Categories
Boppin'

Comics And LP Cover Cavalcade Supplement # 1: Paperbacks And Rock Mags

Normally, this is a lightly-annotated but otherwise random collection of images of comic book and rock ‘n’ roll album covers. Today’s edition shifts just a little for a cavalcade of rock magazine and paperback covers instead. Consider me a Renaissance blogger.

One of the many prizes I scored in the dealers’ room at DC Comics‘ 1976 Super-DC Con in New York was this paperback novel from 1966. Produced as tie-in product for the immensely popular Batman TV series starring Adam WestBatman Vs. 3 Villains Of Doom is slightly less camp than the TV show, and seems a bit closer to its original comics inspiration. According to DC Wikia, the novel incorporates three Batman comic book stories from 1947-1950, and places them within a framing device of The JokerThe Penguin, and The Catwoman competing for the Tommy (as in Tommy gun), the underworld equivalent of an Oscar for, y’know, best–or worst–bad guy. Listen, criminals may be a superstitious and cowardly lot, but they crave validation just like regular folks do. You like me! You really like me! HA-HA-HA-HAAAA! Waughh! Meow! Ahem. I haven’t re-read this in many years, but I recall that it was a fun and entertaining pulp-lite superhero book. Credited author “Winston Lyon” is as fictional as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon; the novel was written by William Woolfolk, prolific veteran author of many novels, comic books, and screenplays. Batman Vs. 3 Villains Of Doom was only the second prose novel to star a DC Comics superhero, following George Lowther‘s The Adventures Of Superman in 1942.

Creem magazine was one of the all-time great rock ‘n’ roll rags, and it will be the subject of a near-future edition of my rock magazine reminiscence series He Buys Every Rock ‘n’ Roll Book On The Magazine Stands. (My series itself was inspired by a recent invitation from Devorah Ostrov and former Creem regular John Mendelssohn for me to contribute to Reet, a new online magazine in the proud and plowed Creem tradition.) This fairly reverent 1987 special Creem edition dedicated to The Monkees may seem an anomaly for the notoriously snarky Creem because…well, because it is an anomaly for the notoriously snarky Creem. But nor was it a unique anomaly, as the perpetrators of Creem weren’t exactly above chasin’ a quick buck by pandering to a perceived mass pop market. Hell, my first Creem mag was a 1977 spotlight on The Bay City Rollers, and I kinda wish I still had a copy of that. That said, I know that Bill HoldshipCreem‘s editor in 1987, was and remains a Monkees fan himself, and his guidance produced this lovely souvenir document of resurgent Monkeemania in the ’80s. This I still have, and I’m keepin’ it. One regrets The Monkees never did a Creem Profiles Boy Howdy! bit…did they?

Harlan Ellison was my favorite writer when I was a teenager, and no other author has ever really challenged his position at the top of my literary pantheon. Ellison was an enormous influence on my writing, and on my attitude toward writing. His essay collections (in particular The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat) were as essential to me as his fiction. I don’t remember how I started on my path to Ellison Wonderland. My first exposure to his work was the time-traveling Star Trek episode “The City On The Edge Of Forever,” which I adored (although Ellison despised the changes made to his work in the televised version). I saw his name in comic books, as co-writer (with Roy Thomas) of “Five Dooms To Save Tomorrow!” in The Avengers # 101, and as inspiration for a character called Harlequin Ellis in Justice League Of America # 89 (written by Mike Friedrich). My friend Bob Gray may have recommended I check out Ellison’s books. My first was Paingod And Other Delusions, a collection of short stories that included Ellison’s masterful “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said The Ticktockman.” I was hooked immediately, and set out to accumulate as many Ellison books as I could, as fast as I could. I saw Ellison speak at Syracuse University around 1976 or so, and I was riveted as he read his then-unpublished short story “Hitler Painted Roses.” After the lecture, Ellison autographed my copy of his No Doors, No Windows, and playfully tried to hook me up with the diminutive co-ed standing in line in front of me. Um…that’s not why Ellison’s my favorite writer. But it didn’t hurt.

