Yes, the Dark Knight is the greatest and most popular comics character of all time. However, classic Batman comics contain many elements modern fans will hate.
People raised on the great Batman stories of the 1980s and 1990s will find many of the older stories hard to read or even offensive. In particular, many fans will find older Batman stories just too light or funny for their tastes.
Many elements of classic Batman can be frustrating to younger readers. Indeed, there are a few aspects of old-time Batman that can make those comics almost inaccessible to modern readers.
Elements of Classic Batman Comics Modern Fans will hate include:
1. Many 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s Batman stories were unbelievably silly, campy, corny, and weird
Many modern Bat fans hate the 1960s Batman TV show because of its silliness and camp. Ironically, many of those fans don’t realize the Batman TV was quite faithful to the era’s Batman comic books.
Indeed, many elements of 1960s Batman comics were too silly and fantastic for the Batman TV show. For example, 1950s and 1960s comics featured such lunacy as the Giant Batman genie, time travel, the alien crime boss of Gotham City, the Gorilla Crime Boss of Gotham City, Bat-Mite, Ace the Bathound, the Bat-Hulk, and the alien Batman of Planet X. Thus, the levels of silliness in 1950s and 1960s Batman were unbelievable. Fans of the era however loved the lunacy.
Writers introduced such fantastic elements into the Batman stories because the Comics Code introduced in 1954 forbid straight crime stories. For example, the Code made it impossible to show gangsters with guns and stories about knives or murder.
Another reason for the lack of crime was DC Comics’ mid-century editorial policy which emphasized stories aimed at children who were then considered comics’ primary audience. One aspect of that policy was to not print anything that could offend mom, who was the ultimate comic buyer of the era. Hence, weird stories about aliens and genies were okay, but tales about gangsters and murder were not.
To get around the Code, writers focused on elements of Batman’s crime fighting such as stories about Batman’s utility belt, the Bat Signal or the Batmobile. After those plots were exhausted, writers turned to fantasy, science fiction, and outright satire.
In the late 1960s, DC editors went total camp to cash in on the popularity of the Batman TV show. Realism and crime began returning to Batman in the 1970s as the Comics Code eased and readers became tired of camp.
Conversely, some silly Batman stories continued into the 1970s. Particularly, in the Batman Family comics. Those comics featured such plots as Batgirl elected to Congress. In one particularly loony 1970s story, Batgirl and Robin find themselves fighting the ghost of Benedict Arnold, an army of ghostly British Redcoats, and a devil who bears an uncanny resemblance to Marvel Comics’ figurehead Stan Lee.
Hence, classic Batman can be too bizarre even for modern fans used to multiverse madness and constant chaos.
2. Batman is not very Capable or Formidable
Today’s Batman is the smartest and most competent person in the DC Universe. Among other things the modern Dark Knight is a scientific genius, a brilliant strategist, a great detective, a master of many martial arts, a master of disguise, and an inventor. Additionally, Bruce Wayne is a philanthropist and a brilliant business man.
In contrast, the Golden and Silver Age Batman wasn’t very bright. In those days, the Dark Knight was constantly falling into obvious traps and incapable of solving simple riddles. Plus, Batman’s fighting style was terrible, it was a combination of basic boxing moves and the kind of jumping around seen in 1930s adventure films.
Modern fans will wonder how this Batman survived at all. The idea of the classic Batman surviving battles with the Joker or Bane is hard to swallow.
Interestingly, the bungling somewhat limited Batman survived into the 1970s. It was only when writer Denny O’Neil reimagined the Dark Knight as a pulp hero similar to Doc Savage, that Batman took on his status as the world’s most competent man.
Finally, Silver and Golden Age comics usually showed Bruce Wayne was a lazy and effeminate fop who was totally reliant on Alfred for everything.
3. Robin is a Total Jerk
Strangely, both versions of Robin shown before the 1990s were complete jerks. Dick Grayson was a smart aleck who could be very self-centered. Particularly, in the 1970s, when writers tried to show Robin as an unappreciative and rebellious adolescent. Jason Todd, the second Robin introduced in the 1980s, was so obnoxious fans voted to kill him off.
Fans used to seeing Dick Grayson as the stalwart leader of the Teen Titans and Todd as the flawed but heroic Red Hood will have a hard time seeing their heroes shown as jerks. Nor do either of these characters resemble later Robins such as the dedicated and brilliant Tim Drake.
4. The Villains are not very villainous
Comics Code compliance and DC’s kid friendly policies made it hard for villains to be villainous. For examples, villains could not be shown killing, torturing, firing guns, or selling drugs.
