Thursday, 14 October 2021

POST FROM THE PAST: THE TRUE STORY OF BATMAN & ROBIN - (OR: DO YOU STILL BELIEVE IN FAIRY TALES?)


From TRUE FACT COMICS #5, 1946.  Art by WIN MORTIMER, script by JACK SCHIFF,
MORT WEISINGER & BERNIE BRESLAUER.  (Images copyright DC COMICS)

You'd think that BOB KANE, as the 'creator' of BATMAN, would be a revered figure in the world of comics, but that doesn't seem to be the case.  Going by accounts I've read of people who met him, he was egotistical, self-centred, and many fans found him to be an immense disappointment.  It gives me no joy to impart any of this information to anyone who isn't already aware of it, because it would be nice if he was held in the same high regard as STAN LEE is by his fans, but it's hard to escape the facts.

In BILL SCHELLY's excellent book, SENSE Of WONDER: A LIFE In COMIC FANDOM, he has this to say about hearing Bob Kane speak (as one of the Guests of Honour) at the 1973 New York Comic Art Convention.

******

                     "The first major event of the comicon was a talk by Bob Kane.
                     While some knew that others had contributed much to make
                     Batman a great success, Kane was held in high esteem.  When
                     he was introduced and strode up to the front of the room, a tall,
                     good-looking man with a dark tan, he received a thunderous
                     standing ovation.

                     When he left the room after completing his talk, the applause
                     was a mere polite smattering.  Bob Kane had gone from hero to
                     heel in a mere half-hour.  That was no mean accomplishment,
                     given his place in the comic book firmament.

                     How did he do it?

                     Humility was not a trait that could be found in Bob Kane.
                     There was little room to admire him when he was so busy ad-
                     miring himself.  All his stories about his time in the industry, the
                     awards he'd received, the celebrities he'd met, and the movie
                     projects he'd masterminded, had one thing in common: they
                     were to reinforce how great, how brilliant, and how famous
                     Bob Kane was.

                     It was nauseating.

                     Having enjoyed the adventures of Batman and Robin for
                     so many years, I was disappointed to discover that the man
                     behind the Dynamic Duo was such a jerk.  It wasn't that Kane
                     was having a bad day, either; I heard later that stories about
                     the man's ego were legion."

******

I once read an interview with Kane in which he related the tale of someone at a convention asking him to autograph an issue of either DETECTIVE COMICS #27 or BATMAN #1.  Kane offered the fan a page (or two) of original artwork in exchange for the comic and was apparently astounded when his offer was politely declined.  "Why would anyone prefer a printed comic over original art by the guy who drew it?" he mused.  (And the pages he was offering were not from the comic he was trying to swap them for.)  No great surprise really, as, at the time, the comic was worth many thousands of dollars (which Kane must surely have known), whereas there wasn't really much demand for original Bob Kane art - especially as it was suspected that he routinely back-dated his artwork decades earlier than it had actually been produced.

I remember reading another interview (or perhaps it was the same one) in which he says he just couldn't understand the scene in FRANK MILLER's The DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, where an emaciated SUPERMAN's costume 'fills out' as he flies closer to the sun, the source of his power.  Was Kane really ignorant of this long-established piece of Superman folklore?  If so, it tends to suggest a lack of interest in any comic that wasn't by him.  (Although not many actually were, according to some.)

Having read his autobiography, BATMAN And ME, some years ago, I was struck by how unsophisticated Kane appeared to be.  There's an account of when, as a youth, he encounters a neighbourhood gang, and the comicbook dialogue he attributes to them as he dashingly and daringly (as he tells it) evades their clutches reads like pure invention.  As does his tale of meeting a young (and as yet unknown) MARYLIN MONROE and going to the beach with her for a swim; it has all the hallmarks of fiction by a fantasist who just can't see that his stories are unbelievable.

