The Silver Age

Introduction to the Silver Age Timeline

Thanks to the wonderful resources provided by the DCU Silver Age Appearance List, Mike Voiles, the Unofficial DCU Guide, and Comic Vine, I present to you the introduction to the Silver Age Batman chronology, which details the Batman of the pre-original Crisis EARTH-ONE.

Where do I even start? First of all, we should understand that the Silver Age doesn’t immediately introduce a brand new Earth or immediately create a wider multiverse. DC’s Silver Age is merely a term, the beginnings of which coincide with the rebooting of the Flash in Showcase #4, published October 1956. Showcase #4 ushers in the multiverse, defining two separate Earths, one where Flash is Jay Garrick and the other where Flash is Barry Allen—although the Earths go unnamed. Showcase #4 was a “tryout issue” to see if the rebooting of DC’s main characters was a worthwhile venture. It was indeed. Thus, Aquaman was also soon rebooted—either right away in October 1956 with Adventure Comics #229 or as late as 1959’s Adventure Comics #260 (it is debatable). In 1958 they also rebooted Wonder Woman (in Wonder Woman #98). In 1959, Green Lantern would be rebooted as Hal Jordan (in Showcase #22). Martian Manhunter’s reboot is a special case. He is often regarded as only ever having existed in the Silver Age, despite having debuted a year prior to Showcase #4. If this is true, then it is only retroactively so. In my opinion, which is shared by the great Craig Shutt, Martian Manhunter was indeed a late debuting Golden Age hero. Only until Detective Comics #273 (November 1959), where his character makes a radical personality shift, does he become rebooted. Many historians try to say that Martian Manhunter ushered in the Silver Age in 1955 instead of Flash. This is wrong because there was no mention of Martian Manhunter being on an alternate Earth. Flash’s tale from Showcase #4 was an alternate Earth story completely and definitively. (Barry reading Jay Garrick comics undeniably set his world on a different Earth—the prerequisite to understanding this being the fact that the Shazam/Marvel Family home was an alternate Earth seen as fictional comics as well).

Here comes the tricky part. DC was hesitant to mess with their two big money makers: Superman and Batman. Thus, we have a situation where most of the other characters are being rebooted onto a new Earth, but the Big Two seemingly haven’t. Or have they? Things are made so deliberately vague for the Dark Detective and the Man of Steel that there can be many interpretations as to when they are rebooted (or even many interpretations as to which issues go with which Earth). In March 1960, The Brave & The Bold #28 debuted a brand new superhero team known as the Justice League of America. This team not only included all the rebooted heroes, but included Batman and Superman! Up until this point, the public would have been given no indication that Batman and Superman hadn’t been the same Batman and Superman that existed since 1939.[1] But the appearance of a Batman and a Superman in the pages of a rebooted JLA book meant that there had to be a separate Batman and Superman on the rebooted Earth as well as an older Batman and Superman that had adventured in the Golden Age! Here’s where the different interpretations kick in. There was literally no way of knowing which Batman and Superman stories were taking place on which Earth at the time. Most Batman and Superman stories were insular and never mentioned anything that could function as a clue to placement.

Eventually, the Jay Garrick Golden Age Earth is defined by name as “Earth-2” whereas the Barry Allen rebooted Silver Age Earth is defined by name as “Earth-1.” This happens in Flash #137 (June 1963). Flash #137, despite fleshing out the multiverse by naming the Earths and also by showing key differences between them, continues the vagueness in regard to the Big Two. The issue mentions Earth-2 Gotham as home to Green Lantern Alan Scott, but doesn’t even mention Batman at all! And Superman isn’t mentioned at all either! It’s almost as if there was an editorial mandate to simply not address the Big Two—a message telling readers that we really are supposed to remain unsure of which Earth their stories are happening on. Although, one can at this point presume that since Earth-1 has been named as such it means that it holds a higher more important weight in the multiverse (and from the standpoint of the publisher) than Earth-2. One would then presumably further infer that the Big Two would fit onto the primary Earth, right? If so, this could paint a scenario where Batman is canonized into the Silver Age/Earth-1 following June 1963. That’s one idea among many, but ultimately the Real Batman Chronology Project will go another route.

