This is a popular piece I wrote for Uproxx back in late 2012. Unfortunately, changes to the site's layout have made the article largely unreadable in its original form, so I'm reposting it here.
Recently I was lucky enough to find a few issues of Batman from the 1960s for a good price at a flea market (specifically issues #166, #170, #180 and #184). Now honestly, the 60s weren’t the best era for gripping, well-written Batman stories, but as I’ve discovered it was a great era for Batman being a completely awesome dude. In fact, I’d go so far as to call 60s Batman downright swingin’.
What made 60s Batman so far-out? Well…
The Guy Was A S–tty Joke Machine
Today when you think “superhero who never stops with the terrible jokes”, you generally think Spider-Man, but Spidey has never had anything on 60s Batman. It’s rare that 60s Batman utters a sentence that isn’t a belabored pun or one-liner. Care for a sample?
“Death-Man — why don’t you go back to where you “came” from — the cemetery?!”
Or, how about this gem?
“Let’s play merry-go-round — I’ll go around while you be merry.” [Says Batman as he twirls around punching guys].
Now just imagine 90% of the word balloons containing similar sort-of, but not-quite jokes, and you have an idea of what 60s Batman was like. It takes a real man to be so consistently, shamelessly unfunny.
The Guy Slept on a Bed of “International Beauties”
Pretty much every panel in which Bruce Wayne appears out of his Batsuit he’s surrounded by a bevy of “international beauties”, often in bikinis, telling him how wonderful he is. Also, all the guys spend all their time commenting on how awesome Bruce Wayne and his flock of beautiful women are as well.
There’s no particular indication Bruce Wayne is just keeping these girls around to bolster his rakish Bruce Wayne alter-ego either. Basically, the impression you get is that Bruce slips out of his Bat-trunks and into a straight-up orgy pretty much every night.
The Guy Wouldn’t Kill You, But He Was Pretty Alright With Other People Killing You
I’ve often thought modern Batman takes the whole “I don’t kill” thing a little far. Yeah, Batman shouldn’t be outright murdering people, but do you know how many times he’s saved the Joker’s life? He probably has to do it in every second Joker story. Just let it happen already. Also, maybe look into what’s going on in Gotham’s court system — it’s turning out a startlingly high number of “criminally insane” verdicts.
60s Batman by comparison didn’t kill people himself, but boy did he not give a s–t if a criminal died by some other means. He was more than happy to turn over a murderer to be executed by the state. 60s Joker was wise to stick to mostly PG crimes, because if he was going on the killing sprees he goes on now, 60s Batman would have escorted his ass to the electric chair long ago.
The Guy Had A Million Different Names
“The Daring Duo”, “The Dynamic Duo”, “Gotham’s Gallant Gang-Buster” — 60s Batman had new wacky alliterative nickname on every page. How many wacky alliterative nicknames do you have? Probably one or two (at best).
The Guy Had The Best Fans
Probably the most entertaining part of these old comics are the letter columns. Here’s a sample from issue #184…
“Dear editor: issue 180 of Batman was the swellest I have ever read — its subtle character sketches being finely drawn in a pure Voltarian style. Batman and Robin were superb. Robin’s mention of Superman was an excellent use of the technique of allusion, bringing to mind the gallant defenders of both human dignity and the pursuit of happiness. The message of the story is clearly “Persecution doesn’t pay!”
I, as well as my neighbours, thought it should be included in the Best Short Stories anthology of 1966!”
Now you may be thinking “this is clearly somebody having a laugh by sending something ridiculously flowery and incoherent into a comic book letter column” but all the letters in all the issues I bought read more or less like this. For the record, this person is talking about a story in which Batman fights a guy called “Death-Man” who’s only power is the ability to fake his own death using “ancient yogi techniques”. Pure Voltarian!
The Guy Could Still F–k You Up When He Wanted To
60s Batman, you’re my hero.