In the Bronze Age of comics, Batman returned to his detective roots in a series of grounded -- and groundbreaking -- stories. Detective Comics continued to expand the Dark Knight’s world by introducing new characters and story elements that have remained to this day. Robin went to college, Batgirl went to Congress, and Batman adopted his second young orphan. As part of our continuing celebration of Batman’s 80th anniversary and Detective Comics 1000th issue (in which we've thus far examined the Golden Age and Silver Age), let’s take a look at the series' most iconic Bronze Age moments...
Dick Grayson Grows Up
For decades, the Dynamic Duo were seldomly seen apart, but the Bronze Age shook the status quo by splitting up Batman and Robin. In Batman #217 (written by Frank Robbins and penciled by Irv Novick), Dick left Wayne Manor to attend college at Hudson University, setting him up for a series of solo backup stories, starting in 1969's Detective Comics #394 (written by Frank Robbins and penciled by Gil Kane). Robin’s backup feature showed Dick adjusting to college life while solving crimes on campus. With no Batman in sight, Robin came into his own as he dealt with political discourse, fraternity violence, and mysteries rooted in the issues of the day. Detective Comics #394 is also notable for being the first time the book ever crossed over with another title, as the book's main feature continued a story that started in Batman #217...
Man-Bat’s First Flight
In 1970's Detective Comics #400 (written by Frank Robbins and penciled by Neal Adams), Batman met one of Gotham’s freakier citizens as he came face to face with Man-Bat! Seeking to help mankind improve its physical form, Dr. Kirk Langstrom developed a serum that contained bat genetics. Like most comic-book scientists, Kirk tested the serum on himself. But he soon found to his horror he was being transformed into a hybrid creature. He wound up crossing paths with Batman when the two worked together to protect a local museum from criminals. The Dark Knight was shocked to discover that Man-Bat’s face was not a mask, but the creature fled before he could learn more. Over the years, Man-Bat has had many encounters with Batman as both friend and foe.
Batman Meets Talia
While on the trail of Doctor Darrk, Batman met a woman who would change his life forever. Talia Al Ghul first appeared in 1971's Detective Comics #411 (written by Denny O’Neil and penciled by Bob Brown), in which she helped Batman take down Darrk. During the adventure, Talia also gave Batman his earliest hints about her father, Ra’s Al Ghul. Although Talia presented herself at first as a naïve hostage, her true nature was revealed when she fatally shot Darrk. Talia since has gone on to become one of the most important romances in Batman’s life; resulting in a short marriage and the birth of Damian Wayne. Detective Comics #411 was partially adapted in the classic Batman: The Animated Series episode “Off Balance”.
Batgirl Is Elected to Congress
The Bronze Age shook up the status quo by placing the Batman family in new settings and roles, the most significant of which was Barbara Gordon’s election to Congress. By 1972's Detective Comics #424 (written by Frank Robbins and penciled by Don Heck), Barbara had grown disillusioned with the criminal justice system and thought she could do more good in the halls of Washington D.C. than she could on the rooftops of Gotham. Initially. it was Jim Gordon who ran for Congress, but Barbara convinced him to let her take his place. Thanks to a grassroots campaign from Gotham’s youths, Barbara won the election and left Gotham for her new home in the nation's capital. She served for years before finally losing her seat in a re-election campaign, and henceforth returned to Gotham. Batgirl has since experienced many tragedies and triumphs. But serving as an elected official is definitely one of the most impressive things a member of the Bat family has ever done...
Leslie Tompkins' First Appearance
In 1976's Detective Comics #457 (written by Denny O’Neil and penciled by Dick Giordano), the Dark Knight took a trip to Crime Alley, where readers met Leslie Tompkins for the first time. The story reveals that on the night of his parents' death, Leslie (based on real-life social activist Dorothy Day) had comforted young Bruce when he needed it most. Every year since, on the anniversary of his parent’s death, Batman makes a pilgrimage to Crime Alley so he can check up on Leslie. In this story, Leslie inspires Batman by reminding him what hope means and how one person can make a difference. Later stories would reimagine Leslie as a physician who helped raise Bruce after his parents died. This issue was partially adapted in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Appointment in Crime Alley”.
