Why was Batman red? Who was the Kryptonian named Nembo Kid? NOW IT CAN BE TOLD!
Welcome back to our recurring miniseries Comics: Italian Style. Why Italy? Because I just traveled there and there’s plenty to say comicswise! — Dan
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.
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.
Bob Kane must have been so proud!
It wasn’t until the latter part of the ’60s that gray returned for good.
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 …
… and the first Denny O’Neil-Neal Adams collaboration.
(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.
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.
Boy, if only Grant Morrison had written a Nembo Kid into All-Star Superman …