Shortly after I left Buffalo to return to Syracuse in 1987, I suddenly became a bigger, more devoted fan of The Flamin’ Groovies. I don’t know exactly why, but it grew out of my increased attention to Goldmine, the bi-weekly tabloid for record collectors. I’d begun freelancing for Goldmine in late ’86, the start of what would be a twenty-year run as a GM stringer. I started ordering sundry delights from Midnight Records, one of Goldmine‘s regular advertisers. And again, I have no idea why I abruptly fixated on the Groovies at this time, though I think their track “First Plane Home” may have played a role in my Groovies revelation. It wasn’t like I didn’t already appreciate the group; I’d owned their Shake Some Action and Now albums for years, and absolutely loved them. Either just before or shortly after my move to Syracuse, I finally grabbed a copy of 1979’s Jumpin’ In The Night, the final Flamin’ Groovies LP released up to that point. “First Plane Home” freakin’ blew me away, just as “Shake Some Action” had done years before, so I guess I do know what sparked my 1987 embrace of the Groovies. And now I needed more! Midnight sold me an Australian fan magazine, Flamin’ Groovies Quarterly, a new (!!!) Groovies album called One Night Stand, a CD of live performances (Groove In), and an all-Groovies edition of one of my fave rave rock reads, Bucketfull Of BrainsBucketfull Of Groovies filled me in on the back story for what had become one of my all-time favorite bands. This was an invaluable resource when I interviewed the Groovies’ Cyril Jordan for Goldmine in 1992.

1970-’71. I hated sixth grade. Hated it. About the only good thing I can say about sixth grade is that it was slightly better than seventh grade, the way shingles is better than leprosy. The only other good thing about sixth grade was The Pigman, a novel by Paul Zindel. My reading teacher Mrs. Mott read the book to us in class; oddly enough, I don’t remember any of us ever having the book in front of us while she read, which seems strange for a reading class. I was already reading at a high school level, so I betcha I could have followed along acceptably. The book was fascinating, sad, emotional, unforgettable. I believe I had another class in a subsequent year that also studied The Pigman, and I read it on my own at that time. My original well-worn copy is long, long gone. I replaced it with a fresh copy a few years back, when my own daughter was entering high school. She declined the option of reading it herself. But I owe myself the pleasure of re-visiting it. (A pretty classmate named Diana was the third and final only good thing about sixth grade, but she never noticed me anyway.)

When I started my recent look back at rock mags of days gone by, a few friends mentioned Rock Scene as a favorite. I bought the occasional issue of Rock Scene in the late ’70s/early ’80s, and browsed through many more of ’em on the racks at The Liftbridge Bookstore in Brockport. But Rock Scene never meant as much to me as Creem or Bomp!Trouser Press or The Pig Paper, nor even the distrusted Rolling Stone. In retrospect, I probably should have dug Rock Scene more than I did. Really, the magazine was like a more specifically rock-oriented version of vintage 16 or Tiger Beat, focused far more on pictures than on text. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you’d think my uber-pop sensibilities would have taken to that like a High Times reader takes to chocolate chip cookies. I recall seeing an uncharacteristically snide remark within a Rock Scene piece about KISS that would have been right at home in Creem, and maybe there was more of that if I’d been paying attention. And Rock Scene did feature The Sex Pistols and The Ramones, and I was for damned sure in favor of that! I don’t think I kept any of my few Rock Scene purchases from the time, but I’ve picked up a couple of old issues at record shows in recent years. My Rock Scene fan friends were right; I was wrong.

Flea markets and used bookstores. From these fertile fields, I amassed a decent collection of paperback novels based on the ’60s TV spy show The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I don’t believe I ever saw the show when it originally aired, but I certainly knew of it and its protagonists, Napolean Solo and Illya Kuryakin. My first Man From U.N.C.L.E. adventure was a Big Little Book (The Calcutta Affair) ’roundabout fourth grade. In the mid ’70s, I saw a film called The Spy With My Face on CBS‘ late movie. The Spy With My Face was an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., expanded with extra footage for a 1965 theatrical release. Hey, reduce, reuse, and recycle! I loved it. Although I started snagging the paperbacks soon thereafter, I confess I’ve yet to read one. But I still have them, and I’ll get to them one day. One of the many great things about books is that they have no expiration date. I’m told the Man From U.N.C.L.E. books also hold the distinction as the first resource to spell out the full name of U.N.C.L.E.’s evil adversary, THRUSH. We knew from the TV series about the United Network Command for Law Enforcement; it was the novels that suggested the bad guys were the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity. Hence, y’know, bad guys. I’ve since seen most (all?) of the TV series episodes as reruns. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t make a brief mention of actress Yvonne Craig, later to become TV’s Batgirl, steamin’ up the spy business on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Although Yvonne Craig did appear on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. series, this scene did not appear on the TV show. Somehow I sense you’re not surprised. This is from One Spy Too Many, a 1966 feature film expansion of a two-part episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Craig was not even in the original TV two-parter, but was in an earlier episode. With her clothes on.

