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CSBG Archive

Drawing Crazy Patterns – Batman Vanishing on Commissioner Gordon

In this feature, I spotlight five scenes/moments from within comic book stories that fit under a specific theme (basically, stuff that happens frequently in comics). Here is an archive of all the patterns we’ve spotlighted so far.

Today I will spotlight the way that Batman constantly vanishes on Commissioner Gordon…


As I noted in a When We First Met awhile back, it appears that the first time this bit was done was surprisingly in 1973 (which is relatively quite recent) and surprisingly in the pages of SWAMP THING! Len Wein and Berni Wrightson do the bit here…

A couple of years later in Batman #266, Michael Fleisher has Batman and Gordon basically be jerks to each other in this sequence drawn by Rich Butler and Berni Wrightson (less than two years later it is already a “thing” with Gordon and Batman)….

The vanishing bit was used prominently by Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin as the actual finale of their run together on Detective Comics in Detective Comics #476…

In Batman #361 by Doug Moench, Don Newton and Pablo Marcos, Batman does a double whammy and both sneaks up on Gordon AND vanishes on him!

In Batman #450 by Marv Wolfman and Jim Aparo, Gordon wonders aloud how Batman does it…

That’s five instances. Obviously, there have been a lot more over the years. Feel free to name your favorites in the comments section!

Now that the five examples are established, here are a few riffs on the idea.

First off, in Batman’s very first appearance in Detective Comics #27 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, he does a vanishing act…just not on Commissioner Gordon!

In Batman #465, by Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle and Steve Mitchell, it is Robin pulling the vanishing act on Gordon and Sarah Essen, and now Gordon is a bit more sanguine about it all…

Finally, in Detective Comics #666, Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan and Scott Hanna show one of the many ways that Jean-Paul Valley is just not cut out to be Batman…


The last panel of this page is my favorite riff on that of all time.

SNL had a great sketch about this with Steve Buscemi as Gordon.

I was going to suggest the Azrael bit, but you included it, so I have nothing to add but Kudos.

For another vaiant, on the Adam West TV series, Batgirl constantly vanished on Batman and Robin at the end of the fights.

There’s an issue of Batman Inc. where Bruce, Dick ( as Batman ) and Damian vanish at the same time, and Gordon says : “He’s TEACHING them to do it, now !”. That was a nice one too.

I also like that last panel with Azrael, one of the first clues that should have gave away to Gordon that Batman was not the same guy he knew.

There’s another one by Dixon and Nolan, circa Detective Comics #708-#710, where Gordon walks away before Batman and Robin vanish, saying he does not have time to his disappearing act.

I always loved the bit in Kingdom Come when Superman pulled the vanishing act on Batman. Batman says “So that’s how that feels.”

The Strange Apparitions one is my favorite. Such an epic way to end the definitive Batman story.

I’m always floored at the body of knowledge Brian seems to be able to pull from! I would never have guessed that the disappearing act never occurred until the seventies.

“. . . it appears that the first time this bit was done was surprisingly in 1973 (which is relatively quite recent) . . . .”

Okay. I couldn’t really go further than this without commenting. I don’t see how you can describe this as being “relatively quite recent” when you look at one basic fact: Batman had only been published for 35 years when this phenomenon first happened; Batman has been published for 39 years since this. If you’re in college, you wouldn’t consider elementary school as a “relatively quite recent” experience, and if you’re 40 years old, college probably isn’t a “relatively quite recent” event.

Maybe I’m being nitpicky, but–no, wait a minute, I’m not. You used a poor choice of words.

^ Yeah, you are being nitpicky. That’s what the word “relatively” was for… But maybe it would have been slightly better to phrase it as “relatively late in the publication of Batman.”

You know, reading that sequence from Batman #266 shows how something you might not have paid much attention to on first glance kind of jumps out at you as being completely impossible when the scene is taken out of context. Look at that lock. And then re-read what Gordon’s said. He said he had a padlock put on the window specifically to keep Batman out. Now, what I want to know is WHERE was the padlock put: On the inside or on the outside? How is Batman, who’s presumbaly on the outside, able to unlock a padlock that’s on the inside. (I know Batman’s good but that simply requires way too much suspension of disbelief. The same “key” he’d use to open the lock would also have to be thin enough to penetrate from the outside to the inside. And given the timeframe that’s suggested, Batman would’ve had to be hanging around Gordon’s office and opening that lock before Gordon was on the phone.) And if the padlock’s on the outside, you just have to wonder how Gordon was able to convince any cop to put that lock on the window–not to mention why he would be surprised that any lock would keep out Batman.

@Roman: No. I’m not being nitpicky. Even your “suggestion” is incorrect. As I pointed out (not directly, but if you attempted the math, you’d get it), Batman has now been in publication for 74 years, and Commissioner Gordon has been around for 73 years. If this particular piece had been written back in 1982, then “relatively quite recent” would be more than appropriate. Hell, I’ll even allow for the piece being written in 1992 to use “relatively quite recent” as proper.

Put it this way: Bane is a “relatively quite recent” addition to Batman’s rogues gallery, when compared to the Joker or the Penguin or Catwoman. But, standing alone, he wouldn’t be because too much real time has passed since his introduction.

@josephw Yeah, you are being nitpicky. He meant it was later in Publication history than most people would assume a bit that iconic with batman would be. The intention was clear, and accurate seeing as it came nearly halfway through the character’s current publishing history. And to stop reading an article to write a post to say how something that you understood didn’t make sense is very much nit-picky

Ok, I’m sorry for jumping in and saying you were nitpicky. I see your point. Although the “relatively” could also mean “relative to other comic books” rather than “relative in terms of total years published” — i.e., the “formula” for Spider-Man or the FF or Superman stories was established within just a couple of years of their debut. Yet this classic Batman trope was introduced much later in his publication history.

