Where Legends Live

When I heard that Dick Giordano died the other day, my first reaction was, “Oh, that’s sad,” which is I guess what you’d say when anyone dies.  But then I got to thinking about who he was and the impact he had on my life as a reader of comics.

For those who don’t have more than a passing knowledge of comic books, Dick Giordano was an artist and editor at DC Comics  in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.  His most important role during that time was as DC’s executive editor/editor-in-chief, which means that he was the second-in-command at the company, working just below its publisher, Jeanette, Khan.  So, he more or less shaped DC for the better part of two or three decades.  He was, in a way, DC’s Stan Lee, as just like Stan wrote a column in the “Bullpen Bulletins” that were found in each Marvel comic, Dick wrote “Meanwhile …” a regular feature in those of Marvel’s “Distinguished Competition.”

When he was writing “Meanwhile …”, mostly during the 1980s, I wasn’t really collecting DC Comics.  I had a few Superman issues and a random Brave and the Bold issue, but most of my comics collecting at that time took place in 1987 and was focused on G.I. Joe and The Transformers.  I wouldn’t make it past the summer of 1987 anyway–baseball cards were my passion when I was 10–but I would make the occasional trip to Amazing Comics and in 1989, I did go and see Tim Burton’s Batman film.

I thought Batman was a pretty cool movie and was psyched to see that the old Adam West series was back on television, and during the height of Bat-mania, I received a copy of The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, a trade paperback that collects nearly 50 years’ worth of the “best” of Batman (with only one Joker story because there was a companion book, The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told, which I bought a few years later). 

A lot of the book is 1930s-1950s stuff, the light-hearted stuff that made you wonder how Batman was still published because he was just so … dumb.  My favorite part was the stuff from the 1970s, however.  That’s partially because it depicted the Batman I remember from Scooby-Doo and The Super Friends, and partially because it showed a slightly darker, edgier Batman who was more of a detective and less of a super-hero.  And it was here where I learned what “my Batman” looked like. 

My Batman had a blue cape, boots, and cowl; gray tights; and a black bat in a yellow oval.  He was Bruce Wayne by day, had a friendly relationship with Commissioner Gordon, and Robin was his sidekick, even if he wasn’t always in the book (I wasn’t aware of the Teen Titans at the time–this would change).  And he was drawn by artists like Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, Marshall Rogers, and Dick Giordano.

One of the stories that I read over and over in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told was “To Kill a Legend,” a story from Detective Comics #500 where Batman and Robin are sent to a parallel earth so that Batman could stop the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne.  When they arrive, they’re surprised by a couple of things about the world:  there don’t seem to be any super-heroes at all, and Bruce Wayne is a spoiled brat. 

Robin plays the skeptic during their adventure in the other world.  When researching what life is like on this earth, he discovers that the star that Krypton orbited in the Earth-1 universe (I’m not going to get into the Crisis of all of this, just go with it) doesn’t exist in this universe, and not only that, there don’t seem to be any legends like Robin Hood to inspire anyone to be a hero.  Later, they spy on Bruce throwing a fit when his mother gives him a train he doesn’t want.  Thomas threatens to hit him but spares the rod and Robin starts to wonder if Batman doesn’t see this because he’s so happy to see his parents again, even if it’s not exactly them.

Nevertheless, the dynamic duo track down the men responsible for killing Batman’s parents on Earth-1–Lew Moxon, who had a grudge against Thomas Wayne, and Joe Chill, the hired thug who actually committed the crime.  Chill winds up dead before he can be hired for the job and Moxon “ups the timetable,” hiring someone else to commit the murder. 

But Batman still saves the day, and in the end we get a changed young man in Bruce Wayne, who will probably be inspired by the weird guy dressed as a bat who saved his life one night.

It is a story that I guess is kind of corny by some of today’s comic book standards; after all, nobody actually ends up dead or raped in the JLA Satellite.  But what Giordano does with Batman in the artwork, is make him seem like a real person.  He was good at creating a “street-level” Batman that dealt with thugs and not just villains; moreover, he was also excellent at depicting Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson in their own lives.  That’s the main reason I stopped reading Batman a few years ago–I was getting sick of everything being just about Batman and not about Bruce Wayne. 

Giordano was not one of those marquee artists whose work would get made into posters and variant covers that would fetch $20 the day they were released; however, he helped shape an iconic character in a way that unless you look hard enough, you don’t really know.  For instance, the shirt I’m wearing right now is a great Justice League shirt that my wife bought for me from Target.  It’s a depiction of the classic JLA lineup that was in the comics around the time that Super-Friends was on TV, and while I don’t think it’s Giordano’s art (it’s more than likely that of Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, who did a lot of the merchandising artwork back in the 1980s), I can’t help but think that the Batman–my Batman–on that T-shirt looks like he does because of his artistic and editorial influence.

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