The first punk record I ever heard was “God Save The Queen” by The Sex Pistols. The Ramones would ultimately mean a great deal more to me, but the Pistols were also important, and I still enjoy blastin’ “God Save The Queen,” “Pretty Vacant,” “Holiday In The Sun,” and “No Feelings,” among others. Punk magazine’s document of the Pistols’ American tour and messy demise was the cover feature on either the first or second issue of Punk I ever owned; I think I picked this up before I purchased the previous issue, which cover-featured The Dictators. The Sex Pistols issue was Punk‘s first as a slick magazine, transitioning from its previous tabloid format. This issue earned bonus points with me for also covering The Bay City Rollers, though apparently many Punk readers were simply horrified to see the Rollers in a punk zine. I thought Punk was a terrific, terrific magazine, and I regret that I missed most of its run. I did snag an earlier issue (with a John Holmstrom drawing of Joey Ramone on the cover, and hilarious interviews with David Johansen and the hapless Dorian Zero contained therein), and a subsequent issue starring Joey Ramone and Debbie Harry in the magazine-length photo-funny “Mutant Monster Beach Party.” Punk was gone too soon. I own two different retrospectives of the magazine, one hardcover and one softcover, and neither gives me what I really want: a comprehensive reprinting of every single page of every single issue of PunkNOW!!!

My addiction to superpulp paperbacks in the ’70s prompted me to pursue spinner-rack reprints of decades-old adventures starring the likes of The ShadowDoc SavageTarzanThe SpiderThe AvengerOperator 5Conan the BarbarianEllery Queen, and The Lone Ranger, plus novelizations of ’30s comic strips starring Flash Gordon. I wish there were even more, and I wish I’d picked up the then-new Vampirella novels a couple of years later. My favorite series was probably The Phantom. Like the Flash Gordon books, these were prose adaptations of old newspaper strips, and I consumed them with great delight. Their covers were perfectly prototypical ’70s era pulp paperback fare, colorful kindred spirits to the other willfully-garish drugstore potboilers, even with a costumed hero mixed in with the prerequisite sex and violence. The cover of The Veiled Lady is a prime example, as The Ghost Who Walks deals hot lead from his firearm while cradling and protecting a buxom damsel in distress. My favorite Phantom novel was the debut entry, The Story Of The Phantom, which seemed more complete and accomplished than its sequels, but I enjoyed every one I read. And I read a few: The Story Of The PhantomThe Slave Market Of MucarThe Scorpia MenaceThe Veiled LadyThe Mysterious AmbassadorThe Hydra Monster, and Killer’s Town, with The Goggle-Eyed Pirates a more recent internet purchase. For those who came in late.

I’m tempted to suggest that Hot Wacks Quarterly didn’t know whether it wanted to be a rock magazine or a girlie magazine, but I think its editors knew precisely what they were going for here. Hot Wacks specialized in coverage of bootleg recordings, but wasn’t above the use of rock-related cheesecake photos to help sales. Even so, the magazine never connected for me. I owned two or maybe three issues, realized my indifference, and moved on.

The inverse of Hot Wacks QuarterlyThe Beatles in Oui.

Hey, I had fun doing this! There will be more comics and LP covers to come, of course, but maybe we’ll look at some paperbacks and rock mags again, too.

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Categories
Boppin'

Well, Hello There, Famous Person!

