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CSBG Archive

When We First Met – When Did Batman First Vanish on Commissioner Gordon?

Every week we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic book lore. Not major stuff like “the first appearance of Superman,” but rather, “the first time someone said, ‘Avengers Assemble!'” or “the first appearance of Batman’s giant penny” or “the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth” or “the first time Spider-Man’s face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter.” Stuff like that. Here is an archive of all the When We First Met features so far! Check ‘em out!

First Time Batman Vanished on Commissioner Gordon

Readers JoeMac and Kieran S. (and I am sure others) have asked me about this over the years. I’ll be honest with you, I have not read through the first thirty-plus years of Batman comic books to give you a definitive can’t miss answer, but my pal Graeme Burk wrote in with his theory on the first appearance of this particular bit and I think Graeme is correct. If Graeme is incorrect, feel free to write in with a better answer but I am confident that Graeme is on point when he notes that the first appearance of this particular bit was in 1973’s Swamp Thing #7 by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson…

As you can see, it is definitely a new bit when it was used in Swamp Thing. Was it BRAND-new, though, is the question. I think so, but if anyone knows of a story before 1973 when Batman vanished on Gordon, please let me know by e-mailing me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com!

Reader Aaron asked about a couple of first appearances of popular nicknames courtesy of Ben Grimm, the Thing.

First Time the Thing Called the Human Torch “Matchstick” and First Time the Thing Called Mr. Fantastic “Stretch”

Early on, the Thing’s go-to nicknames for the Human Torch were “Squirt”…

and “Hot Head”…

And for Mister Fantastic, it was variations on “Rubber”…

and “Big Brain”…

In Fantastic Four #22 (the same issue that the Thing first said “clobberin’ time”), the Thing breaks out “matchstick” for the first time…

and the very next issue, he breaks out “stretch” for the first time…

By the way, in Fantastic Four #8, some criminals call the Human Torch “matchstick”…


If YOU have a suggestion for a comic debut you’re curious about, feel free to drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com


Travis Pelkie

June 26, 2012 at 4:50 am

Cool stuff on Benji’s nicknames.

But wow, Batman didn’t vanish on Gordon until ’73? And it wasn’t even in one of his titles first? It’s so ingrained now, you figure it always happened, but wow. It’s like how Arkham seems like it’s been around forever, but that debuted around the same time, right? (did you cover the first Arkham here? You should if you haven’t. I’m thinking you have, though.)

A cool variation on the vanishing trick happened in a recent issue of the digital Batman Beyond series, when Terry did it to Bruce. Bruce turns around mid-sentence to find Terry gone, and he reacts with “Nice.”

I laughed out loud on that one.

Matthew Johnson

June 26, 2012 at 8:16 am

The Huntress did it to Batman in her first appearance in JLI, which I think may have been the first time the reversal gag was used.

Love Bernie Wrightson!

It sort of happened in the Batman movie (Adam West) when they inconspicuously sneak out through the window while everyone is arguing in the UN – I always figured it was the TV shows version of his vanishing trick.

But I haven’t read too many early 60s Batman comics to be sure.

Just goes to show how much the modern Batman we know really begins to take shape in the 70’s.

My question is why does Gordon always work in the dark? Trying to save the tax payers some money on the electric bill?

Prior to Swamo Thing, Batgirl routinely disappeared on Batman and Robin in the 1960s TV series.

Thanks for featuring my question, Brian.

I never, ever in a hundred years would have guessed Batman first vanished on Gordon in an issue of Swamp Thing.

The reason I asked in the first place is because the new DC Adventures RPG actually has an Advantage (i.e. special ability but not actual power) called Hide in Plain Sight which mentions the trope in its description:

“You can hide . . . without any need for . . . any sort of diversions . . . You’re literally there one moment moment, and gone the next. You must still have some form of cover or concealment within range of your normal movement speed in order to hide.

As Commissioner Gordon will tell you, Batman has this Advantage.”

I thought it was pretty funny / telling that this shtick is so ingrained in the Batman mythos, especially in regards to his relationship with Gordon, that it actually one of his stats in a game based on DC Heroes.

Damn, Wrightson drew a great Barman.

And his Batman ain’t bad either.

I can’t remember the last time the FF comic has featured the old “put out Johnny’s flames with a fire estinguisher” move like in that third to last image up there… ahh, the good old days, when a flame hot enough to melt a car could be put out with some foam….

nice always wondered if batman first pulled his disappearing act on gordon in his own book or some one elses featuring him as part of the story and surprise to find its in a swamp thing issue

Really? Batman didn’t sneak away from Gordon until ’73? That seems REALLY hard to believe for me. It makes me want to start flipping through all my Golden Age Batman reprints to find an earlier instance, but I still have to finish this week’s LIID piece…

Batman DOES sneak away from the victim he rescued at the very end of “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” but it wasn’t Gordon. Hmmmmm… To be continued.

