertham thought added to the gayness of the strip. A new woman was added to Wayne Mansion in Robin’s Aunt Harriet. The books were under threat of cancellation until… the Batman TV show debuted. Alfred also returned from the dead. Phew!
Bruce Mansfield also noted about how he remembered that the Comics Code Authority stamp appeared on the cover of Archie Comics. This stamp was a direct result of Wertham’s crusade and until the 1970s all comics had to be approved.