To further show how complex the mystery is behind when exactly Superman and Batman are rebooted, we can look at when the terms “Earth-1 Superman,” “Earth-1 Batman,” “Earth-2 Superman,” and “Earth-2 Batman” are first used by name in the comics. While it is abundantly clear that there exist two Supermen as of the JLA debut in March 1960, the actual acknowledgment (by name) of separate Earth-1 and Earth-2 Superman counterparts doesn’t happen until 1969 (in JLA #73)! And again, while it is abundantly clear that there exist two Batmen as of the JLA debut in March 1960, the actual acknowledgment (by name) of separate Earth-1 and Earth-2 Batman counterparts doesn’t happen until until 1970! Although, for Batman, it is a bit different because the switch to a yellow-oval costume defines him as a Silver Age character as early as 1964. So in a sense, it’s up to the reader to decide which stories go on which Earths for Batman from 1960 up until 1964 and for Superman from 1960 up until 1969! Pretty wild.

So now that we have reached the yellow-oval switch, we should talk a bit more about it. The majority of comics historians mistakenly link Batman’s Silver Age relaunch with the costume change. Even DC writer/editor Bob Rozakis, in a 1979 “Ask the Answer Man” column, mistakenly referred to Batman’s “new look” as the start of Earth-1 storytelling. This “new look” yellow-oval costume change doesn’t occur until Detective Comics #327, Batman #164, and World’s Finest Comics #142 in 1964. Since we know that Batman existed on Earth-1 wearing an old school black insignia costume (when teaming with the JLA from 1960 to 1964), the costume change means nothing. It’s a nice marker to highlight a narrative tone shift from the camp of the late Golden Age to the seriousness and complexity of the Silver Age, but as far as continuity goes, it’s merely a costume change.

And that is what we are left with until the late 1970s. In the late 70s and early 80s, several huge retcons affect the world of Earth-2. Two of the biggest ones involve marriage. Clark Kent is said to have retroactively married Lois Lane in the early 50s. Likewise, Bruce Wayne is said to have married Selina Kyle in 1955. This means a lot of things. First, a bunch of late 50s and early 60s stories where Clark and Lois are clearly not married become non-canon on Earth-2. Second, a bunch of late 50s and early 60s stories where Batman is romantically involved with Batwoman become non-canon on Earth-2. Third, a few stories in the 50s where Catwoman returns to crime become non-canon on Earth-2.

The third big 80s retcon is about how and when Superman and Batman first learned each others’ secret identities. Superman #76 (1952) and World’s Finest Comics #71 (1954) depicted the famous SS Varania version of this important event. However, even back in the 50s, the canonicity of Superman #76 was in question since Batman and Superman had learned each others’ IDs years earlier (on the radio show). In the early 80s, DC wanted to define (or redefine) how Batman and Superman learned each others’ secret IDs on each separate Earth. Thus, in 1980 (via Superman Family #201), DC made Superman #76 the canonical version on Earth-2. To further confuse matters, a mere year later (in World’s Finest Comics #271, September 1981), DC changed their minds. Superman #76 was switched and made officially canon on Earth-1 whereas the radio version was made officially canon on Earth-2.

The fourth major 70s/80s retcon is from DC Superstars #17 (1977) and America Vs. The Justice Society (1985), which introduced the idea that Bruce and Selina’s child, Helena, is born in 1957, at which time, Bruce stops being a socialite, becomes active politically, and “semi-retires” as Batman, no longer going on routine patrols and only working “special cases.”

More late 70s/early 80s retcons to differentiate Earth-2 and Earth-1 occurred as well. Two-Face stays reformed on Earth-2 instead of returning to crime. Thus, any issues that show a reformed Two-Face returning to crime become non-canon on Earth-2. There are many other retcons in the late 50s and early 60s, and while they are mainly about Superman, they also affect Batman as well. These retcons include appearances by Superboy, the Arctic Fortress of Solitude, Lori Lemaris, the Bottle City of Kandor, Supergirl, the Legion, Bizarros, an adult Lana Lang, and other colors of Kryptonite—all of which become non-canon on Earth-2. These Bat-retcons and Super-retcons become the exceptions, which retroactively switch a ton of stories from Earth-2 to Earth-1.

