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Batman: Earth-One vs. Earth-Two

An examination of two Bat-timelines

Who was the Earth-One Batman? If you're of a certain age, the answer is simply "Batman" — or, if you prefer, "The Batman." Through the latter half of the Silver Age and all of the Bronze Age, the Earth-One Batman was the default version of the character. A handful of stories made reference to the Earth-Two Batman (the Golden Age character, who died in a 1979 Adventure Comics story) and purists will insist that at least some of the Batman team-up stories in Brave and the Bold should actually be consigned to a hypothetical "Earth-B," but if you picked up a Batman comic book at any point between 1964 and 1986, it most likely featured the adventures of the Earth-One Batman.

From an artistic and design standpoint, you could say the Earth-One Batman was Neal Adams' interpretation of Carmine Infantino's 1964 "New Look": blue cape and cowl, gray tights, tall-eared cowl, yellow utility belt, and, of course, the yellow oval around the bat. Perhaps the quintessential example of that look was Spanish artist José Luis García-López's early-eighties DC licensing style guide, which blended Neal Adams' heroic realist sensibility and breathless pulp dynamism with a Pop gloss that neatly encompassed both the gritty detective stories of writer Denny O'Neil and the superhero milieus of Super Friends and Justice League of America. Images from that style guide appeared (and still occasionally appear) on everything from coloring books to Batman sunglasses, unifying the character's look across media and merchandising.

Gold Into Silver

The cover of Detective Comics #327 (May 1964) declared "Introducing a 'New Look' Batman and Robin." Inside that issue, readers would notice the new yellow oval around Batman's emblem. Art by Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella.

It's important to emphasize that there is no clear delineation between Golden Age and Silver Age Batman continuity. Unlike DC characters like the Flash or Green Lantern, whose Silver Age incarnations appeared after a break in publication, Batman's adventures were published continuously from 1939 on. While there were running changes to his costume, supporting characters, and minor points of continuity — some of which were later associated specifically with Earth-One — those changes were only occasionally acknowledged in the stories themselves. Batman and Robin's own ongoing adventures never explicitly indicated that the Caped Crusaders were in any way different characters than they had been in their earliest stories.

The only obvious point of demarcation was Detective Comics #327, published in early 1964 with a May cover date. That issue and the subsequent issue of Batman (#164, June 1964) marked the beginning of the Julius Schwartz-edited "New Look" period, best known for the addition of the distinctive yellow oval around Batman's chest emblem.

Defining Earth-One

Batman's early JLA appearances (all on Earth-One, naturally) featured the original non-oval costume. His first JLA appearance with the yellow oval was issue #28 (June 1964). From Justice League of America # (); art by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs.
In Superman #76 (May/June 1952), Batman and Superman learn each other's secret identities. According to World's Finest Comics #271 (Sept. 1981), the original (Earth-Two) heroes had already exchanged these secrets earlier in their career. Art by Curt Swan and John Fischetti.
This Hugo Strange story was later referenced by both Earth-One and Earth-Two stories. From Detective Comics #46 (Dec. 1940); art by Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, and George Roussos

It would be tempting to assign Detective Comics #327 and Batman #164 as the cutoff points between Earth-Two and Earth-One continuity. Indeed, when DC published the first edition of Who's Who in the DC Universe in 1986, they did exactly that, listing the Earth-One Batman's first appearance as Detective Comics #327.

However, assuming a hard and fast line of demarcation would also be highly misleading. Even a fairly cursory examination of Batman's Silver Age appearances makes it clear that many stories published prior to Detective Comics #327 must also have been part of Earth-One continuity, including Batman's appearances in Justice League of America and his adventures with Superman in World's Finest Comics.

Nonetheless, it is generally safe to assume that most — though not all — Batman stories published with a cover dates between May 1964 and December 1985 took place on Earth-One, unless the story is explicitly described as:

  1. An Earth-Two or "Golden Age" story, e.g., Batman's occasional appearances in the 1980s All-Star Squadron series.
  2. Involving a Batman from a different alternate Earth, e.g., the evil Batman of an unnamed Earth seen in "Superman and Batman – Outlaws!" in World's Finest Comics #148 (March 1965).
  3. An "Imaginary Story," e.g., "Superman and Batman — Brothers" in World's Finest Comics #172 (Dec. 1967).
  4. A possible future, e.g., "The Last Batman Story" in Batman #300 (June 1978).