In the 1989 BATMAN movie, a newspaper cartoonist hands a sketch of a bat-like creature to one of the reporters.  It's prominently signed 'Bob Kane'; the reporter takes one look at the sketch and mutters "What a d*ck!"  Were the movie-makers delivering their verdict on Bob Kane, the creator (or co-creator) of one of the most popular icons of 20th century mythology?  Sadly, it very much seems like it.

However, this isn't meant to be a 'hatchet job' on Bob Kane. I write this post in sorrow rather than in anger, and certainly no malice is intended on my part.  I merely want to point out that it's just a shame that Batman's creator isn't held in the same high esteem as his creation - even if it does seem to be largely his own fault.  At least Bob wasn't (as far as the credits go anyway) responsible for the following 'highly imaginative' account of how the daring Dynamic Duo first came to be.  Cue Jackanory theme music...





18 comments:

Terranova47 said...

Thank you for publishing this Kid. If I had known this when I was a kid in the 50's and first read Batman it would have turned me right off the character.

Back then Batman was a detective and fit the Detective genre rather than the now superhero category. The early cross over Batman/Superman stories were a delight quite unlike the recent movie crossover stories.

I don't feel The Batman has evolved too well, from Detective to Psycho isn't as entertaining.

Kid said...

I must confess that I much prefer the dark-knight detective Batman of the '70s, T47, with the occasional departures like 'The Secret Of The Waiting Graves' and 'The Demon of Gothos Mansion'. Psycho Batman does nothing for me. And they wonder why comic sales are declining, eh?

Fantastic Four follower said...

Agree with you regarding the Batman Kid. Quite simply Neal Adams blew me away with his work in Detective, B&B and Batman.No one before or since, and there have been so many talented people, but no one could touch him! He re-invented the character and if I remember correctly his name would mean any back issue he drew was more expensive than the issues around it and the comic dealers happily typed his name to explain the difference in price and we were happy to pay(well sort of, but you know what I mean). Roughly 1969 to his final issue, the werewolf story in Batman #255 was the greatest period for the character ever! Did I mention I liked them?

Kid said...

Don't hold back, Triple F - tell us what you really think of Neal Adams' Batman. I'm just not sure whether you like him or not. (Now that's what I call irony.) Remember when a comic was an entertaining diversion, and not some social/sexual piece of blatant propaganda? Those were the days.

Fantastic Four follower said...

Agree with you regarding the Batman Kid. Quite simply Neal Adams blew me away with his work in Detective, B&B and Batman.No one before or since, and there have been so many talented people, but no one could touch him! He re-invented the character and if I remember correctly his name would mean any back issue he drew was more expensive than the issues around it and the comic dealers happily typed his name to explain the difference in price and we were happy to pay(well sort of, but you know what I mean). Roughly 1969 to his final issue, the werewolf story in Batman #255 was the greatest period for the character ever! Did I mention I liked them? Think Adams was upset at his original artwork being stolen from DC offices in 1974 otherwise he may have drawn more issues. Our loss as he was at the top of his game. Let's not mention recent years as its kinder not to. Suffice to say Adams 70's Batman are some of the finest comics ever produced. Hope you are keeping well mate and keep up the good work.

Kid said...

Ta much, Triple F, will do my best. I've got the three-volume set of Neal Adams' Batman and it's a rare treat.

McSCOTTY said...

Like FFF my Batman is and always will be Neal Adams version. Saying that I also enjoyed Marshall Rogers version and Jim Aparo's fun romps in Brave and the Bold. In addition (as I await the shrieks of outrage from some comic fans) I enjoyed Frank Robbins art and writing on the character. More recently the Batman Adventures (animated comic) series has had some great stories more akin to the 60s/70s especially Bruce Timms limited run on Batman which was pretty cool.

Re Mr Kane he sounds pretty dire but I suspect that a few comic book creators like their fans, might be "jerks".

Kid said...

I also liked Irv Novick's and Dick Dillin's depictions of Batman, McS. I thought they did a good job. Yup, jerks everywhere, creatives and fans of creatives. I've got the UK version of Batman Adventures, but I still haven't read most of them. Going from memory (which is deteriorating) I think there were only 18 issues.

Fantastic Four follower said...

