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Batmobiles and Me . . .

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TV Batmobile

Today’s sale of the original TV-show Batmobile reminded me of my slight brush with the history of the various versions of the car.

A kid in the 1950s and ’60s could be a fan of both Superman and Batman, and I was, but Batman had a couple of extra things going for him: he had a cave and he had a cool car. The primary Batmobile of the 1940s was a good-looking unit, and no other comic-book character had anything remotely as cool as this:

1940s Batmobile

In 1950, the editors of the Batman comics decided it was time to update the Batmobile, and this one was born:

1950 Batmobile b

This 1950 Batmobile had a crime lab built into the back seat and still had the spooky and amazing front bat-face thingie and the neat swooping rear fin. Not a thing wrong with this baby:

1950 Batmobile a

But by the mid-1960s, even I had to admit that 1950s Batmobile, still used in the comic books, was dated-looking.

We had just moved down to Marathon, Florida, and I had time on my hands. So, I decided to create a more modern Batmobile. I chose the front end of a Pontiac of the era and the back end of a Chrysler; combining those was easy; then I added a couple of canopy bubbles like fighter planes had. And, to top it all off, I added a couple of hood and side scoops like Corvettes had. I made sure it had a bat face on the front and two bat-fins on the back!

I drew a really clean version of the design and sent it to Mr. Julius Schwartz, an editor at DC Comics who seemed to encourage kids to become involved in the books.

I promptly forgot about the whole thing until a few months later, when a postcard came from Mr. Schwartz; he always wrote on postcards. He was going to use my Batmobile in the comic books! And– WOW– I would get a free one-year subscription to all the comics he edited. He edited a bunch of good ones, too: Batman, Atom, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Flash, Justice League of America!

Here’s what my version of the Batmobile looked like when it appeared in the comic books:

JBP Batmobile b

JBP Batmobile c

JBP Batmobile a

I was so proud! Then the TV show came out, and the Batmobile on the show made mine look like crap.

Here are a couple of photos of the TV-show Batmobile taken before it even had its glossy paint job; it’s still wearing its flat-black primer:

Original Primered TV Show Batmobile

Rear, Primered Batmobile

I was devastated at first, but then figured, “Okay; they have pro guys designing TV-show cars and I’m just a kid! No wonder their’s looks so much better!!!”

One problem was that I could no longer tell my pals I had designed the Batmobile, because the first thing they’d say would be, “THE TV-SHOW ONE?!?!?!” And I’d have to reply, “No; the lame one they use in the comic books and comic strip.”

Eventually– and we’re talking over a year; maybe more– I grew sick of seeing my Batmobile in the books and strips and wrote to Mr. Schwartz again: “Why do you keep using my Batmobile design when the TV-show one is ten times better looking?!?!?!” And a few weeks later, a DC Comics postcard came with his response: “Yours is easier to draw.”

Oh, well. They’ve come out with a 1:43-scale Corgi die-cast version of my Batmobile, which is one of the rarest and costliest Batmobile die-cast models because it is lame-looking compared to the TV-show one and not much sought after. A very generous Batmobile historian and enthusiast in England was nice enough to send me one a couple of years ago; I darn sure wasn’t going to spend over $250 for it on eBay!!! Too bad they used a baby-blue paint for the color:

JBP Batmobile Corgi Die-Cast

Yes; I’m proud of my lame creation, but, to me, there is only one Batmobile, and it isn’t the one I dreamed up sitting on the side of my bed in Marathon, Florida, and it isn’t the ones in the comic books and strips and it sure isn’t any of the recent Batman movie Batmobiles; it’s this:

Batmobile On Set

Great Scott!

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As a kid, I loved comic books and the one I loved the most was DC’s World’s Finest Comics. It had originally started as New York World’s Fair Comics, in 1939. Then it became World’s Best Comics and finally World’s Finest Comics. Its early issues were 96-pagers, but soon settled in at 76 pages for fifteen cents for many years. Superman and Batman each had their own stories, along with a bunch of lesser characters.

The covers showed Superman and Batman together in a poster setting that had nothing to do with the contents of the books. All this was way before my time. The page count began slimming down by the late 1940s, as seen here, but the price stayed at fifteen cents. I have to wonder how many of these comics were sold at a dime, since that was the going rate for a comic book.

In 1954, when things got tough for comics publishers, DC changed the format to 36 pages (including the covers), cut a lot of the secondary features and reduced the price to ten cents, like most all other comics. They also combined Superman and Batman into one story, which seems an obvious move after all those previous covers showing them both together. Those are the comics I loved; they gave great value for your dime. The art was crisp and well-drawn; the stories were interesting with intriguing plots. And the idea of superheroes being friends was wonderful to a kid.

The Justice League of America, which came out a few years later, had most all the DC heroes, including Superman and Batman, but the art was lame and the stories confusing with seven or eight heroes bouncing around. World’s Finest was more to my liking. Now, too, the covers related to the stories found in the issue.

For about 50 issues, World’s Finest Comics were a real hoot, and there were two things about the covers I really liked. Usually, someone (Superman, Batman or Robin) would exclaim, “Great Scott!” at whatever was going on.

And Robin, being rather a fifth wheel, would often be stuck in the bottom corner of the cover.

My favorite covers had both the Great Scott! AND Robin in the corner.

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a real person say, “Great Scott!” but comic books were aimed at 12-year-olds, and the publishers had to be careful. The very early Superman used a lot of “What the–“ exclamations, and the reader could fill in the blank but that only lasted a couple of years. Thus, “Great Scott!” And see that “Still 10¢” in bold type on the pink cover? That was a hint that something was in the works at DC, and it wasn’t good.

After a while, someone at DC must have issued an order about these recurring items, and Great Scott! was replaced with a couple of Great Kryptons! or Great Guns! and once even with a Great Gosh! Robin, instead of being stuck in the corner, was just left off the cover entirely as often as not.

By then the comics had gone up in price to twelve cents each (that previously noted “Still 10¢” really meant “Not Yet 12¢”) and the art wasn’t as lively or well-drawn as it had once been. It was the end of an era.