JLA Deluxe volume 4


By Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Devin Grayson, J.M. DeMatteis, Howard Porter, Mark Pajarillo, Steve Scott & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401229092 (HC)            :978-1401243852(PB)

When the Justice League of America – driving force and cornerstone of the Silver Age of Comics – was re-imagined and relaunched in 1997, the sheer bravura quality of the stories propelled the series back to the forefront of industry attention, making as many new fans as it recaptured old ones. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality.

With JLA you could see on every page all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be. Moreover, their example – at least initially – was mirrored by all other creators brought in to craft the hero-team’s later adventures…

This fourth Deluxe Edition (available in hardback, paperback and eBook formats) gathers issues #32-46 of the resurgent series, spanning August 1999 to October 2000: re-presenting astounding epics of cosmic wonder and universal upheaval which still pack a punch nearly two decades later…

The action opens with ‘Inside Job’ (Waid and Devin Grayson script with art by Mark Pajarillo & Walden Wong): a tale deeply embedded in company continuity and set during the spectacular and prophetic Batman: No Man’s Land publishing event. The gripping tale of mutation, bio-warfare and government indifference references one of the League’s first cases (for which see JLA: Year One) as outlaw genetic supremacists Locus return to make quake-devastated Gotham City their private Petri-dish.

After releasing a mutagenic terror-virus that not even the JLA can combat, the genome-maniacs’ opportunistic attempts at conquest result in devastation and despair until the heroes formulate a new and evolving strategy…

Waid, Pajarillo & Wong’s then examine ‘Altered Egos’ as Batman leads a plainclothes mission to discover who – or what – is masquerading as Bruce Wayne: an unexpectedly violent mission which sees the return of the team’s most dangerous modern opponents…

As envisaged by re-originators Grant Morrison & Howard Porter, the World’s Greatest Superheroes had always been meant to tackle a progression of gargantuan epics and mind-boggling conceptual endeavours. This long-awaited cosmic spectacle had been patiently unfolding for years and culminated in a “Big Finish” saga that proved well worth the wait.

Beginning with the thematic prelude ‘The Ant and the Avalanche’ (Morrison, Porter & John Dell), the JLA faces increased super-villain violence, natural disasters and general global madness after New God Orion determines that a threat from the time of the Primal Gods is closing in on Earth. With the entire planet in bellicose turmoil, Lex Luthor and his malevolent allies – Queen Bee, Prometheus and defrocked General Wade Eiling inside the gigantic, indestructible body of the erstwhile Shaggy Man – prepare to destroy all Earth’s heroes once and for all…

‘The Guilty’ by J.M. DeMatteis, Pajarillo & Wong takes a timely sidestep to focus on debased angel Zauriel and the Hal Jordan-bonded Spectre who invades the heroes’ home to judge the past sins of the assembled Leaguers…

Cleansed and refreshed the team then embark on the six-part epic ‘World War Three’ (Morrison, Porter and Dell), starting by learning the origins of Mageddon, a semi-sentient doomsday weapon which creates hatred and violence in all living things. Now it is nearing Earth…

Responding to its presence, former Leaguer Aztek (see JLA Presents Aztek, the Ultimate Man) comes out of retirement as Luthor’s team ambushes the team in their lunar citadel with devastating success…

Meanwhile on Earth, the inexorably approaching God-Weapon is driving the populace – human and not – into manic blood-frenzy whilst the hard-pressed superhero community finds that even they are not immune to Mageddon’s malign influence…

When even Heaven refuses to act in Earth’s defence, all hope seems lost until the long-missing Flash returns with crucial assistance from the end of time and space and Zauriel recruits aid from a most unexpected source, but even this is not enough until one hero makes the ultimate sacrifice…

Given a fighting chance, humanity takes its fate into its own disparate and temporarily super-powered hands for a spectacular and cathartic cosmic climax to delight fans of every persuasion and preference.

After battling every combination of ancient, contemporary and futuristic foes, the World’s Greatest Superheroes next found themselves pitted against a miniscule and most poignant threat in ‘Half a Mind to Save a World’, an intriguing take on Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage from Dan Curtis Johnson, Pajarillo & Wong, wherein The Atom leads a JLA team on a mission to forcibly evacuate an advanced civilisation of bacteria that have taken up residence in a small boy’s brain and begun strip-mining his dendrites. Of course, the bacteria aren’t that keen on moving…

Often cited as one of the best Batman stories ever created, multi-part paean to paranoia Tower of Babel concludes this collection. The saga begins with immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul’s latest plan to winnow Earth’s human population to manageable levels well underway…

In ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (Waid, Porter & Drew Geraci), a series of perfectly planned pre-emptive strikes cripple Martian Manhunter, Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Plastic Man and Green Lantern whilst Batman is taken out of the game by the simple expedient of stealing his parents’ remains from their graves.

With the Dark Knight distracted and his fellow superheroes utterly disabled, the full scheme begins as humanity suddenly loses the ability to read. Books, newspapers, complicated machinery instructions, labels on medicine bottles – all are now gibberish. The death toll starts to mount…

In ‘Seven Little Indians’ as the League attempt to regroup and fight back, Batman realises that the tactics and tools used to take out his allies – now including Superman – were his own secret contingency measures, designed in case he ever had to fight his super-powered best friends…

In ‘Protected by the Cold’ Batman leads a counter-attack despite the shock and fury of his betrayed comrades, and as the final phase kicks in with humans losing the power of speech too, the disunited team mounts a last-ditch assault on Al Ghul in ‘Harsh Words’ (illustrated by Steve Scott & Mark Propst). The same team handled the epilogue where the recovered heroes angrily seek to understand how their trusted friend could have countenanced such treachery…

Compelling, challenging and genuinely uplifting, this tale is a high-mark in modern superhero comics and one no fan can afford to miss. Morrison & Porter’s JLA was never afraid of looking back fondly or laughing at itself: an all-out effort to be Thrilling, Smart and Fun.

This is the kind of joyous fare nobody should ever outgrow and these are stories to be read and re-read forever…
© 1999, 2000, 2010 DC Comics.  All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 1


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Whitney Ellsworth, Sheldon Moldoff, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6333-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Vintage Comicbook Perfection… 10/10

For anyone who’s read more than a few of these posts, my tastes should be fairly apparent, but in case you’re in any doubt, here’s a flat-out confession: I’m that shabby, possibly crazy old geezer muttering at the checkout about how things were better before, and all new things are crap and not the same and…

You get the picture. Now, ignore all that. It’s true but it’s not relevant here.

Batman: The Golden Age is the latest paperback-format (there’s also a weightier, pricier but more capacious hardback Omnibus available) re-presentation of the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Set in original chronological order, it forgoes glossy, high-definition paper and reproduction techniques in favour of a newsprint-adjacent feel and the same flat, bright-yet-muted colour palette which graced the originals.

There’s no fuss, fiddle or Foreword, and the book steams straight into the meat of the matter with the accumulated first year and a half of material masked mystery-man plus all those stunning covers spanning Detective Comics #27-45; Batman #1-3 and the Dynamic Duo’s story from New York World’s Fair Comics 1940; cumulatively covering all the groundbreaking escapades from May 1939-November 1940.

As Eny Fule Kno, Detective #27 spotlighted the Gotham Guardian’s debut in the ‘Case of the Chemical Syndicate!’ by Bob Kane and close collaborator/co-originator Bill Finger.