I imagine that it’s not uncommon for folks who live in Manhattan or L.A. to spot celebrities on some kind of regular basis, or at least to not be surprised to see some big-name famous person while out grabbin’ a bagel. That’s life in the bright lights of the big city.

But such star sightings are a relative rarity in Syracuse. The other day, my wandering mind ambled its non-linear way to the famous people I’ve seen somewhere, here or there or anywhere over the years. I’m not talking about concerts or performances or lectures I attended, wherein I witnessed the magic of Eddie MurphyHarlan EllisonPresident Bill ClintonWilliam ShatnerStar Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, locally-staged plays starring the likes of Julie NewmarBert Parks, and Abe Vigoda, or the many musical acts in my Virtual Ticket Stub Gallery. I don’t mean getting into the locker room at Yankee Stadium on Old-Timer’s Day 1972 to meet Joe DiMaggio and Whitey Ford, or going to a comics convention in New York in 1976, where I met Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe ShusterBatman co-creator Bob Kane, and so many other writers, artists, and editors that I admired. I’m also not talking about celebrity signings and meet-n-greets, where I briefly met Mickey MantleAdam West, and Micky Dolenz, back-stage access opportunities where I met Peter TorkThe SearchersKISS‘ Gene Simmons and Bruce Kulick, and Mary Lou Lord (and actually chatted with Mary Lou for quite some time, two young parents talkin’ about their kids). Nope, none of that. I’m thinking about sightings in the wild, times when I wasn’t expecting to see someone famous, but there they were, ready (or not) for their close-up.

COLONEL SANDERS

I mentioned this to my daughter, and she was amazed to learn that KFC spokesman Colonel Sanders was a real person; she thought he was just a fast-food mascot, no less make-believe than a Ronald McDonald or a Burger King. But yeah, when I was a kid, traveling with my Mom some time in the late ’60s or early ’70s, I spotted ol’ Harland in the crowd at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. It was definitely him, dressed in his familiar white suit, shuffling along with, I think, a small entourage of assistants. He looked very old, and very frail, and I don’t think anyone bothered him. Kentucky Fried Chicken was one of my favorite take-out foods when I was a kid, so there was something satisfying about seeing the man who’d developed KFC’s tasty secret recipe, even if I could only see him from afar.

PHIL RIZZUTO

If my 1972 visit to the Yankees locker room on Old Timer’s Day doesn’t count, maybe this does. Before I’d made my way to the locker room, I somehow ran into former shortstop and then-current broadcaster Phil Rizzuto in a public area of the stadium. I asked him for an autograph, but my pen ran out of ink. He told me to wait, he ducked into the press box, and came back with a fresh pen. Here ya go, kid. The Scooter rules!

ELVIS COSTELLO

This was right before an Elvis Costello show at my college in Brockport, so maybe this shouldn’t count either. Nonetheless, while my ex-girlfriend, her ex-boyfriend, and I all waited outside the student union ballroom prior to Costello’s concert, Declan Patrick MacManus hisself brushed by us, all brusque and sullen. Shortly after that, listening from outside the ballroom’s closed doors, we heard Elvis and The Attractions rehearsing “Alison” and “The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes,” two songs they wound up skipping in the actual show, a show that was cut short abruptly when Costello stormed off stage.

CHRIS SPEDDING

British guitar legend Chris Spedding was playing with a band called The Necessaries when they toured as opening act for The Pretenders in 1980. This also shouldn’t count, I guess, because obviously I knew Spedding was going to be at the club, but I was surprised to see him by himself at a table, drinking his beer alone. Well, what the hell. I went over to his table, exchanged pleasantries, got an autograph, and let him get back to his beer.

MACHO CAMACHO

I was working in a shopping-mall record store in downtown Buffalo in 1985 when boxer Hector “Macho” Camacho stopped in. I had no idea who he was, and had not even heard of him at that point, but I quickly gathered that he was something of a big deal. He was there at my fine record emporium in search of a cassette of “Macho Man” by The Village People, with the intention of using that disco hit as his arena-entrance music. Alas, I had to break the news to The Macho One that The Village People’s catalog o’ favorites was out of print. He politely refrained from breaking every bone in my body, which was good. Someone snapped a photo of Macho and me, and I wish I’d had the good sense to snag the picture as a souvenir.

