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Welcome to the three hundredth and fifty-first in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Today, learn whether Robin was originally going to be a one-issue wonder! Discover the super-villain that came out of a bad review! And discover the supervillain invented by Harlan Ellison…for a T-Shirt?
Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and forty-nine.
COMIC LEGEND: DC initially gave Robin just a one-issue try-out before sales dictated that he stick around.
A little over a year ago, I did a Comic Book Legends Revealed installment involving the false legend that Bob Kane was “forced” to add Robin to the Batman feature in Detective Comics against his wishes. While it was true that Robin was not his idea and it was also true that Kane preferred Batman solo, Kane adapted to the Robin idea all on his own. In fact, there is another legend that has sprung out of Kane’s usage of Robin that deals with Kane DEFENDING the addition of Robin.
About a year ago, Charlie Jane Anders did a neat piece over at IO9 about “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Batman.” A few readers have sent me the piece in the last year.
One of the items on the list was:
2) Robin was originally planned to appear in one issue, and then possibly disappear forever.
Originally, creator Bob Kane wanted to try out Robin in one issue, but Bat-editor Jack Liebowitz was against the idea of having a kid fighting gangsters, because “Batman was doing well enough by himself.” But after Detective #38 hit the stands with Robin in it, the issue sold double what the issues with just Batman had sold. So Liebowitz sheepishly agreed to keep Robin in future issues.
Anders cites Batman Unmasked: Analyzing A Cultural Icon by Will Brooker, which does, in fact, have a quote from Kane saying basically that:
But when the story appeared, it really hit: the comic book which introduced Robin (Detective Comics #38, April, 1940) sold almost double what Batman had sold as a single feature. I went to the office on Monday after we had gotten the figures and said ‘Well, I guess we had better take Robin out – right, Jack? You don’t want a kid fighting with gangsters.’ ‘Well,’ he said sheepishly, ‘Leave it in. It’s okay – we’ll let it go.’
However, while I believe that Jack Liebowitz did, indeed, object to Robin (or at least it is reasonable enough that I could believe it), there is effectively no way that they planned for Robin to just appear in Detective Comics #38.
First off, check out the ending of #38…
Seems pretty clear that Robin was now just an addition to the cast, right?
But more importantly, Robin appeared in Detective Comics #39!!
There is no way that they could have the sales data quick enough to determine to put Robin into the next issue. Heck, furthermore, he was on the COVER of Detective Comics #39!
Let me assure you, there is absolutely no way that a 1940 monthly comic book could substitute stories AND a cover after seeing how the previous issue sold.
Now, as I said before, I could believe that Liebowitz objected. I could even believe that he agreed to let Robin have a trial run on the book, but there’s no way that it was just a single issue.
Thanks to Anders for the neat piece and thanks to Will Brooker for the great Kane quote!
On the next page, did Steve Gerber create a super-villain based on a writer who gave him a bad review?