This spartan, understated yarn introduced dilettante playboy criminologist Bruce Wayne, drawn into a straightforward crime-caper wherein a cabal of industrialists were successively murdered. The killings stopped when an eerie figure dubbed “The Bat-Man” intruded on Police Commissioner Gordon’s stalled investigation and ruthlessly exposed and dealt with the hidden killer.

The next issue saw the fugitive vigilante return to crush ‘Frenchy Blake’s Jewel Gang’ before encountering his very first psychopathic killer and returning villain in Detective #29. Gardner Fox scripted the next few adventures beginning with ‘The Batman Meets Doctor Death’, featuring a deadly duel of wits with deranged, greedy general practitioner Karl Hellfern and his assorted instruments of murder: the most destructive and diabolical of which was sinister Asiatic manservant Jabah

Confident of their new villain’s potential, Kane, Fox and inker Sheldon Mayer encored the mad medic for the next instalment in ‘The Return of Doctor Death’, before Fox and Finger co-scripted a 2-part shocker which introduced the first bat-plane, Bruce’s girlfriend Julie Madison and undead horror The Monk in an expansive, globe-girdling spooky saga. ‘Batman Versus the Vampire’ concluded in an epic chase across Eastern Europe and a spectacular climax in a monster-filled castle in issue #32.

Detective Comics #33 featured Fox & Kane’s ‘The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom’: a blockbusting disaster thriller which just casually slipped in the secret origin of the Gotham Guardian, as mere prelude to intoxicating air-pirate action, after which Euro-trash dastard Duc D’Orterre found his uncanny science and unsavoury appetites no match for the mighty Batman in ‘Peril in Paris’.

Bill Finger returned as lead scripter in issue #35, pitting the Cowled Crusader against crazed cultists murdering everyone who had seen their sacred jewel in ‘The Case of the Ruby Idol’ – although the many deaths were actually caused by a far more prosaic villain, after which grotesque criminal genius ‘Professor Hugo Strange’ (inked by new kid Jerry Robinson) debuted with his murderous man-made fog and lightning machine in #36, and all-pervasive enemy agents ‘The Spies’ ultimately proved no match for the vengeful masked Manhunter in #37.

Detective Comics #38 (April 1940) changed the landscape of comicbooks forever with the introduction of ‘Robin, The Boy Wonder’: child trapeze artist Dick Grayson whose parents were murdered before his eyes and who thereafter joined Batman in a lifelong quest for justice, by bringing to justice mobster mad dog Boss Zucco

After the Flying Grayson’s killers were captured, Batman #1 (Spring 1940) opened proceedings with a recycled origin culled from portions of Detective Comics #33 and 34. ‘The Legend of the Batman – Who He Is and How He Came to Be!’ by Fox, Kane & Moldoff offered in two perfect pages what is still the best ever origin of the character, after which ‘The Joker’ (Finger, Kane & Robinson – who produced all the remaining tales in this astonishing premiere issue) introduced the greatest villain in DC’s criminal pantheon via a stunning tale of extortion and wilful wanton murder.

‘Professor Hugo Strange and the Monsters’ follows as the old adversary returns with laboratory-grown hyperthyroid horrors to rampage through the terrified city and ‘The Cat’ – who later added the suffix ‘Woman’ to her name to avoid any possible doubt or confusion – plied her felonious trade of jewel theft aboard the wrong cruise-liner and fell foul for the first time of the dashing Dynamic Duo.

The initial issue ends with the ‘The Joker Returns’ as the sinister clown breaks jail to resume his terrifying campaign of murder for fun and profit before “dying” in mortal combat with the Gotham Guardian.

Following a superb pin-up (originally the back cover of the premier issue) of the Dynamic Duo by Kane, the tense suspense and all-out action continues with Detective #39 and ‘The Horde of the Green Dragon’ – oriental Tong killers in Chinatown – by Finger, Kane & Robinson, after which ‘Beware of Clayface!’ finds the Dynamic Duo solving a string of murders on a film set which almost sees Julie Madison the latest victim of a monstrous movie maniac…

Batman and Robin solved the baffling mystery of a kidnapped boy in Detective #41’s ‘A Master Murderer’ before enjoying their second solo outing in four comics classics from Batman #2 (Summer 1940).

It begins with ‘Joker Meets Cat-Woman’ (Finger, Kane, Robinson & new find George Roussos) wherein svelte thief, homicidal jester and a crime syndicate all tussle for the same treasure with the Caped Crusaders caught in the middle.

‘Wolf, the Crime Master’ offers a fascinating take on the classic Jekyll & Hyde tragedy after which an insidious and ingenious murder-mystery ensues in ‘The Case of the Clubfoot Murderers’ before Batman and Robin confront uncanny savages and ruthless showbiz promoters in poignant monster story ‘The Case of the Missing Link’.

‘Batman and Robin Visit the New York World’s Fair’ comes from the second New York World’s Fair Comics. Finger, Kane & Roussos followed the vacationing Dynamic Duo as they track down a maniac mastermind with a metal-dissolving ray, after which Detective Comics #42 again finds our heroes ending another murder maniac’s rampage in ‘The Case of the Prophetic Pictures!’ before clashing with a corrupt mayor in #43’s ‘The Case of the City of Terror!’

An unparallelled hit, Batman stories never rested on their laurels. The creators always sought to expand their parameters as with Detective #44 and a nightmarish fantasy of giants and goblins in ‘The Land Behind the Light!’, after which Batman #3 (Fall 1940) has Finger, Kane, Robinson & Roussos rise to even greater heights, beginning with ‘The Strange Case of the Diabolical Puppet Master’: an eerie episode of uncanny mesmerism and infamous espionage…

Then a grisly scheme ensues as innocent citizens are mysteriously transformed into specimens of horror and artworks destroyed by the spiteful commands of ‘The Ugliest Man in the World’ before ‘The Crime School for Boys!!’ sees Robin infiltrate a gang who have a cruel and cunning recruitment plan for dead-end kids…

‘The Batman vs. the Cat-Woman’ then reveals the larcenous lady in well over her head when she steals for – and from – the wrong people…

The issue also offered a worthy Special Feature as ‘The Batman Says’ presented an illustrated prose Law & Order pep-talk crafted by Whitney Ellsworth and illustrated by Robinson…

The all-out action concludes here with a magnificent and horrific Joker jape from Detective Comics #45 as ‘The Case of the Laughing Death’ displays the Harlequin of Hate undertaking a campaign of macabre murder against everyone who has ever defied or offended him…

Including full Creator biographies and with Batman covers by Kane, Robinson & Roussos and all the other general action ones by Fred Guardineer & Creig Flessel, this is a stunning monument to exuberance and raw talent. Kane, Robinson and their compatriots created an iconography which carried the Batman feature well beyond its allotted life-span until later creators could re-invigorate it. They added a new dimension to children’s reading… and their work is still captivatingly accessible.

Moreover, these early stories set the standard for comic superheroes. Whatever you like now, you owe it to these stories. Superman gave us the idea, but writers like Finger and Fox refined and defined the meta-structure of the costumed crime-fighter.

