Back in the early days of my obsession with comics, before I stumbled across Marvel's titles, I was a reader of Batman and Superman comics. Looking back on those early 1960s DC covers I've noticed some weird tropes and trends. One of the oddest was Sheldon Moldoff's ever-present drawings of "Scaredy-Robin". Nearly every cover of Detective Comics from 1959 to 1963 had a profile image of Robin, apparently frozen in terror at the situation depicted on the cover.
|Sheldon Moldoff's trademark Robin portrait found its way onto too many Detective and Batman covers at the beginning of the 1960s.|
So enjoy these crazy covers from a time when DC's Batman was more clown than crusader.
1940sProbably just a coincidence, but the earliest example of Scaredy Robin I could find was from a 1945 issue of Batman. The art was pencilled by Jack Burnley and inked by Charles Paris, who would be a staple inker of the Batman titles right through to the early 1960s.
|Batman 28 (Apr 1945) was the first appearance of Scardey Robin, though the image wouldn't become a trope for another 13 years, when Sheldon Moldoff made the image his own.|
1950sWe wouldn't see that image on another Batman cover for another 13 years, this time by ... Sheldon Moldoff. Batman 116 (Jun 1958) was one of those classic goofy covers that had Batman and Robin threatened by Bat People on an alien planet.
|Here's Robin again, completely useless in the face of a weird threat on a weirder planet. You'd think the queen would be more concerned with the attacking Bat People than she would about the restrained Batman and Robin.|
Once the Sixties kicked in, Moldoff, often inked by Paris, cut loose and added Scaredy Robin to just about every cover he could.
Who is Sheldon Moldoff?Shelly Moldoff was born in Manhattan, New York on 14 Apr 1920, though he was raised in the Bronx, living in the same apartment block as Bernard Bailey who, himself would go on to a stellar career as a DC Comics artist. "I was drawing in chalk on the sidewalk," said Moldoff told Alter Ego magazine in 2000, "Popeye and Betty Boop and other popular cartoons of the day—and he came by and looked at it and said, 'Hey, do you want to learn how to draw cartoons?' I said, 'Yes!' He said, 'Come on, I'll show you how to draw.'"
|Sheldon Moldoff pictured during his 1940s heyday.|
|Though Green Lantern was created by Martin Nodell, with Bill Finger, Moldoff was selected to draw the first cover appearance of the character.|
Hawkman's girlfriend Shiera first appeared in a Hawk costume in All-Star Comics 5 (Jun-Jul 1941), but wouldn't officially become Hawkgirl until Flash Comics 24 (Dec 1941).
|Though he'd been contributing many covers to DC, he didn't draw his first Hawkman cover until four months into his run. The wings look more like fur than feathers, but the Alex Raymond style is quite apparent.|
|Pretty quickly, Hawkman became the co-star of Flash Comics, featuring on |
more-or-less alternating covers of the series.
Shelly Moldoff was one of DC's principle artists until 1944, when he was called up for military service. By the time he returned to civilian life in 1946, his mentor/sponsor had departed DC and set up Educational Comics. So Moldoff rejoined his old boss and created Moon Girl, with DC stalwart Gardner Fox.
|Sheldon Moldoff created Moon Girl for Max Gaines at EC Comics. The first couple of issues featured covers by Johnny Craig, even though all the interior art was by Moldoff. This one is the first by Moldoff.|
A couple of years later, after jobbing for companies like Fawcett and Standard, Moldoff joined the Batman team at DC, ghosting in Bob Kane's style on both the Batman comics and Detective. In fact, it was Moldoff's art that defined the look of the Batman titles during the 1950s, creating Batwoman, Bat-Mite and Ace the Bat Hound.
"I worked for Bob Kane as a ghost from '53 to '67," Moldoff told Alter Ego magazine. "DC didn't know that I was involved; that was the handshake agreement I had with Bob: 'You do the work, don't say anything, Shelly, and you've got steady work'. No, he didn't pay great, but it was steady work, it was security. I knew that we had to do a minimum of 350 to 360 pages a year. Also, I was doing other work at the same time for [editors] Jack Schiff and Murray Boltinoff at DC. They didn't know I was working on Batman for Bob ... So I was busy. Between the two, I never had a dull year, which is the compensation I got for being Bob's ghost, for keeping myself anonymous."
Even after the Julie Schwartz revamp of the character in Detective Comics 327 (May 1964) and Batman 164 (Jun 1964), Moldoff would continue to pencil Batman stories, ghosting for Bob Kane. In fact, Moldoff also drew the cover for the first revamped Batman issue, though in a much more Infantino-esque style.
DC fired Moldoff in 1967, along with Superman stalwarts Wayne Boring and George Papp - presumably because they were "old-fashioned". Moldoff turned to storyboarding animation for TV and worked on Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse. He also produced promotional comics for the Burger King, Big Boy and Red Lobster restaurant chains. He returned to DC thirty years later to draw a segment for Superman and Batman: World's Funnest in 2000.
1960sAs 1960 kicked in, Moldoff was drawing all the covers and much of the insides of the Batman titles. And in even more of those covers, there was that same illustration, in that same pose - sometimes close-up, sometimes in long-shot - of Robin looking scared and useless.
|These Shelly Moldoff covers, published in the early part of 1960, all included Robin in that characteristic pose.|
|It did seem that Robin's sole role in these old Batman tales was to react fearfully |
to whatever situation Batman found himself in.
|These comics were published in October and November of 1960 ... all show Robin in that same pose, all facing to the left, whether in close-up or long-shot. What could Moldoff have been thinking?|
|Between January and April 1961, Scaredy Robin made three appearances.|
|Here he is again, reacting to the situation instead of being part of it. It's like the editors thought of Robin as a Damsel in Distress instead of being an active part of the dynamic duo. These covers appeared from August to December 1961.|
|Another gaggle of goofy early Sixties Batman covers, covering the first half of 1963 ... a catalogue of bizarre aliens, 5th Dimension imps and freakish Batman transformations, all with Robin facing to the right.|
|The tail end of 1963 would see the end of the space rockets and the whacky Batman transformations. And not a moment too soon. DC's management were unhappy with the sales and were hinting that the character could be consigned to limbo.|
Though Moldoff wasn't quite out the door - he'd last another three years - he would have to abandon mimicking Bob Kane's style and follow the Infantino template to bring more a fluid grace to Batman.
|"Robin Dies at Dawn" in Batman 156 (Jun 1963) was an uncharacteristic break from the hokey claptrap on either side of it, a fondly-remembered masterpiece by the great Bill Finger.|
How differently things might have turned out had Julius Schwartz not turned the fortunes of Batman and Detective Comics around in 1964.
Next: Marvel goes mythical (promise!)