So, what does my Silver Age/Earth-1 timeline look like? First of all, there is no better scholar on the internet dealing with the transition from Golden Age to Silver Age and specifically how it affects continuity of Earths-1 and 2 other than Mike Voiles. His series of “Fanboy” articles have been a tremendous help to me. However, my timeline is different from his. I agree with Voiles when he says to disregard the yellow-oval as start of the Earth-1 stories. However, I don’t agree with his other rationalizations. I think March 1960 is the key here. The Brave & the Bold #28 shows us definitively for the first time that there are two Batmen operating on two different Earths. (Showcase #4 and subsequent other character reboots showed us that there were two Earths, but not definitively that there were two Batmen). Obviously, the retcons made in the late 70s/early 80s must be heeded at all times, but Voiles has all ‘tec issues starting with #203 (1954) as occurring on Earth-1 due to the “fact” that Catwoman returns to crime in #203. First of all, I do not believe that Earth-2 Catwoman never returns to crime after Batman #62. Contrary to very popular belief, Detective Comics #203 (and its follow-up in Batman #84 and Detective Comics #211) is canon on Earth-2 instead of Earth-1. Voiles argues that Superman Family #211 tells us that Catwoman never returns to crime after going straight. Not so fast. In Superman Family #211, Clark tells Lois a watered-down version of Bruce’s history with Selina, and while the last thing he mentions is her adventure that involves Karl Kyle, that doesn’t necessarily mean that her return to crime didn’t happen. Clark’s interpretation of Catwoman’s career may be legit, but he unequivocally omits parts towards the end. Furthermore, DC Super-Stars #17 (1977) and The Brave & The Bold #197 (1983) tell a joint-story that not only contradicts any flimsy insinuation in Superman Family #211 (1981) that Catwoman never returned to crime, but also shows explicitly that she does return to crime! (In order to turn herself back into the law and serve a legit jail sentence, Selina must have turned back to crime). So why am I so sure about going with my version of things? First, two stories that back a certain version of events tend to outweigh one story that backs another. Second, The Brave & The Bold #197, which backs my version, was published the latest (1983), giving it more credence as a finalized retcon tale. Third, the “contradictory” issue (Superman Family #211) isn’t even really contradictory since one can definitely read Clark’s unreliable narration in a way that jibes with the other versions where Selina returns to crime. And fourth, the “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” sections of Superman Family are already littered with continuity errors, including a reference in Superman Family #201 to a definitively non-canon SS Varania adventure that only took place on Earth-1, thus lessening the credibility of what occurs in said sections. Comics historians and narratologists have long tried to simplify chronologies by ignoring things they read, even if they are staring them in the face. It’s all in the text, if you choose to scrutinize. But let’s play Devil’s Advocate. Even if I did agree with Voiles’ history of Earth-2 Catwoman, I wouldn’t mark ‘tec #203 as important of a keystone issue anyway. There’s nothing there that screams “There are two Batmen!” These issues were simply made into Earth-1 stories due to the late 70s/early 80s retcons. And the late 70s/early 80s retcons weren’t meant to change things so that the Silver Age began two years before Showcase #4! If we instead go by March 1960 as the all-important date, then ‘tec #276 (February 1960) must be the last Earth-2 ‘tec issue. That means…

Detective Comics #277 (March 1960) and up are Earth-1 issues. However, any issues of ‘tec prior to this should be taken on a case-by-case basis in regard to whether or not they violate any retcon exceptions, which would then slide them from Earth-2 to Earth-1. (Note that both ‘tec #275 and ‘tec #276 voilate retcon exceptions and are both Earth-1 stories, so technically ‘tec #275 and up are Earth-1 stories.)

Another complaint I have about Voiles’ methodology: If an issue from Earth-1 (Silver Age) references or flashes-back to an issue from Earth-2 (Golden Age), Voiles immediately regards that Golden Age issue as no longer canon on Earth-2 and now canon in on Earth-1! That’s not the way things work. Compare that method to what’s going on while curating timelines in the New 52 or even in the Modern Age. If something is referenced, it becomes retroactive reference notation material. You don’t add the story in completely! Here’s an example of Voiles’ methodology: he says that, because WFC #251 (a Silver Age Earth-1 tale) references Batman #75 (a Golden Age tale), Batman #75 must only be canon on Earth-1 and no longer canon on Earth-2. Another example: Voiles says that the first appearance of Earth-1 Batman is in Batman #62 because that issue is referenced in WFC #89, which he regards as an Earth-1 book. This doesn’t work for me. Using this type of thinking, Voiles has every issue of WFC from #68 up as occurring on Earth-1. Before 1960, you can “copy and paste” specific issues when building continuity timelines, but you cannot simply “cut and paste” large chunks of stories all together. Too many historians, including Voiles, try the latter. Since I’m still going with March 1960 as the key date, my chronology, in regard to WFC, considers the Earth-1 stuff to start with…

World’s Finest Comics #108 (March 1960). Of course, this doesn’t include a large chunk of earlier stories that violate the major retcons—i.e. Lois and Clark clearly not being married, Bruce and Selina clearly not being married, SS Varania references, or Batman clearly not being “semi-retired” after the birth of his daughter. Starting with WFC #76, we must scrutinize the WFC series more closely, separating the obvious Earth-1 tales from Earth-2 tales, until we reach WFC #108, whence all issues will fall into the Earth-1 category. (Note that World’s Finest Comics #107 violates Bruce’s anti-socialite stance, which he takes in semi-retirement. Therefore, technically Earth-1 starts with World’s Finest Comics #107 and up.)

