‘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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