Batman in the '60s & '70s: 'The Batcave Companion'

The Batcave Companion

It’s been said before, but this time we mean it: You only think you know the history of the Dark Knight. The Batcave Companion, the latest volume of comics history from TwoMorrows, takes you inside the period of Batman’s history from the 1964 “New Look” through the 1970s era of Ra’s al Guhl, Silver St. Cloud and more.

Don’t let the title fool you – it’s not just a focus on where Batman hangs his cowl, but a thorough exploration of an often-ignored era of Bat-history, packed to the gills with interviews, rare artwork and more, all under a brand-new painted cover by Neal Adams and an introduction by Dennis O’Neil.

Several years in the making, The Batcave Companion finally hits stores this April. It’s a labor of love for Michael Eury and Michael Kronenberg, who revealed to us why they dared venture into the Batcave…and what readers can expect to find.

Newsarama: Michael, and um…Michael, give us the low-down on all the fun things readers can expect to find in The Batcave Companion.

Michael Eury: Thanks for using the word “fun,” because I think that’s an important aspect of our book. The Batcave Companion treats our subject matter with scholarly appreciation—even the goofball camp material of the mid-’60s—but neither Michael Kronenberg nor I lose sight of the fact that it was the fun of reading Batman comics when each of us were kids that fed our passion as adults to explore these eras of Batman’s history.

And those eras are the “New Look”—the 1964 “reboot” of Batman, the Batman TV show craze, and the late ’60s—and the return to the “creature of the night” phase beginning in late 1969, which dominated the 1970s. Our exploration covers key comics moments through essays, interviews, sidebars, and indexes.

Michael Kronenberg: I think readers will enjoy our essays, which includes two guest essays by Mike W. Barr and Will Murray. But, I think readers will keep returning to this book for our detailed indexes. Michael and I have put together issue-by-issue indexes of Batman and Detective Comics stretching from 1964 to 1979.

These indexes detail not only creators, plot synopsis, and cover images, but we indicate every story’s significance to Batman mythos and creator importance. The amount of info is going to blow you away.

NRAMA: How did this project come about? What made you want to highlight this aspect of Bat-history?

ME: A few years back I pitched to TwoMorrows publisher John Morrow a trio of DC Comics-related Companions, covering Superman, Batman, and the Justice League of America. John opted for JLA first (which I did as 2005’s Justice League Companion), then Superman (2006’s The Krypton Companion).

I was still working on Krypton when Michael Kronenberg proposed a Batman Companion to John. John informed me of Michael’s interest, and knowing of his fine book designing work and his writing in Comic Book Marketplace—as well as the fact that I needed some help after two labor-intensive DC Companions—I suggested that Michael and I partner on The Batcave Companion.

MK: Without a doubt, people identify Batman as either the swingin,’ campy hero of the mid-’60s or as the creature of the night. Michael and I investigate these two parts of Bat-history because they’re vital to understanding who Batman is and how he has become what he is today, one of comics’ best-selling characters, and a multi-billion dollar movie franchise.

Personally, I also wanted to show that the darkening of the character started in the late-’60s with Neal Adams’ art in The Brave and the Bold, and came to a full realization when he teamed with writer Denny O’Neil in 1970. No disrespect to Frank Miller, but too many people credit The Dark Knight Returns for bumping Batman out of his campy period.

NRAMA: Michael E, tell us about your chapters.

ME: I wrote the chapters dealing with Batman’s “New Look,” the period beginning in 1964 when editor Julius Schwartz and artist Carmine Infantino were tapped to resuscitate Batman from the sales doldrums.

My chapters are mostly essays going behind the scenes, although there are two Q&As, one with Infantino, and one with Joe Giella, who was the primary Bat-inker of the ’60s and who drew the Batman newspaper strip during the TV show’s heyday.

There’s a chapter on the Batman TV show, one on its influence upon the comics, one on the Batmobile, and one on Batgirl’s creation, plus more. Plus Mike W. Barr wrote a guest essay on the Mystery Analysts of Gotham City.

The chapter that was the hardest to write, but is the most satisfying for me, was Chapter 7, “Ghosts of Gotham,” exploring two of Batman creator Bob Kane’s “ghosts,” writer Bill Finger and artist Sheldon Moldoff. I tried to be fair and sympathetic toward the often-maligned Kane.

NRAMA: And Michael K, tell us about your chapters.

MK: My chapters explore Batman’s return to his creature of the night roots. Toward the end of 1969, Julius Schwartz wanted to jettison Batman’s camp baggage. He began by breaking up the Batman/Robin team, sending Dick Grayson to college, moving Bruce Wayne out of Wayne Manor and into a penthouse above Wayne Foundation.

My chapters are essays, with the exception of my interviews with Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil. Among other things, I explore the rise of Ra’s al Ghul, Archie Goodwin’s year-long work on Detective Comics, the Joker’s return to his homicidal roots, Robin’s solo adventures, the “Bat-Murderer” series, and Englehart/Rogers/Austin’s Detective storyline. Will Murray also wrote a chapter on the Batman/Shadow team-ups. There’s a lot more, but you’ll have to get the book.

NRAMA: Why did you specifically focus on the New Look and Bronze Age eras of Batman?

