When did DC Comics get away from the campiness?

I got a DC Universe subscription recently(as well as Marvel Unlimited) and have been reading a lot of old comics. 1930s-40s DC is pretty interesting but once you get into thee Silver Age the stories just get way out there, ridiculous, and have no impact on anything continuity-wise. It’s like TV shows of the era, where no matter what happens, everything is back to normal by the end of the episode.

Now I know about how Dark Knight Returns and Crisis on Infinite Earths brought DC into the modern age, but having read DC pre-Crisis in the 80s they’d already gotten away from most of the campy Batman '66-style writing. About when did this happen, so I can start from there?

Marvel, on the other hand, from the time Spiderman gets started and Galactus makes his first appearance in 1965, are on a big time creative roll. I have to imagine DC took notice at some point. How long did it take? Because man those 50s-60s stories are tough to read.

Kirby invasion, New Gods, and Kryptonite No More.

When did they get Kirby, the 1970s? So right around 1971 or so it stops sucking?

I suggest a major catalyst was the retirement of editor Mort Weisinger and his replacement by Julius Schwartz in 1970. Schwartz had been editing Batman titles for a while and had already cut away a number of the sillier elements like Bat-Mite and Ace, the Bat-Hound. Weisinger’s departure gave Schwartz a chance to do a similar paring of the Superman titles.

I have never heard of Bat-Mite and the Bat-Hound and thank you for telling me about them before I stumbled across them myself.

Funny note: that Batman slapping the shit out of Robin meme isn’t an isolated incident. In the 40s he must have slapped Robin silly every few issues.

As I recall, as a child who devoured comics in the 1960s, continuity was not an issue. There were no “universes”; there was only one, and it was the one we lived in, only with superheroes. You knew the origins of Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman, and the rest; and that was all you needed to know. Every comic book contained two or three self-contained stories involving the superhero, none of which connected to any other, except for the origin stories. For example, one issue of Action Comics might feature Superman battling bank robbers in the first story, foiling Lex Luthor’s plans yet again in the second, and freeing a political prisoner from a Soviet gulag in the third. If you missed an issue, it was no big deal; you didn’t miss anything you needed to know going forward.

Your comparison to TV shows of the era is apt. In the days before VCRs and PVRs and DVDs and so on, you had one chance to see your favorite show: when it was broadcast. If you missed it, you might be able to see it again in summer reruns, but no guarantee. So, each episode had to stand alone, using familiar characters that you knew, while presenting a self-contained story involving those characters. Nobody gave up on a favorite TV series because they missed one or two episodes containing things that will explain or affect future episodes. Comics were no different; if you missed an issue, rest assured that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman will still be healthy and fighting crime in the next. Superman will not be affected by what Lex Luthor did three issues ago.

Oh, I know the reasons business-wise why things worked that way. There were a few comics that tried serial storytelling when I was a kid and you really had to make sure you bought every issue.

That reminds me of First Comics in the early 1980s, and one of its titles, Jon Sable, Freelance. Illustrated by Mike Grell. Sable was basically a mercenary-for-hire, and most of his stories stretched across two or three issues. There were a few one-issue stories, but as the series hit its stride, most stories spread across two or three issues.

Perhaps the mid-1980s was when things changed, as shown by Sable–publishers needed readers to come back month after month. Especially after direct sales became popular–no more spinning “Hey, Kids! Comics!” racks at the local drugstore.

(FTR, I have every issue of Jon Sable, Freelance in my collection.)

You know, that reminds me, at one of my local convenience stores comics are still sold and it got me wondering: are comics still handdrawn or are they using computer graphics? Because it looks a ton more detailed and sharper now.

No, it took awhile, it didn’t change overnight, but yes, I think the editor change did have an effect.

Also, through the 1970’s Marvel was growing and expanding while DC was… not. At a certain point money talks and someone realized that camp and outright goofiness wasn’t selling like it used and DC stories got more serious and consistent.

So far as I know they’re still hand drawn.

The reason for the difference is the printing technology. In the very old days comics used a four-color printing process whose chief attraction was the fact it was cheap. It didn’t allow for a great amount of detail, and even then registration was iffy so every so often you’d get a blurry copy. It’s also the reason so many superheros had blue eyes - you didn’t have to worry about getting two colors to line up, just the blue. Likewise the preponderance of either blond hair or black hair with blue highlights - less worry about registration issues. Brown hair requires getting that area of color correct twice

When better reproduction technology arrived on the scene, and more importantly became cheaper, you got better artwork. Because then it was worth doing better artwork. When you got printing tech that could show more shades of color and more detail at a profitable price then you got modern comic artwork.

I disagree with the OP’s assessment.

In the 1950s and 1960s, trying to hang onto their readers, DC comics went weird and science fiction. Batman was time traveling, going to alien planets, and transforming all the time. The Blackhawks, who had been straightforward pilots and dogfighters in WWII, started getting involved with high tech and with alien invaders. Even Tomahawk (based on colonial-era action on the American frontier) got weird, and Our Army at War started running The War that Time Forgot, with soldiers battling dinosaurs.

