Thursday, July 14, 2011

That's the Wonder of Woolworth's

A little bit of a trip down memory lane today with this photo of my earliest Batman and Robin collectibles, and which pre-date my earliest Batman comic acquisition (#186 - Cover Date Nov 1966 - "The Joker's Original Robberies").

The figures in the photo are 4” high plastic figures produced by toy soldier makers Charbens or Cherilea in the UK in the late Summer of 1966. Although the Batman TV series (the catalyst for my comics interest) premiered in the US in January 1966, it was not until July 4th that it premiered on ITV in the UK). 

The two figures you see were purchased by my mother in Woolworths in Palmerston Road, Southsea in September 1966, and given to me after school one day while we waited in Pembroke Road, Old Portsmouth for my father to collect us on his way home from work.

When my father arrived, he also produced a figure of Batman that he had purchased himself from Woolworths in Commercial Rd, during his lunch hour! So I ended up with two Batmen and one Robin!

These figures are incredibly rare, in any condition, virtually unknown outside of the UK. A quick “google” has shown that a pair of these figures is up for sale at $454, and a shabby Batman on its own for $125, with no base. I see that a firm has acquired the moulds, and it is now possible to purchase unpainted versions of the Batman figure for a modest price.

Woolworths played a major role in selling Batman-related merchandise in the 1960s, and we’ll take a look at some of the other items in later blogs. As far as I know, Woolworths never sold American comics in the UK, but they were a major influence on promoting awareness of the superhero genre in a drab Britain.

(Note : the pictures of Woolworths in Portsmouth from 1966 shown here were swiped from Flickr, taken by a chap called Richard Baker. His photos capture a Britain transitioning from austerity to the "Swinging Sixties", a world away from the imagined colour and excitment of America, as seen through the lens of the Batman TV series).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Word to the Wise

with Nigel Brown

Bronze Age Comics – an objective review of their past, present and future

I believe it was David Hartwell who said that the ‘Golden Age of Science Fiction’ was whenever the individual concerned was 12 years old. This probably applies to comics, too, which is why the so-called ‘Bronze Age’ of comics is my personal Golden Age. I was 12 years old in 1971.

But, nostalgia aside, am I right to laud the Bronze Age over other eras in the panological timescape?

The next time you buy a comic, take a look at what you’re really getting. I bet you see it as issue ‘whatever’, of ‘whatever’ comic – you’re pleased to have it: it helps fill a gap in a run, or it’s a nice example of a particular comic… you may even be looking forward to reading it, assuming it’s not imprisoned in sealed plastic... and when you do, you read the story, the letter column (maybe) and you glance at the adverts. Then you secure it away in a mylite sleeve, supported by an acid-free card, finally wrapped in a mylar outer sleeve in your humidity-controlled air-conditioned vault.

But what if you look at it through different eyes? What if you take an objective view, let the scales of nostalgia fall from your eyelids?

I felt it would be interesting to disregard completely the content of the comic strips themselves, ignoring all artistic considerations in an attempt to be as objective as possible.

That’s what this investigation is all about, and the results tell a story as fascinating as the art and stories of the comics themselves.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Mad DC Comic Hunt (or Tales of the Fabulous Bronze Age)

by Nigel Brown

This is an unashamed account of a time long gone, thirty-nine years ago by the calendar. Let me start at the beginning…


Like most people I was brought up on Dandys, Beanos, Toppers etc. but one day, when I was about seven, I wanted something different. I was getting tired of the wholesome adventures of Desperate Dan and the rest of the gang. My eyes lightened upon a rack of glossy looking comics and I soon purchased my first American comic, Superman No. 190.

There’s no need to tell you how much more exciting those DCs were, and I soon began to collect them at a rate of about one a week. Then I discovered that other shops that sold DCs and it wasn’t long before I had a collection of about sixty comics… collected so that I could read them again whenever I wished.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Moral Parker

Detective #426 Aug 72, on sale June 29 1972
The penultimate Frank Robbins-drawn Batman story, close to the end of an arc he started in Detective #416 with "Man-Bat Madness".

Fan reaction to his artwork had been varied to say the least. For those fans who had come to know and love the realistic, athletic Neal Adams Batman, the artwork of Frank Robbins was a smack in the kisser, an unsettling throwback to the 1940s and a style of art pioneered by Milton Caniff. I was one of those fans in the summer of 1972, knocked off-kilter by the abupt change in style, by the cartoonish and unrealistic physiques. Yet, like so many of the early detractors, I became a huge fan. Darwyn Cooke is probably the closest we have today who epitomises the same use of a cartoonish style to bring energy and verve and excitement and a sense of place and time in equal measure.

Robbins only drew five Batman stories between 1971-1972, each one a classic of genre storytelling - the Gothic Horror, the Locked-Room mystery, the Prison Break, the impassive Hunter, and the Modern Horror - the stories bookended by Man-Bat's closure.

Most of Robbins' Batman work was as a writer, but the stories he also drew have a power and pacing that the solely written efforts do not evince. Like his previous solo effort - "Blind Justice, Blind Fear" (Detective #421) - a melodramatic ode to the prison break dramas of the thirties, this story is classic Frank Robbins; a pared-down story - tight plotting - spare artwork - fifteen pages of taut tale framed in a classic three-act story arc. Robbins' Batman is a private detective working pro-bono. The Bat-costume is his work clothes, his trench-coat. He's first and foremost a shamus - a colder Philip Marlowe, roaming the mean streets, the deserted wharves, mixing with the big money, hiding in the neon shadows, going where the police cannot go.