RICK JAMES

DAVID COPPERFIELD


When was this–1989? 1990? I was working in an appliance store in the Syracuse area, and a guy came in looking at boom boxes. I didn’t recognize him until the master illusionist introduced himself, and asked for the manager. I happened to be in theoretical charge of the store that shift, so Copperfield said to me, I’m doing a show tonight, and I need two of these. If you can give me a deal, and you can deliver them to the theater, I’ll give you two tickets to the show. Awright. I figured out an appropriate discount, and Copperfield handed me his AmEx. I delivered the boom boxes, and Brenda and I returned to the theater that night for a kickass magic show.

ALEC BALDWIN

I was kind of oblivious to this as it happened, but I was there. Actor Alec Baldwin has family in the Syracuse area, and one afternoon in the early ’90s he visited our store to buy a refrigerator for one of his family members. I didn’t wait on him, but I did see him, and I saw his credit application (which listed his occupation as Motion Picture Actor, and his income as in excess of $100,000 a year). He bought a nice fridge. His then-wife Kim Basinger was not with him.

SUZI QUATRO

No such luck.

YOU CAN SEE ALL THE STARS AS YOU WALK DOWN ERIE BOULEVARD. Or something.

There may have been one or two others I’ve forgotten in the moment. Comic Jeff Altman, a frequent guest on Late Night With David Letterman, is originally from Syracuse, and he made a couple of purchases from me when he was back in town. Author David Hajdu also has Syracuse connections (and Brenda was a preschool teacher for one of his kids); he came back to play guitar with his wife, singer Karen Oberlin, in Porcelain Forehead for a BRIGHT LIGHTS! Syracuse New Wave Rock ‘n’ Roll Reunion live show that my This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio partner Dana Bonn and I co-hosted. I met Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob Squarepants, through the same BRIGHT LIGHTS! series, and through our shared history as fans and associates of Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouses The Flashcubes. R & B duo Womack & Womack did an in-store appearance at my record shop in Buffalo, and I’m pretty sure I used to serve fast-food tacos to members of The Goo Goo Dolls before they were famous. Wait–before they were famous? Man, that doesn’t count either….

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 
Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.

Categories
Boppin'

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Batman

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

This was originally posted as part of a longer piece covering both pop music and comic book characters. It’s separated here for convenience.My introduction to Batman, my favorite comic book character, came in the person of Adam West, star of the 1966-1968 Batman TV series; I wrote about that here, so we don’t need to cover all that again. For now, suffice it to reiterate that no TV series ever had as great and as lasting an impact on my life as did the campy, twice-weekly adventures of The Dynamic Duo in 1966.

But that’s just the first part of a first impression. Where did I go from there? Well, the massive nature of Batmania ’66 made the Caped Crusader as ubiquitous as The Beatles had been just two years before. There was so much Bat-merchandise everywhere you turned; the J.M. Fields department store had a small section devoted exclusively to Batman tie-in stuff, and I still have the Batman wastebasket I got there.

One of the most intriguing Batman products would have to be the bubblegum cards. There were two entirely different series of Batman cards; there was a series featuring stills from the TV show, capturing images of Adam West and Burt Ward capturing Gotham’s Most Wanted, and there was another series with painted, pulpy images of Batman and Robin battling their deadliest foes. Oh God, those painted cards were awesome, and I sprang for a complete set of reproductions a couple of decades ago. Those cards, with their hints of an unknown wonderland of Batman adventure, were my first teasing taste of (excuse the expression) a Batman beyond what I’d seen on TV.

(I recall a similar feeling of Bat-discovery in, I think, a tie-in from Hostess or some other sweet treat distributor, which carried images of Bat-villains I’d never seen, like The FoxThe Shark, and The Vulture; I got another sideways glance into Batman’s vast rogues gallery with coloring-book appearances by The Bouncer and Blockbuster.)