But they also started the Silver Age. There was quite a lot of continuity in that, although in the early 1960s both Marvel and DC tended to violate that. They got better from the late 1960s onwards. In fact, they did one heck of a lot of retconning in the 1970s, and bringing back older characters.

Batman has a reputation for campiness, but people forget that circa 1965 they fixed Batman up, getting rid of the science fiction plots, sweeping away the old Batmobile and the ridiculous WhirlyBats and the awful Bat-Mite, and introducing more practical, sleek cars for Batman and Robin. They called it the “New Look” Batman, with more emphasis on tough crime fighting and detecting. It was great – until that damned 1967 TV series came in and introduced High Camp to Batman. Since everyone expects the comic to reflect the TV series, they started throwing in elements from the TV show (like Aunt Harriet). Batman became pretty awful for a while. But after that low period, there was a backlash, and Batman became The Creature of the Night, the Dark Detective. As Ambush Bug was to complain in the 1980s “He used to be fun. Now his cape is ten feet long and he has no sense of humor.” And this was a decade and a half before Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. DC was doing pretty gritty stuff with good continuity in the mid 1970s.

And what affected Batman didn’t have any bearing on the other DC comics, and certainly not with Marvel, which was always pretty good with continuity. Hell, both DC and Marvel comics were heavily footnoted, with references to previous issues.
So I think the OP’s premise is completely off. It didn’t require Jack Kirby or Frank Miller to draw the comics out of campiness. It just took Batman time to wear off the effects of Bad TV.

The Silver Age nuttiness came about because of the many attacks on the horror and crime and violence in some comics. We think of superheroes at the apex but in the late 40s they had been surpassed by more adult comics favored by the GIs who picked up a comics habit in the war. By the early 50s almost all superheroes had died off.

The comics companies deliberately focused on a young kid audience because that was safest. Dell Comics, which published Disney, sold in the millions. When DC started the Silver Age in 1956, the ideal age for superhero readers was about 10. Adults were discouraged. That’s what left a niche for older readers that Stan Lee exploited with Marvel in 1962.

DC responded with the “new look” Batman in 1964 - before the TV show. In fact, people at DC were furious about the show because all the viewers then went to the comics expecting them to be campy while DC was trying to make them more adult. It was a fiasco that took DC a long time to get over.

Simulposted with Cal. So that’s two votes for reality.

I love my old comics that look like old comics: the colors are never as bright or saturated as they are in modern printing, and the pages are off-white or even light orangey-yellow. And they smell…

All because they were cheap. Cheap paper was almost all wood pulp (comics and “The Pulps” got the poorer quality leftovers). And comics were even printed using a whole different process… Rotogravure instead of Offset Lithography (what almost all color printing uses, and how modern comics are printed).

That’s why I hate modern reprints of classic comics. Suddenly the Golden Age Superman is dressed in bright primary colors on almost-bluish white glossy paper. Y’know, the way he never looked!

In the 50s and 60s, DC was less of a unified company and more of a series of semi-connected editor-run fiefdoms. Since Mort Weisinger edited all the Superman titles (and also edited the Batman titles in the 50s), he was basically first-amongst-equals and his ideas about how comics should be had a lot of pull at DC, and his retirement opened up room for new ideas.

JLA had solid work around 1972-77

LSH can find solid stories throughout its runs but the short answer is: Wolfmans Teen Titans and Alan Moore.

A combination of Teen Titans, Giffens LSH and the arrival of Alan Moore…and then COIE raised the game forever for DC. Followed by Byrne’s Superman.

But if you want decent-good pre COIE DC stories…basically buy 20 cent-25 cent issues. JLA is really good, so is LSH and the horror titlesare good.

Could you spell some of those abbreviations out? Not everyone reading is a DC comics aficionado.

JLA: Justice League of America
LSH: Legion of Superheroes
COIE: Crisis on Infinite Earths (a crossover series in '85-86 that did a lot to unify the DC universe)

Your post makes no sense. The Adam West/Burt Ward Batman TV show was the BEST TV show EVER. It’s when they decided that Batman was going to be all serious that they ruined it.

I will concede that it might not have translated well to paper, but my concession is based upon my ignorance. I never saw a dead tree version with Aunt Harriet. So I must needs take your word for the assertion that Aunt Harriet was not well-suited to the printed page (with a VERY SLIGHTLY off-register coloring scheme).

ETA since I didn’t notice Exapno Mapcase’s simulpost when I got into my high dudgeon, my dudgeon-fueled rebuttal applies to the simulpost, too.

marvel did that in a limited run in the late 80s with some of its comics and charged 4 times as much as a normal comic book …it was weird … it didnt last long because no one wanted to pay 1 to 2 .50 for what was 60 cent gi joe and transformers reprints …