This week we are going to break down what we believe to be the best Batman covers from each era of comic book history – so expect this to be broken into four different parts encompassing:
Golden Age (c.1938 – c.1950)
Today however, we shall begin with
THE TOP TEN GOLDEN AGE BATMAN COVERS:
10. Batman #104
For a Golden Age cover this is pretty detailed and shows a great sense of scale and bombast, I know I would have flipped my shit if I had seen this sitting on a counter when I was 6… and it was 1956. Batman looks to be fighting the Babonga (the giant fucking sea monster) – but in the story he is actually trying to save it.
A group of bored, wealthy hunters pooled their money to capture and ship the monster back to them for fun – but as it turns out it was all an elaborate plan for one of the hunters to actually kill it. Batman stops the plot, and drives the beast back to safety. In the end, Batman keeps an egg that the beast laid, securing it in his Batcave and revealing that it will hatch in a century. Please, someone, on Batman’s one hundredth anniversary, bring baby Babonga back!
9. Detective Comics #163
I love this cover just for how forlorn Batman looks, walking around with a bomb collar on while all the Gotham citizens scream in horror and flee from him. Batman is just languidly moping down the street and yet for some reason it makes me giggle. I honestly do like this cover though; the colors pop and the deco-inspired sharp, distinct line design makes it really visually engaging.
In the story a crazy thug outfitted Batman with the collar and informed him that if he got too near “metal” it would explode, this was supposed to echo a similar malady said thug was suffering from. In any event, the whole thing ends with Batman having to hunt down Robin, who resides in a cage made out of, what else, Metal! In order to save him, Batman must go near the cage and thus, his neck-bomb would explode! Thankfully, Batman had taken some time out in the Batcave (no metal there!) to stuff waxed paper between the bomb and his neck and then melt the thing off with acid. Yeah… golden age story lines!
8. Batman #8
I mean, sure, Robin looks as if he’s had some serious work done on his jowls since the early days, but I really like the visual loop Robinson goes for here, something completely unrelated to the story; just Batman and Robin reading Batman and Robin for eternity, happy as pigs in shit. It’s a very meta concept, and a rather unique move for a cover, especially from the Golden Age; I mean, they’re reading the issue they’re holding in their hands whose cover is an image of the actual issue we’re reading which they are read-AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.
7. Detective Comics #143
Come on, this dude is literally about to smoke Batman and Robin. By this time in the Detective Comics series we’ve begun to see some of the totally ridiculous Golden Age covers that people relentlessly mock and (justifiably) find ridiculous today. For some reason though, this is one of those covers that, at least for me, managed to be ridiculous while still remaining interesting and well-conceived. Of course this image never actually appears in the story anywhere, but I must admit that I like the idea of taking an element of the story and twisting into a single, larger than life, fever-dream image to represent the whole story. Success.
6. Detective Comics #114
Here it is, the first Joker cover on the list. The cover art to Detective Comics started to deviate from the noir-ish realism it had so effectively used during its auspicious beginnings around issue #70 or so, and things started getting abstract really quickly. Here we have a cover, coming much later, that straddles that line pretty effectively.
It seems abstract because of the black, blank-slate background and floating letters, but it’s actually a visual cue for part of the story, so conceptually speaking this cover makes sense. “The Acrostic of Crime” of the title refers to a type of word puzzle (an acrostic, of course) that was very popular at the time. So even though this cover lacks the straight realism of the early issues I don’t think it delves entirely into the ridiculous camp absurdity of most the other issues being produced around this time.
5. Batman #73
Now here is some high-camp absurdity. This is also the first cover on our list which is drawn by the legendary (and legendarily named) Dick Sprang. Mr. Sprang had a brilliant career drawing Batman and I think this cover is one of his best early works. The concept of Joker creating a twisted version of Batman’s utility belt is a great idea for a Golden Age story on its own, however there isn’t a huge utility belt like the one on the cover in the actual story. This is once again the concept of the artist taking one element and making it larger than life and surrealistic in order to grab the attention of the prospective reader. This is something that should be making a come back in a big way if you ask me.
4. Detective Comics #105
Yes, Batman goes broke. Many people have (erroneously) made the claim that Batman’s real superpower is his money, so then the idea of stripping that away is essentially the same concept as weakening Superman by disallowing him the energy he receives from our yellow sun. However, this concept has never really worked because, of course, Batman’s “superpower” is not his wealth – it is the sheer willpower with which he keeps his mind and his body in peak shape.
Either way, I love the image and I love the idea behind it. I also love the “hobo backpacks” and the two assholes in the foreground laughing at the destitute Batman and Robin.
3. Detective Comics #168
Here is the first appearance of the Red Hood and the accompanying Joker origin that gained huge popularity many years later in The Killing Joke. The Red Hood image has become so ingrained in the Batman mythos that it’s just inspiring to see the original creation, which still holds up remarkably well today. It’s big, colorful, grabs you and like all good detective comics should, it presents you with, and challenges you to solve, a mystery. Also, how about the big homage done for Batman #700 to express how well this holds up?
2. Detective Comics #27
This is quite simply one of the most recognizable and enduring images in the history of comic book cover art. The cover that everyone knows and was so popular and mysteriously intriguing that over twenty years later Marvel comics aped it to introduce their flagship character to the world.
There isn’t much that can be said about this cover that hasn’t been, well, covered thousands of times by now, but I can definitely say that if I were a child in 1939 I’d have bought this comic on the spot.
1. Detective Comics #31
This cover right here.
This is my holy grail of comic collecting. One day I will own a copy of this book. Until then I’ll just continue to gush over its creepy, gothic majesty. The demoniac image of the Batman, looming larger than life in the foggy sky, presiding like a nightmare apparition over a giant and ancient castle while in the foreground a red-robed and hooded, cultish figure carries a beautiful woman away for what are assuredly nefarious, satanic purposes just gets me every time. This is a truly iconic cover image and one that is so good it has been repeated more than once…
For now though, this is what I consider to be the best Golden Age Batman cover. This was only the fifth appearance of the Batman and already he had become an icon that would strike such an arresting, memorable image that the culture would never allow him to slip out of their consciousness.
And as a bonus how about we real quickly discuss
FIVE OF THE MANY (MANY) RIDICULOUS GOLDEN AGE BATMAN COVERS
Why didn’t Batboy ever make a comeback? Because he was ridiculous and he sucked. “My Web-bat”? ffs…
I love the Saul Bass inspired design of the cover, certainly. I just cannot, cannot get over Robin taking down a thug by burying his face into his ass with a flying leap. It’s like he’s trying to dive in there, gross, Robin.. just gross. Instead of the “winning” team perhaps it should have been the “rimming” team.
Oh, Robin… I’m really starting to remember why some people just hate you and think you’re a worthless, bumbling fool of a sidekick. I mean, good god man, my wife can place a star on top of a X-mas tree and she isn’t a world-class acrobat who has also gone through years of extreme physical training conducted by The Batman. FAIL.
Detective Comics #198
Batman in a kilt. If he’s wearing it the proper way then he’s going commando under there… and he did just swing in over the heads of the crowd, even though there were about twenty different directions he could have swung in from… Sometimes I wonder about you, Bruce…
Coming up later in the week will be
So check back soon, same bat-channel, etc.