In the last 20 years, there has been a huge increase in the number of books reprinting Golden Age material. DC’s first concerted effort at reprinting classic Golden Age stories was their Superman Archives in 1989 followed quickly by their Batman Archives in 1990. Before that time, reprints of the Golden Age adventures of DC and Marvel superheroes had been mostly confined to comic books (i.e., Annuals, 80 Page Giants, Fantasy Masterpieces, etc.). Today, both Marvel and DC have published dozens of Golden Age reprint books in all manner of formats. From the more expensive hard back Archive and Masterworks series, to the cheaper trade paperback Chronicles, “best of” and “decades” collections, just about every early adventure of a mainstream DC or Marvel superhero has been reprinted.
Long before this proliferation of collected editions, one reprint book from the 1970’s was my favorite source of Golden Age material. This book, “Batman from the 30’s to the 70’s” remains my favorite reprint source of all time.
This big 388 pager was first published in 1971 by Crown Publishers, Inc. and saw several editions. It had a $12.95 cover price and was worth every penny. When I first got this book in the early 1970’s, I read it, re-read it and read it again. I simply loved the stories that I found; most of which I had never read before. There were many reasons I loved this book as an 11 year old comic book fan, but the biggest was that so many important moments in Batman’s life were reprinted in these pages. In addition to his first appearance from Detective Comics #27, I was able to read the first appearance of Robin (Detective Comics #38), the first appearance of Alfred (Batman #16 – why was he fat?), the first appearance of the Joker (Batman #1) and his origin (Detective Comics #168 – the famous “Red Hood” story), and many other defining moments in the life of my favorite hero. I can remember reading some of the early pre-Robin stories and thinking how strange it was to see this primitive grim and dark version of Batman. I also marveled at the different styles of the many artists who drew the first stories involving Two-Face, the Riddler and others (Jerry Robinson was my favorite then and remains my favorite today!) In the early 1970’s, this was simply a wonderful new way to read the adventures of Batman and Robin, that were very different from their then contemporary stories (which I also loved as rendered by Adams and others).
I can also remember seeing many of the vintage covers from Batman and Detective Comics for the first time in the cover galleries that preceded the stories (some in color, but most in black and white). I had never seen many of these covers before, and it was fun to sit and study them for the first time (there was no Gerber Photo Journal or Internet to use as resources at that time!).
Not only were the 30’s and 40’s stories great, but the 1950’s stories caught my eye. Here I read about the first appearance of a character called “Batwoman” who was not all too familiar, and some really wild and wacky sci-fi themed stories that were as alien to me as the characters encountered by Batman and Robin. What a strange time in the character’s history! The 1960’s and 1970’s were also there, but they were much more familiar to me, and I had read some of the stories before in the original comics.
Clearly, it was the Golden Age stories in this volume that piqued my interest and made me into the Golden Age fan that I am today. I can say with certainty that but for this collected edition of Batman and Robin stories, I would not have begun searching for more sources to read Batman’s earliest adventures.
As much as I enjoyed the stories, the Table of Contents let me down. Nowhere in this volume could I find a complete listing of the sources of the stories found in this book. To a newly minted Golden Age fan, this was frustrating to say the least, but I put on my detective hat and began tracking down this information. My frustration remained until several years later when I obtained my first copy of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide.
For the fans of this book, we are fortunate to now have a “revised table of contents” thanks to the work of Chris Marshall at the Collected Comics Library.
Carmine Infantino in his Dedication to the book wrote about how Batman’s first appearance changed his life. Unlike Infantino, this book did not propel me into a career in the comic book industry, but it did start me down the road as an avid fan and collector. I wonder what my life would be like today if I had not developed a fascination with the Golden Age of Comic Books!
By the way, DC also published two similar editions, “Superman from the 30’s to the 70’s” (and a reprinting that included the 80’s) and “Shazam from the 40’s to the 70’s”. Both of these books are similar in size and format. Complete table of contents to these collected editions can be found at the Collected Comics Library. There was also a similar but smaller and all in color “Wonder Woman” collected edition published in 1972 with an introduction by Gloria Steinem.