‘A Caper A Day Keeps the Batman at Bay’ – Batman 312, 1979

This is pretty much the first Batman story I remember reading. Back in the late 80’s, you could buy reprinted Batman stories in British editions, available in most newsagents. In the backwater village I grew up in, this was pretty much it for exposure to American comics (I remember getting hold of a battered Secret Wars comic from a jumble sale that seemed like the Holy Grail to a kid raised on Beano and Beezer). Obviously 2000ad was around but that would come a little later. But these reprints were mining Batman’s seventies heyday, so there were stories by Len Wein and Denny O’Neil, and glorious art by Neal Adams, Jim Aparo et al. We were firmly in hairy chested lovegod Bat-territory, so stories inevitably involved Talia, ski-slopes, underground lairs, and Batman in full player mode. Although there was a smattering of grit in the comically hardboiled narration, these stories were colourful, dynamic and swinging – a disco era Batman hanging in his Penthouse apartment, who was definitely getting laid more than in the barren Aids scare 80’s. Oh sure, he was still grieving over his dead parents, but he was also doing the Batusi down at Studio 54.

So the little 10 year old me wandered into the local Newsagents one day and picked up one of these reprints for the first time. Inside was the pure undiluted genius of ‘A Caper A Day Keeps the Batman at Bay’, featuring the second(?) appearance of Calendar Man. Now I know this guy isn’t in the top tier of Batman’s rogue’s gallery, but I’m telling you this. He knew about making an entrance. I mean check this out:

Dude has more costume changes than a Madonna concert. (Better legs too) I mean that’s value for money really isn’t it? 7 villains for the price of 1. And as for the crimes themselves – money? Pshhhaw, that’s for losers. Calendar Man’s got his eyes on the prize. That’s right ‘priceless stamps’ and ‘military antiques’!

See those were the days when a villain would bother coming up with a theme for his crime spree, y’know put in a little bit of effort. I guess after the Joker smacked the shit out of Jason Todd and blew him up, the game was raised a little bit. All of a sudden dressing up as the days of the week maybe seemed a bit small time. Thank you the 80’s.

Also, is it me or is that one of the campest slanging matches ever?

‘Bad taste in clothes is the least of your crimes mister!’ MEEEOW! You tell him Batman! Of course it may merely be sartorial jealousy – let’s not forget the Dark Knight has quite a large wardrobe himself..

Anyway this story was written by the legendary Len Wein, one of the great 70’s writers. (Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers epic was pretty much a love letter to Wein’s diverse and imaginative writing), and drawn with suitable kineticism by Walt Simonson. It’s a wonderfully simple but effective little tale that manages to evoke the kitschy fun of the 60’s TV Show without sacrificing the sense of gritty urbanity of O’Neil’s 70’s bat-stories. It’s got a ludicrous but fun central villain, and hey he’s educational too. Where else but comics could I learn that there’s a goddess of love called Frigga? It’s colourful, action-packed, and features a decent smattering of detective work – once again a key part of any proper Batman story.

Most importantly it’s got that quintessential 70’s accessory, the Bat Copter.

That’s travelling in style Bats.

Basically this sort of story and the TV show were my primary introduction to the character. Sure Miller’s vision of the Dark Knight rocked my world like it did for so many other pubescent kids, but the brow beating darkness and tedious angst-porn that followed (culminating in the dreadful ‘Knightfall ‘epic’) drained him of a good deal of his fundamental appeal. There’s always been colourful, themed villains to test Batman, and to sweep them under the carpet in favour of serial killers and rapists is just dullsville, really. The 70’s in particular seemed to relish the excuse to create a new villain every issue. Seriously, don’t get me started on the Gentleman Ghost…

To be honest I’m just not that interested in Batman breaking mugger’s fingers in bin-bag strewn alleyways. Believe it or not I don’t go to Batman comics for realism (and since when was that deemed more ‘real’ than Killer Moth or battles on giant typewriters? Don’t know about you but none of those figure big in my average day). I go for escapism and enjoyment.

And Bat-copters.