Bruce Wayne Falls for Silver St. Cloud
While attending a party in 1977's Detective Comics #470 (written by Steve Englehart and penciled by Walt Simonson), Bruce Wayne found himself drawn to a woman named Silver St. Cloud. The two quickly fell for each other, and a romance blossomed unlike any that Bruce had ever been in before. Even Alfred wondered if Silver could be “the one." When Bruce had previously dated Julie Madison and Vicki Vale, he went to great lengths to keep his double life a secret from them. But Silver was different. She didn’t fall for the same excuses that worked on Bruce’s previous girlfriends, and when she saw Batman fight Deadshot she immediately recognized the man she loved. Unable to handle his extreme lifestyle, Silver left Gotham, leaving Bruce heartbroken. She's since reappeared in comics as well as in TV's Gotham.
Hugo Strange Unmasks Batman
After an almost forty-year absence, the demented Dr. Hugo Strange made a surprising return in 1977's Detective Comics #471 (written by Steve Englehart and penciled by Marshall Rogers). Bruce Wayne had checked himself into a clinic to treat radiation burns he'd received from fighting Dr. Phosphorus, but he was caught off-guard when he learned the hospital was secretly run by his forgotten enemy Hugo Strange. The mad professor reminded the Dark Knight and readers that he was a credible threat when he incapacitated and unmasked Batman. Strange then impersonated Wayne, using the millionaire's face in an attempt to rob him of his fortune. This story took Hugo Strange, who had been all but forgotten since the Golden Age, and immediately reestablished him as one of the Dark Knight’s most dangerous enemies.
The Joker’s Laughing Fish
The Joker has had plenty of oddball schemes, but few have been so memorable as his "Laughing Fish," in 1978's Detective Comics #475 (written by Steve Englehart and penciled by Marshall Rogers). In a move that puzzled everyone, the Clown Prince of Crime gave his sinister Joker smile to all the fish in Gotham Harbor. When lawyers refused to copyright his fish, the Joker began killing them one by one, putting Batman and Commissioner Gordon on the defensive as they tried to prevent each murder. The Joker reached new heights of terror in this story, thanks to Englehart’s chilling dialogue and Roger’s creepy depiction of his cold smile. “The Laughing Fish” (continued in Detective Comics #476, "The Sign of the Joker") has gone down in history as one of the greatest Joker stories of all time. The comic was also adapted as the classic Batman: The Animated Series episode “The Laughing Fish”.
Alfred’s Past Is Revealed
Alfred Pennyworth had been a loyal servant to Batman for decades, but little was known about the butler’s early life in the character's first several decades. That all changed in 1981's Detective Comics #501 (written by Gerry Conway and penciled by Don Newton), when a trip to Paris revealed Alfred’s secret past. Readers learned Alfred had served as an officer for the British Intelligence and fought alongside the French Resistance against the Nazis in World War II. The international trip revealed another surprise -- Alfred had a grown daughter named Julia. Julia later moved to America to get to know her father, and eventually went to work with Vicki Vale at Picture News Magazine. In addition to introducing Julia Pennyworth, Detective Comics #501 was the first comic to establish Alfred’s military training, which has gone on to become an important part of his backstory.
Jason Todd Arrives
We’ve said throughout this article that the Bronze Age was a time of change for Batman, and nowhere is that more apparent than in 1983's Detective Comics #526 (written by Gerry Conway and penciled by Don Newton). The story, entitled “All My Enemies Against Me”, celebrated Batman’s 500th appearance in the magazine with an epic anniversary issue. A group of Batman’s enemies teamed up to take down the Dark Knight, and Jason Todd suited up for the first time. Batgirl joined the new Dynamic Duo, in what proved to be her last team-up with them before becoming Oracle. The issue ends with Bruce Wayne taking Jason Todd in after the tragic death of his parents. This story was also one of Bruce and Dick’s final adventures together as Batman and Robin. Very soon the Batman family would head in a new direction, and Dick Grayson would become Nightwing. It was the end of one era, and the beginning of another...