Where the Man of Steel was as much Social Force and wish fulfilment as hero, Batman and Robin did what we ordinary mortals wanted to do. They taught bad people the lessons they deserved…

These are tales of elemental power and joyful exuberance, brimming with deep mood and addictive action. Comicbook heroics simply don’t come any better.

One final thing: I’m still that guy in paragraph one, right? I’ve read these stories many, many times, in every format imaginable, and I’d like to thank whoever decided that they should also be available in as close a facsimile to the originals as we can get these days.

More than anything else, this serves to perfectly recapture the mood and impact of that revolutionary masked avenger and, of course, delights my heavily concealed inner child no end.
© 1939, 1940, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Birth of the Demon


By Dennis O’Neil, Norm Breyfogle & Tom various (DC Comics)
ISBNs: 1-56389-080-1 (original hardcover);                         1-56389-081-X (trade paperback)

Debuting twelve months after Superman, in May 1939 “The Bat-Man” (joined within a year by Robin, the Boy Wonder) cemented DC/National Comics as the market and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the scope and parameters of the metahuman with their Man of Tomorrow, the magnificently mortal physical perfection and dashing derring-do of the human-scaled adventures starring the Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all four-colour crimebusters were judged.

Batman is in many ways the ideal superhero: uniquely adaptable and able to work in any type or genre of story, as is clearly evident from the dazzling plethora of vintage tales collected in so many captivating volumes over the years, vying equally with the most immediate and recent tales collected into albums scant moment after they go off-sale as comicbooks….

One the most impressive and well-mined periods is the moody 1970-1980s when the Caped Crusader evolved into a driven but still coldly rational Manhunter, rather than the dark, out-of-control paranoid of later days or the costumed boy-scout of the “Camp”-crazed Sixties.

There had been many “Most Important Batman” stories over the decades since his debut in 1939 but very few had the resounding impact of pioneering 1987 experiment Batman: Son of the Demon which capped a period when DC were creatively on fire and could do no wrong commercially.

Not only did the story add new depth to the character, but the package itself – oversized (294 x 226 mm), on high-quality paper, available in both hardback and softcover editions – helped kickstart the fledgling graphic novel marketplace. In 1991 the tale spawned an equally impressive sequel – Batman: Bride of the Demon – and a year later Scripter Supreme Denny O’Neil joined with illustrator Norm Breyfogle who painted this staggering saga (lettered by Ken Bruzenak) to complete a trilogy of outstanding graphic landmarks by providing Batman’s quintessential antithesis with an origin…

In the 1970s immortal mastermind and militant eco-activist Ra’s Al Ghul was a contemporary – and presumably thus more acceptable – embodiment of the venerably inscrutable Foreign Devil designated in a less forgiving age as the “Yellow Peril” and most famously embodied in Dr. Fu Manchu.

This kind of alien archetype had permeated fiction since the beginning of the 20th century and is still an overwhelmingly potent villain symbol even today, although the character’s Arabic origins, neutral at that time, seem to painfully embody a different kind of ethnic bogeyman in today’s terrorist-obsessed world.

Possessed of immense resources, an army of zealots and every inch Batman’s physical and intellectual equal match, Al Ghul featured in many of most memorable stories of the 1970s and 1980s. He had easily deduced the Caped Crusader’s secret identity and wanted his masked adversary to become his ally…

Here the war between these astounding rivals has reached the end-stage. Al Ghul has extended his lifespan for centuries through arcane means, but as this saga begins the immortal warlord is dying; his network of life-restoring Lazarus Pits dismantled and destroyed by the implacable Batman. Moreover, every attempt to create a new version of the geographically-sensitive chemical bath is anticipated by the Dark Knight and foiled with brutal efficiency. With few options remaining the demon’s daughter Talia takes charge of the last possible potential pit but finds Batman – her one true beloved – waiting for her. She has no idea that he too is near his life’s end…

The lovers discuss how the Batman had anticipated all the possible moves of the Demon’s Head. He reveals how archaeologists had got a certain ancient manuscript to him at the cost of their lives, and how he had deduced its true meaning…

The scene then resets to 500 years previously in an Arabian kingdom. Here a good and brilliant doctor of peasant origins creates a unique immersion treatment to save the son of the ruling potentate from a mystery disease. The remedy came after a retreat to the desert where the doctor experienced visions and where he believes he battles a bat-demon…

However, when the prince emerges from the boiling chemical pit, he is an uncontrollable savage who assaults and kills the healer’s wife. Despite all he has done, the doctor is denied use of the Pit to revive her and soon learns first hand of the callous disregard rulers have for their subjects…

Subjected to unimaginable cruelty, the healer is left to die in the desert before being saved by a poor poet he has recently helped. Together they unite with a bandit chief to topple the wicked sultan and carve out a bloody empire. Using the Pit, they also extend their lives and plan to reconstruct the world into a fairer place.

Sadly, somewhere along the way the allies fall out as their organisation grows in strength and as centuries pass one of the triumvirate leaves a document that might spell the Demon’s undoing…

Returning to modern times the tale ends in a climactic duel between the dying giants on the lip of the last Lazarus Pit…

Epic, revelatory and powerfully mythic, Birth of the Demon is an emotionally evocative fable crammed with action, spectacle and suspense: one of the most moving mature-reader tales in Batman’s canon and one to delight fans and casual readers alike.

If you’re new to these older tales, or just want the entire saga in one (slightly smaller) package, all three Al Ghul stories are available in one collected volume – Batman: Birth of the Demon (Collected) first released in 2012.

© 1990 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Time Masters: Vanishing Point


By Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, Rodney Ramos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3047-0

After the cosmos-crunching Crisis on Infinite Earths re-sculpted the DC Universe in 1986, a host of characters got floor-up rebuilds for the tougher, no-nonsense, straight-shooting New American readership of the Reagan era. The decluttering exercise also made room for a few superheroes of types previously unknown at the company “Where Legends Live”.

Disgraced sports star Michael Carter came back from the 25th century to our era, tooled up with stolen technology, determined to recreate himself as a superhero. As Booster Gold he made a name for himself as a mid-level hero and supreme self-promoter and corporate shill.

Created, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens, the saga featured a brash, cockily mysterious apparently metahuman golden-boy jock setting up his stall as a superhero in Metropolis. Here he actively sought corporate sponsorships, sold endorsements and hired a management team to maximise the profit potential of his crusading celebrity.

He was accompanied everywhere by sentient, flying, football-shaped robot Skeets.

Their time came and went and Booster’s title folded, but he lived on as part of Justice League International where he became roughly half of comics’ funniest double-act, riffing with the equally light-hearted lightweight Blue Beetle.

Booster and Ted Kord (technically the second Blue Beetle) were the class clowns of billionaire Maxwell Lord’s League: a couple of obnoxiously charming frat-boys who could save the day but never get the girl or any respect.

When Lord murdered Beetle, precipitating an Infinite Crisis, Booster was shattered. Eventually, though, he recovered and redefined himself as a true hero through a succession of multiversal conflagrations. In landmark weekly maxi-series 52 and later Infinite Crisis, his intriguing take on Heroism diverged down strange avenues when Booster – traditionally only in it for fame and fortune – became a secret saviour, repairing the cracks in Reality caused by all the universe-warping shenanigans of myriad multiversal Crises and uncontrolled time-travel.