I can’t quite remember my first Batman comic book story. I have a vague memory of a battle with The Joker involving giant tubes of paint (which would have been from a 1966 Kelloggs promotion), and that may or may not have been my first. If not, then the honor probably goes to a 1966 Signet paperback, collecting Batman reprints in black-and-white. Most of the reprints were from the ’50s–I particularly loved a Joker story called “The Crazy Crime Clown!”–but the first story in that book was a reprint of Batman’s origin story by (uncredited) writer Bill Finger and (too-credited) artist Bob Kane, as it appeared in Batman # 1 in 1940 (except for, y’know, the expensive color part). I still have that paperback, and if that’s where my Batman comics-readin’ started, then I picked a hell of a great place for my Batman to begin.

Subsequently, the first bona fide Batman color comic book I owned was Batman # 184, purchased off the rack at a grocery store in Aurora, Missouri in the summer of ’66.  I’ve purchased a few more Batman comic books since then.

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 
Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-OpRay PaulCirce Link & Christian NesmithVegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie FlowersThe SlapbacksP. HuxIrene PeñaMichael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave MerrittThe RubinoosStepford KnivesThe Grip WeedsPopdudesRonnie DarkThe Flashcubes,Chris von SneidernThe Bottle Kids1.4.5.The SmithereensPaul Collins’ BeatThe Hit SquadThe RulersThe Legal MattersMaura & the Bright LightsLisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here.

Categories
Birthdays

Julie Newmar

Born on this day in 1933, actress Julie Newmar. Though Newmar had an extensive career on Broadway and in film, she is best-remembered for her portrayal of Catwoman, on the Batman TV series.

Categories
Boppin'

Comic Book Retroview: The 1966 Batman Signet Paperback

COMIC BOOK RETROVIEW: The 1966 BATMAN Signet Paperback

by Carl Cafarelli

I don’t think I’ll ever know this for sure, but it’s possible that my first Batman and Robin comic book wasn’t really a comic book at all. I mean, it could have been. It could have been Batman # 184, which I selected out of other four-color choices perched in the comic book display at a grocery store in Aurora, Missouri while on vacation in the summer of 1966. Or it could have been a mini-comic given away as a promo item from Kellogg’s Pop Tarts. Stretching our parameters a bit, it could have been a Batman coloring book. But no–I think my first Batman comic book was really a paperback book: a little 1966 package from Signet Books, promising “The BEST of the original BATMAN–the Caped Crusader’s greatest adventures.” I was six. And a new world was waiting for me.

’66 Batmania had a deep and lasting effect on me. Although my older brother Art had to pry me away from my beloved Wednesday night TV appointment with Lost In Space because he wanted to watch Batman instead, I came to prefer our Dynamic Duo in very short order. Presaging my future life as a pop obsessive, I immediately had to immerse myself in all things Batman. Toys! Coloring books! More toys! Although I had already read (or had read to me) some Superman comic books, the Batman TV show was the true Ground Zero for my lifelong fascination with superheroes.

In retrospect, given the January ’66 debut of Batman, it seems odd I didn’t get to comic books faster. Did I really wait until summer to start amassing these twelve-cent wonders? That simply can’t be true, but I have no memory of reading a Batman comic book prior to Batman # 184 in Missouri, months later. Damn the Swiss cheese of my memories from when I was…all right, only six years old. I guess I can take a mulligan there. Regardless of whether the Signet Batman book was my very first or merely one of my first exposures to Batman in comics form, its significance in my burgeoning hero worship is beyond question. This book mattered to me. A lot.

I’m trying to remember where I got the book, beyond the obvious answer that my parents bought it for me. I have a vague recollection (real or imagined) of plucking it from a spinner rack, and I want to say it was at either J.M. Fields (a department store chain that had its own dedicated Batman merchandise section at the time) or at Switz’s variety store. Neither of those retail outlets carried comic books, damn them. But one of them peddled this, the gateway drug to my lifetime addiction to comics.

The first story in the book has been called the most-reprinted two-page sequence in the history of comic books: “The Legend Of The Batman–Who He Is And How He Came To Be!” It was my first glimpse of Batman’s back story, of how the young Bruce Wayne witnesses his parents’ murder, and the grief-stricken boy’s solemn vow: “I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.” After years of training his mind and body, the now-adult Bruce prepares to begin his war on crime, brooding and telling himself, “Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible….”

And the appearance of a bat flying in Bruce’s window provides his inspiration. “A bat! That’s it! It’s an omen…I shall become a BAT!”

