In 1978, DC comics underwent the “DC implosion” and several DC titles were planned for cancellation due to numerous market factors (e.g. , increased costs for comic production, economic recession, fewer readers, etc…) One of the titles planned for cancellation was Detective Comics due to lackluster sales – in fact, Detective Comics #480 was slated to be the last issue. The problem with cancelling Detective Comics was that it was one of DC’s signature titles (what do you think the ‘DC’ in DC comics stands for, anyways?) and DC comics was not too eager to throw away all of that history (Detective Comics would be celebrating its 40th anniversary in 1979) – so they decided the next best thing would be to merge it with the Batman Family series.
Batman Family was a series that began in 1975 (as a result of the “DC Explosion”) and focussed exclusively on Batman and his supporting cast (e.g., Robin, Batgirl, Alfred, Man-Bat, etc…). Batman Family was part of DC’s “Giant” series, so it contained more pages per issue and also cost a little bit more. At the time, it also had better sales than Detective Comics. The Batman Family series (ran until issue #20 in 1978) was edited by Julius Schwartz for the first 16 issues – Schwartz was best known for his complete overhaul of Batman in the mid-60s which involved making Batman more modern by eliminating the sillier aspects of the Batman mythos (e.g., Ace the Bat-Hound, Batwoman, Bat-Mite, space aliens) and redesigning the Batmobile. It’s kind of interesting that Batman Family had brought the Batman mythos “full circle” as stories about Batwoman and Ace the Bathound were now being reintegrated into the series under Schwartz’ editorship.
In 1978 Batman Family was cancelled at issue #20, and two months later Detective Comics #481 became a 68-page ‘Dollar’ book. The new Detective Comics #481 picked up where Batman Family left off – even going so far as to print fan mail for the last issues of the Batman Family series. The revamped Detective Comics now contained 2 Batman stories, a Robin story, a Batgirl story, and a couple stories featuring any characters that might fit in with the ‘detective’ theme of the series. Originally, the whole idea of Detective Comics was to feature stories about detectives solving crimes (whether they be official, private, intellectual, hard-boiled, humorous, or serious) so many different types of DC characters had a chance to be featured in this series. Paul Levitz became the editor starting with issue #482, as Schwartz had been assigned to the Superman titles. Paul Levitz promised fans the return of obscure Batman villains and the end of multiple Batman stories per issue (both of which he delivered on). Detective Comics went back to its regular-sized format and price with issue #496, hence the end of the Batman Family saga.
This was a really good time to be a Batman (or Batgirl or Robin) fan reading Detective Comics as it contained:
- A Batman story, a Batgirl story and a Robin story (sometimes even a Batgirl/Robin team-up story)
- 68-pages with no ads (6 stories per issue)
- A wrap-around cover that sometimes featured a pin-up on the back
- Self-contained stories with no ongoing Batman drama. (These were the best kind of Silver Age tales as they usually contained a mystery that the reader was able to solve by the end of the story if he was carefully watching for the clues)
- A whole slew of villains from Batman’s rogues gallery (e.g., Killer Moth, Ra’s Al Ghul, the League of Assassins, the Sensei, Scarecrow, Maxie Zeus, the Riddler, the Crime Doctor, the Penguin)
- Back-up features starring the Demon, the Human Target, Black Lightning, the Atom, Roy Raymond TV detective, Elongated Man, the Odd Man, and the Red Tornado
Detective Comics #485 is infamous for being the last silver-age appearance of Batwoman (as she is murdered by the League of Assassins in that issue). When asked why she was killed off, writer Dennis O’Neil simply stated “we already had a Batgirl, we didn’t need a Batwoman”*. I’m sure the death of Batwoman didn’t hurt sales, either. Originally, Batwoman was introduced (Detective Comics #233) as a love interest for Batman in order to quell the homosexual allegations about the Batman and Robin relationship. Bronze Tiger (formerly of DC’s Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter) gets a second life as a League of Assassins member – and is introduced in the same issue Batwoman is killed off. Additionally, in Pre-Crisis continuity, Batgirl had a brother named Tony Gordon who was somehow involved with communists (Tony doesn’t exist Post-Crisis).