The Bat-Family Expands: Bat-Mite, Superman and Batgirl

Bat-Hound and Batwoman were apparently hits with the readers, because the Bat-family kept on expanding. Next to appear in May 1959 was Bat-Mite, in DETECTIVE COMICS #267, “Batman Meets Bat-Mite!”


Bat-Mite appeared unexpectedly in the Batcave one day, described by Robin as “an elf dressed in a crazy-looking Batman costume!” As Bat-Mite explains, he comes from another dimension, and has admired Batman’s exploits for years, and now intends to help Batman “fight crime with [his] unearthly powers!”


Despite Batman’s discouragement, Bat-Mite tags along, and usually winds up making the battles more difficult with his powers, by conjuring giant obstacles or otherwise hampering Batman’s efforts, but only so that he can watch Batman overcome the odds and eventually win out. Unlike Mr. Mxyzptlk, the extradimensional pest from the Superman comics from whom Bat-Mite is clearly derived, there’s no magic formula to make Bat-Mite go away; usually it just takes a guilt trip from Batman, who thanks to his growing family was becoming more and more like a stern parent.


Another of Batman’s regular teammates in the 1950s was Superman. Although Superman and Batman had appeared together on the covers of WORLD’S FINEST COMICS since the’40s, inside they were featured in solo stories. That is, until 1954, when shrinking page counts did away for solo stories for the two heroes, and began featuring them together in a single adventure. Although the Superman/Batman teamups in World’s Finest were often slanted in favor of Superman (simply due to the imbalance in power between the characters), the best stories would come when other members of their respective families would cross paths, such as this 1960 tale when Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk cross paths and begin an all-out magic war, with Superman, Batman, Robin and Gotham City caught in the middle.


Another excellent Superman-Batman teamup featured Lex Luthor and the Joker going into business together to create and sell super-strong, unbreakable mechanical men. Superman and Batman repeatedly interfere with Luthor and Joker’s operations, convinced they’re up to something nefarious. Naturally, they’re right, as it turns out they’re planning to use their “Mechano-Men” to break into the Treasury, which makes no sense, as their “Mechano-Man” business seems to be thriving. Still, the best part of this story are the surreal touches, like Joker showing up at City Hall to sign the business papers with Luthor, or Joker and Luthor meeting clients in their tastefully decorated offices.


Batman also appeared regularly in 1960’s super-team revival, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. Unlike the earlier JSA pseudo-membership of the ‘40s, Superman and Batman were members in good standing of the JLA and appeared in nearly every issue.


When efforts were made to make Batman a bit more serious in the mid-60s, Batwoman, Bat-Girl, Bat-Mite and Ace the Bat-Hound were whisked to the sidelines, as if they’d never existed. New BATMAN editor Julius Schwartz’s tenure was marked by the addition of a yellow oval around the Bat-insignia, a detail that would remain for some three decades. It was on Schwartz’s watch in 1967 that he was asked to create a new Batgirl, who would also be added to the TV series to hopefully boost the sagging ratings. Schwartz enlisted writer Gardner Fox and artist Carmine Infantino, and the result was DETECTIVE COMICS #359 (January 1967), “The Million-Dollar Debut of Batgirl!”


As the story opens, we’re introduced to librarian Barbara Gordon, (daughter of Gotham Police Commissioner James Gordon), who, we’re told, holds a Ph. D and graduated summa cum laude, and holds a brown belt in judo. In case you’re missing the subtext here, Babs is ultra-competent, unlike her Bat-predecessor Betty Kane, whose major qualification seemed to be looking good in the skirt. Barbara is headed for the Policeman’s Masquerade Ball, dressed as – what else? – Batgirl.


On her way to the ball, Barbara runs into a kidnapping attempt on none other than millionaire Bruce Wayne by the Killer Moth, admittedly not one of Batman’s more illustrious opponents. Batgirl manages to repel the Killer Moth and his goons, allowing Wayne to get away and change to Batman, but Barbara’s costume is ruined in the process, and she bails on the Policeman’s Ball.


Having had a taste of the excitement of crimefighting, Barbara is sorely tempted to return to action as Batgirl, creating a new costume and redoubling her training. When Barbara, on a business visit to Wayne Manor, discovers Bruce Wayne murdered at the hands of Killer Moth, she immediately leaps into the fray.


Naturally, Wayne isn’t really dead; it’s just a realistic dummy designed to trick Killer Moth into thinking he’d killed the millionaire, so Batman and Robin could follow the villain back to his hideout. The Dynamic Duo (with a defiant Batgirl in pursuit) trace Killer Moth back to his base (the appropriately named Moth Mansion), where Batgirl not only rescues Batman and Robin from Killer Moth’s gravity chamber, but also tracks the supervillain by tracing the scent of her perfume from their previous tussle.


Still a little stereotypical, I’ll grant you, but it’s definitely an improvement over Batwoman and her “utility purse.” By the conclusion of her debut appearance, Batgirl would be fully accepted as an ally of Batman and Robin, and would go on to appear quite regularly in the various BATMAN comics over the next two decades (including, believe it or not, a stint as a United States Congress for Barbara Gordon. But perhaps that’s a story for another column…).


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