Working at the instruction of enigmatic and irascible mentor Rip Hunter: Time Master, Booster relinquished his dreams of glory to secretly save us all over and over and over again as the protector of the time-line, battling incredible odds to keep history on track and continuity in order.

This time-bending full-colour collection gathers 6-issue miniseries Time Masters: Vanishing Point (from September 2010-February 2011), detailing how Rip, Booster and Skeets steer a small posse of superheroes through the uncanny and lethally mutable corridors of time in search of a missing comrade vital to the existence of everything…

At the climax of a harrowing campaign of terror by The Black Hand and following Earth’s invasion by the New Gods of Apokolips, Batman was apparently killed at the conclusion of Infinite Crisis

The world at large was unaware of the loss, leaving the superhero community to mourn in secret whilst a dedicated army of assistants, protégés and allies – trained over years by the contingency-obsessed Dark Knight – formed the Network to police Gotham City in the days which followed: marking time until a successor could be found or the original restored…

Most of the Bat-schooled battalion refused to believe their inspirational mentor dead. On the understanding that he was merely lost, they eventually accepted Dick Grayson (the first Robin and latterly Nightwing) as a stand-in until Bruce Wayne could find his way back to them. The more cosmically endowed super-friends weren’t prepared to wait, however…

Batman, of course, is the most brilliant escape artist of all time and even whilst being struck down by the New God of Evil had devised an impossibly complex and grandly far-reaching scheme to beat the devil and save the world…

The chronally-fluctuating epic opens with elderly time guardian Booster sharing a few moments of educational bonding time with his son before Rip Hunter shakes off the happy memories and gets back to the immediate task at hand: reminding Superman, Green Lantern Hal Jordan and a blithely oblivious prime-of-life Booster of the dangers involved in interfering in historical events, no matter how tragic or cruel they might be…

Meanwhile, at the End of Time mystery hero Supernova is finding inviolate citadel Vanishing Point has been destroyed by incalculable forces and, after consulting with his unseen boss, grimly sets off in search of Rip…

The rescue mission for Bruce Wayne is Hunter’s idea. He tracked the hero to various time periods, where the Dark Knight briefly materialised before plunging back into the time stream again. Rip now hopes to extract him with the assistance of some of the Gotham Guardian’s oldest allies, before his random trajectory causes irreparable damage. He also fears enemy interference from enemies as yet unknown…

In Rip’s 21st century Arizona lab, Booster’s sister Michelle is confronted by two likely suspects as “Time Stealers” Per Degaton and Despero break in. The battle looks lost until Supernova arrives to turn the tables, but after driving off the villains the mystery man vanishes; still intent on finding the reason for Vanishing Point’s destruction and the time-stream’s increasing instability…

In the 15th century the rescue squad’s search ends in frustration, but as Rip prepares to bring them home a chronal disruption seizes them, propelling them all on an uncontrolled trip through time and also across dimensions…

On arrival Rip is confronted by a barbarian warrior with a demonic right hand (DC’s short-lived 1970s sword-&-sorcery star Claw the Unconquered), and Hunter’s thoughts go back to another salutary lesson delivered by his father on the crucial nature of his self-appointed mission. After a short battle he finally convinces the enraged swordsman that he is neither wizard nor foe.

As they join forces against a common threat, in another time and place Booster, Superman and Green Lantern have arrived in the middle of a war between humans and aliens. Unable to obey Hunter’s admonition not to get involved, the heroes engage the invading Mygorgs, unaware that in a distant time-pocket Degaton and Despero have met with their allies Ultra-Humanite and Black Beetle.

The consensus is that some outside force is destabilising time and it must be stopped if their own plans for domination are to succeed…

The superheroes’ resistance ends when Booster encounters a sword-wielding woman warrior named Starfire (another star of DC’s short 1970’s dalliance with sword-&-sorcery) and a tenuous alliance is formed just as a dragon-riding witch captures Superman and Green Lantern…

Although separated by dimensional walls, both Rip and Claw and Booster’s team are facing similar perils: held by unearthly wizard Serhattu and his accomplice sorceress Skyle whilst the mage attempts to control of time and escape his extra-dimensional realm using the out-worlders’ science…

And in the ruins of Vanishing Point, the Time Stealers find a cell and free Hunter’s greatest foes: former comrades and fellow Linear Men Matthew Rider and Liri Lee

As Serhattu and Skyle prepare their campaign of conquest and their captives struggle against mind-bending mystic shackles, at Vanishing Point Supernova attacks but is unable to stop the Linear Men and Time Stealers getting away.

In the other-dimensional realm, Hunter takes a huge chance and the heroes escape imprisonment but are sucked into a time vortex. The gamble succeeds and the liberated champions recover in time to chase Serhattu and Skyle to the site of the first Atomic Bomb test and stop their attempt to steal the awesome unknown power for themselves.

After returning Starfire, Claw and the mages to their rightful places, the heroes press on, unaware that the Black Beetle has betrayed the Time Stealers and Linear Men to steal the time-warping powers locked in remains of chronal-energy being Waverider

Hunter’s team are again diverted however by time-travelling psychopath Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash who wants the Omega energy causing Batman’s time-ricochets for his own…

As they battle the super-fast maniac, elsewhen Supernova attacks Black Beetle, and another player co-opts the Waverider power. With time in flux the battles bleed into one another and Hunter’s heroes meet the Time Stealers, Linear Man and Supernova for one final catastrophic clash…

Fast-paced, deviously compelling and extraordinarily convoluted, this is the kind of Fights ‘n’ Tights clash die-hard comic fans live for: a complex saga full of fights, inside jokes or references and impossible situations all surmounted by bold heroes in full saviour mode. It’s just a pure shame that such excellent work excludes so many readers who would certainly enjoy it if only they had the neceassry background history to hand.

Furious fun and thrills for those in the know, or anyone willing to trade comprehension for non-stop action…
© 2010, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Suicide Squad volume 2: The Nightshade Odyssey


By John Ostrander, Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, Paul Kupperberg, Robert Greenberger, Luke McDonnell, Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5833-7

In 1986, mega-monster continuity reboot Crisis on Infinite Earths led to DC Comics overwriting fifty years of continuity and revamping their major properties. The massive spring-cleaning exercise led to a swarm of boldly innovative titles and a fresh look at how comicbooks could be done.

One of the most unconventional – despite crossing genres and having roots leading back to the very dawn of the Silver Age – was Suicide Squad by John Ostrander and artist Luke McDonnell.

Previously during a psychological attack on the very concept of heroism (as seen in the miniseries Legends and its many tie-ins and crossovers) President Ronald Reagan outlawed costumed crimebusters and sanctioned an ultra-covert governmental black-bag operation to press super-powered criminals into (secret) service…

John Ostrander was new to DC; lured with Editor Mike Gold from Chicago’s First Comics where their work on Starslayer, Munden’s Bar and especially Grimjack had made those independent minnows some of the most popular series of the decade. Spinning out of Legends, Ostrander hit the ground running with a superbly compelling reinterpretation of the long-neglected Suicide Squad: a boldly controversial revaluation of meta-humanity and the role of government in a world far more dangerous than the placid public believed…

As originally conceived by Robert Kanigher, the Suicide Squad first saw action in The War that Time Forgot (Star Spangled War Stories #90, April-May 1960). Paratroops and tanks of “Question Mark Patrol” dropped onto Mystery Island from whence no American soldiers ever returned. The crack warriors discovered why when the operation was overrun by dinosaurs and worse…

Re-imagined for The Brave and the Bold #25 (September 1959) as a quartet of combat specialists, Colonel Rick Flag, medic Karin Grace plus boffins Hugh Evans and Jess Price were officially convened as Suicide Squad/Task Force X by the US government to investigate uncanny mysteries and tackle unnatural threats.