It sounds weird, John, but think about it. He obviously didn’t do it for the DECADES that he visited Gordon with Robin. Those were just happy exchanges. So that really takes us up to roughly 1963-1964. He didn’t do it in the Infantino years. So really, it boils down to “Did he do it in the O’Neil issues?” and it does not appear as though he did. He did it in the Englehart issues, but those were more recent than the Swamp Thing issue. It sounds bizarre, but I think it actually is correct. If it WAS, in fact, somewhere else, it likely would only be a year or so earlier.

While it wasn’t on Gordon, Batman pulled his first “disappearing act” at the end of “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” from DETECTIVE COMICS #27. I would not be surprised if he didn’t disappear on Gordon until 1973, as prior to the seventies, Gordon was not a major character in the comic books. He was a supporting figure, but not on the level of, say, Lois Lane or even Perry White and Jimmy Olsen. I believe it wasn’t until the success of the TV show that he became more frequently seen character in the comics. And even then, it seems a majority of his appearances were in Bob Haney’s THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD until the late 1970s.

Don’t have the issue number, but I think Johnny Storm’s flame got doused by the water in a flower vase once. I also like Wrightson’s Batman.

@Matthew Johnson: “The Huntress did it to Batman in her first appearance in JLI, which I think may have been the first time the reversal gag was used.”

I recall an earlier case of someone disappearing on Batman. The Phantom Stranger vanished while Batman was talking to him–I think this was in an issue of BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS by Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo. I remember Batman wondering if it was as unnerving when he does it to other people, and then he said, “I hope so!”

I think my favorite version of the reversal has to be “Kingdom Come”. Batman is telling Superman about the turn things have taken, realizes Supes has departed while he was talking and comments, “So that’s what that feels like.”

IIRC, Batman first disappeared from Gordon’s presence around Detective #389 (1969) or so, the period where Neal Adams and Bob Brown started reestablishing the “creature of the night” concept after the 60s tv show was cancelled.
Now I have to go dig out the old longbox…

There was a nice take on this when Azrael was Batman for a while. Gordon is talking and as he turns he is suprised to see “Batman” still there. Azbats’ line was something like “I didn’t think you had finished talking.” The Knightfall books are being reprinted so that scene should be availble soon.

David, I remember that scene from Knightfall, and it was a very nice touch.

Batman seems pretty confident in his hearing. He probably has Gordon’s office bugged anyway! No waiting around for “and another thing I just remembered!” It would be fun to see a bit where Batman leaves before hearing something critical, and Gordon spends the rest of the issue trying to find Bats to warn him about whatever it was.

Ganky: yeah, I’ve also thought of that. It would serve him right since he is so rude

Batman seems pretty confident in his hearing. He probably has Gordon’s office bugged anyway! No waiting around for “and another thing I just remembered!” It would be fun to see a bit where Batman leaves before hearing something critical, and Gordon spends the rest of the issue trying to find Bats to warn him about whatever it was.

That’s a great idea! I want to put that into a story now!


Check out Who’s Whose for further help for When We First Met.


June 26, 2012 at 10:25 am

Just goes to show how much the modern Batman we know really begins to take shape in the 70?s.

Other than two poignant panels of a young
Bruce crying over his dead parents, the early Batman is devoid of angst.
The angst that we now associate with the character is not present in
1939-40; it is, in fact, a product of the 1970s, extrapolated by writers who felt
a need to give Bruce Wayne an inner darkness to match his original dark
surroundings. (Even then, the 1970s were not fully given over to angst –
Bob Haney and Jim Aparo’s Batman of so many adventurous The Brave and
the Bold tales is actually quite a good match for Adam West’s interpretation.)
The 1939-40 Batman is a straightforward hero surrounded by darkness but
not dark inside, much as the TV Batman is a straightforward hero in
exaggerated surroundings.


Listen: Bat-angst is a thing of the 1970s. It didn’t exist previously. Fans today are made to believe that the brooding Batman, the shadowy figure warring against crime while anguishing over the murder of his parents is all there is, all there ever was—but it just ain’t so. That completely ignores more than three decades of the character’s stories and development, and that’s a crime worthy of our hero’s attention.

Angst mostly appeared in the Spider novels by Norvell Page or the Gray Seal tales by Norvell Page.

I’ve wondered about that too Ganky. How Batman knows that Gordan has said all the important things before he disappears. That’s actually not the sign of a very good detective, leaving before the person is done talking, possibly missing an important detail. Imagine Batman capturing the wrong person. Gordan: “But Batman, it couldn’t be *. I told you they were….”. or “Why didn’t you stop the bomb I told you about?” “What bomb, I must have left before you finished, so I could look cool and mysterious”. And how does Gordan ALWAYS happen to be turned away from Batman when he does finish giving the important details? Why not at least turn and face him when you are giving him the last of the important details. And what does Batman do if Gordan were to turn and face him before giving that last important detail? “Look over there, a diversion!”

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