Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Big Audio Wednesday - The First Batman?

I was going to post the second part of the Dr. Doom story today, but it's not as funny as the last one, and besides, I'm on vacation today, so I have time to write a more extensive entry.

I can't remember what it was that spurred me a few weeks ago to hunt for the first appearance of Batman on radio. It may have been the news about The Brave and the Bold premiering on Cartoon Network, or it may have been a confluence of my interest in old radio with my interest in "The Dark Knight" movie. Whatever it was, it got me thinking back.

It started for me in 1972 or thereabouts. I was in a bookstore with my mother (God knows why--she wasn't the type to frequent bookstores, I don't think) and I saw this big hardback titled Batman: From the 30's to the 70's. Of course, I had to have it.

When I got it home, I opened it up and read the introduction by E. Nelson Bridwell, and these are the opening paragraphs.

I don't remember the date... or the exact year... of that fantastic occurrence. I know I was a fan of the "Superman" radio show, and on this particular day Superman found a wounded boy in a drifting rowboat--a boy clad in a red vest and yellow cape.

It was, of course, Robin, the Boy Wonder!

And thus began the fabulous Superman/Batman team.

A few weeks ago, it suddenly occurred to me that, thanks to the Internet Archive, I could actually hunt down this legendary program that I'd first read about over 35 years ago!

But how to track it down seeing as how I knew neither the episode number or title or date? Google, of course. The first couple of sites that I came across simply repeated the same basic information from Bridwell's intro--Supes finds Robin in a rowboat. But the Superman Super Site added some extra detail...

On 5 September 1945, the Man of Steel came to the rescue of an unconscious boy adrift in a rowboat. Superman was quick to notice that the young boy was wearing a red vest with the letter "R" under his street clothes. "Great Scott," he proclaimed. "If this boy is who I think it is, this is serious business!" Superman had rescued Robin, the Boy Wonder and sidekick of Batman. Five days later, the Man of Steel would rescue Batman, who would repay the favor by pinch-hitting for Superman during the years to come.

While the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader had previously appeared together on symbolic comic book covers and in a brief cameo in a 1941 issue of All Star Comics, the 10 September 1945 radio broadcast was the first time that Superman and Batman worked together as a team. Batman and Robin would guest-star with Superman in 13 radio serials over the next several years, including one of the greatest adventure serials in the history of the series, "The Atom Man."

This article adds lots of convincing detail, even including a line of dialogue. Unfortunately, when I tried to use this information to pin down the exact episode in the Internet Archive, I was disappointed. According to both Internet Archive's Superman page and this page on the Superman Homepage, the September 5, 1945 episode was part of the "Dr. Blythe's Confidence Gang" storyline.

But although Superman discovers a rowboat in the first episode of the story (or perhaps the last episode of the previous storyline, episode 1095 (1096 on Internet Archive)), there was no Robin in it, just a bad guy with a sack of gold. Dick Grayson is mentioned in the next episode (1096 (1097 on IA), listed as the 9/5/45 episode on the Superman homepage), but he is not discovered in a rowboat. Instead, he is first referenced this way.

Jimmy Olsen: Come on, Miss Lane. Tell me what gives?

Lois Lane: Uh-uh. I'll tell you what, though Jimmy. I'll give you a chance to find out.

Jimmy Olsen: What do you mean?

Lois Lane: How would like to go to Playland this evening?

Jimmy Olsen: Playland? Well, sure, you bet. They got a terrific giant roller coaster there and... oh-oh, I forgot. I got a date with Dick Grayson.

Lois Lane: Dick Grays-- Oh. The boy you found in the boat that time.

Jimmy Olsen: That's right. Dick's a swell guy, but every time I tell him something about Superman, he comes back at me with something he heard or read about Batman.

So it appears that, if the episode dates on Internet Archive and the Superman homepage are correct, the September 5, 1945 episode is one where the rowboat incident is only discussed as having happened in the past. The real debut of Robin happened on some other date, and unfortunately, there are very few episodes from the previous three years on Internet Archive (54 out of almost 700) and no clue as the actual storyline being referred to.

And though Batman first appears in the Dr. Blythe storyline on Monday, September 10, 1945, it's apparent that Clark Kent and Batman have met before. So the dates given for Batman's debut appearance on the Superman homepage (and subsequently on every other page that uses that page for reference, which seems to be all of them) are evidently wrong (BTW, the aside that Batman also appeared in the Atom Man storyline is also wrong--I've listened to that entire story and Batman doesn't appear at all). The actual episodes and actual dates of Batman's debut appearance seem to be lost, at least so far.

So here is the first extant meeting of Superman and Batman from 10 September, 1945*. The storyline so far:

Dr. Blythe's underling Dixie Lamarr has killed a cop and is certain to go to the electric chair. However, it turns out that Dixie is a dead ringer for Lois Lane, so the criminal doctor comes up with a plan. He lures Lois to an amusement park with the promise of a bogus award, and plans to kidnap her inside a house of horrors. However, Jimmy Olsen and Dick Grayson tag along, and when Lois disappears, they call Clark Kent and Batman for help. When Clark arrives, he finds that Jimmy and Dick have gone missing, too.


If anyone asks for it, I'll post the rest of the episodes. They make an interesting contrast with later depictions of both Superman and Batman, since neither at this time was nearly as invincible as later comics mythmaking would depict them to be.

* I know the file says it's the 9/11/1945 episode, but that's wrong. The previous episode teases this one by saying "Tune in Monday," and the second Monday in September 1945 was the tenth.

1 comment:

A.C.K. said...

I'd love to hear more!