Batman is turning 80 on March 30, and it’s time we celebrate the man, the bat, the legend.

Welcome to day three of this series as we tackle Batman in the 1950s. We will break it down by comics, TV, films, and general culture. Because of the breadth of his impact on the world, there is no way we can hit every landmark moment, but we’re going to try our best to bring you an overall history of the infamous Batman.

Batman in the 1950s

Controversy

Everything was going great for Batman. He had made it through the rough times of World War II and he was finding a new tone of a more hopeful world. Things couldn’t have been better.

And then Dr. Fredric Wertham showed up.

As if he was the villain in a comic story, on April 19, 1954, Wertham published a book entitled Seduction of the Innocent. The book was a study of the impact of comic stories on children and how they could be a serious cause of juvenile delinquency. The book primarily covered crime and horror comics, and took a serious fight to comics publisher EC, but one lone chapter focused on superhero comics, and it caused damage in the industry for decades to follow.

Wertham took particular aim at DC over the characters of Wonder Woman and Batman. In the case of Wonder Woman, he felt that in his research she was tied up a disproportionate number of times and that the stories were thinly veiled stories of bondage.

In the case of Batman, Wertham posited the theory that Batman and Robin were actually living and promoting a homosexual lifestyle.

From Batman #84, June 1954 cover date, on newsstands in April

One of the most famous examples used to demonstrate the supposed promotion of homosexuality happened to be hitting newsstands right around the same time as Wertham’s book. In Batman #84 there is a scene of what appears to be Bruce and Dick sleeping in the same bed. Thanks to highly inaccurate printing procedures around this time, it’s difficult to tell, but there is actually a separation of headboards. It was intended to be shown that they were sleeping in separate beds, but in the same room.

While we look back at Wertham’s book with bemusement today, it had very real consequences at the time. After testifying before the U.S. Congress about the evils of comic books, publishers were called to testify as well. This eventually led to the industry establishing the self-regulating Comics Code Authority. You can check out the full 1954 version of the code online, but there were some very broad strokes painted. For decades the industry contended with trying to stay within the lines of the authority, and even tweaked some rules, but by the early 2000s the code was abandoned altogether.

Batman continues to this day, but it certainly seemed in question when you had Congress knocking on your door.

Comics

Detective Comics 267 - First Bat-Mite
Detective Comics 267 – First Bat-Mite

While dealing with the fallout from Dr. Wertham’s attacks, Batman chugged along. Things got a little crazier in the 50s for the Caped Crusader as sci-fi was all the rage at the Saturday matinees. But this was also a time of expansion for the overall Bat-Family. Throughout the decade we saw the introductions of the likes of Batwoman (Detective Comics #233), Ace the Bat-Hound (Batman #92), and even… Bat-Mite (Detective Comics #267).

What can we say? It was a crazy time in comics.

It was also during this time that Batman had his first encounters with traveling off-world, a hallmark of all heroes it seemed during this time. Batman would go on to encounter other beings such as the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. It was very much a time of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what would stick. Logic be damned.

Batman 113 - Batman of Zur-En-Arrh
Batman 113 – Batman of Zur-En-Arrh

Oh well, none of those 1950s crazy concepts would ever be revisited, I’m sure.

Batman - Batman of Zur-En-Arrh
Batman of Zur-En-Arrh during the Grant Morrison run

Okay, we were wrong.

During all this craziness, however, one of the most important moments in the history of the entire DC Universe took place. A story in Superman #76, “The Mightiest Team in the World,” saw the first time that Batman and Superman teamed up. It was also in this story that the two of them learned of each other’s secret identities.

Thanks to the success of this story, the World’s Finest Comics series was reworked and from there on out it featured a story of Superman and Batman working together. Prior to this, it had always featured them in their own stories, so it only made sense to make them get together on a regular basis. The revamp occurred in late 1952 and remained that way until its eventual cancelation in 1966.

While the 1940s gave us some of the biggest names in Batman’s Rogues Gallery, the 1950s wasn’t too shabby for some additions as well.

  • Deadshot – Batman #59 – 1950
  • Killer Moth – Batman #63 – 1951
  • Firefly I (Garfield Lynns) – Detective Comics #184 – 1952
  • Firefly II (Ted Carson) – Batman #126 – 1959
  • Mr. Zero (later Mr. Freeze) – Batman #121 – 1959

The 1950s were a rough and tumble time for Batman, but the 1960s are where things get really wild.

Jay Yaws contributed research to this post.

Check out the other installments in this series:

Be sure to enter our Batman 80th Anniversary giveaway!

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