The gung ho gang (another Kanigher, Andru & Esposito invention) appeared in six issues but never really caught the public’s attention – perhaps because they weren’t costumed heroes – and quickly faded from memory.

Then, in April 1967 Our Fighting Forces #106 began the exploits of homicide detective Ben Hunter; recruited by the army during WWII to run roughshod over a penal battalion of prisoners who had grievously broken regulations.

Facing imprisonment or execution, the individually lethal military malcontents were given a chance to earn a pardon by undertaking missions deemed too tough or hopeless for proper soldiers. Hunter’s Hellcats – inarguably “inspired” by the movie The Dirty Dozen – ran until December 1969, in increasingly nasty and occasionally fatal sorties, before being replaced without fanfare or preamble by The Losers and similarly lost to posterity.

Ostrander tied together all these disparate strands and linked obscure comics events to provide a shocking secret history of America: a time when superheroes were forced into retirement after World War II with the military and Task Force X used to (unobtrusively) take out the monsters, spies, aliens and super-criminals who didn’t conveniently pack up with them.

Now substituting super-villains for simple criminals, history was made…

This second collection was designed to tie-in to both the TV and movie incarnations of the Suicide Squad. Reprinting Suicide Squad #9-16, plus a crossover from Justice League International #13, material from Secret Origins #28 and team-up one-shot Doom Patrol/Suicide Squad #1(spanning January-August 1988) – it resumes the story of strident political insider Amanda Waller who convinced President Reagan to sponsor her scheme to make bad guys do good deeds.

He agreed, but only as long as he had complete deniability…

Waller didn’t want society to depend on capricious super do-gooders and recruited Flag’s damaged, driven son to run a new penal battalion working “off the books”, using state-sanctioned metahuman force for the greater good. Knowing criminals can’t be trusted, her devious set-up involves not just bribery – reduced sentences, financial favours and pardons – but coercion.

Field missions are led by traumatised, obsessively patriotic Flag Jr., assisted by amnesiac martial artist Bronze Tiger who ensures everybody stays honest and on-mission. Convict-operatives are picked as necessity demands, but some operatives are in regular use, such as Deadshot, Captain Boomerang and schizophrenic sorceress Enchantress. They are, however, wired with remote-detonation explosive devices just in case…

Backed by a support team which includes Flag’s former lover Karin Grace and Briscoe, a bizarre mystery pilot who has a rather unusual relationship with his seemingly sentient helicopter gunship, the ever-fluctuating team seem ready for anything…

The stories here come from a period when publishers were first developing the marketing strategies of the “Braided Mega-Crossover Event.” This hard-on-the-pockets innovation dictated really big stories involving every publication in a company’s output, for a limited time period – so a compilation like this perforce includes adventures that seem confusing because they are essentially “middles” with no beginnings or endings.

In this instance the unfolding epic is Millennium which saw writer Steve Englehart expand on an iconic tale from Justice League of America #140-141 as well as his run on the Green Lantern Corps

Billions of years ago the robotic peacekeepers called Manhunters rebelled against their creators. The immortal Guardians of the Universe desired a rational, emotionless cosmos – a view challenged by their own women. The Zamarons eventually abandoned the Guardians at the inception of the grand scheme, but after eons apart the two factions finally reconciled and left our reality together.

Here and now they have returned with a plan to midwife a new race of immortals on Earth, but the mechanoid Manhunters – who had in the meantime infiltrated all aspects of every society throughout the cosmos – resolved to thwart the plan, whether by seduction, connivance or just plain brute force.

The heroes of Earth gathered to protect the project and confront the Manhunters in their own private lives… and their own comics…

Thus Suicide Squad #9 (by Ostrander, Luke McDonnell & Bob Lewis) sees a team assembled to destroy a Manhunter Temple deep in the Louisiana swamps surrounding the team’s secret Belle Reve base. However, as they battle their way in with a monolithic bomb – despite interference from Captain Atom, Firestorm and too-good-to-be-true reformed Manhunter Mark Shaw – Flag discovers the person he most trusted is a Manhunter mole…

An unlikely hero then pays ‘The Final Price’ to complete the mission before, unconventionally, the squad pick up a new recruit in the bellicose form of mystery warrior Duchess just as they flee the cataclysmic results of their latest covert triumph…

As counsellor/chaplain Reverend Cramer sets up shop in Belle Reve, a grievous security breach occupies Waller’s attention. Somehow Batman has penetrated the top-secret project and indignantly announces that he will expose the whole sordid show.

When neither Flag nor the squad are able to stop the Dark Knight, Amanda finds a unique way to make the intransigent hero back down in ‘Up Against the Wall’

More politically astute action unfolds in ‘Red Pawn’ (plotted by Ostrander, scripted by Paul Kupperberg with art by Erik Larsen & Lewis from Doom Patrol/Suicide Squad #1) as reactionary right-wing hero Hawk is captured whilst running guns to anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua.

His plight quickly becomes the focus of a humiliating media circus, and, still smarting from his last press roasting for such illicit activities, Reagan orders Waller to rescue or kill the wayward freedom fighter.

Typically, this move angers the NSA advisors of the Leader of the Free World, who take matters into their own hands to fatally embarrass “the Wall” by inveigling recent Soviet defector Valentina Vostok to deploy her comrades in the Doom Patrol to save the tragic, well-meaning patriotic Hawk from the evil Sandanistas…

Already shaping up as a SNAFU of biblical proportions, neither American faction is aware that rival cabals in reformist Russian Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s vast espionage apparatus are also implementing their own undercutting agendas…

Soon the entire country is at war as the Squad battle the undercover Doom Patrol (Celsius, Robotman, Negative Woman and Tempest) until a brigade of armoured Rocket Reds invades the nation. With uncontrolled destruction at maximum, the pointless clash escalates even further as a fourth force comprising Soviet super-soldier Stalnoivolk and KGB master schemer Major Zastrow work their own malignant way towards an acceptable solution to restore the status quo …

Barely surviving the political fallout, Waller’s Wonders are next deployed to destroy a drug-cartel in Suicide Squad #11 as ex-Justice Leaguer Vixen seeks vengeance after her friends are gunned down during a smuggling operation. ‘Blood and Snow Part One’ sees her volunteer for the penal team which is starting to feel the pressure of its own success.

Flag is on the edge of a breakdown and nobody has noticed that incorrigible felon Boomerang is impersonating another super-villain to rob banks in his spare time…

With no time to assess and her best assets still in Nicaragua, Waller assembles a team heavy with government-affiliated heroes such as Black Orchid, Nightshade and Speedy to augment remaining regular players Captain Boomerang, Enchantress and Briscoe. With great misgivings she tasks them with infiltrating the inner circle of Medellin Cartel boss Xavier Cujo to destroy his jungle fortress and vast stores of cocaine.