What is the earliest Batman story that can definitely be assigned exclusively to Earth-One continuity? That's a much more difficult question. A case could be made for Batman's guest appearance with Superman in the first story of Superman #76 (May/June 1952), in which Batman and Superman learn each other's secret identities. World's Finest Comics #271 (Sept. 1981) firmly assigns that story to Earth-One and establishes that on Earth-Two, Superman learned Batman and Robin's secret identities in 1945 under circumstances similar to the events of a 1945 Adventures of Superman radio storyline. However, the slightly earlier "Mr. and Mrs. Superman" story in Superman Family #201 (June/July 1980) — a tale clearly set on Earth-Two — also alludes to the events of Superman #76, implying that the events of the 1952 story (or something similar) also occurred on Earth-Two.

Many, though not all, of the Batman/Superman team-ups in World's Finest Comics (starting in #71, July/Aug. 1954) are almost certainly Earth-One stories. For example, the first of these, "Batman — Double for Superman" (World's Finest #71), deals with Batman and Robin's efforts to protect Superman's secret identity from a snooping Lois Lane, to whom the Earth-Two Superman was married by 1954. The villain of World's Finest Comics #88 (May/June 1957), #94 (May/June 1958), and #100 (Mar. 1959) is Earth-One's Lex Luthor and the latter story involves the Bottle City of Kandor (described as "Krypton City"), which, according to Showcase Comics #97 (Feb. 1978), did not exist on Earth-Two. However, the Club of Heroes seen in World's Finest #89 (July/Aug. 1957) probably did, since several of its members, such as the Knight and the Squire, had previously been introduced in stories that most likely took place on Earth-Two (e.g., Batman #62, Dec. 1950/Jan. 1951).

Brave and the Bold #28 (Feb./March 1960), the first appearance of the Justice League of America, is definitely an Earth-One story, but Brave and the Bold #182 (Jan. 1982) assigns the roughly contemporaneous story, "Web of the Spinner," published in Batman #129 (Feb. 1960), to Earth-Two.

To complicate things further, it is clear that quite a few stories took place in similar if not identical forms on both Earth-One and Earth-Two. For example, the first Bronze Age appearance of Professor Hugo Strange in Detective Comics #471-472 (Aug./Sept. 1977) refers to the villain's final Golden Age appearances in Batman #1 (Spring 1940) and Detective Comics #46 (Dec. 1940). Four years later, the Golden Age (Earth-Two) Strange resurfaced in the aforementioned Brave and the Bold #182 (Jan. 1982), which also makes explicit reference to the climax of Detective Comics #46, establishing that similar events took place on both Earths.

Common Misconceptions

When Julius Schwartz became editor of the Batman titles in 1964 and launched the "New Look," he discarded almost all of the major supporting characters of the previous eight years, including Vicki Vale, Batwoman, Ace the Bat-Hound, Bat-Mite, and Bat-Girl (Batwoman's niece Betty Kane, not to be confused with Batgirl). As a result, fans often assume those characters were relegated to Earth-Two continuity. However, all subsequently appeared in Silver Age and/or Bronze Age stories clearly set on Earth-One.

For example, despite a later editorial assertion in the letter column of Batman #386 (Aug. 1985) that Ace the Bat-Hound existed solely on Earth-Two, Ace shows up briefly in World's Finest Comics #143 (Aug. 1964), which is definitely an Earth-One story. Similarly, Bat-Mite appears along with Earth-One's Mr. Mxyzptlk in World's Finest Comics #152 (Sept. 1965), whose cover helpfully asserts that the story is "Not a Hoax! Not Imaginary!"

Most of the subsequent pre-Crisis appearances of Ace and Bat-Mite (other than reprints) were clearly and intentionally set outside normal continuity, but the other characters went on to play a notable if usually minor role in Bronze Age Earth-One continuity. After being seen briefly in Batman #208 (Jan./Feb. 1968), Batwoman briefly emerged from retirement in Batman Family #10 (March-April 1977) and made several other appearances both in and out of costume before her death in Detective Comics #485 (Aug./Sept. 1979). Bat-Girl, meanwhile, joined the West Coast auxiliary of the Teen Titans (in Teen Titans v.1 #50–52, Oct.–Dec. 1977) and later earned an invitation to the wedding of Donna Troy (Tales of the Teen Titans #50, Feb. 1985).

