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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Read This: The contentious creation of a classic Batman story

Illustration for article titled Read This: The contentious creation of a classic Batman story

On March 1, 1974, DC Comics published issue #439 of Detective Comics, which featured an unusual Batman story entitled “Night Of The Stalker,” in which the Caped Crusader witnesses a terrible crime that causes him to flash back to the death of his parents. The emotionally rich story made such an impression on author Greg Hatcher that he wrote about it repeatedly on the Comic Book Resources website, decades after the comic was first published.


One of Hatcher’s columns reached artist Sal Amendola, one of the men behind “Night Of The Stalker.” Amendola decided to share with Hatcher the convoluted and surprisingly contentious origin story behind the tale. “Of course I lunged at it,” writes Hatcher. “The guy that plotted and drew my favorite Bat story ever? Come on!” Hatcher then turned Amendola’s memories into a piece called “Déjà Vu On The Night Of The Stalker,” a name that combines the story’s original working title with its eventual published title. In one of the many battles over the Bat-tale, legendary DC editor Julius “Julie” Schwartz thought that comic-book readers wouldn’t know what “déjà vu” meant.

To hear Amendola tell it, “Night Of The Stalker” was one headache after another. The origins of the story go back to a conversation he had with comics legend Neal Adams in 1970, when Adams was apparently telling anyone who would listen about an exciting underwater scene he had thought up for Batman. A few years later, Amendola decided to use that scene as the basis for what would eventually become “Night Of The Stalker.” But there were numerous battles with the DC brass over how the story should be drawn, who would get credit for what, and even whether Batman would be allowed to cry or not at the conclusion. Amendola wanted to preserve the integrity of the dark, serious story and was wary of certain scripters. “I was afraid that Len [Wein]’s approach would be “Holy Adam West, Bats” (fully negating my central raison d’être),” he recalls. And Amendola’s ideas about how Batman should be depicted in the artwork did not always gibe with those of his fellow artists:

[Inker] Dick [Giordano] didn’t like that I’d made The Batman’s “trunks” looser, indicating his manhood within (“Super heroes don’t got balls!”). He didn’t like that I showed The Batman’s eyes in the close-up on page, and he refused to ink the eyes black in all the other panels, but since I did the backgrounds, when the pages passed back to me from Dick, I blacked in all the eyes. (Damn! How could you take seriously a crazed vigilante who has Little Orphan Annie eyes!?)

Ultimately, “Night Of The Stalker” received nearly unanimous praise from readers, a “Best Story” nomination from the Academy Of Comic Book Arts, and even a full-fledged remake, under Amendola’s preferred original title, by writer-artist Darwyn Cooke. All of this perhaps proves that good ideas are worth fighting for, even if comic-book editors can be every bit as formidable as, say, Clayface or the Joker.