It was a far cry from the BIFF! and BAM! of the TV show. On the tube, actor Adam West‘s lines as Bruce Wayne made occasional reference to the murder of his parents; the comics page brought that horror to life, vividly, perhaps even more starkly in this paperback’s black-and-white reproduction.

(The Signet book reprinted Batman’s origin in its most familiar form, as seen in Batman # 1 from Spring 1940, albeit edited into a six-page sequence to adjust for the different page size of a paperback. This two-page origin was first seen, with a different splash image, as the introduction to “The Batman Wars Against The Dirigible Of Doom” in Detective Comics # 33 [November 1939]. Although “The Dirigible Of Doom” was written by Gardner Fox, comics historians believe the origin sequence was written by Batman’s then-uncredited co-creator Bill Finger. The art was by Bob Kane, the guy who took the byline and sole credit for Batman’s creation, ensuring that history would come to regard Kane as a schmuck.)

The rest of the book’s reprints were from the early ’50s, and if they sacrificed some of the pulp noir feel of Batman’s origin, they made up for that loss with sheer zest and commitment. “The Web Of Doom!” (from Batman # 90, March 1955, credits believed to be Finger with artists Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris) doesn’t even skimp on the pulp tension, with its riveting tale of amnesia, danger, and time running out. “Fan-Mail Of Danger!” (Batman # 92, May-June 1955, same presumed credits) mixes humor with suspense to winning effect, presaging our current cult of pop idolatry and obsession. 

“The Crazy Crime Clown!” (Batman # 74, December 1952) is next. Written by Alvin Schwartz, penciled by Dick Sprang with Charles Paris inks, this tour-de-force of Batman and Robin versus The Joker offers the book’s only use of any of Batman’s most famous foes, and it’s fantastic. The art’s phenomenal, of course–I regard Sprang as one of the definitive Batman artists, perhaps even more so than later masters like Neal Adams and Marshall Rogers–and the images jump off the page, even in a black-and-white pocket book. And the story remains one of my top Joker appearances, its natural sense of humor balanced with adventure and intrigue. Reading it when I was six, there were times I laughed out loud, while still being thrilled by the storyline. (I do recall being confused by an image of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson standing in a foggy night scene; rather than fog, it appeared to my young eyes as if our intrepid heroes had burrowed their way up from the depths of the Batcave–like Quisp‘s subterranean rival Quake would have done in commercials for Quisp and Quake cereals–and were surrounded by displaced dirt, not fog. Man, I was an odd kid.)

“The Crime Predictor!” (Batman # 77, May-June 1953), “The Man Who Could Change Fingerprints!” (Batman # 82, March 1954), and “The Testing Of Batman!” (Batman # 83, April 1954) completed the paperback’s  collection of Bat-treasures. I loved each and every one of them, then and now. Having already been introduced to Batman and Robin via the TV series, I found the Signet paperback to be my best possible introduction to my hero’s comic book adventures.

This was the first of three Batman comics collections published by Signet in 1966, though I didn’t get (nor even see) copies of Batman Vs. The Joker or Batman Vs. The Penguin until many years later. I also didn’t see either of Signet’s two Batman novels, Batman Vs. Three Villains Of Doom and Batman Vs. The Fearsome Foursome(the latter a novelization of the 1966 Batman feature film) until well, well after the fact. I have them all now, secured in varying condition from dealers in the ’70s and ’80s. My copy of Batman Vs. The Fearsome Foursome was autographed by Adam West at a car show in Buffalo in 1987.

And I still have that original, worn, tattered, dog-eared, loved-to-death copy of a paperback collection called Batman, plucked from a spinner rack when I was six years old. It’s falling apart, and its inside front cover was customized in ’66 by that very same six-year-old, a kid who would (sort of) grow up wishing to create fictional adventures of his own. 

Hadda start somewhere. Before trading my twelve cents for a copy of Batman # 184 in Missouri, before Detective Comics or The Brave And The Bold or Justice League Of America or World’s Finest Comics, before Denny O’Neil or Steve EnglehartIrv Novick or Jim Aparo, or any other stellar iteration of The Batman in comic form–before any of that–I started here.