None of them are particularly bothered by the fact that this is an official assassination mission…

Naturally, the plan is perfect up until the moment it begins and soon the undercover stalwarts are battling for their lives in the blistering conclusion ‘Blood and Snow Part Two’. In the ghastly aftermath, however, Vixen no longer counts herself as a hero of any description…

A crucial crossover began in Justice League International #13. ‘Collision Course’ (inked by Al Gordon, drawn by Keith Giffen and co-written with partner in comedic crime J. M. DeMatteis) revealed how US agent and Suicide Squad point-man Nemesis was being tortured in a Soviet jail: a fact proudly leaked by the State’s media…

He had languished there ever since Waller abandoned him at the end of a disastrous attempt to rescue Russian dissenter Zoya Trigorin, but when Batman learns his old ally is a political prisoner he determines to break him out with or without the help of his JLI associates…

At Belle Reve, Flag – unable to convince The Wall (who is being stonewalled by Reagan) that something must be done – has begun his own illegal attempt to free the American hostage. However, once again unseen Soviet machinations are in play and an ambitious plotter has gulled Russian hero Starfire to inject himself into the growing crisis to bait a devious trap…

Flag’s team then stumbles into and brutally clashes with Batman’s Leaguers who are eventually forced into the uncomfortable position of having to – at least ostensibly – fight to keep Nemesis in Russian custody as ‘Battle Lines’ (Suicide Squad #13 by Ostrander, McDonnell & Lewis) are drawn. With violence peaking everybody gets a grim lesson in superpower Realpolitik before a solution is found…

Dimension-hopping super-agent Nightshade has been working for the Suicide Squad in return for the promise of assistance in a personal task. Secret Origins #28 revealed her hidden history in ‘A Princess’ Story’ (Robert Greenberger, Rob Liefeld & Lewis), detailing how little Eve Eden escaped from her own arcane realm after it was conquered by a marauding mystic entity dubbed the Incubus, leaving her brother behind…

All her life she has trained; as a spy, a superhero and a warrior, readying herself for the moment when she would return to save her sibling and liberate her homeland…

These revelations lead into the eponymous story arc ‘Nightshade Odyssey’ which opens with the moment Waller always dreaded. A criminally corrupt senator has discovered the facts of the Suicide Squad and threatens to destroy Reagan’s legacy unless the team is used to end investigations into his malfeasance and get him re-elected.

A man of resolute convictions, the President immediately caves and orders Waller to get it done…

With The Wall seemingly broken and contemplating resignation, the beleaguered director tells Nightshade to complete her personal mission immediately. With barely a pause for thought Nightshade, Boomerang, Bronze Tiger, Deadshot, Duchess, Enchantress and Vixen are ‘Slipping into Darkness’ to materialise in a place of malign horror concealing a trap decades in the making…

From the mouth of her eternally corrupted brother, Eve learns the truth of the situation, the mystic history of the universes and the Incubus’ diabolical connection to the Succubus force which possesses Enchantress. Then she hears their repellent plans for her…

However the satanic corruptor has never met a fighter like the enigmatic Duchess, who provides a ferocious and world-shaking distraction, allowing Eve to free her comrades and effect an uncontrolled escape from the hellish dimension leaving the ‘Devil to Pay’

Sadly, the pell-mell exit dumps the fleeing fugitives into an otherworldly ‘Deathzone’ (Suicide Squad #13, inked by Malcolm Jones III) between universes where they are doomed to madness and worse, until rescued by a mysterious alien nomad calling himself Rac Shade.

Holding information of a long-extant alien incursion on Earth, “the Changing Man” makes the jump back to Belle Reve where Amanda Waller has come to a momentous decision…

To Be Continued

With covers by Jerry Bingham, Larsen & Lewis, Steve Leialoha & Gordon and Jim Valentino, Keith Wilson & William Messner-Loebs, this is a timeless collection of gritty gripping, hard-edged Fights ‘n’ Tights forays to delight action fans: a still magnificent mission statement for the DC Universe, offering witty cohesive and contemporary stories that appealed not just to superhero lovers but also devotees of spy and crime capers. As such they remain fine fodder for today’s so-sophisticated, informed and thrill-hungry readers.
© 1988, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman Adventures volume 3


By Kelley Puckett, Paul Dini, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett with Michael Reaves, Bruce Timm, Matt Wagner, Klaus Janson, Dan DeCarlo, John Byrne & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5872-6

The brainchild of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. The TV cartoon – ostensibly for kids – revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and inevitably fed back into the printed iterations, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all eras of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, re-honed the grim avenger and his team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form.

It entranced young fans whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only the most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to.

A faithful comicbook translation was prime material for collection in the newly-emergent trade paperback market but only the first year was ever released, plus miniseries such as Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures: the Lost Years.

Nowadays, however, we’re much more evolved and reprint collections have established a solid niche amongst the cognoscenti and younger readers…

This third inclusive compendium gathers issues #21-27 of The Batman Adventures comicbook (originally published from June to December 1994) plus that year’s Batman Adventures Annual: a scintillating, no-nonsense frenzy of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy from Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett and a few fellow-pros-turned-fans…

Puckett is a writer who truly grasps the visual nature of the medium and his stories are always fast-paced, action packed and stripped down to the barest of essential dialogue. This skill has never been better exploited than by Parobeck who was at that time a rising star, especially when graced by Burchett’s slick, clean inking.

Although his professional career was tragically short (1989 to 1996 when he died, aged 31, from complications of Type 1 Diabetes) Parobeck’s gracefully fluid, exuberantly kinetic, frenetically fun-fuelled, animation-inspired style revolutionised superhero action drawing and sparked a renaissance in kid-friendly material and merchandise at DC… and everywhere else in the comics publishing business.

The wall to wall wonderment begins with the contents of Batman Adventures Annual #1: a giant-sized gathering of industry stars illustrating Paul Dini’s episodic, interlinked saga ‘Going Straight’.

Illustrators Timm & Burchett set the ball rolling as jet-propelled bandit Roxy Rocket is released from prison, prompting Batman and faithful retainer Alfred to discuss whether any villains ever reform…

Apparently one who almost made it was Arnold Wesker, who played mute Ventriloquist to his malign dummy Scarface. Tragically in ‘Puppet Show’ (art by Parobeck & Matt Wagner) we see how even a good job and the best of intentions are no defence when Arnold’s new boss wants to exploit his criminal past…

Harley Quinn is insanely devoted to killer clown The Joker and Dan DeCarlo & Timm wordlessly expose her profound weakness for that bad boy as she’s released from Arkham Asylum but is seduced back into committing crazy crimes in just ‘24 Hours’

The Scarecrow’s return to terrorising the helpless resulted from his genuine desire to help a girl assaulted by her would-be boyfriend in the chilling, poignant ‘Study Hall’ (with art by Klaus Janson), after which ‘Going Straight’ concludes with Timm detailing how Roxy Rocket is framed by Catwoman and Batman has to separate the warring female furies…

The melange of mayhem even came with its own enthralling encore with The Joker solo-starring in ‘Laughter After Midnight’ as the Mountebank of Mirth goes on a spree in Gotham, courtesy of artists John Byrne & Burchett…

The Batman Adventures #21 then saw Michael Reaves join Kelley Puckett to script tense thriller ‘House of Dorian’ for Parobeck & Burchett as deranged geneticist Emile Dorian escapes from Arkham and immediately turns Kirk Langstrom back into the marauding Man-Bat.