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14 Responses to “Step into…The Nostalgialator!!”

  1. amy poodle Says:

    People breaking fingers in alleys feature very heavily in my day, thanks.

  2. Qthgrq Says:

    Calendar man is just lovely, isn’t he? We need that colourful manic energy back in the Batman books. A Joker who employs giant jack-in-a-boxes is infinitely more interesting than a Joker who picks up a crowbar and brains a kid. If I want that then I can just pick a newspaper – it’s mundane.

  3. Qthgrq Says:

    Can I get my hands on a Len Wein collection?

  4. Papers Says:

    That was one of the stories included in that old GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD trade that I ended up with when I was about ten — and one of my favourites in the collection. Calender Man is this weird soft spot for me, because he’s utterly ridiculous and sort of admirable, in a way. The amount of time he spent, clearly, preparing for his crime spree *astonishes*. Seven fully-designed and sewn costumes, seven gimmick weapons….delightful.

    I should try and find a copy of that collection again, actually, since it had some really weird Batman stories in it…

  5. Qthgrq Says:

    I’ve actually got that one, Papers, or at least I did. I can’t seem to find it right now.

  6. Papers Says:

    It had a Deadshot story in it as well, with Silver St. Cloud and references to the Joker’s Daughter in the Teen Titans.

  7. Qthgrq Says:

    Don’t remember that one. It had Hugo Strange and his monster men, though, right?

  8. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    Yep. And a corking ‘imaginary story’ where Batman and Catwoman are married. Plus of course, Neal Adams art on an Enemy Ace team-up. Dinner.

  9. Qthgrq Says:

    …Where the bloody hell is it!

  10. Papers Says:

    Hugo Strange — yes! I think there was also at least one story that had him campaigning to be mayor as part of the backdrop.

    The “imaginary story” was the tale of Earth-2 Batman and Catwoman and their marriage following a team-up against the Scarecrow. Among other things it included my first discovery of Kathy Kane’s Batwoman. It’s a beautiful story, actually, and really cemented my preference for Earth-2…

    I really want to find a new copy of that book.

  11. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Ooh, Hugo Strange and Batwoman… I have memories of being in the local newsagent and reading something about Earth-2 with them, probably a Brit reprint, one I suspect I didn’t buy because it was not a Marvel comic but it really stuck with me, in a dreamy vague sense – like I only recalled it a couple of years ago, but the whole notion of an Earth-2 seemed so wonderful then.

  12. Papers Says:

    It’s a distressing story, where Batman’s fear-gas-induced psychosis causes him to become unable to see anyone he cares about — neither seeing, hearing, nor feeling anyway, having seen them fade away. Catwoman is all that remains, and by the end of the story their passion has caused her to dissolve — until she forces that to stop. Then they get married. It’s so…Earth-2.

    I think I loved Earth-2 because on some level it meant living in the DCU was that much weirder — parallel universes weren’t hypothetical to the point where Batman could occasionally go on a vacation to one if he wanted to.

  13. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    When people are banging on about how ‘dark’ Batman is they miss out on the tortured melodrama that all those parallel versions of his life offered. Seriously that’s some Douglas Sirk shit right there.
    Also: I checked out some fifties and sixties Batman covers and I could not believe the amount of times him and Robin would be menaced by disembodied giant hands and Robot versions of himself. Honestly it was every other issue.
    Take me back…

  14. adam Says:

    I have a question, rhetorical if you please (feel free to post your opinion, though): Are these comic books from this era truly escapist?

    In some ways, the “realistic” style of Batman seems more escapist because it allows all those nasty little boys (and girls) to identify with the big, scary, “pyscho-sexual” power-fantasy. It has the baser, more crude portal to escape through.

    The psychedelic Batman seems less escapist because it is just so “out there” in some regards. It makes you put on fresh goggles (in the positive sense).

    Maybe the problem is positive identifying with a negative escape or negatively identifying with a positive escape: people who never look up at the sky in awe (i.e. Mark Millar’s ultrafans) vs. hippies who never come down. Neither are healthy or fun in the long view.

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