Hence, villains became comic relief. For example, the Joker became a goofy clown who used weird props to commit crimes. Instead of killing, the Joker sprayed his enemies with glue, or blasted them with bubbles. The Riddler and Penguin got similar treatments. Meanwhile, some villains including Two-Face and Deadshot disappeared for years.
All the crooks do in many of those comics is steal ,usually from the rich or large institutions. For example, the Joker often robs the Gotham Opera box office and the auto show.
Unable to have villains commit real crimes writers made the bad guys weirder and weirder. Clayface, for example, was re-imagined as a living pile of mud, while the Joker traded minds with Batman.
It was only with the lightening of the Comics Code in the early 1970s that Denny O’Neil and others began making villains villainous again. For example, the Joker became a serial killer and the Penguin, a gangster. O’Neil also introduced Raʼs al Ghul as a true criminal mastermind of the Fu Manchu variety.
5. Batman’s Ethics leave a lot to be desired
Today Batman is known for his strong moral code. The Dark Knight refuses to kill, use guns, or torture under any circumstance, for example.
Batman is so committed to defending the innocent he always seems to have time to help the Justice League, or Superman, or Batman Incorporated, even though he claims protecting Gotham City is a full time job. Similarly, Bruce Wayne is a big-hearted philanthropist who uses his fortune for the common good.
In his original pre-World War II stories Batman used a gun and killed villains and monsters. They called one story Death to Doctor Death, for example.
Later on, Batman took a child (Robin) into danger and put innocents at risk with some of his efforts. Erecting tank traps on the streets of Downtown Gotham, and letting a mental patient pose as Batman in the Joker’s presence, for example.
Bruce Wayne’s ethics are worse than his alter ego’s. During World War II, Bruce Wayne blatantly dodges the draft, for example. Wayne is also a playboy who wastes his money and is oblivious to Gotham City’s widespread poverty and corruption.
Even in the 1970s, Batman makes such questionable moves as teaming up with the Joker, and collaborating with Raʼs al Ghul and Talia. Plus, Batman sometimes ignores greater menaces, such as organized crime, in order to fight muggers in the streets.
Batman even refuses to help the Justice League protect the Earth at times. Batman’s League involvement is also questionable. Notably, Batman once refused to tell his fellow League members that an antagonist called John Dough was the Joker in disguise. The oversight allowed the Joker to escape and set a nearly fatal trap for the League. Batman had clearly deduced Dough’s identity but he kept it secret from his supposed teammates.
The Dark Knight’s moral compass took a long time to develop. Batman’s commitment to protecting the innocent and life is a far more recent development than most fans realize.
6. Classic Batman’s Sexism is bothersome
Fortunately, classic Batman comics, like most DC products of the era contain little racism. Largely, because they show almost no nonwhite people.
Unfortunately, the same comics are full of sexism. For example, both the Catwoman and the first version of Batgirl wear dresses even into combat. Batman, conversely is allowed to wear pants, which is more than Robin got in those days.
Batman, Batgirl, and Catwoman were not allowed to engage in fisticuffs until the 1970s. Instead they have to sit back and watch the Dynamic Duo fight or catch bad guys in nets. Moreover, the main villainess Catwoman is shown as mostly a romantic foil for Batman rather than a serious foe.
Ironically, it was the often maligned 1960s Batman TV show that finally brought some equality to the Batcave. It was on TV that Batgirl was shown as Batman and Robin’s equal in combat and crimefighting skills for the first time. On the show, Batgirl was shown clobbering henchmen and sometimes saving the Dynamic Duo.
Today’s world of female crimefighters was unthinkable in the good old days.
7. Batman has few allies
Today, no superhero has more allies than Batman. His allies include the Justice League, the Doom Patrol, the Titans, the Suicide Squad, many sidekicks, the international crime fighters of Batman Incorporated, and almost every other DC superhero in addition to the entire Gotham Police Force.
Back in the 1950s however, the Dark Knight’s only allies were Superman, Alfred, and Robin. The Gotham Police were supportive but of limited help.
Batwoman and Batgirl appeared in the late 1950s but sexist constraints made them questionable allies. Ace the Bat Hound was some help but he was just a dog.
It was not until the 1960s that Batman became involved with the Justice League and the 1970s that the Dark Knight began regularly teaming up with other heroes (mostly in The Brave and the Bold). Ironically, classic Batman was far more of a loner and a one-man war on crime than today’s Dark Knight.
Classic Batman comics can be fun but the character they showcase is far from today’s Dark Knight.