Christmas Comics Cavalcade: Batman Family #4

ChristmasComicCavalcade

This week, we’re going to be looking at Batman Family #4, published in March-April of 1976 (ah, the vagaries of copyright information!) by DC Comics.

This one of the DC Giant issues that featured newly commissioned stories in addition to reprints of classic tales, sort of an inexpensive way to publish a big ol’ comic for not a lot of money.

Batman Family was an anthology series which primarily featured solo and team-up tales starring Robin the Boy Wonder and Batgirl. This was a fun period for both characters, well before they would be swept away by their 1980’s characterizations… Robin mainly defined as the leader of The New Teen Titans and Batgirl/Barbara Gordon by her spine-shattering encounter with The Joker in Batman: The Killing Joke.

Indeed, during the 1970’s, various DC Comics’ writers had worked up a pretty fun take on both Robin and Batgirl’s solo adventures. Let’s check ‘em out!

In “Cage Me or Kill Me”, written by Elliot S! Maggin (who I talked about years ago here) and art by Pablo Marcos and Vince Colletta, we get a team-up story between Batgirl Barbara Gordon and her father, the venerable Commissioner Gordon.

Note The Capital Building in the background – one of my absolute favorite aspects of Batgirl during this era was her day job as a United States Congresswoman. I love the idea of an idealistic and well-intentioned superhero having a “day job” as a politician and it’s especially interesting to see this new characterization coming about during the Watergate era, which the comic directly references.

I wish the modern comics would consider using this political angle with Batgirl! I understand that DC is probably more interested in emphasizing the “girl” aspects of Batgirl but it’s a unique part of her character that’s not all that well-known. Also, in this political moment in time, it’d be cool to see stories of a young woman in Congress, a la Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

At any rate the story is an 8 pager involving a criminal named Tad Wolfe seeking Commissioner Gordon out in the hopes of getting some protection and immunity as the Mafia’s got a contract out on his life.

Christmas exists around the edges of this story, as Gordon has come to D.C. to visit Babs during this holiday season. 

Interesting to me, at this time in continuity, Gordon apparently KNOWS that Barbara is Batgirl, which is kind of cool.

The second story, “Robin’s (Very) White Christmas”, written by Bob Rozakis with art courtesy of Jose Delbo and Vince Colletta, features Dick Grayson living in the college town of New Carthage, the status quo for most of the solo Robin tales that would run in Batman Family. 

This story turns on a trope only familiar to those of us who are super-fans of superhero Christmas comic books – someone is stealing the collections for a charity Christmas drive!

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Unfortunately for these criminals, they’ve chosen to hold up Dick Grayson and friends which means a visit from Robin to set things right.

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There’s three details I like about this story.

1. Lori, Dick Grayson’s female friend (never described as Dick’s girlfriend, I’ll note) mentions Bruce Wayne as Dick’s “father” which is how I’ve always liked to think of that relationship.

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That exchange dovetails with a lot of my own thinking on Batman himself – in theory, Bruce Wayne is together enough to have adopted a kid who endured the same kind of tragedy as he did… and raise him right. If a guy can do something like fatherhood, he can’t be a tortured dark avenger of the night all the time. This fact has been confused and thrown in the trash bin dozens of times since this book was published as DC seems to prefer keeping Batman in his late 20’s/mid 30’s, age wise… and often prefers painting him as an obsessed crimefighter with bad interpersonal skills. #notmybatman

2. Rozakis makes an awesome point that always bothered me about Robin by acknowledging his traditional crimefighting outfit must be an absolute pain in the butt to wear during the colder months.

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Future Robin redesigns would take this into account but for casual fans of Batman, the “bare legs” Robin outfit probably sticks out in their memory as a stupid design. No better place to talk about this nonsense than in a snowy Christmas issue.

3. Aunt Harriet!

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It’s cool to see that Aunt Harriet was still around although she hadn’t been a regular cast member in the books since the 1960’s heyday of the famous TV series. Again, a totally nice nod to include her during the holiday season.

The rest of the reprints are non-holiday related although I can’t resist mentioning that one of them features Fatman, a clownish sometimes-recurring character in the Batman books.

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His presence is pretty much the counter-argument to my feelings earlier regarding a nicer, less obsessed Batman.

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