There’s an issue of BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS where the Phantom Stranger guest stars, and he pulls the appearing/disappearing act on Batman in the Bat-Cave. Batman wonders if it creeps out other people as much when he does it, and he smiles and thinks, “I hope so!”

This is one of the now-essential bits of Batman lore that seems like it should have debuted far earlier than it actually did, like Arkham Asylum. Of course, when you think about it, for a large portion of the silver age, and much of the golden age, Batman wasn’t so much a “weird figure of the night,” and the vanishing act wouldn’t really have suited the character and his adventures, so it kinda makes sense that it didn’t really come about until the early ’70s.
My favorite riffs on the vanishing act have already been mentioned: the Azrael vanishing fail, and the NML-era page Greg Hatcher posted.


Your misunderstanding of the semantics doesn’t mean the semantics are wrong or used incorrectly. In the sentence Brian used, the words “relatively” and “recent” aren’t used in relation to now, they’re used in relation to 1939. Batman disappearing on Commissioner Gordon is considered an iconic element of their friendship/relationship/partnership, so it’s somewhat difficult to fathom that that element ceased to exist for the first 30+ years. Considering the vast majority of key elements to Batman’s character and mythology were created in the Golden Age, one being added in 1973 IS relatively recent. Not relative to now, but relative to when most of the other key elements were first established. In comparison, this element is recent (relatively), while most others are not.

So yes, you are being nit-picky.

Number 3 of the Comics Code Authority:

“Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.”

You could make a good argument that the disappearing act was disrespectful to a police commissioner. It wasn’t until the code loosened in 1969 that DC would even try this.

Capaware beat me to mentioning that great scene in THE OUTSIDERS I was really hoping Brian would include here.

JosephW wrote:
Batman has now been in publication for 74 years, and Commissioner Gordon has been around for 73 years.

How do you figure that, when Commissioner Gordon first appeared in the second panel of the very first Batman story?


You’re being nitpicky, John. ;)

I have a habit of doing that that my friends often catch, We call it “Batmanning”.

Leslie Fontenelle

November 4, 2012 at 7:45 am

The scene mr. Hatcher posted at the beginning of the comments is from one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, Bat-Gordon stories of all time. Gordon has an unprecedentedly honest talk with Batman and calls him out on his disrespectful “vanishing acts” and how Bats basically uses Gordon and the GCPD. At the end Batman is humbled to the point where he actually tries to reveal his identity to his old ally – to which Gordon reacts by refusing to look at his unmasked face and implying that he already KNOWS, but doesn’t want to lose plausible deniability by looking at Batman’s unmasked face (because Gordon isn’t a moron). Then when Batman is about to leave, he doesn’t do the “vanishing act” without first saying goodbye like a proper friend should. Brilliant, awesome story.

Which issue is it from, BTW? It’s burned into my memory because it’s just that good, but I’ll be damned if I remember which exact issue it’s from. I only know it was during the “No Man’s Land” storyline.

[…] Commissioner Gordon – and the many times Batman turns his back on him. […]

The nitpicky guy beat me to the odd thing about the padlocked window, but it IS pretty funny. Who would padlock the outside of a window?

The easy explanation would be that the lock was inside as you’d expect, and Bats cut a hole in the glass and then picked the lock. Except that the way the lock is drawn, it looks like part of the shank is actually missing- the end doesn’t look straight enough to click down into the body of the lock. Maybe Bats cut both the window and the lock shank with a portable Bat-Laser or something. But it’s probably just slightly lazy pencilling.

The really weird thing about the padlock is that, based on the window as they drew it, it doesn’t even make sense in the first place what a padlock would be doing.

I mean, if they were the windows from the ‘Swamp Thing’ panel, sure, but there’s nothing to padlock on the windows shown from 266.

My favorite has to be from Batman: The Widening Gyre. I forget the context, but basically Batman and Nightwing were talking about something, when Batman turns around only to realize that Nightwing isn’t there anymore. Batman’s reaction of “Sonuva- Kid pulled a me” before giving this amused looking smirk was fantastic.

Captain Haddock

March 18, 2013 at 9:33 am

I liked how they riffed on it in Detective 871, when Dick didn’t disappear when Gordon’s back was turned, and Gordon is a little startled cause he’s not used to Batman being there when he looks up. SPOILER: At the end of the arc, it’s heavily implied that Gordon knew Dick was Bats, and something like this probably triggered Gordon’s police radar and also served to differentiate DIck’s more laid back batman. Snyder’s bat-books are, IMO, a little overrated, but he’s terrific at these little moments and this run was just full of great moments. And Dick and Damian were so good together, it’s a shame we didn’t get more stories of a happier, well adjusted batman. He almost made it look like a job that he was just really good at, so he could afford to relax while still being Batman.
I also liked the Kingdom Come riff on it. You could probably do a DCP on people riffing on vanishing.
Great series, Brian!

“You know, I only do this because you’re always talking to me with your back turned, staring off into the distance like some kind of stoic jackass. Jeez, and people say I’M pretentious?”

I just read a comic where this was reversed: Batman was talking to Gordon on a rooftop, and he turned around and Gordon was gone. I think it was in Gregg Hurwitz’s Batman: The Dark Knight, but I’m not certain.

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