This year marks the 75th anniversary of Batman’s first appearance, in Detective Comics No. 27, and it seems, therefore, like a good time to reveal a villainous and dastardly secret: those first Batman comics were unbelievably wretched. Early Superman stories have a vindictive socialist charge as Siegel and Shuster gleefully have their high-jumping hero bash greedy capitalist pigs; early Wonder Woman comics are a delirious mix of bondage, feminism, and giant space kangaroos. But the first Batman stories are unreadable, dreary pulp dreck, with numbing text and indifferent art. Reading them now, you’d never know that an icon was being born.
The mediocrity of that first appearance is a boon in some ways for the Fulton Street Collective’s Batman anniversary show, set to coincide with this weekend’s mammoth C2E2 comics convention at McCormick Place. The participating local comic creators and artists don’t seem overburdened by the original conception, picking and choosing cheerfully from the caped crusader’s extended history.
Jacob Crose has a pleasantly and appropriately doofy painting of Adam West’s 60s superhero as a saint with halo against a colorful pop-art backing. Kat Leyh pictures our hero in the sewers seeking Killer Croc, an atmospheric image that seems inspired in part by the Bruce Timm animated universe. Lucy Knisley’s piece depicts a bustling city street in which everyone—joggers, a newly married couple, a hot dog vendor—wears Batman masks, a witty riff on the character’s popularity and commodification.
The intended audience for this show is obviously fans of Batman rather than gallerygoers; the focus is nostalgia and enjoyment of the character, rather than deconstruction or visionary reworkings. Still, if you love the Dark Knight, you’ll find much to admire and giggle at—and certainly more enjoyment than anyone could get from that original, 75-year-old Bat adventure.