ME: Because they’re the eras which resonate with the mass audience: Batman as campy pop idol and Batman as the Dark Knight.

NRAMA: Now, despite the title, the book isn’t 100 percent about the Batcave. But I am curious: What do you feel the Batcave represents to the Batman mythos?

ME: While Batman has operated independently of the Batcave upon occasion (including the early 1970s, as Michael K. covers), the Batcave is integral to the character and exemplifies Batman’s iconography perhaps better than any other hero’s hideaway.

Plus it appeases comics fans: It’s the ultimate data- and gadget-loaded HQ and it’s a collector’s dream! (C’mon, wouldn’t you like a giant penny in your basement?)

NRAMA: What was your initial impression of the Batcave as a young comics fan? In other words, what does it mean to you personally?

ME: I imagined the basement in the house I grew up in to be my private Batcave (although I don’t remember an old chair, a freezer, and a lawnmower ever appearing in the comics). I remember sliding down basement support poles pretending that they were the Batpoles.

As ridiculous as the Batpole concept seems, it sticks with you. I recently visited my city’s fire department, which is looking for funds to open another new branch, and I joked that they should charge grown men $10 a slide down the fireman’s pole as a fundraiser! The fire chief got a kick out of that. (I didn’t segue into a Batman discussion, though…)

MK: Whether it’s in the comics, 1966 TV show, or the Batman motion pictures, every Batman fan fantasizes about having their own Batcave. As a comic book fan growing up in the 1970s, Batman left the Batcave and most of its gadgetry.

I have to admit that I love that version of Batman. Like the 1939 version of the character, Batman had only his physical skills, keen detective’s mind, and his utility belt to get him by. I like that gritty, realistic portrayal of the character, and it’s probably what drew me to his comics. The Batman comics of the ’70s were more similar to crime or pulp stories than they were to being super hero tales.

NRAMA: You got some major Batman creators to become involved with this -- how does it feel to be working with the likes of Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams, Sheldon Moldoff and more?

ME: It’s always a pleasure and honor to work with people whose work you admired as a reader, or as a kid. I’d like to add that for my section I also interviewed Adam Hughes and Michael Allred—Adam drew that campy DC Comics Presents: Batman cover a few years ago, and Mike (with his brother Lee) did that awesome “Batman-A-Go-Go!” tale in his Solo issue.

MK: It was such a great experience for me to go to Neal Adams’ Continuity Studios and interview him for a couple of days. He was incredibly generous with his time as we discussed every Batman story he drew.

Denny O’Neil was thought provoking and revealing in his interview. It was also terrific talking to Bob Rozakis, Mike Grell, Steve Englehart, Terry Austin, Mike Friedrich, and Len Wein. They all provided a wealth of revealing insight and information.

NRAMA: Now, the book was delayed for a while. For fans who were concerned about the delays, tell us exactly what happened and why the book is coming out now.

ME: Blame that darn Joker! He thought it would be funny to hide the final files…

Actually, conspiracy theorists will be disappointed to learn that the first delay came from two very busy collaborators with day jobs and other commitments trying to produce the best book possible. Then Batcave was on the schedule for April 2008, but DC Comics asked TwoMorrows to hold off on its publication because of the amount of Batman products released last year in conjunction with The Dark Knight.

NRAMA: Tell us about your tribute to Marshall Rogers.

MK: Marshall’s death was really tragic and quite a shock. We had contacted him when we started the book and he agreed to be interviewed. He passed away before we could get together. I did talk in detail to Terry Austin and he provides a very candid and touching remembrance of Marshall when they worked together in the 1970s, and when they reunited for Dark Detective in 2005.

The Batcave Companion details Marshall and Terry’s travails while getting the Detective assignment in 1977. It’s like going behind closed doors at DC’s office during that time. Of course, the book also features some great art by Marshall.

I did have the pleasure of spending a day with Marshall back in 1989. He was very engaging and funny. Tim Burton’s Batman movie had just come out, so he told me about how he would do a Batman movie if he had the chance. It was fascinating to hear, and I think it would have been much better than Burton’s film.

NRAMA: What other projects are you working on?

ME: I continue to edit the bimonthly Back Issue magazine, and in late July have a revised second edition of my book Captain Action: The Original Super-Hero Action Figure coming out. Plus I have a day job as the executive director of my county’s historic association. Like Carter Hall, I’m a museum curator.

MK: Now that Batcave is done, I’m designing Grailpages, a book about original comic art collecting that’s being published by TwoMorrows. It’s going to be a beautiful book with some stunning and amazing art.

Michael and I will be teaming up again, as I’ll be designing his revised Captain Action book. I’m the cover designer for Back Issue magazine, the designer for Rough Stuff magazine, in addition to other various projects. And by day, I’m the art director for a Washington, DC based environmental firm.

NRAMA: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?

ME: I had a blast working with Michael Kronenberg on this book. His essays and interviews were extremely insightful, and his book design is stunning.

MK: I want to thank Michael for letting me share this ride in the Batmobile through Batman’s history. It was a real labor of love. The whole thing has been a blast!

The Batcave Companion can be purchased from TwoMorrows at here or at Amazon, and other retail outlets.

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