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Thursday, 13 July 2017

Batman Family 1 - the Batgirl/Robin team begins

The lead story in Batman Family 1 (Sept/Oct 75), which is the only new story in the issue, had been advertised a few months earlier as an issue of 1st Issue Special. DC must have felt they had a good thing on their hands, though. I imagine the sales of Superman Family also influenced their decision, as Batman Family was one of three new "family" books to debut. One of those was Tarzan Family, which had previously been Korak, Son of Tarzan, while Super-Team Family would come along shortly after this. There are four stories in the issue. One is an Alfred tale from the 1940s, another is from the 60s, giving Commissioner Gordon a major role, and the last is a reprint of the first Man-Bat story, from 1970.

Elliot S Maggin and Mike Grell give Batgirl and Robin a team-up tale in the cover feature. Robin's back-up series in Detective Comics had only recently come to an end, but Batgirl's had stopped a few years earlier. She had most recently appeared alongside Supergirl in Superman Family a few months earlier. Barbara Gordon was a Congresswoman at this time, and the story had Hudson University student Dick Grayson helping her out while on vacation. Neither is aware of the other's secret identity. The ghost of Benedict Arnold manifests, with a powerful glowing sword, trying to disrupt the Bicentennial celebrations, which had already begun.

Throughout the tale both make lame excuses to get away from each other, switch into Batgirl and Robin, and go into action. Grell keeps every page looking exciting and fun.

Arnold is working for a mysterious man, who clearly has great powers. He magically provides Batgirl and Robin with swords with which to duel Arnold at one point. Arnold tries to force Batgirl and Robin to sacrifice each other in one scene, having captured them both, but both try to sacrifice themselves, which nullifies Arnold's trap. Even though the mystery man is backing Arnold, he seems more impressed with the heroes.

In the end it turns out the mystery man is really the devil, who had brought Arnold back to life, giving him a chance to show what he had failed to do in life, that Americans are not heroic. Since Batgirl and Robin's actions only increased the belief in heroism, the devil sends Arnold back to Hell.

It's rah rah Americana, which I usually hate, but the story is crazy enough to be fun. At the end Robin tries to convince Batgirl that, as a woman, she is not suited to be a costumed crime fighter. Batgirl shuts him up with a kiss, which is kind of strange, although it works. Does this show that she is interested in Robin? Not really, although a lot of readers took it that way. Robin's extreme discomfort does indicate, however, that he has feelings for her.

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