Today, we look at how Batman used to time travel through a totally nonsensical method that DC, after a decade, eventually decided to fix.
In every installment of Abandoned Love we will be examining comic book stories, plots and ideas that were abandoned by a later writer without actively retconning away the previous story. Feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.
PROFESSOR CARTER NICHOLS MAKES HIS DEBUT
As I wrote last year when I discussed how Dr. Carter Nichols was returned to continuity in the 1970s after being missing for a decade, the introduction of time travel into the Batman mythos was all part of the very nature of how comic books were designed during the Golden Age. The prevailing design was over-sized comic books packed with tons of stories, with each character getting their own feature. When some characters grew popular enough to get their own ongoing series, though, now suddenly these characters were not only appearing as a feature in a larger anthology, they also had to, in effect, star in their own anthology where EVERY feature was starring that one character. With a set-up like that, it is only natural that comic book creators would often look for any ideas that they could come up with for recurring features to fill up some space a bit more easily than having to come up with a novel story idea every issue. That’s what led to the introduction of the recurring feature in Batman’s ongoing series where Alfred solved mysteries on his own on the side.
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It also led to some writers trying to come up with other recurring ideas that they could revisit on a regular basis. While recently discussing how Batman got a dinosaur robot in his Batcave, I noted that continuity WAS a thing during the Golden Age, it just wasn’t as strict as later years. Continuity, during the Golden Age, meant recurring characters and features more than anything else.
One of these recurring ideas was introduced by Joe Samachson and the legendary Batman artist, Dick Sprang, in 1944’s Batman #24. Dr. Carter Nichols was a scientist who could send Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson back in time. However, he did so through…hypnosis?
HOW IS THIS ACTUALLY SENDING BATMAN THROUGH TIME?
Yes, somehow, Nichols came up with a way to hypnotize a person and have them travel through time during the hypnotic state. When you think about it, it basically is just an excuse to have a dream adventure, right? And honestly, while that’s weird, that’s fair enough. Having people go on a dream adventure was fodder for a number of stories at the time and it would be the basis for a bunch more stories during the 1960s, when “imaginary stories” became a regular part of DC comics.
But that’s the problem. These clearly WEREN’T dreams. Batman and Robin were ACTUALLY traveling through time, only the method of time travel was hypnosis. They would actively CHANGE history in these stories, so they clearly WERE traveling through time, but the method just didn’t make ANY sense.
However, if the goal was to come up with a recurring bit, it was a major success, as these stories were repeated on an almost every issue basis for YEARS…
Over a decade later, they were still a regular part of the book, even though later writers (who were all just following the original approach) got even weirder with it, as now the go-to approach for these stories was skipping over any pretext of it just being a dream and literally just having Nicols, like, wave his arms at them and send them beyond the time barrier just using the power of his mind. In other words, Nichols apparently had, like, time travel telepathy or something like that, like in this story from Batman #98 (by Arnold Drake, Dick Sprang and Charles Paris)…
There was no pretext of any other piece of science behind it. Just Nichols blasting them past the time barrier with his mind.
Hilariously, Bill Finger wrote a story very early on in the Dr. Carter Nichols years in Batman #43 (by Finger, Jim Mooney and Ray Burnley) where Nichols invents an ACTUAL time machine, but it soon turns out to be a scam by a bunch of crooks (including one who has impersonated Nichols). So a real time machine would be absurd, but Nichols HYPNOTIZING PEOPLE THROUGH TIME was apparently totally cool.
Finally, in 1957’s Batman #112, well over a DECADE after Dr. Carter Nichols first showed up as a regular supporting character in the Batman titles (and by this time, he was also appearing in World’s Finest Comics, as well, where Superman could break the time barrier without Nichols’ help), in a story by Bill Finger, Dick Sprang and Charles Paris, Nichols decides to use his hypnosis ideas and actually build an actual time machine…
Nichols would then use this new time machine for the next five years or so (with it being fine-tuned over time, with other bells and whistles added to the concept along the way, like a “Time box” added in 1959’s World’s Finest Comics #107 by Bill Finger, Dick Sprang and Sheldon Moldoff, that would allow Batman and Robin to return to their time right away if they pressed the button on the time box) until eventually, after a long run as the editor on both the Batman titles and World’s Finest Comics, Jack Schiff lost his job in favor of a new approach to the character by editor Julius Schwartz, who took over the books in 1964.
As a result, a number of Schiff’s more outlandish concepts were jettisoned from the Batman books, with the last Professor Carter Nichols story appearing in late 1963’s World’s Finest Comics #138 (by Bill Finger and Jim Mooney).
What really stands out to me about this whole thing is how many writers were willing to just toe the line on the setup. Samachson had established a concept and whether they liked it or not, the other writers all followed it for well over a decade until Finger finally decided to drop the ridiculous approach and just use a standard science fiction trop, the literal time machine.
If anyone has a suggestion for a future edition of Abandoned Love, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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