As for Vicki Vale, she and then-husband Tom Powers attended Bruce Wayne's birthday party in Batman Family #11 (May/June 1977) and she once again became a regular supporting character in the Batman titles beginning with Batman #344 (Feb. 1982). (No further mention was ever made of Tom Powers; it's not clear whether Vicki's marriage was retconned or simply short-lived.)

In fact, the only one of these characters ever definitively established as existing on Earth-Two — editorial comments notwithstanding — was Batwoman, who according to Brave and the Bold #182 (Sept. 1980) had counterparts on both Earth-One and Earth-Two. There is no definite canonical indication that any of the others did, but it's reasonable to assume that Vicki Vale, who first appeared in Batman #49 (Nov. 1948), also existed on Earth-Two. Poor Ace (who never even got a Who's Who entry) probably did as well.

Another common misconception is that the Earth-One Batman always had the distinctive yellow oval around his chest emblem. In fact, even during the New Look period, the Batman titles explicitly stated that the new emblem was a recent costume change, not a retcon. This point is made most forcefully by a story in Batman #183 (Aug. 1966) in which a vengeful ex-con's attempt to impersonate Batman fails because his costume has the old emblem, an error the crook doesn't recognize because he was in prison when Batman adopted the newer insignia. Various flashbacks to the Earth-One Batman's early career (for example, in Batman #200, Mar. 1968, and #213, July/Aug. 1969, and World's Finest Comics #271, Sept. 1981) also indicate that he did not always have the yellow oval. Since the Earth-Two Batman never had the yellow oval, its presence in a Silver or Bronze Age story usually means the story took place on Earth-One, but the reverse is not necessarily true.

A Matter of Time

Even by the most conservative estimates, the stories that can be attributed to the Earth-One Batman were published over a span of about 25 years. Those stories represent no more than half (and probably closer to one-third) that much comic book time, but establishing any kind of internal timeline for the Earth-One Batman series is at best difficult.

Unlike his Earth-Two counterpart, Earth-One's Bruce Wayne had no clearly defined birth date, although his birthday was said to be February 19 (see for example Batman Family #11, May/June 1977). Excepting flashbacks, most Silver and Bronze Age stories imply that his current age is somewhere between 28 and 35. For example, Detective Comics #500 (Mar. 1981) indicates that Bruce's parents were murdered "20 years ago" and that Bruce was 8 years old at that time. Batman Special #1 (1984) also says Bruce was 8 years old when his parents were killed, but places the incident "25 years ago," making Bruce 33 in the story's present.

Bruce's age at the time of his parents' murders was never consistently established. While most Bronze Age stories from about 1980 onward indicate that he was between 8 and 12, many Silver Age stories indicate that his parents died while he was in high school and that his costumed exploits with Harvey Harris (Detective Comics #226, Dec. 1955) and Superboy (World's Finest Comics #84, Sept. 1956 and Adventure Comics #275, Aug. 1960) took place before the murders. Adventure Comics #275, for instance, has Bruce briefly attending Smallville High during his junior year of high school and clearly indicates that Thomas and Martha Wayne are still alive at that time. Superboy #172 (Feb. 1972), intended as a sequel to the latter story, indicates that the Waynes were killed months later, during what would presumably have been the first semester of Bruce's senior year of high school. Untold Legend of the Batman #1 (July 1980) and World's Finest Comics #271 (Sept. 1981) later retconned those events, ignoring Superboy #172 and placing the other adventures after the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne.

The general consensus of Earth-One stories is that Bruce became Batman sometime after graduating from college. Exactly how long he was active as Batman before meeting Dick Grayson is less clear, although since there are surprisingly few Silver Age or Bronze Age stories depicting Batman's early solo adventures, that period appears to have been relatively brief.

For that reason, any estimate of the length of Batman's Earth-One career depends to a large extent on Dick's age when he first became Robin. Dialogue in New Teen Titans v.1 #39 (Feb. 1984) claims, somewhat improbably, that Dick became Robin at the age of 8, but other Earth-One flashbacks to his origin suggest that he was roughly 11 or 12 years old when he became Bruce Wayne's ward. By the New Look period, he is consistently depicted as a teenager and a high school student. He apparently graduated between Detective Comics #391 and #393 (Sept. and Nov. 1969 respectively) and then left for Hudson University in Batman #217 (Dec. 1969). He remarks in the latter story that he has recently received his draft card, making him 18 years old at that time.

