Comics Ate My Brain

October 13, 2004

The Dynamic Duo, ’50s-Style

Filed under: batman — Tom Bondurant @ 7:55 pm
One of the conceits with the Golden Age (and the old days of Earth-2) was that those adventures took place virtually in real time. If a comic was cover-dated June 1954, the story within was presumed to occur in June 1954. (This informative timeline was derived using just such a methodology.) Under this theory, the 24-year-old Batman first appeared in 1939 and the 12-year-old Robin in 1940.

Most fans know that the Batman stories of the 1950s and early 1960s contained heavy doses of science-fiction and fantasy. This was a bit of self-censorship, reacting to the public’s fears about comics’ evil influences. The trend ended when editor Julius Schwartz took over Batman in 1964; and by and large it has not returned.

If these “atypical” stories are part of the Batman canon at all, they’re part of the character’s Golden Age/Earth-2 incarnation. However, since at least the 1970s, that Batman’s history has been viewed through a more modern filter, in order to make sure that the dark, gothic elements of the character predominate. That’s all well and good, but if we know that Batman and Robin were active into the 1960s, what were their adventures like if not what was published?

I’d love to see a period piece covering the post-war adventures of Batman and Robin, especially focusing on the changing relationship between the two. If Dick was 12 when he became Robin, he would have been 18 in 1946 and 30 in 1958. (Bruce is about 13 years older.) Dick’s “modern” counterpart famously dropped out of college and had a semi-public split with Batman — why didn’t the original version? What happened when Dick reached “playboy” age himself? Did Bruce’s 1948 confrontation with Joe Chill help him let go of the “grim” Batman? If the rest of the Justice Society was driven into retirement, how were the globe-trotting Batman and Robin viewed? Did they evolve from mysterious vigilantes into pillars of the community, as the comics of the period suggest? (I wouldn’t entirely discount the weird sci-fi or time-travel stuff either.)

Some of this ground has been covered by John Byrne’s Generations stories, but Byrne has Bruce marrying earlier and retiring earlier, with Dick taking over as Batman (which he never did on Earth-2). Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier is closer to what I’m picturing, but his version of Robin started much later than 1940.

The way I see it, here are two orphaned men whose lives were changed forever by very similar tragedies. Each was able to help the other focus his grief into a personal crusade which led to a lifetime of adventure. During a period of over 20 years, while the world changed around them, their relationship progressed from paternal to fraternal, and eventually they saw each other as equals. It’s a story that perhaps could only be told with the Golden Age/Earth-2 backdrop, and I think it’s worth telling.

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