BATMAN and SUPERMAN’s Greatest Italian Comics Mysteries!

Why was Batman red? Who was the Kryptonian named Nembo Kid? NOW IT CAN BE TOLD!

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Welcome back to our recurring miniseries Comics: Italian Style. Why Italy? Because I just traveled there and there’s plenty to say comicswise! — Dan

Part 1: The Italian Voice of DC Comics — Translator Francesco Vanagolli

Part 2: What DC and Marvel Can Learn From Italian Publishers

For years, I wondered why the Italian posters for the 1966 Batman movie showed the Caped Crusader in tights as red as a nice Chianti. How could they get that wrong? It’s not like they didn’t have the source material to work from.

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The answer? Irony of ironies: Fear.

When Batman comics were printed in Italy after World War II, somebody somewhere decided that Batman in his gray long johns was just too scary for il ragazzi.

So, according to my comics tour guide Francesco Vanagolli, who translates DC Comics for the Italian audience — the solution was to make him red.

He still showed up in gray — in the comic on the left (below), he’s gray on the cover and red inside — but his primary color was, well, a primary color.

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Bob Kane must have been so proud!

A re-creation of Bob Kane's original Batman design, by historian Arlen Schumer.

A re-creation of Bob Kane‘s original Batman design, by historian Arlen Schumer.

 

It wasn’t until the latter part of the ’60s that gray returned for good.

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Anyway, If you can believe it, when I was in Rome, I was lucky to find the Italian versions of both Batgirl‘s first appearance …

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… and the first Denny O’Neil-Neal Adams collaboration.

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(UPDATE: A second explanation as emerged! Francesco tells me that he’s been informed by a friend that the reasons for the color change was down to printing problems. Nevertheless, at the time, changes were made to the art because some images, it was believed at publisher Mondadori, could be too scary. So now we something else to Bat-chew on …)

But who was Nembo Kid?

Francesco and I were walking along a quiet street in Florence when we passed a used-book store that had in the window a comic book with an unmistakably Curt Swan Superman on the cover.

Only it was called Nembo Kid — and Superman‘s crest was missing its big red S.

The solution to this bizarro mystery was more oddly logical than Red Batman — and even more interesting.

I don't usually buy comics that people have drawn on, but whoever did this had skills. It's like Old Superman vs. the Evil Helicopter while the Really Hot 50-Foot Italian Woman looks on.

I don’t usually buy comics that people have drawn on, but whoever did this had skills. It’s like Old Superman vs. the Evil Helicopter while the Really Hot 50-Foot Italian Woman looks on. Oh, and this is not the one I saw in that shop window. That store was closed.

Francesco explained that in postwar Italy, anything that smacked of fascism was right out. Superboy was actually published in Italy first but, again, somebody somewhere decided that any name that included Super-, with all its Nietzschean ubertones, was not going to do.

So the youngster from Smallville was rechristened Nembo Kid — meaning Cloud Kid, because he flew — and his S was removed from the art, leaving an empty crest.

When Superman himself made his appearance, the name stayed.

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Boy, if only Grant Morrison had written a Nembo Kid into All-Star Superman

Author: Dan Greenfield

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5 Comments

  1. The renaming to Nembo Kid being due to avoiding Nietzschean suggestions in the early post-Fascism era is mostly a urban legend. Most likely the real reason, even if much less fascinating, was that Mondadori (the Italian publisher) saw it as a way to avoid paying copyright fees.

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    • They were an official licensor of National/DC so they were already paying the fees for the stories,copyright,etc.

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  2. This is brilliant stuff. Makes for interesting conversation at the very least. Congrats on the finds, too.

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  3. Yes, Mondadori were and are the biggest publishers in Italy, so they were a perfectly regular licensor of DC (then National Periodical Publications). However, they had an habit of heavily adapting everything “popular” they acquired for the Italian market. This practice began back in 1929 with their line of mystery novels (the now famous “Gialli”, which could be edited or abridged in translation), and continued in the postwar era with science fiction and comics. Popular culture being what it was (despised), you could adapt it to your own needs with no worries. Nobody in 1955 or 1960, here or anywhere else, could have thought that pop culture would someday become the New Culture — with new icons taking the place of ancient classics. So it was that Superboy could become Nembo Kid, the Nimbus or Cloud Boy, and subsequently his adult incarnation, Superman. By the way, the name Superman was restored (and Nembo Kid retired) quite gradually between 1966 and 1967. By then, Albi del Falco – Nembo Kid had become a fatter comic book of lmost 100 pages in color called Superman/Nembo Kid, then just Superman. In a little while, they would abandon the pocket book format, too, in favor of the standard American comic book measurements.

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