Moreover, although the Mad Doctor’s freedom is bad news for Gotham, Langstrom and Dorian’s previous beast-man Tygrus; for a desperate fugitive afflicted with lycanthropy, the insane physician is his last chance at a cure for his curse…

Dorian couldn’t care less. All he wants is revenge on Batman and Selina Kyle…

Like the show, most stories were crafted as a three-act plays and the conceit resumes with #22 as Puckett, Parobeck & Burchett settle in for the long haul.

‘Good Face Bad Face’ sees the return of Two-Face; also busting out of Arkham in ‘Harvey Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’ to settle scores with Gotham’s top mobster Rupert Thorne. His first move is to set free his gang in ‘Nor Iron Bars a Cage’, but this time Batman is waiting…

Poison Ivy is back in #23, spreading ‘Toxic Shock’ as she teams up with the Dark Knight in ‘Strange Bedfellows’ to save a famed botanist and ecologist dying from a mystery toxin. ‘Fighting Poison with Poison’, she and Batman search for a cure, forcing the mystery assassin into more prosaic methods in ‘How Deadly Was my Valley’

‘Grave Obligations’ sees the Gotham Guardian’s past come back to haunt him when a ninja clan invades the city. They seem more concerned with fighting each other in ‘Brother’s Keeper’, but a little digging reveals how one has come ‘From Tokyo, With Death’ in mind for Batman, and it takes the force of a much higher authority to halt the chaos in ‘Cancelled Debts’

An inevitable team-up graces Batman Adventures #25 as Puckett, Parobeck & Burchett reintroduce legendary ‘Super Friends’.

With Lex Luthor in town and bidding against Waynetech for a military contract, a mystery bombing campaign begins in ‘Tik, Tik, Tik…’

Even as unwelcome guest Superman horns in, Batman realises his old foe Maxie Zeus might be taking the credit but is certainly not to blame for the ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Zeus!’

A little deduction and a grudging alliance with the Caped Kryptonian results in the true scheme being unravelled in ‘The Gods Must be Crazy’ and Batman rejoices in having made a powerful friend and a remorseless and resourceful new enemy…

‘Tree of Knowledge’ focuses on college students Dick Grayson and Babs Gordon as they score top marks in a criminology course. ‘Pop Gun Quiz’ sees them singled out for special study by their impressed Professor Morton and on hand in ‘Careful What You Wish For’ to experience an impossible crime in the University Library. Despite all their investigations, it’s only as Robin and Batgirl that a devilish plot is unravelled and crucial ‘Lessons Learned’

The last tale in this terrific tome revisits the tragedy of Batman’s origins as ‘Survivor Syndrome’ sees an impostor risking his life on Gotham’s streets in search of justice or possibly his own death.

‘Brother, Brother’ reveals how athlete Tom Dalton’s wife was murdered and how he surrendered to a ‘Call to Vengeance’. Everything changes once the real Dark Knight takes charge of Tom and trains him to regain ‘The Upper Hand’

With a full compliment of covers by Timm and Parobeck & Burchett – plus a ‘Pin-Up Gallery’ with stunning images by Alex Toth, Dave Gibbons, Kelley Jones, Kevin Nowlan, Mark Chiarello, Mike Mignola, Matt Wagner and Chuck Dixon & Rick Burchett – all coloured by the astounding Rick Taylor – this is another stunning treat for superhero lovers of every age and vintage.
© 1994, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman in the Forties


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Jack Schiff, Dick Sprang, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Jack Burnley, Winslow Mortimer, Charles Paris, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0206-3

Part of a series of trade paperbacks intended to define DC’s top heroes through the decades (the other being Superman, of course) these compilations always deliver a superb wallop of comicbook magic and a tantalising whiff of other, arguably better and certainly less unstable times.

Divided into discrete sections (and breaking its own rules by including some material from 1939), partitioned by spectacular cover galleries, this timeless treasure trove of cape-&-cowl action commences with an informative Introduction from comics historian Bill Schelly who adds context and commentary before the exotic nostalgia begins with a selection dedicated to ‘Cover Gallery: Milestones’, re-presenting the compelling Batman #1, Spring 1941, World’s Fair Comics #1, Spring 1941, Detective Comics #27, May 1939 and Detective Comics #38, February 1940.

Detective #27 spotlighted the Dark Knight’s debut in the ‘Case of the Chemical Syndicate!’ from by Bob Kane and his close collaborator Bill Finger.

The spartan, understated yarn introduced dilettante playboy criminologist Bruce Wayne, drawn into a straightforward crime wherein a cabal of industrialists were successively murdered. The killings stopped when an eerie figure dubbed “The Bat-Man” intruded on Police Commissioner Gordon’s stalled investigation and ruthlessly dealt with the hidden killer.

‘Origin’ originated two years later (Detective Comics #33, November 1939). Here Gardner Fox, Kane & Sheldon Moldoff produced the first ever explanation of the hero’s tragic history in the first two pages of a longer tale (‘The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom’ – and not included here), after which Detective #33 (April 1940) spawned ‘Robin the Boy Wonder’ by Finger, Kane & Jerry Robinson.

This story changed the landscape of comicbooks forever; introducing child trapeze artist Dick Grayson whose parents were murdered before his eyes and who consequently joined Batman in a lifelong quest for justice. They began by taking down mobster Boss Zucco, the Graysons’ murderer…

‘The People vs. Batman’ is from Batman #7, October/November 1941, by Finger, Kane & Robinson. Something of a landmark, it’s also a potent and emotional crime melodrama. When Bruce Wayne is framed for murder and jailed, Robin takes over to clear up the case, ultimately resulting in the Dynamic Duo finally becoming official operatives of the Gotham police force. They would not be vigilantes again until the grim and gritty 1980’s…

Concluding this first section is ‘The Origin of Batman’ (Batman #47 June/July 1948, by Finger, Kane & Charles Paris) which added tone and depth to the traumatic event, as the Gotham Gangbuster at last tracks down and confronts the triggerman who murdered his parents…

‘Cover Gallery: Props’ features iconic paraphernalia as seen on Detective Comics #61 March 1942, Detective Comics #127 September 1947, Batman #48 August/September 1948, Batman #10 April/May 1942 before Batman #37 (October/November 1946) offers a magnificent clash of eternal adversaries when ‘The Joker Follows Suit!’

Fed up with failing in all his felonious forays, the Clown Prince of Crime decides that imitation is the sincerest form of theft and begins swiping the Dark Knights gimmicks, methods and gadgets; using them to profitably come to the aid of bandits in distress in a masterpiece of mirthful mayhem by an unnamed author, Robinson & George Roussos.

Most later Batman tales feature a giant coin in the Batcave and World’s Finest #30 is where that spectacular prop first appeared; spoils of a successful battle between the Caped Crusaders and Joe Coyne’s vicious bandit gang ‘The Penny Plunderers!’ (by Finger, Kane & Ray Burnley).

