28 February 2010

Tracking Down “The Most Serious Thing That Ever Happened!”

Earlier this month, I bought a cheap used copy of Batman: From the ’30s to the ’70s, the 1971 collection that introduced me to Batman and Robin comics as a young reader. [Midlife crisis? What midlife crisis?]

E. Nelson Bridwell’s introduction starts:

I don’t remember the date...or the exact year...of that fantastic concurrence. I knew I was a fan of the “Superman” radio show, and on this particular day Superman found a wounded boy in a drifting rowboat—a boy clad in a red vest and yellow cape.

It was, of course, Robin, the Boy Wonder!

And thus began the fabulous Superman-Batman team.
That was the first joint adventure of DC Comics’s three most popular characters, before their team-ups in comic books. And naturally Robin was the central character, bringing the men together.

When was that show broadcast? Bridwell obviously didn’t have exact information, but Jim Harmon’s The Great Radio Heroes (2001) and Radio Mystery and Adventure (2003) describe the episode:
In 1945, near the end of World War II, Superman performed one of his many rescues, this time of an unconscious boy from a drifting rowboat. The man of steel notices the boy is wearing a red vest with the letter “R” on it, under his more ordinary clothes. “Great Scot,” Superman intones[;] “if this is who I think it is, this is serious business!”
Not just “serious.” On recovering, Robin tells Superman, “It’s the most serious thing that ever happened! . . . Batman has disappeared!”

“You’d better tell me about this,” Superman replies, showing how he can detect trouble even without Batman. Harmon continues:
The listeners were invited to think it over until the next show to see if they knew who the boy was. He was Robin, the boy sidekick of the famous Batman—as the show put it—“the most fabulous and glamorous figure in the whole world, save only Superman himself.”

Later Robin, in his civilian identity of Dick Grayson, tells Clark Kent of the disappearance of Batman. After an attack by armed men at their home, Dick heard one of the men mention the name of Zoltan. Using that clue, the two crimefighters go to Zoltan’s Wax Museum, where through a window the boy thinks he see[s] Batman—but he is a wax figure.
Harmon’s The Great Radio Heroes dates the momentous meeting to 3 Mar 1945.

But that date was a Saturday, and the Superman show was broadcast only on weekdays. Furthermore, many websites repeat the information that Superman and Batman first met on 5 Sept 1945.

So when did young Bridwell hear the radio broadcast about that boy in the rowboat, in March or September?

TOMORROW: The answer: neither. Same bat-time, same bat-site!

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