It's not clear how exactly how long, in comic book time, Dick remained at Hudson University, although he dropped out sometime between Detective Comics #495 and the New Teen Titans preview in DC Comics Presents #26 (both Oct. 1980). The first Titans series consistently describes him as being 19, which implies that he was only at Hudson for about a year. However, Dick was at Hudson for the entirety of Barbara Gordon's two-year term in Congress (from Detective #424, June 1972, to #487, Dec. 1979/Jan. 1980) and Batman remarks in Batman #341 (Nov. 1981) that it has been "years" since he established a second Batcave in downtown Gotham, which happened while Dick was at Hudson University (Detective Comics #469–470, May–June 1978). The Robin storyline in Batman #337–343 (July 1981–Jan. 1982) also indicates that after leaving Hudson University, Dick spent about six months hitchhiking around the country before returning to Gotham.

From that, it seems more reasonable to assume that Dick is 21 or even 22 by the time he relinquishes his role as Robin in New Teen Titans #39 and Batman #368 (both Feb. 1984). However, Crisis on Infinite Earths #11 (Feb. 1986) again asserts that he is still only 19.

The inconsistency of these dates make it difficult to assign even relative, "floating" dates ("XX Years Ago") to Batman's Earth-One adventures. The floating timeline DC established for its continuity in the wake of Zero Hour is really not compatible with the pre-Crisis history of Batman and Robin unless one assumes that many of their adventures took place in a radically different order than originally published — for example, presuming that Batman's appearances in Justice League of America were completely out of sequence with events in his own books, something that would be at odds with both the plots and the spirit of those stories.

New Earth for Old

The transition point between late Earth-One and post-Crisis ("New Earth") continuity is slightly less ambiguous than the transition between Earth-Two and Earth-One, but is nonetheless a complicated subject.

In theory, the rearranging of continuity attributed to the Crisis resulted from the reformation of the universe that followed the battle with the Anti-Monitor at the Dawn of Time (at the climax of Crisis on Infinite Earths #10, Jan. 1986). In fact, the end of the Crisis series was followed by an interregnum period that lasted at least until the beginning of the Legends series (Nov. 1986). During that period, the surviving heroes continued much as they had before. Those who were present at the Dawn of Time (including Batman, Robin, Nightwing, and Superman) remembered the events of the Crisis and the infinite multiverse that preceded it, including characters and events subsequently removed from continuity.

Initially, and until his origin was retooled for the post-Crisis universe, Batman seemed largely unaffected by the Crisis. World's Finest was canceled with #323 (Feb. 1986) — although the final issues were said to have taken place before the Crisis in any case — and two months later, Batman severed his ties to the Outsiders (Batman and the Outsiders #32) and rejoined the Justice League of America (JLofA #250, May 1986). The internal continuity of Batman and Detective Comics continued without interruption, culminating in the anniversary story in Batman #400 (and its prequel in Detective Comics #566).

The following issue of Detective Comics #567 (a wry standalone story written by Harlan Ellison) marked the swan song of Len Wein, who had been editor of the Batman titles since 1982. Regular writer Doug Moench also departed and new editor Denny O'Neil introduced new creative teams and a new direction, including a revamp of Batman's origin (in Batman: Year One, originally presented in Batman #404–407, and Batman: Year Two, in Detective Comics #575–578) and a completely new post-Crisis origin for Jason Todd (presented in Batman #408–411, June–Sept. 1987). Nearly all of the earlier plot threads were discarded, as were several regular supporting characters (including Julia Remarque/Pennyworth, daughter of Earth-One's Alfred Pennyworth).

It is tempting, therefore, to assign Batman #400 (Oct. 1986) as the final "Earth-One" Batman story. (The Batman story in Detective Comics #567 was not tied to any specific continuity and could just as easily be considered the final story of the old continuity or the first of the new.) Batman #401 and Detective Comics #568, the first O'Neil-edited issues, are Legends tie-ins, the former returning a character introduced in John Byrne's decidedly post-Crisis Man of Steel #3 (Nov. 1986).

Two flies in the ointment are Detective Comics #569 and #570 (Dec. 1986 and Jan. 1987 respectively), which are the final canonical post-Crisis appearances of Catwoman's purple-and-green costume and the final references to her recent career as Batman's heroic (and romantic) partner. The apparent purpose of this story, written by Mike W. Barr with art by Alan Davis and Paul Neary, was to definitively cut those threads, making Catwoman once again a villain and further obfuscating the question of whether she had ever known Batman's true identity. However, subsequent post-Crisis stories (and Catwoman's later Who's Who entries) pointedly ignore Catwoman's reform and brief heroic career, making it unclear whether it happened at all in the post-Crisis universe.