Last but not least, Voiles has Batman #81 and up all listed as Earth-1 stories because #81 features Two-Face’s re-scarring and return to crime. However, in my opinion Batman #81 is not canon on Earth-1. The Brave & The Bold #197 clearly states that Two-Face was active in early 1955. Superman Family #211 shows that a rehabilitated and surgically repaired Harvey Kent attends Bruce’s wedding in the summer of 1955. Therefore, on Earth-2, Harvey does indeed become Two-Face again in #81. We must merely assume that he reforms shortly after that, as Superman Family tells us. What does it all mean? Not only are most historians totally wrong about this fact, but it also means that we must go by the March 1960 marker once again. Using the March 1960 date, we have…

the entirety of Batman #130 (March 1960) and all following issues functioning as Earth-1 stories. Any parts of issues—(Batman is split into three separate stories an issue)—prior to this must still be highly scrutinized and taken on a case-by-case basis in regard to whether or not they violate any retcon exceptions, which would then slide them from Earth-2 to Earth-1. With that being said, Batman #128 and Batman #129 actually violate later retcons about Batwoman’s retirement and about Batman’s semi-retirement policy of no longer routinely patrolling. The second two parts of Batman #127 (parts two and three) also violate later retcons about Bruce’s semi-retirement as well. Therefore, we can say more technically and specifically that all Batman stories beginning with Batman #127, Part 2 onward take place on the Earth-1 timeline.

So, March 1960 starts my version of the Silver Age for Batman aka his Earth-1 timeline. Of course, due to the numerous retcon exceptions (mostly from the late 70s and early 80s), a bunch of formerly Golden Age issues (from the 50s and early 1960) will fill in the opening portion.

In conclusion, there really is no set-in-stone undeniable version of when the Silver Age begins for Batman. It will always be open to interpretation. Whether you place the Silver Age start with Showcase #4 in 1956, or split the start dates between different titles going back as far as 1954 (as Voiles does), or start with Strange Adventures #54 in 1955 due to the noticeable editorial shift to sci-fi-heavy storytelling (as Ian at TradeReadingOrder.com does), or if you wait until the yellow-oval appears in 1964, or if you start with the JLA debut in 1960—it matters little since none of these are wrong. That being said, I feel very strongly about my version of things. The Real Batman Chronology Project puts its stamp of approval on the pre-original Crisis Earth-1 timeline that is published on this site. Nothing on the web is more researched and comprehensive and I hope that you will agree.[2]

 

>>> NEXT: Intro to the Silver Age Timeline Part 2 >>>

 

  1. [1]COLLIN COLSHER: The only possible indicator of an alternate Batman prior to 1960 would have been the multiple references to Robin being much too young, essentially incorrectly keeping him a teen well past the point where he would have been a teen. But as we will see in the Modern Age, the practice of keeping Robins inexplicably youthful is a practice that will continue on well into the 21st century. The age of Robin is less an indicator of a new Dynamic Duo on a new Earth and more an indicator of poor continuity and a holding-steady of the lame-but-marketable status-quo.
  2. [2]COLLIN COLSHER: For anyone wondering where the Bronze Age fits into the mix: The Bronze Age isn’t really a storyline era; it’s more of a “tone shift” that occurred in the mid 70s. Basically, the last ten years of the Silver Age could be considered the Bronze Age–a transition from the PG look and feel of comics in the 60s to the more mature, dark, brooding look and feel of comics in the 80s (before the Modern Age begins in 1986). There were no reboots or relaunches associated with the beginnings of the Bronze Age–storylines remained intact and were ongoing at the time. The stories simply grew darker, more socially relevant, edgier, and more violent, especially with the works of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams on Batman. So, the Bronze Age is great! I’m not ignoring it; it just doesn’t have its own list since technically it’s a part of the Earth-1 timeline.

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