If you’ve not seen Karen’s work before I urge you to take a look — you’ll be glad you did.
If you’ve not seen Karen’s work before I urge you to take a look — you’ll be glad you did.
Today we’re going to look at a comic that did for the women’s movement what Lois Lane #106 did for racial issues.
It’s 1968. The Batman TV show is still running. DC, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that the Batman comics should reflect the camp style of the TV show – definitely a case of the tail wagging the dog!
Anyway, Detective Comics #371…
Batgirl’s Costume Cut-ups begins when the Sports Spoilers Gang use their soccer skills to rob an armoured truck delivering cash to Gotham Bank. Yes folks: their soccer skills… Obviously fear that kids would be led into a life of crime was the reason soccer never caught on in the US! Witnessing this event, Batgirl springs into action successfully tackling a couple of the raiders. Unfortunately her mask is twisted and so she stops to put it right, thereby giving the Sports Spoilers a chance to get away.
Just then Batman and Robin show up to join the fray. “You may go for soccer,” shouts Batman leaping from the Batmobile, “But my speciality is sock-em!” What a wag that caped crusader is, eh? Doubtless stunned as much by Batman’s quip as by his punch, one of the gang is captured but the others flee. Batgirl is distraught: her feminine vanity in putting her mask straight allowed the gang to get away.
The next evening the Sports Spoilers attack a sawmill out near the Gotham River. When the Dynamic Duo show up the gang flee down the river on logs. Oh yes. However, Batman and Robin aren’t far behind. “They didn’t expect us to be expert log rollers too!” explains Batman. A fight ensues as, on the shore, Batgirl arrives. Trying to help from the riverbank she is splashed by some mud. She stops to wipe it off, but the momentary delay once again allows the Spoilers to make their getaway. The poor girl is inconsolable.
Later that week Batman and Robin – disguised as hippies, no less!!! – go to see an informant only to find him slumped over a card table. “Dick — in his hands!” shouts Batman. No folks, it’s ok, the poor man wasn’t shot whilst masturbating; Batman is merely pointing out to his young ward Dick Grayson (Robin) that the informant is holding two playing cards. The fact that the cards are a King and a Queen enables the keen Bat-brain to work out that the next robbery is going to take place at a ‘Royal Happening’ in Gotham City Park. Boy, he’s good…
At the park, the Sports Spoilers attack once again only to run into Batman and Robin. The duo embroil themselves in a rollicking good fight. Batgirl, who has been disguised as Queen Victoria (don’t ask…), goes to join in, but slides to a halt: “I have… a run in my tights!” she cries. As she bends to inspect the problem, the crooks are mesmerised by her shapely leg, “What a pair of gams!” coos one thug, admiringly. Batman and Robin are able to make short work of the love-struck gang. “Batgirl’s femininity gave us a break this time!” concludes Robin.
Later that evening as she takes to a bit of sewing, Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) ruminates on the events of the day and reveals that she deliberately tore her tights to give herself an excuse to show off her legs to distract the crooks. “I had to prove my femininity has its strong points,” she thinks. So that’s all right then.
Detective Comics #371, January 1968. Gardner Fox wrote it, the great Gil Kane drew it, and Sid Greene had a hand in the inks. The lovely cover is by the incomparible team of Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson.
Rumours that Germaine Greer read this just before writing The Female Eunuch have yet to be confirmed…
What we think of as the modern comic book first appeared in 1933. Since then comics history has been carved up into a sequence of different eras called “Ages”. Most comics historians have slightly different definitions of these Ages, but here are mine:
Golden Age (1938 – 1949)
While comics had been around for half a decade prior to the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics 1, any Golden Age has to start with the big blue boy scout. It ended with the fall of super-hero comics and the rise of horror, crime and romance titles.
Atomic Age (1950 – 1955)
Basically, the time when EC Comics were the best things being published. Comics copied the then-current penchant for sci-fi horror movies.
Silver Age (1956 – 1968)
Starts with the revival of the Flash in Showcase 4, engineered by Julie Schwartz. That ultimately led to the return of the super-hero as a viable comics genre, and gave a new lease of life to the company we now know as Marvel comics. I’d place the end of the Silver Age as being the publication of Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell), the last of the major Stan Lee co-creations of the 60s. Marvel entered self-parody with Not Brand Echh, and Carmine Infantino ascended to Editorial Director at DC. Both Marvel and DC were sold to large conglomerates.
Bronze Age (1970 – 1980-ish)
Jack Kirby left Marvel to create the Fourth World material for DC. Marvel started publishing Conan the Barbarian, ushering in a new kind of comic that proved very influential. Possibly the Age might end with Jack Kirby’s departure from comics in 1978. I don’t think of any 80s comics as being Bronze Age, though 1985′s Crisis on Infinite Earths was clearly the end of some kind of era.
Dark Age (1986 – 1991)
Following the mainstream success of Dark Knight and Watchmen, publishers suddenly decided that giving previously light-hearted characters a grim ‘n’ gritty makeover was a good idea.
