Writer/editor Bob Rozakis joins us for a new interview series — BATMAN FAMILY ALBUM.
UPDATED 11/7/17: I’ve been thinking about Batman Family again lately. This piece about Jason Todd’s first costume had something tangentially to do with it. So I figured I’d again trot out this series of interviews with Bob Rozakis about one of my all-time favorite series. Dig it.
The two best Batman runs of the ’70s were by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams at the beginning of the decade, and Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers at the end of it. Their stories, simply put, set the foundation of the modern Dark Knight.
There were also mighty contributions from the likes of Bob Haney and Jim Aparo in Brave and the Bold, as well as Irv Novick and Len Wein, to name just a few. But over the course of the decade, all three titles starring Batman — JLA and World’s Finest are separate animals — had their ups and downs. There were dozens of memorably unmemorable stories tucked between the masterpieces.
Enter Batman Family, the most consistently entertaining Batbook of the 1970s. Of course, we’re only talking 20 issues, many of which were stocked with heavy doses of reprints, but no comic was more fun, issue in and issue out.
A lot of that was down to the sensibilities of Bob Rozakis, who crafted much of the book’s content and sense of whimsy.
Batman Family was also highly influential: While a number of features and reprints centered on the various supporting characters and villains of Gotham, the focus was on the Batgirl and Robin team — the so-called Dynamite Duo — and their will-they-or-won’t-they relationship.
Before Batman Family, there was no sexual spark between the two — at the time the book debuted, Barbara Gordon was a congresswoman and Dick Grayson was a college student. Today, through retcons borne from the seeds sown in the title, Babs and Dick have become DC‘s great, star-crossed lovers, youthful contemporaries who learned at Batman‘s side in roughly parallel fashion.
But that’s something we’ll explore down the road. In this, our first installment of BATMAN FAMILY ALBUM, Bob Rozakis talks about how he ended up with the gig …
Dan Greenfield: It’ll probably be dating both of us by putting it this way, but I grew up reading Batman Family. (Bob laughs) It’s one of those books that I absolutely loved and recall fondly.
People seem to think of Neal Adams and Englehart and Rogers and then somehow, magically, it became Frank Miller, when there was so much great stuff in between that doesn’t usually get reprinted or what have you.
Batman Family kind of falls under that as well and you were instrumental in that book, particularly as it went on. … For starters, tell me how you got onto the book to begin with.
Bob Rozakis: Well, the first stories I wrote were the Robin stories in the back of Detective Comics, so when Batman Family started and it was going to be Robin and Batgirl, I had the inside track for at least the Robin solos at the time. Elliot Maggin did the first issue, which was the first team-up of Batgirl and Robin.
Dan: Do you remember the first issues you were doing when you were doing Robin in Detective?
The first one I did was Detective #445.
So when you jumped onto Batman Family, how did that all start to come together? You were also doing the letters pages. How did that all start?
Well, I was Julie (Schwartz)’s assistant editor so I had the inside track with him as well, as far as getting his ear and getting him to give me a shot with this, give me a shot with that.
How did you get hired at DC to begin with?
I was a fanboy! And I’d written hundreds and hundreds of letters. When I was a senior in college, I decided, “Gee, it would be interesting to go and visit the DC offices.” So I called the DC office and asked for Julie Schwartz. Miraculously, they switched me to Julie Schwartz! (Dan laughs) I was thinking it was gonna be, like, you know, you call the White House and ask for the President, you don’t get the President. But you called up DC and asked for Julie Schwartz, they gave you Julie Schwartz!
And when was this?
This was spring of ’73. So… I went in to visit. I knew that Nelson Bridwell had been working as Julie’s associate or assistant—whatever he was called at the time—and I had been making up some crossword puzzles and some word-find puzzles for some fanzines, and I brought copies along.
I figured, you know, somebody’d get a kick out of them. So we’re sitting there. Julie and Nelson shared an office so I handed them to Nelson. Julie grabbed ’em and said, “What are these?” and I explained it and he said, “Don’t go anywhere,” and he got up and he RAN out of the office. And I was, like, “I’m not gonna GO anywhere.” He came back about five minutes later with Sol Harrison who was then the vice president and production manager.
Sol’s looking at the puzzles and he says, “Did you make these up yourself?” I said, “Yeah.” He says, “Could you make ones up just about Superman and Batman?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, if you do that, we’ll buy them!” And I said, “OK!”
So he decided he wanted three Superman, three Batman and three Justice League puzzles. So I went home and came back the following week with nine puzzle pages.
I loved those puzzle pages. I think that’s missing from today’s comics. I loved that stuff. It was so much fun!
I remember in particular—I don’t know if you were the one who did it—but there was a Batman maze and at each one, there’s a villain and if you got a villain, you know, you lost and had to start over again. … Was that all you as well?
Yep. Those were all stuff that I came up with.