As the comic book industry entered into the ’70s, a realization was made…readers were maturing. No longer impressed by the overcooked nature of the ’50s and ’60s, they sought characters and stories with tangible drama…emotional depth…and an intelligence in storytelling that wouldn’t take them for granted.
In several ways, this is how Marvel Comics began to take the lead over DC. While characters like Batman and Superman took on more authoritative and traditionally conservative persona (to appease the Comics Code I imagine), readers were finding what they craved in the many creations of Marvel figurehead Stan Lee…such as the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Hulk and Spider-Man.
After all, why read about heroes who acted like your parents when you could relate directly to Marvel characters?
But something was brewing within Batman’s creative team.
Inspired by the likes of Malcolm X and Che Guevara, comics at large began to realize that the social standards of the country…the world…had altered. That the paradigm had shifted. Violence and evil weren’t things to shy away from…for they were just as true to life as anything. More and more, comics began to take risks that led to abdicating from the CCA on several occasions.
Batman’s creative personnel knew exactly what readers and fans were now expecting. Turning once again to Julius Schwartz for the solution to their dilemma, Schwartz managed…with risk, luck and good timing…to deliver the answer.
The editor, famous for the revitalizations of the Flash and Green Lantern…as well as the creation of the Justice League…turned to then-unknown writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams to put their creative spins on Batman.
The move proved legendary.
With their first issue, “Detective Comics” #395 in January 1970, O’Neil and Adams abolished the camp.
Bat-Mite, Ace the Bathound, the Bat-Rocket and more were abandoned indefinitely and the caped crusader turned in his platinum badge.
The murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne once again became the vengeful fuel that drove Batman’s crusade…a crusade that, despite the involvement of Robin and Batgirl from time to time, truly became a “one-man” endeavor again.
In every way possible, O’Neil and Adams set the tone and atmosphere of Batman and his adventures as they exist today.
They wanted to return to the reality-based, noir roots of the character.
As a lone vigilante combating street thugs and psychotic foes in 1939, Batman had been regarded as a dark knight…and for the first time in 30 years, the character’s original inception was back in a very big way.
While O’Neil and Adams felt it necessary to ground Batman in reality, they understood that elements of fantasy played into the stylized melodrama they were documenting. Even so, they pioneered the task of enriching Batman’s universe with a steady undercurrent of physical, psychological and emotional accuracy…accuracy that readers could both appreciate and relate to on some level of believability.
Things got off to a quick start as O’Neil introduced new adversaries to challenge his dark knight detective…starting with “Detective Comics” #400, which brought Batman face to face with tragic zoologist Dr. Kirk Langstrom and his horrific chemically mutated self…the Man-Bat.
But O’Neil felt the time was right to create not just a new foe…but a major one. A villain so commanding, so formidable he could even rival the Joker for the title of Batman’s arch-nemesis.
With the task at hand, Dennis collaborated with Adams and Schwartz…and struck gold with “Batman” #232; the issue that introduced the Demon’s Head himself…
Ra’s Al Ghul.
This wasn’t some kooky criminal with a gimmick or a crime boss out to make a name for himself.
Inspired by the hot-button issue of ecological conservation, Ra’s Al Ghul was a mythic and psychotic eco-terrorist…kept alive for over 600 years thanks to the Lazarus Pits; vast chemical stews dotted around the globe that have properties of rejuvenation.
Wishing to return Earth to the state of utopia it once enjoyed before the plagues of humanity and industrialization, Ra’s’ first appearance had Batman racing to stop him from enacting a plan that would kill off 90% of the planet’s human population in mass genocide!
And yet, Batman…Bruce Wayne…is the one man Ra’s considers worthy of taking both his place as inheritor of paradise and his beautiful daughter Talia’s hand in marriage.
With their twisted father/son dynamic and what was at stake, it’s a wonderfully tragic story that made readers realize for the first definitive time that there truly was a vast world for Batman to fight crime in outside the Gotham City limits.
As O’Neil and Adams laid down an extensive foundation, other creative individuals followed their example when working on Batman.
Artists such as Marshall Rogers and Steve Englehart brought an exponentially darker shade to Batman’s world.
And that world continued to flourish as elements of Batman’s present, future…and past…were introduced.
March 1976 saw the release of the story “There is no hope in Crime Alley” in “Detective Comics” issue #457.
In the book, Crime Alley is revealed as the name of the crime-infested neighborhood in which Bruce’s parents were gunned down. The story also introduced fans to social worker and clinical physician Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who befriended young Bruce on the eve of the tragedy and continued to be a confidant to both him and his masked alter ego.
1979 debuted another of Wayne’s allies with “Batman” #307’s first appearance of Lucius Fox, a financial guru who oversees the day to day operations of Wayne Enterprises…allowing Bruce to focus more on crime-fighting.
Batman would need all the additional support he could find as more rogues manifested.
After a 17-year hiatus, Two-Face made his return in 1971’s “Batman” #234.
The Bat-Family also began to cross paths with martial artist Richard Dragon beginning with the 1975 book “Richard Dragon: Kung Fu Fighter.”
The fifth issue of that series introduced readers to frequent opponent (and, on rare occasions, ally) of Batman…Sandra Woosan…also known as Lady Shiva, one of the world’s deadliest martial artists.
There was also the Spook in 1973, Bronze Tiger in 1975, Black Spider in 1976 and mob tycoon Maxie Zeus; a man possessed with the crazed notion that he is the reincarnation of the ancient Olympian God…who faced the caped crusader for Batman’s 40th anniversary issue of “Detective Comics” in the Spring of 1979.
With the end of the 1970s, the Batman had been successfully re-established as a dark and driven loner…an avenger battling crime and injustice as he had once been.
For fans who were once starved, there was now a new-found abundance of potential.
But Batman’s genesis and descent into darkness was just beginning.
And as one of the scariest and most controversial decades in history dawned…the Batman was about to take his darkest turn yet.
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