The Biggest Superhero Films That Didn't Happen, Part 2
Comic Books, Film
COMIC LEGEND: When Julie Schwartz and Carmine Infantino took over the Bat-titles, the book was near cancellation.
STATUS: I’m Going With a Tentative False
Okay, so if the Batman TV series didn’t save the book from cancellation, could the saving have come a bit earlier in time?
Jack Schiff was the editor of the Batman titles in the 1950s and early 1960s. Since DC’s highest-selling book was Superman, Schiff was pressured to bring the fantastical elements that categorized Mort Weisinger’s Superman stories into the pages of Batman and Detective Comics.
As a result, despite his personal beliefs (he felt the ideas were dumb), Schiff had a lot of monsters and aliens and stuff like that…
And the sales on the book were definitely soft (as you can see from the last cover, Schiff even had to bring in a dog character because the Superman books had introduced a dog for Superman).
In 1964, editor Julius Schwartz and artist Carmine Infantino were brought aboard the Batman titles and besides adding a yellow oval around Batman’s logo, the pair also made the books a lot more traditional superhero tales, bringing back most of Batman’s classic villains as regular adversaries. In essence, their stories were very similar to what you’d see on the Batman TV series, just in comic book form. Their revamp proved quite popular…
Schwartz and Infantino have both said that they were told that they had six months to bring the sales of Batman and Detective Comics up or the books would be canceled. Jack Schiff disagreed with this assertion, saying that while yes, sales were down, they were never in cancellation range.
Our problem is that the numbers we have do not include 1963 or 1964, so it is difficult to prove for SURE if Schiff is correct or not.
However, if you look at the sales numbers on both books in 1962, Batman was selling over 400,000 copies and Detective was selling in the mid 200,000s. Both figures were WELL ahead of cancellation numbers, although they were both trending downwards from previous years. I think people misunderstand the relative popularity of a book selling 265,000 in 1962. Yes, it wasn’t setting the world on fire, but 265,000 was a VERY solid number for a comic book.
I totally believe that the sales went down notably in 1963, I just find it extremely hard to believe that they went down enough to merit cancellation. Even if sales on both books HALVED, they would both be above cancellation range, especially Batman. Cancellation range for long-running titles at the time would be somewhere close to 100,000. The comic book companies typically had a quicker trigger on newer titles, though.
So I’m willing to believe Schiff and think that what Schwartz and Infantino were told was, in effect, that they had six months to turn the book around or they would try another approach or something like that. I mean, yes, if the sales CONTINUED to drop, the books would obviously eventually be canceled, I just do not believe based on the numbers that we do have that the titles were ever in clear and present danger of being cancelled.
Thanks again to John Jackson Miller’s excellent sales research site, Comichron, for the numbers that we DO have.
Here are the numbers, by the way:
Detective Comics 325,000
Detective Comics 265,000
Detective Comics 304,414
EDITED TO ADD: Commenter Hank suggests an interesting theory that I find believable, which is that DC used the threat of cancellation to try to get Bob Kane to re-negotiate his contract (as they preferred to have other creative teams doing the book besides Kane’s ghost team). It is worth noting that DC eventually DID succeed in re-negotiating Kane’s contract at the end of the decade (when sales plummeted from the Bat-mania sales levels), so that theory is quite reasonable. Thanks, Hank!
Check out some classic Comic Book Legends Revealed related to Carmine Infantino and Julie Schwartz!
Did Elliot S! Maggin quit DC for awhile over Julie Schwartz changing the ending (and thus, the meaning) of one of his stories, to the point where Maggin actually blacked out his name on the story?
On the next page, how did Batman’s popularity in 1966 lead to Gardner Fox finding a way to cram him into an issue of Justice League that Batman clearly was not meant to appear in?