Given how entrenched Batman is in our pop culture as the grim, gritty Dark Knight, many probably don’t know he started off as a light, cheery hero for the ‘40s. Sure, he fought criminals and investigated crimes, but there was way less rape and outright murder. Still a bit, though.
If you haven’t read old Batman comics, do yourself a favor, DC has several collections out there. But why shell out the bucks when you can get enjoyment out of these amazing covers alone? Here are ten of the most amazing covers of the 1940s (and one from 1950):
Why It’s Amazing: For one second, I want you to think about how bright how powerful, and how directed that Bat Signal would need to be to project clearly on the surface of the Moon (which looks to be about as big as the Bat-Spaceship). Now think about Commissioner Gordon sadly creeping up to the Gotham Police’s roof to turn on the ginormous machinery, knowing he’s going to blow out the eyesight of every resident in Gotham – again.
What We Think The Issue Is About: Batman and Robin are patrolling space, not finding any criminals, because there are no people in space – when they see the Bat-Signal! So it’s back to Earth, where they learn while they were gone in space, criminals took over everything, and they’re not needed anymore. Then they die.
Why It’s Amazing: What a dick warning, Batman. That’s like alerting someone to the fact that they may catch on fire when they’re already on fire.
What We Think The Issue Is About: Batman decides to lighten up and make his arrests a little more fun. So he starts mailing bats to his targets, along with times to open the boxes. The times correspond to when he’ll be beating the living heck out of them. See? Much lighter.
Why It’s Amazing: “Meet that Super-Duper Hero… The Wonderful Mr. Wimble!” Someone, quick, go tell Grant Morrison he has another obscure Batman reference he can spin out into the next thirty issues or so.
What We Think The Issue Is About: The janitor at Cowboy Shooting Range Emporium sees that Batman and Robin are about to be killed by an evil, smoking cowboy. So he dons a cape and mask, and becomes The Wonderful Mr. Wimble! Not only does he have a lot of keys, he also the power to grant courage, like The Wizard of Oz himself!
Why It’s Amazing: This is actually just a really cool cover, honestly. Why wouldn’t you want to read an issue where the Joker is a genie, telling 1001 tales to Batman?
What We Think The Issue Is About: The Joker finds a genie, and ends up wishing to become a genie himself. He then tricks Batman and Robin into releasing him from his lamp, and makes them reenact the entirety of Disney’s Aladdin with Robin playing Apu, and Batman as the Street Rat himself. They end up beating the Joker when he can only remember, like, 75% of the words to “Friend Like Me.”
Why It’s Amazing: The most interesting thing about this cover, beyond how Robin made a perfect bat insignia in the ice without ever making any other marks is that at this point, the covers were actually reflecting the stories inside. This says its about Catwoman vs. Batman, but I don’t see one of those characters – do you?
What We Think The Issue Is About: It wasn’t actually Robin who sliced the ice, it was Catwoman – getting over her natural fear of water – who cut it from below. They all get frostbite and die, especially Robin, who should really be wearing pants on a frozen lake.
Why It’s Amazing: Last Charlie Sheen joke ever, I swear, but notice how Batman and Robin invented “Winning” over seventy years ago? Also, those are some giant unicycles, you guys.
What We Think The Issue Is About: Batman and Robin decide to take a day off in the park, and rent unicycles. Robin shows off how he can ride with no hands, but before Batman can warn him, he falls off of the unicycle and dies. The lesson? Don’t rent unicycles.
Why It’s Amazing: It’s a tie between Alfred’s pose, and Robin’s pose. Batman is kind of just along for the ride.
What We Think The Issue Is About: In modern continuity, we know Alfred was a freedom fighter and spy in World War II, so I’m guessing here we find out he was also known as, “The Dancin’ Sherlock,” because he would lightly tap dance through a crime scene picking up clues. Robin, upon hearing this, decides to take their act on the road, but eventually, they have a falling out because he’s not a very good producer.
Why It’s Amazing: Again it’s the fun factor. I mean, in general, we don’t see Batman and Robin on bucking horses, but what a good time they’re having!
What We Think The Issue Is About: Bruce Wayne is invited to officiate at a rodeo, but it turns out the owner is using War Bonds to place bets. It’s Batman and Robin to the rescue, on horseback!
Why It’s Amazing: Next time someone says, “Batman would never use guns!” show them this cover of him happily using a giant mini-gun, with Robin cheerfully helping.
What We Think The Issue Is About: Finding an old min-gun lying about, Batman decides to get rid of his no guns rule “just this once,” and blasts the crap out of the criminal underworld.
Why It’s Amazing: There’s the reflexive nature of the cover – the non-artist in me always wonders whether they drew the smallest cover first, and worked up from there. But when’s the last time you saw anyone smiling and laughing while reading a Batman comic, let alone Batman and Robin themselves.
What We Think The Issue Is About: Batman is bored, so Robin introduces him to comic books. Bats deduces a hidden clue in the books, that the artist has been kidnapped by the publisher and forced to work on comics for free. Batman rescues him from the evil publisher, but no one picks up on the allegory in real life.