As a kid my main hero was Batman. Hands down. I went through different phases where my focus of the moment may be a different pop culture phenomenon, maybe Angus Young here, Bruce Lee there, Burt Reynolds for some golden months, but for much of my pre-adolescent youth, Batman was the go-to guy.
Tons of my most vivid memories of ages 6 to 11 involve that 4-color avenger. He took many different forms at the time. Irv Novick was responsible for the bulk of his representations in that era, but from time to time he came in the guise of the pencils of Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, or my personal favorite of that time period, (though it seems like he didn’t draw him that often then) Dick Giordano. There was something about this era of comics, frequently titled The Bronze Age. The stories often were dark and creepy, but not quite as nasty as today. A friend of mine once called them “family-friendly disturbing”. On the covers of these monthly joys, the heroes were frequently fraught, trapped in some horrifying predicament, often with that incredibly discernible facial expression that heroes weren’t supposed to have. That of fear. For crying out loud, Batman wasn’t supposed to be afraid of anything!
That’s what made me buy them. (or more so my parents).
It disturbed me to see Batman with that visage on his face. I needed to make sure The Dark Knight was going to be alright.
I had other comics of course. My collection was littered with tomes from The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, House of Secrets, and Justice Society among others, but the bulk of my stack was Batman. A decent fall-back at this time was The Brave & The Bold, a monthly drawn by Jim Aparo featuring Bats partnered up with another lesser super-hero, but I preferred the original. Oddly, they were tough to find which made their acquisitions that much more exciting. Occasionally my mother would find one of those drug store poly-bag specials with 3 issues inside that made her the most grandest of dames on the planet for the next week. These discoveries were largely responsible for the growth of my prized Batman compendium.
That, and the time my parents bought me a subscription for one year as a birthday gift. Once a month a black mylar-wrapped issue of the greatest detective’s adventures would wind up in our mailbox. For 12 months, I checked the post daily beating my parents to the punch, racing Ginger, my beloved dog, to the mailbox.
The golden nugget of my Batman-obilia was a Blue Ribbon digest. Every month, DC put a new Digest out dedicated to a different hero in their arsenal. What the Digest was was a small omnibus of stories from different eras in the character’s history. You usually found them in the “impulse buy” section of a grocery store as you were checking out. Let’s see, I need some Chap-stick, a Bit-O-Honey, and 5 stories about The Green Arrow.
In December of 1980, they ran with Batman. The weird thing was how my Mom would come home with something like that and act like it wasn’t a big deal. This was the golden ticket, woman! This was the Holy Grail of Shit Rob Wants! How can you just walk in the door with bags of food from Kohl’s and just toss that out there as a secondary thing, like “oh, and I picked you up a pack of Fruit Stripe.”
This was the most incredible thing ever!! Except for maybe that “treasury”-sized issue with that unsettling cover. You know the one. Comic book dorks know the picture. It was the nightmare fuel image of a kneeling, screaming Batman with what appears to be a dead Robin the Boy Wonder lying motionless in front of him, super-imposed on a grainy image of a laughing Ra’s Al Ghul’s face behind him… Getting That book was tantamount to finding the ark of the covenant. It appeared in the ads every damn month, but never on the newsstands. It passed it’s release dates without me able to acquire it, and now fetches a quarter of a million dollars on eBay.
But the Blue Ribbon Digest was as good. I carried this thing around with me everywhere. On trips it was packed with my matchbox cars, Tigger, and my underwear. At school, it was in my Batpack, checked frequently at random inspection points throughout the day. Had to be done. I became suspicious of schoolmates that may want to get their grubby little digits on my prized book. I knew Everyone wanted my Blue Ribbon Digest, damn it.
The 4 color messiahs were a guide. They were quietly there all day long. When I found out in January of 1979 that my dad wasn’t long for the world due to that Cancer asshole, they stood up behind me and held up my middle finger to the world. They listened when I complained and provided answers. The newsprint of the bronze age comic was analgesic to a soul looking to dull the edge of what was presented. There were a lot of heroes in my life, and there still are.
But Batman, that dark cowled vigilante, was the first. Despite the god-awful fear implanted on his face on the covers of those monthly challenges, he was back again in 30 days.
Today he’s still there, standing in the rain looking over my shoulder, offering the calming whisper of turned pages and the glory of pencil and ink.