Im Age (1992 – 1996)
A time when comics publishers were far more concerned with image over content. The artist became superstar and storytelling took a nosedive. Comics were released with multiple covers and ludicrous gimmicks such as glow-in-the-dark and die cut panels. The Age came crashing down when Marvel bought Heroes World and attempted to distribute its own comics resulting in failure, near-bankruptcy, and the collapse of the direct market.
Modern Age (1997 – )
Pretty much where we are now.
Brother Power, The Geek #1
A bunch of “flower children” are hanging out on a stoop. A couple are strumming guitars, some are lying on the pavement, all are contentedly staring at potted flowers. As you do. Suddenly, the tranquility of the scene is shattered as leather-clad bikers roar into view. They beat up the hippies, sending the peace signs scattering.
“The neighborhood isn’t safe any more, Brother Paul..,” says Brother Nick, and Brother Paul, holding his bruised nose, agrees.
At an abandoned tailor’s shop, three hippies rest up. Brother Paul rinses his bloodied clothes. Someone spots a fabric dummy hanging on a wall, and so Paul dresses the dummy in his clothes and props it against a radiator to dry. While doing so, he accidentally knocks over a can of oil.
The dummy is left there for months. One night, attracted by the old iron radiator, a bolt of lightning flies through the window and strikes the “oil soaked, blood stained rags”. As a result, the dummy springs to life. Awakened by the noise, the three hippies are startled at the sight of the perambulating dummy. They’re even more startled a second later by the bikers crashing through the shop window! The bikers kick, smash and stomp on the dummy, but it fights back and throws them out the window.
“Brother Paul, that’s power! Brother Power!” exclaims Brother Nick.
They watch the creature closely. “It’s for real, all right, but real what? It doesn’t talk… is it evil? Good? Or just a Geek!” They decide that, whatever it is, it’s been sent to protect them: “Like, who needs protection more?”
The “Brother Power” tag sticks and he becomes a familiar sight in the area, creating little curiosity. Hey, it was the 60′s!
Impressed by Brother Power’s amazing strength, the hippies feel duty-bound to educate him. They teach him to talk and strum a guitar: “Man, I tell it like it is now! The sound is groovey! It blows my mind!” says Power.
Having taught him all they can, the hippies send Brother Power to school. However, he doesn’t like having to sit with all the little first year kids and so drops out. Determined that he get a good education — obviously they’re concerned about his future career prospects! — the hippies fold Brother Power up and pop him in a school bag and take him to class!! He’s soon soaking up all there is to learn in the science lab.
One evening, a Psychedlic Circus comes to town and captures Brother Power. Nick and Paul race to gather their fellow hippies to help, but come up against some stiff opposition: “Sure, we feel for the freakout, but those mongrels are a bad scene!!”
Nick and Paul decide that everyone should dress up as super-heroes and parade through the town singing songs.
God. Alone. Knows. Why.
The bikers reappear and beat everyone up.
Later, Nick and Paul track down the Psychedelic Circus and find Brother Power is being displayed in a freak show. They free him thanks to a lucky explosion and take him home. There, girl hippie, Cindy, sews him up and combs his hair, giving him a makeover. “Do you really think I’m attractive, Cindy?” he asks. He decides that he has to make something of himself, be “somebody a girl could be proud of!”
He decides to become President and runs for congress on a platform of “Love, Peace and Flower Power!”.
I’m really not making this up.
The police arrive to arrest Brother Power for smashing up the Psychedlic Circus. He flees and becomes a fugitve from justice, pursued through the sewers by bikers. On live television, he takes on one of the bikers, comandeers his bike and zooms into the city, leaping over skyscrapers on his motor bike — even Evel Knievel would’ve been impressed by that little feat!
The National Guard are called out, and Brother Power is trapped on a bridge. Fearing for his life, and realising there’s nowhere else to go, he guns the bike over the edge of the bridge and down into the river below.
Witnessing all this the hippies lament his loss. “Poor Pow! He had such a short trip on this earth!”
“A hank o’ hair, a rag and a bone! He was hardly more than a dummy! Yet, he was almost the very most!”
“There, in the deep still waters, rests a man who could have been — a Congressman — a Governor — even –!”
“…A President!” finishes a tearful Cindy.
Like, wow, man!
What can you say about a comic like that? Classic? Hardly. Bonkers? Certainly!
The credits list Joe Simon as the writer and artist of this, er, masterpiece. While he probably wrote the script, I’m not so sure he actually drew the art: it doesn’t look much like his style, and he was more of an inker than a penciller anyway. The inking doesn’t have any of his familiar touches either.
This was published in 1968 when Simon was in his mid-50s. Looking at the changing world around him and the rising tide of teenage disenchantment and rebellion, Simon must have thought that a comic series that focussed on the plight of the hippies would make for good sales. After all, Stan Lee over at Marvel was actively courting the teenage and college readers and getting good figures as a result. Sadly for Joe, while Stan (not to mention Joe’s old partner, Jack Kirby), was a dab hand at tapping into the psyche of college-goers, Joe just came across as a middle-aged man trying to be hip.
Apparently, sales on the title were modest but okay. However, senior editor at DC, Mort Weisinger, hated the whole hippie movement, and resented a title sympathetic to their cause being on the publishing schedule. He had the clout, and, after one more issue was published, Brother Power, the Geek was gone.
I don’t really think anyone missed him.