Agree with McScotty, Irv Novick, Bob Brown and Jim Aparo were more than acceptable but Adams was King. Marshall Rodgers was amazing and he, Golden and Simonson were fantastic in the late 70's. But..... all roads lead back to Neal. Curiously, as I have mentioned before, he only drew 8 issues of B&B, 8 Detective and 8 Batman! A curious coincidence, though his numerous covers sold me on lesser interiors... but Adams was Adams and 50 years later my opinion has only strengthened. Be careful what you wish for as I dreamed of Neal returning to an avalanche of praise and rapturous acclaim and sadly he had grown older, like Ditko and Kirby and sadly he was a shadow of his former self. Still, 24 masterpieces!

Kid said...

Wasn't wild about Marshall Rodgers to be honest, Triple F, but he was okay I suppose. I remember reviewing Adams' Supermen series on the blog and pointing out the deterioration in his art. I received an anonymous comment (which I didn't publish) saying "Can you do any better?" I should have published it and responded "No, but Adams can - or used to be able to." However, he's getting on in years so it's perhaps a tad unfair to expect him still to be at the top of his game.

McSCOTTY said...

I thought some of Neal Adams art in his later work, especially faces in Batman, Odyssey looked at time like Mort Druckers work in Mad, I think baggsey one of your regular contributors mentioned this as well on my own blog. Amazing he did so few Batman comics I thought he did way more .

Kid said...

Yeah, his art took on a sort of 'scribbly' look. Talking of doing more, I thought Carmine Infantino had drawn way more Batman tales than he actually did. One book includes all of his stories and covers.

baggsey said...

Thanks for posting - I'd never been aware of that Real Fact Comic. And of course, the excellent artwork in Real Fact was not done by Bob Kane either! (Jim Mooney perhaps). Kane was a shrewd operator from a young age, and created Batman from a selection of existing pulp properties at age 17, along with Bill Finger. So he had a keen idea for what sold, and I understand showed his father (a lawyer) the contract sent to him by National which resulted in his sharing some sort of IP rights, etc.. Unlike Superman's creators who didn't have that sort of legal advice to call on.

Kid said...

Yeah, as far as I know, it was really down to his father that he was cut such a sweet deal with DC for so long, which lasted into the '60s if I recall correctly. Had Batman appeared as Kane first envisaged him, before Finger gave him the cowl and bat ears, it's doubtful the character would've made much of an impact.

Warren JB said...

I have to agree with the thread that Terranova47 started. The thing that got me hooked on Batman was the 90s cartoon, which initially took a lot from Neal Adams' run I believe. (All the way up to the shirtless duel with Ra's Al-Ghul) After a season or two there was a change in art style, which brought with it a change in personality to the too-popular 'angry and antisocial' Batman. That carried on into the follow-up Superman and Justice League series. A shame.

On the main topic: Bob Kane definitely sounds like he had a touch of the ole Narcissistic Personality Disorder. That comic about the creation of Batman was a bit painful to read.

Kid said...

Kane wrote a lengthy letter to Batmania fanzine in 1965, stating that he still drew 90% of the Batman comics, and denying that he ever used 'ghost artists' during Batman's golden age. This was in response to an article he'd read (possibly before publication) about how much others had actually contributed to the character. Bit of a fantasist was ol' Bob, it seems.

Gene Phillips said...

Kane is one of those guys who IMO were important to comics even though to them comics was just a job. Joe Simon was another; I never saw in his solo work the passion of Jack Kirby. Kane, a skilled packager, also knew how to draw upon creative people who had that passion, the main example being Bill Finger. (Not that Finger didn't produce his share of toss-off stories, but you can still find numerous stories in which he showed real investment.) I hadn't heard the "original art trade" story, but it sounds like the act of a practiced bullshitter.

Kid said...

Kane's biggest fault was that he wanted to steal all the credit for Batman for himself, GP, presenting himself as the main man. To say he was drawing 90% of the strips when he was doing nothing (or next to) is certainly bullsh*tting, as you say.



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