Batman has been named as the first inductee into San Diego Comic-Con Museum’s Character Hall of Fame, part of the celebrations surrounding the Caped Crusader’s 80th anniversary, also marked by the release of Detective Comics #1000 by DC Comics, prompting me to have a scurry through British comics history to find the Caped Crusader’s first appearances in the UK.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in this field, so consider the information below a kind of “Rough Guide” to prompt your own exploring. Perhaps, too, you can help an author who’d like to know more about the whole subject of Batman reprints… read more below!
The Dark Knight turned a milestone 80 years old with an official celebration at WonderCon in Anaheim, California, this weekend. There, Batman’s entry into San Diego Comic Con’s Hall of Fame later this year was announced by DC publisher and chief creative officer, Jim Lee, during a “Happy Birthday, Batman!” panel at the convention, alongside David Mazouz from Gotham, and Kevin Conroy of Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited.
The induction will be held at the Federal Building in San Diego’s Balboa Park, the future site of the Comic-Con Museum, on 17th July, the opening night of the show and the ceremony will be accompanied by an exhibition of Batman-themed props and memorabilia, and will feature appearances by celebrities and creators.
Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in the United States, published 30th March 1939, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. In the UK, Batman has been reprinted numerous times, from the 1950s onwards, if not earlier, and there’s a useful guide to British DC reprints here on the British Comics Fandom Wikia.
Tracking down early British Batman appearances isn’t easy, but he seems to have made a rather inexplicable appearance on the frontispiece to the Super-Duper Omnibus Annual 1949 – possibly the first time he was drawn by a British artist.
Batman Annuals have been published/ imported variously down the decade until 2017, first by Atlas Publishing, then published in the UK by World Distributors and Top Sellers in the late 1960s and 70s; Brown Watson and, finally, by Pedigree.
Recently, in a post to The Mighty World of British Comics Facebook Group, collector Adam Spector noted British printer Gale and Polden, who were based in Aldershot, reprinted DC comics in annuals, and Edinburgh-based Morrison and Gibb printed other issues.
These were then sent for distribution by Atlas Publishing and Distributing Co. Ltd, based near Fleet Street, London, who distributed them widely, including to K.G. Murray Publishing based in Australia, primarily known for their publication of DC reprint comics.
This seems to counter a long-held view among collectors that suggested at least some DC comic reprints appearing in Britain in the 1950s were Australian imports. (I’d welcome comments on this below – thanks!)
In the 1960s, garishly coloured reprints of the “Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder“ Sunday newspaper reprints appeared on the cover of many issues of the weekly comic, SMASH!, from Issue 20, published in June 1966 onwards through to Issue 112.
(Comics archivist and artist Lew Stringer notes substituting black for dark blue was quite common on some British comics covers, although moreso in the 1950s than 60s).
The strip, distributed by the Ledger Syndicate, enjoyed a run in The Sun beginning in June 1966. (The Sun then owned by SMASH! publisher Odhams).
If you’re curious, this series has been reprinted by The Library of American Comics in a three volume collection titled Batman – Silver Age Newspaper Comics.
In 1966, World Distributors published a series of text-based Batman adventures in the short-lived Batman World Adventure Library.
After Batman disappeared from SMASH! in early 1968, Top Sellers launched Super DC, a monthly edited by Marvelman creator Mick Anglo, reprinting various Superman and Batman DC comics, which ran for 14 issues from 1969 to 1970. The first issue contained a free gift: a Batman poster, Superman magic disc or wristwatch calendar.
Batman also featured in issues of Double Double comics between 1967 to around 1970, but these simply rebound Thorpe & Porter’s unsold imports, as did their hardback DC Annuals, and were probably unauthorised, as, it has been suggested, were Batman and Superman appearances in early issues of TV Tornado back in the 1960s.
The Batman Pocketbook was published by Egmont/Methuen between 1978 and 1980, and appears to have been bi-monthly, each digest sized issue containing 100 pages of colour reprints of DC Comics Batman material.
LONDON (EDITIONS) CALLING!
Batman also appeared in The Superheroes Monthly, a black and white monthly anthology sporting a logo designed by Angus McKie, published from September 1980 to April 1982 by London Editions Magazines, running 19 issues in total over two volumes. London Editions was the comics publishing division of Egmont UK during the 1980s, primarily reprinted American material from DC Comics and Disney under licence, and The Superheroes Monthly was its first success.
The series was edited by Vanessa Morgan, with most of the cover art provided by artists that included Alan Craddock, Garry Leach, David Jackson, Bryan Talbot and Bob Wakelin. There were Super Heroes Annuals, too, published from 1982-1984.
In the late 1980s, London Editions DC Comics reprint line, initially edited by Brian M. Clarke, included Superman, Batman Monthly, Zones, DC Action, Heroes and Shockwave as well as various associated Specials.
London Editions was absorbed by Egmont when the Danish company purchased Fleetway from IPC in 1991, becoming Fleetway Editions, and, later Egmont Fleetway in 1996. This company published several Batman and Judge Dredd team-ups in the 1990s, in partnership with DC Comics. A collection was published in 2014.
Most recently, Batman has appeared in a variety of reprint titles for the UK news stand published by Titan Comics. These include All-Star Batman, Batman Legends and Batman, which have had varied degrees of success.
TRACING BATMAN BRITISH COMICS – AN APPEAL FOR HELP
Earlier this month, downthetubes was approached by author Howard Blue, who is writing a biography of the late Carroll Rheinstrom, an American who represented DC Comics outside of Canada and the US from 1960 until 1982.
Howard tells us Rheinstrom did a lot of business in Europe, in Japan, Australia and Latin America, but is less sure about Britain. Does anyone have some information about how Superman and other DC Comics wound up being sold in Britain in the 1960s and 70s?
“Did DC Comics sell directly, perhaps just exporting the American versions of the comics to Britain,” he asks, “or did Rheinstrom also do business with a British publisher?”
If you have a copy of Superman or any other DC Comic purchased in Britain in those two decades, please could you drop Howard a line via memrevsATgmail.com – or advise him where it was published?
With thanks to Rich Holden, Tony Ingram, Philip Rushton, John Leslie Sinclair, Adam Spector, Lew Stringer, Alan Woollcombe and other British Batman comic collectors within the Mighty World of British Comics Facebook group
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