“The Dying Batman… Driven by an instinct he cannot name–an instinct beyond understanding–he strides toward a certain destination… to where Ra’s Al Ghul stands alone…”
—Denny O’Neil Batman #244 September 1972
In our last electrifying entry of “To Be Continued…” we detailed how Batman has survived the evolution from his gothic roots through various incarnations, from the ridiculous to the shockingly dark and just about everything in between. The modern Dark Knight movies have worked to avoid any semblance of silliness behind Batman’s mask. Still, the very best and most memorable Batman comicbook stories are those that feature a more well-rounded, less caricatured hero both in and out of costume. The best writers and artists never forget that the Dark Knight can be very dark and is still a human being, rather than a crime-fighting machine.
By the 1970s the newly re-darkened Batman and Robin (though now not always a team) still did one important thing… they still appeared in broad daylight.
In Kane and Finger’s origin story for Batman, Bruce Wayne famously said “I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible.. a… a… a BAT!” In spite of the fact that some creators took this far too literally, Batman himself could tell you that Crime Never Sleeps. Thus, unfortunately for Bruce Wayne, Batman’s own sleep time often fell into the “Never” category as well.
This point is beautifully exemplified in the story “Just as Night Follows Day…” from Batman #383 (May, 1985) in which an exhausted Bruce Wayne must balance his busy day life with his dangerous nightlife. The story (by Doug Moench with art by Gene Colan) reminds us that Batman is not just a nighttime vigilante, but also the guardian of his teenaged ward Robin (at that time, Jason Todd), that Wayne Manor also requires repairs, Wayne Enterprises also requires a full-time CEO and that, oh yeah, Bruce Wayne sometimes has to entertain a girlfriend. And that’s just his life with the mask OFF. Thus we see Bruce driving Jason to school, meeting with Jason’s principal over his tendency to sleep in class, changing the tire on his car, meeting with contractors on the rebuilding of parts of his house, meeting with business associates and taking calls and visits from Vicki Vale, all without sleep. Then when night rolls around, news of a serial rapist brings Bruce back out on patrol. The only sleep he gets is curled up with a gargoyle high above Gotham City, batnapping while the sun rises.
The daytime is not Bruce Wayne’s realm alone. In the 2008 film The Dark Knight we see Batman crashing into a Hong Kong company during business hours to recapture a fugitive, but this drab, foggy overcast was hardly “broad daylight” and more closely resembled Bruce Wayne’s training under the villainous Ra’s Al Ghul of the film series. But in the comic books, Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul both battled and teamed up at high noon. Batman first met Ra’s (in spite of the movies, the comics make it clear that the name is pronounced like “Rays”, not “Rahs”) in Batman #232 (June, 1971) when the original Robin (Dick Grayson) is kidnapped from his Hudson University dorm room at gunpoint. Written by Dennis O’Neil with art by the great Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, the story immediately illustrates Ra’s Al Ghul’s status as one of Batman’s most intelligent foes when he easily deduces that Batman is Bruce Wayne and simply walks in to the Batcave to elicit the Batman’s help in tracking down his daughter Talia (whom Batman met in the previous month’s Detective Comics #411), apparently the victim of the same kidnappers as Robin. To rescue them both, Ra’s and Bruce (still masked, but dressed in wooly winter gear and goggles) must climb the Himalayas in the blazing sun, face hungry leopards, vicious snipers and the ultimate ruse, all before sunset.
Let’s not forget that Ra’s Al Ghul is still a Batman villain and only an erstwhile ally. “The Head of the Demon” was able to barge in on Bruce Wayne and pull the Batman into his many traps. The tables turned in the story “The Demon Lives Again!” (also by O’Neil, Adams and Giordano) from Batman #244 (September, 1972), when Batman destroys several of the Demon’s bases and then walks right in on Ra’s and Talia in their desert tent, stating “Though I’ve never intentionally killed, I SWEAR you will not leave here alive unless you surrender!”
What follows is one of the most visually striking daytime sequences of Batman’s career, as a shirtless Dark Knight and an animalistic Ra’s Al Ghul sword fight at sunset with the desert burning all around them. The cover of the reprint in The Saga of Ra’s Al Ghul #4 (also drawn by Adams) even features the Demon wiping his bloody blade with Batman’s discarded shirt.
These unique and bold stories laid the groundwork for much of the mythos we enjoy today (to the point that the climax of the Ra’s Al Ghul plot in the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises takes place at high noon), but this darker, more realistic Batman, in Day or Night, in the 1970s and 1980s was not enough to reinvigorate sales for the Bat titles.
What’s this? Were the Batman Comics on the Chopping Block? Find out why and how they swung back to the top of the heap when “To Be Continued…” returns next week, same Bat Time, Same Bat Website!