02 August 2009

Featuring “the Sensational Character Find”

Among DC Comics's many paperback collections are The Batman Chronicles, collecting every Batman story from the Detective and Batman magazines in the order they were published starting in 1939. The first two volumes of that series offer our best evidence of how the publisher treated Robin's debut.

According to Bob Kane's self-aggrandizing autobiography, Batman and Me, DC's head originally resisted adding the Boy Wonder to the comics:

Oddly enough, when I brought the idea to my boss, Jack Liebowitz, he didn't want Robin in the book. He said that Batman was doing well enough by himself and felt we shouldn't tamper with it. Jack also thought that mothers would object to a kid fighting gangsters. He had a point. I said, "Why don't we try it for one issue. If you don't like it, we can take it out."
But the printed evidence suggests that the company was behind the character from the start.

Our first clue to how that introduction took place appears in the final panel of the Batman story in Detective, #37:
Next Month

Huge, terrifying MAN-MONSTERS stalk the streets of a once peaceful metropolis, bringing to them havoc and destruction!! Yet one man alone had the power and courage to oppose them

That man...the mighty BATMAN!

America's greatest adventure mystery action strip.
This typically understated text emphasizes Batman as "one man alone."

Yet Detective, #38, dated April 1940, didn't offer that story. Instead, "Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters" was held until the first issue of Batman, published sometime that spring. It would be the last Batman story for years to show the Caped Crusader operating completely without Robin.

Instead, Detective, #38, trumpeted "the Sensational Character Find of 1940....Robin the Boy Wonder"! The cover of that issue was based on a photostat of the first page of the Batman story inside, rather than new art. I suspect that shows the issue was produced on an unusually fast schedule. It thus appears that the company actually sped up Robin's introduction.

At the end of the tale of how Dick Grayson became Robin and avenged his parents' murder, the final panel promised more of Batman and Robin "in every issue." Batman had stopped being "one man alone"; he was now the senior partner on a team.

Contrary to Kane's story, DC didn't offer Robin as a tentative experiment, waiting to see how the audience responded. The company was behind the young hero all along.

3 comments:

sistermagpie said...

The way they originally wrote "Robin" makes me think of Robin Hood.

I don't think I've ever actually seen Robin's debut story. It seems like I would have seen scanned panels of the way it was originally shown, at least. Or was it just old in words as something that had already happened?

J. L. Bell said...

Jerry Robinson, who did the most work to create Robin, was explicit about Robin Hood being one inspiration. He pointed to the paintings of N. C. Wyeth as a source for the medieval touches of the Boy Wonder's costume. And yes, the lettering of Robin's name—probably also done by Robinson—reflects that legacy. Good eye.

Batman (or "the Bat-Man") debuted without an origin story, but Robin's first appearance showed the death of Dick's parents, his meeting with Batman, and what they did to capture the crime boss who had ordered the Graysons killed. We saw the whole legend from the start.

That story, "Robin—The Boy Wonder,” has been reprinted in Batman: From the '30s to the '70s (where I first read it) and Batman in the Forties as well as the chronological archives.

In contrast to later retellings, there's no time and no tension between Dick's first encounter with Batman and his decision to join in the war on crime as Robin.

sistermagpie said...

Thanks for that info!