I was a Batman fan before I could read. Growing up in the early 70s, my exposure to Batman was courtesy of the famous Batman television show. Sock! Pow! Bam! “Holy Campy TV Show, Batman!” I was under the age of ten, I wasn’t reading yet, and my early experience with comics was learning to read (“so the fluffy clouds mean they’re thinking… and the plain round balloons mean they’re talking!”) via Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes. Pretty harmless stuff.
Then something happened.
It happened around 1977. I was ten years old and I saw something that made me stop in my tracks. It was the oversized collection of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ Ra’s Al Ghul stories. Originally published in 1971, the series completely redefined a Batman who was suffering from camp and overexposure, returning him to his “Dark Knight” roots and electrifying the comics industry with a combination of O’Neil’s dark, compelling stories and Adams’ dynamic, almost hyper-realism. All this had occurred about six years earlier, but it was all new to me. I was about six years or so behind that curve, but my childhood love of comics was started by the very same series of events. Up to that point, I thought Batman was funny. He fought silly villains named, “The Mad Hatter”, “Egghead”, “King Tut” and “The Riddler”. He had a hyperactive sidekick who only seemed capable of annoying you to death with his endless stream of “Holy Catchphrases”. He certainly wasn’t someone to take seriously… like Superman… or Flash.
But here he was, on the cover of that book looking like he could easily kick the ass of every character in the DC Universe, and he was suffering… and waitaminute… is that Robin? Dead? And who’s that evil sonofabitch behind him with the claws, looking like he’s actually happy that Robin’s dead? Now, I’m only ten years old, but I couldn’t help but notice there’s a very exotic woman there looking pretty damn sexy off to the side. What’s she got to do with all this? It’s a dollar, it’s a giant comic book. Well, I just HAVE to have this.
So I got my hands on it and sat down and proceeded to learn about Talia, Ra’s, the Lazarus Pit. I was mesmerized. This wasn’t the Batman I knew. This was… I dunno, a real Batman. This wasn’t a guy with impossible powers travelling at Super Speed, or an alien from Krypton. This was the world’s greatest detective, and he was detecting. He knew martial arts and was a master of disguise. He was a scientist and an escape artist, and he was armed with the most awesome set of gadgets money could buy.
Once this switch was turned on, it would never again be turned off, and I would never again look at “comics” or “superheroes” the same way again. This was the bar. Neal and Denny had raised it to precisely this point.
It also exposed me to “creators” for the first time ever. I mean, I had to learn, “who were these guys?” and “Why was this comic so radically different from everything else I had read before?” and the answer of course was storytelling and art. So naturally, I had to find out, “who wrote this?” and “who drew those amazing images of Batman and Robin?” I began looking for more of Neal Adams’ work, and more stories written by Denny O’Neil. The next, most obvious discovery was the work the pair did outside of “The Demon” series of stories involving Ra’s. The work on Batman and Detective with Two-Face, the Joker, and the reinvention of the gothic Dark Knight Detective. That led to his work on Brave and Bold, and eventually I came across the ground-breaking work the two did on Green Lantern/Green Arrow. Admittedly, those books were a little too advanced for a ten year old, but I still “got it”. These weren’t your typical superhero books. This wasn’t Spider-Man cracking jokes and shooting webs at a Lizard Man, or a guy who could stretch his arms around Dr. Doom. This was… well… “real”.
So that’s really it in a somewhat long-winded nutshell. I love superheroes, I love Batman, and I’ll never forget the first time I realized that Batman was real.