Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock 'n' roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it's the subsequent visits--the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time--that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.
Oh, yeah: Cesar Romero, his mustache stubbornly showing through his pasty white makeup on TV's Batman in 1966. I'm not sure exactly which was my first episode of Batman, though I know I didn't see the pilot episodes until they were re-run later in the first season. It's possible, and maybe probable, that I was watching the show by the time The Joker made his grinning, ghastly debut in the third week's two-parter, "The Joker Is Wild"/"Batman Is Riled," on January 26th and 27th, 1966. (We used to watch Batman on a station from nearby Utica, NY, which aired the episodes on Mondays and Tuesdays instead of Wednesdays and Thursdays, so I may have seen these episodes on the 24th and 25th, before the rest of my kindergarten class saw 'em on Syracuse's Channel 9.) My first exposure to The Joker in comics form was a Kelloggs' Pop Tarts mini-comic; my second may have been a reprint of "The Crazy Crime Clown!" in a Signet Books Batman paperback. Much later, I read The Joker's first appearance, from 1940's Batman # 1, when it was reprinted in the book Batman From The '30s To The '70s. The murderous Joker depicted in this '40s story was dramatically different from the clownish criminal I knew, and the original interpretation of the character would return with a vicious vengeance in "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge!" by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams in Batman # 251 (September 1973).
My mid-'70s fascination with paperback reprints of 1930s Doc Savage pulp adventures led me to The Shadow, and to The Avenger, a lesser-known pulp hero also credited to Doc Savage's presumed creator, Kenneth Robeson. Robeson was a house name at Doc's publishing company Street & Smith, a pseudonym used by any writer working on Doc Savage's adventures, including Lester Dent, the writer recognized as Doc's main scribe. Dent, along with The Shadow's creator Walter Gibson, are said to have been involved with The Avenger's creation in an advisory capacity, but the origin and subsequent stories in The Avenger were mostly written by Paul Ernst, writing as Robeson. The Avenger's stories were exciting--even better than Doc Savage, as I recall--featuring the exploits of Richard Benson, a hero with the ability to change his appearance. In the wake of a devastating tragedy, Benson transformed from a wealthy prick into The Avenger, and formed Justice, Inc., his own little crime-fighting combo. Unique among pulp series of the day, Justice, Inc. included a black couple--Josh and Rosabel Newton--who were portrayed as intelligent, courageous, capable members of The Avengers' team, rather than as the derogatory racial stereotypes prevalent at the time. In the '70s, DC Comics licensed The Avenger for a comic book series; to avoid confusion with rival Marvel Comics' superhero book The Avengers, DC released these new Avenger adventures under the title Justice, Inc.
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