Batman: From the 30’s to the 70’s was one of the first books on the making of comics I ever bought, first published in 1972, copies not that hard to find. That said, the first edition, published in hardback by Crown Publishing in 1971, and in paperback the following year, isn’t always a cheap buy today.
Offering a fantastic primer to one of American publisher DC Comics best-known superheroes, the massive book includes some wonderful, tantalising snapshots of Batman of past decades, one of three books about DC characters published in a similar format that decade, the others being Superman: From the 30’s to the 70’s, of course, published the same year, and Shazam: From the 40’s to the 70’s, which wasn’t published until 1977.
All three books are credited as being edited by E. Nelson Bridwell, a name that should be familiar to every fan of DC Comics’ Silver and Bronze Ages.
As fellow editor and writer Paul Kupperberg notes over on 13th Dimension, starting at DC in 1965 as assistant to Superman editor Mort Weisinger, Nelson would spend the next 30 years helping shape the adventures of the Superman family of characters as both an editor and a writer.
“Nelson had an encyclopaedic mind and was an expert on not only DC’s history and continuity, but the Bible and the works of Shakespeare as well, but we knew him mainly as the company’s Chief Continuity Cop,” says Paul.
However, as noted in early comments on this article below, Bridwell later denied editing the Batman and Superman books in a reply to a letter in one of DC’s 100-page comics. He claimed the actual editing was done by Linda Sunshine, and he only wrote the introductions to the volumes. But it seems he was being rather modest.
Linda was interviewed about her role in the creation of the books by Rob Salkowitz for Publisher’s Weekly just last year, and explained how she was just starting her career as a junior editor at Crown Books, when she and publisher Bruce Harris launched the Harmony Books imprint to exploit the then-new category of trade paperbacks as well hardcovers in affordable editions that typically featured trendy, pop culture-oriented topics.
Now in her Seventies, Linda has since written over 50 books, including many bestsellers, pop culture guides, and adaptations of movies, and has worked in the publishing industry for half a century.
“I had this idea to do a hardcover book about Superman,” Sunshine explained. “No one had done that before, and I actually had to talk DC into doing it, because they were very sceptical.”
After convincing then-DC Comics publisher Carmine Infantino about the idea – although it appears he didn’t need much – he put Sunshine in touch with E. Nelson Bridwell.
“Today we’d say Nelson was a typical nerd,” Linda recalled. “He had thick glasses and pale skin and just stayed in his house reading comics all day, but he was an unbelievable resource, like an encyclopedia. He picked out the stories for the book and did most of the editing.”
Probably the single most recognisable Silver Age image of the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder, the distinctive cover for Batman: From the 30’s to the 70’s first appeared as a pin-up in Detective Comics #352 (June 1996), elements of the art subsequently whited out.
The amended art, the original sold via Heritage Auctions for $28,750 back in 2002, has also been used for jigsaw puzzles, posters, figures and numerous advertising pieces. It has been re-used and homaged many times, as charted on The Dork Review.
For many of us that grew up in 1970s, this is the image of the Dark Knight Detective that many fondly remember, my now dog-eared copy of the paperback edition bought from The Book-Centre, run by a Mrs Brown, now the location of The St. Ives Bookseller, in Cornwall, in the early 1970s.
This was around the time, I think, when Marvel’s earliest superhero stories were being reprinted in colour paperbacks, bought from the same bookshop along with Armada’s cheap as chips Asterix black and white paperbacks, before the launch of Mighty World of Marvel by Marvel UK.
Above: Fore Street, St. Ives, during the hot summer of 1976, photo by Klaus Hiltscher. The newsagents on the right was my first port of call for comics as a teenager, and the bookshop opposite my first port of call for SF books and more (well, apart from the well stocked library). Photo via Flickr
Back in the early 1970s, that same St. Ives bookshop was where, supplementing my library lending, I also bought my first SF paperbacks, with those distinctive Chris Foss covers, and my first Doctor Who Target novelisations.
Although I did buy some Superman comics, usually the 80-page Giant-Size titles, many from spinner racks from the long gone The News-Centre opposite (at one time run, I think, by the same family), Batman was the only DC Comics character whose adventures I followed when funds permitted, supported by my wage as a kitchen porter at a local hotel.
It’s clear from The Dork Review feature that I’m not alone in being impressed by this striking image, 2000AD’s Brendan McCarthy among those homaging it, for example, for the cover of IDW’s Judge Dredd #16 back in 2014.
If you get the opportunity, do check out your local secondhand bookshop or favourite online bookshop for a copy of the book – it really is quite a gem, for its time.
• Search for Batman: From the 30’s to the 70’s on AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)
This collection reprints classic Batman stories originally published from 1939 to 1970, largely in black and white. This 388- page volume was published by Crown Publishers, Inc. on behalf of DC Comics.
There’s a guide to the contents here on DC Fandom
• Comics writer Tom Brevoort takes a deep dive into the often tantalising content of Batman: From the 30’s to the 70’s here
• Search for Superman: From the 30′s to the 70’s on AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)
A collection of Superman stories published by Crown Publishers, Inc. in 1971. All stories in this collection were originally published between 1938 and 1971.
A revised and updated edition, Superman: From the 30s to the 80s, was published by Crown in 1983.
There’s a guide to the contents of both here and here on DC Fandom
• Search for Shazam!: From the 40’s to the 70’s on AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)
A collection of select Marvel Family stories from the start with Fawcett Publications to the first series under DC Comics. There’s a guide to its contents here on DC Fandom
• The Dork Review has a regularly updated guide to homage of this art here
• Wikipedia: E. Nelson Bridwell (22nd September 1931 – 23rd January 1987)
• Paul Kupperberg: E. Nelson Bridwell Speaks!
• Mark Evanier on E. Nelson Bridwell’s posthumous Bill Finger Award
• Publisher’s Weekly: Meet Linda Sunshine, Groundbreaking Book Trade Comics Editor
Heading to Cornwall?
• St. Ives Bookseller, the modern incarnation of Fore Street Books, is online at stives-bookseller.co.uk | Facebook | Twitter
The St Ives Bookseller is the only independent bookshop in the seaside town, part of a wider network of bookshops under the Mabecron Books umbrella that includes the Falmouth Bookseller and the Padstow Bookseller, a joint venture between Mabecron’s owner Ron Johns and TV chef Rick Stein.
• Cornwall-based author Liz Fenwick’s 2021 interview with Alice Harandon, manager of St Ives Booksellers
• Mabecron Books is a small, family-run publisher whose books are stocked in each of their bookshops around Cornwall, publishers of titles such as the children’s books, Pop Up Cornwall by Robert Crowther and Soggy the Bear by Philip Moran, illustrated by Michael Foreman
Batman © and TM 2023 DC Comics
This article was updated on 9th May 2023 to include new information and links on Linda Sunshine’s role in the publication of the Batman and Superman books at Crown
Categories: Comic Art, Comics, Creating Comics, downthetubes News, Features, US Comics
There was a copy of this at the Pier Bookshop in Morecambe last time I was there. On the expensiveish side though.
Bridwell actually denied editing the Batman and Superman books in a reply to a letter in one of DC’s 100-page comics. He said the actual editing was done by a young lady named Linda Sunshine and he only wrote the introductions to the volumes. By the way, the Superman book was later reissued under the title Superman from the 30’s to the 80’s with some new material. It is even harder to find than the original one.
Wow! Thanks for the information. It does appear that Linda Sunshine remembers things differently, but it’s clear from the interview she did last year, for Publisher’s Weekly, that she played a pivotal role in the creation of both the Batman and Superman books. I’ve added more information on that.