Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to comics from one decade. This week’s decade: the 1950s! Today’s page is from Batman #110, which was published by DC and is cover dated September 1957. This scan is from The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told (the first printing), which I bought right when I started reading comics! Enjoy!
Dick Sprang drew Batman comics for, I think, two or three centuries, and this is just one example of his work. As you can see, Charles Paris inked this and Shelley Eiber colored it. Weirdly enough, DC doesn’t list the writer, Dave Wood, or the letterer, Pat Gordon. Why? Anti-word prejudice? Dick Sprang’s insidious credit-grabbing tyranny even at an advanced age (he was 73 when this book was published)? No man can say!
Wood gives us some fine purple prose in the preamble, as he lets us know that this is a Joker story (and, of course, a Joker story in the 1950s is extremely different from a Joker story in 2012) and that the “cunning, grinning criminal” has planned something called the “crime-of-the-month club.” Well, that can’t be good. The semi-splash that forms the first panel shows a scene from the upcoming story – in fact those poisoned cactus will show up on Page 2 – and gives us a good idea of the kind of story this is. Sprang situates the opposing forces well – Batman and Robin are the first people we see, and they lead us to the hoods holding the cactus.
In Panel 2, Wood gives us more information, as Bruce and Dick are headed to the Gotham Flower Show, an outing upon which I will not comment. Bruce tells us that the show features the “fabulous black orchid,” and you’ll notice that his word balloon intrudes upon Panel 3, so we have no choice but to follow it over. Dick and Bruce are placed on the right side of the panel, too, so we move toward them and on to the next panel. In Panel 3, we get a glimpse of the monstrous flower, “worth more than many diamonds” at $50,000 and found in the Amazon. I wonder if Neil Gaiman was thinking about this story when he sent his own Black Orchid to the Amazon in that mini-series? Anyway, Sprang draws a really good evil-looking flower, and does a good job making sure we can’t miss it. Everyone in the crowd, including Bruce and Dick in the foreground, is gazing at the flower, forcing us to follow their sightlines up the stalk to the flower itself. Notice how the flower forces the panel border upward, cutting off the semi-splash above it, because it’s so huge. It’s extremely eerie, but unfortunately, the orchid doesn’t come to life and start swallowing the patrons. Because that would have been too awesome, apparently.
As silly as this set-up is, Wood gets us into the story very quickly, and Sprang gives us the epitome of DC superheroes in the 1950s (Wayne Boring did the same for Superman). Bruce has a square jaw (you can see in Panel 2 how pointed it is, which is more pronounced in close-up) and a solid torso, while Dick has a hint of baby fat in his face which tends to disappear when he becomes Robin. It’s an interesting change.
This was probably the height of “goofy Batman,” but Sprang does know what he’s doing, and these stories are crafted fairly well. Whether you like them more than the “grim-n-gritty Batman” is, of course, a personal preference. If we’re going to get modern stories in which the Joker pays someone to peel his face off, I might yearn for a return to this Joker, where he devises crimes and auctions them off!
Next: I wasn’t sure if I wanted to show more Ditko, but Ditko in the 1950s is just too neat to pass up! Can you find the other 1950s Ditko comic I’ve already shown in the archives? See that you do!