Discontinuities

Throughout the post-Crisis era, the New Earth Batman would gradually diverge from his Earth-One counterpart, beginning with the new origin of Jason Todd. While there would be occasional references to pre-Crisis adventures (for example, Killer Croc's appearance in Secret Origins #23 (Feb. 1988) indicates that the villain was temporarily paralyzed after being gassed by Batman, which happened in Batman #400) and the periodic reintroduction of pre-Crisis characters like Black Mask and the Film Freak, there was often no clear indication of whether those characters had previously existed in post-Crisis continuity. Batman's membership in the JLA and past relationship with Superman also became muddy.

By the early '90s, it was clear that the Earth-One Batman was a quantifiably different person than his post-Crisis incarnation, in personality as well as continuity. Of course, the details varied from writer to writer and editor to editor, but some broad generalizations apply to the earlier character:

  • He was not invincible. The Earth-One Batman was certainly tough, but he could be overcome by superior numbers or sucker punches. Vastly stronger opponents (like Blockbuster or Croc) would give him a really hard time. In the Silver and Bronze Ages, Batman only wore body armor on special occasions and was regularly shot, stabbed, and knocked unconscious by surprisingly humble opponents. His defining attribute was not the post-Crisis character's hyper-preparedness, but simple determination and stubbornness.
  • He worried about his mental health. There was a lot of talk among fans in the late seventies and early eighties about whether or not Batman was insane, which, viewed in the light of later stories, seems rather quaint. The Earth-One Batman was always driven and usually serious (although he did have a sense of humor), but he only occasionally displayed the sort of grim, obsessive paranoia that became the post-Crisis Batman's stock in trade. When he did, it was usually in response to something specific — such as a particular case or particular enemy getting under his skin — and he often seemed legitimately concerned about the implications of those reactions. If wondering if you're going mad means you're probably not, the Earth-One Batman was a great deal healthier than his subsequent incarnations.
  • He was a romantic. The Earth-Two Batman dated, of course — Julie Madison and Linda Page, later Kathy Kane — but the only woman in whom he ever really seemed very interested was the Catwoman, whom he eventually married. The Earth-One Batman, by contrast, fell in love quite a bit. His feelings toward Earth-One's Kathy Kane were never entirely clear and he never seemed to care much for Vicki Vale (whom he treated in a consistently deplorable fashion over several years of casual dating), but he fell hard for Selina Kyle, Talia, Silver St. Cloud, and Natalia Knight (Nocturna). At several points, he was actively torn between two or three women, usually with messy (if sometimes soapish) consequences.
  • He had friends. The Earth-One Batman's relationship with Dick Grayson had its rockier moments, particularly in the period leading up to Dick's decision to become Nightwing, but it was generally warm, as were Batman's relationships with Superman and many of their superheroic colleagues. (It's easy to forget, 25 years later, that part of the impact of the final confrontation in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was the fact that Batman and Superman had been portrayed as dear friends for most of the previous three decades. They were not always at odds the way their post-Crisis counterparts were.)
  • He was a joiner. Earth-One's Batman was unequivocally a founding member of both the Justice League of America (in JLofA #9, Feb. 1962) and the Outsiders (in Batman and the Outsiders #1–2, Aug.–Sept. 1983). He was also a member in good standing of the Mystery Analysts of Gotham City, a cozy and generally congenial private club for (mostly non-costumed) sleuths. In fact, Batman was second only to Superman in his propensity for team-ups, readily joining forces with everyone from rookie heroes like the Swashbuckler (introduced in Detective Comics #493, Aug. 1980, as the son of the little-seen Earth-One Vigilante) to non-costumed allies like heavyweight boxer Tommy Dunfey (Detective Comics, June 1984). It was not until late in his career that the Earth-One Batman's ability to play well with others began to deteriorate into the sort of mistrust and heavy-handed manipulation that became his post-Crisis counterpart's standard operating procedure. Interestingly, in comic book time, that coincided more or less with the growing tension between him and Dick Grayson, suggesting that Batman was taking out his frustrations over Dick's desire for independence by attempting to control everyone else.

Further Reading