Crafted by Finger and Jim Mooney, the next tale comes from Batman #48 (August/September 1948) and reveals how an escaped convict finds the secret sanctum, leaving us privy to ‘The 1,000 Secrets of the Batcave’. Batman and Robin hunt out the gloating crook, expecting to be publicly exposed when they turn him in, but Fate has a cruel trick left to play…

World’s Finest Comics #3 Autumn 1941, Batman #22 April/May 1940, Detective Comics #42 August 1940, Batman #26 December 1944-December 1945 unite to form ‘Cover Gallery: The Batman Family’ and leads into key tales featuring the supporting cast such as the anonymously scripted ‘Alfred, Armchair Detective’ (Batman #31, October/November 1945).

Part of an occasional series, these were light-hearted supplemental vignettes (possibly written by Don Cameron or Joe Samachson and illustrated by Robinson. This one hilariously depicts how an idle night spent eavesdropping on crooks results in a big arrest of burglars by the dutiful butler…

A suspenseful, shocking high comes with ‘Bruce Wayne Loses Guardianship of Dick Grayson!’ wherein a couple of fraudsters claiming to be the lad’s last remaining relatives petition to adopt him. A melodramatic triumph by Finger, Kane & Robinson, there’s still plenty of action, especially after the grifters try to sell Dick back to Bruce in a real lost gem from Batman #20 (December 1943-December 1944).

From 1947 to 1952, (issues #65-130) Robin, the Boy Wonder had his own solo series and regular cover spot in Star Spangled Comics at a time when the first superhero boom was fading, to be replaced by more traditional genres such as crime, westerns and boys’ adventure stories. The stories blended in-continuity action capers with more youth-oriented fare and adults Batman and Alfred reduced to minor roles – or entirely absent – allowing the kid crusader to display not just his physical skills but also his brains, ingenuity and guts.

SSC #70 (July 1947) introduced an arch-villain he could call his own as ‘Clocks of Doom’ saw the debut of an anonymous criminal time-&-motion expert forced into the limelight once his face was caught on film. The Clock’s desperate attempts to sabotage the movie Robin was consulting on inevitably led to hard time in this delightful romp by Finger, Win Mortimer & Paris.

‘Cover Gallery: The Villains’ culls classics images from Detective Comics #89 July 1944, Detective Comics #73 March 1943, Detective Comics #140 October 1948 and Detective Comics #29 July 1940, before moving on to declare ‘Your Face is your Fortune’ (Batman #15, February/March 1943, by Jack Schiff, Kane, Robinson & Roussos). Here Catwoman returned, taking on a job at a swanky Beauty Parlour to gain info for her crimes and inadvertently falling for Society Bachelor Bruce Wayne…

‘The Scoop of the Century’ by Finger, Kane & Lew Sayre Schwartz, from Batman #49, October/November 1948, finds Batman battling the Mad Hatter for the first time but painfully distracted by a reporter.

Vicki Vale is convinced the Masked Manhunter is actually Bruce Wayne and, although he dissuades her here, she would spend the next fifteen years trying to prove it…

‘Clayface Walks Again’ (Detective Comics #49 March 1941, Finger, Kane Robinson & Roussos) wherein a deranged horror actor recommenced his passion for murder by trying to kill Bruce’s old girlfriend Julie Madison; literally “the one who got away” during the maniac’s previous campaign of terror…

‘The End of Two-Face’ (Detective Comics #80, October 1943 by Finger, Kane, Robinson & Roussos) saw former District Attorney-turned-maniac Harvey Kent seemingly cured of his split personality after a typically terrific tussle.

A different iteration then follows in ‘Half-Man Half Monster’ taken from the Batman Sunday newspaper strips for June 23-August 18, 1946. Here Finger, Jack Burnley & Mortimer re-imagine the turbulent tragedy as actor Harvey Apollo is disfigured on the witness stand while testifying and becomes a deranged, double-edged menace to society until the Caped Crusaders catch him…

After a copious ‘Contributors’ section detailing the lives of the men who made Batman there’s one  last treat in store. ‘The True Story of Batman and Robin’ is an entertaining but highly dubious company puff-piece from Real Fact Comics #5 January 1947 by author unknown and Mortimer “detailing” how Bob Kane invented the strip and how it’s produced. Believe it or don’t…

The history of the American comicbook industry in almost every major aspect stems from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of twin icons published by DC/National Comics: Superman and Batman. It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in a variety of formats from relatively economical newsprint paperbacks like this to stunning, deluxe hardcover commemorative Archive editions.

These are the stories that forged the character and success of Batman. The works of Bill Finger, Bob Kane and their multi-talented assistants are evergreen examples of pure and perfect superhero fiction. Put them in a thrifty, nifty package like this, include the pop art masterpieces that were the covers of those classics, and you have pretty much the perfect comic book. And you really, really should have it.
© 1939-1949, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Booster Gold volume 3: Reality Lost


By Chuck Dixon, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2249-9                  978-1-84856-250-9 (Titan Books UK edition)

After the cosmos-crunching Crisis on Infinite Earths re-sculpted the DC Universe in 1986, a host of characters got floor-up rebuilds for the tougher, no-nonsense, straight-shooting New American readership of the Reagan era.

Corporate buy-outs such as Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and The Question were assimilated into DC’s roster beside revamped versions of their own hotly hyped solo titles. There were even all-new launches for the altered sensibilities of the Decade of Excess: tradition-challenging concepts such as Suicide Squad and a shiny, happy, headline-hungry hero named Booster Gold.

The cobalt & yellow paladin debuted amidst plenty of hoopla in his own title (February 1986 – the first post-Crisis premiere of the freshly integrated superhero line) presenting wholly different approaches to DC’s army of old-school costumed boy-scouts.

Created, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens, the saga featured a brash, cockily mysterious metahuman golden-boy jock who had set up his stall as a superhero in Metropolis, actively seeking corporate sponsorships, selling endorsements and with a management team in place to maximise the profit potential of his crusading celebrity.

Accompanied everywhere by sentient, flying, football-shaped robot Skeets, the glitzy showboat soon encountered high-tech criminal gang The 1000 and a host of super-villains, earning the ire of many sinister masterminds and the shallow approbation of models, actresses, headline-hungry journalists, politicians and the ever fickle public…

His time came and went and Booster’s title folded, but he lived on as part of Justice League International where he became roughly half of comics’ funniest double-act riffing off the aforementioned Blue Beetle.

Booster and Ted Kord (technically the second Blue Beetle) were the class clowns of billionaire Maxwell Lord’s League: a couple of obnoxiously charming frat-boys who could save the day but never get the girl or any respect. When Lord murdered Beetle, precipitating an Infinite Crisis, Booster was shattered but eventually redefined himself as a true hero in the multiversal conflagrations of 52 and Countdown.

In landmark weekly maxi-series 52 and ultimately Infinite Crisis, the intriguing take on Heroism diverged down strange avenues when Booster – a hero traditionally only in it for fame and fortune – became a secret saviour, repairing the cracks in Reality caused by all the universe-warping shenanigans of myriad multiversal Crises and uncontrolled time-travel.

Working at the instruction of enigmatic and irascible mentor Rip Hunter: Time Master, Booster relinquished his dreams of fame and acclaim to save us all over and over and over again.

This third time-bending full-colour collection gathers issues #11, 12 and 15-19 of the Booster Gold comicbook (volume 2, spanning October 2008 to June 2009), revealing further progress in the time-guardians’ never-ending battle to keep history on track and mankind in existence.

The action opens with Jurgens & Norm Rapmund illustrating a sequence scripted by Batman scribe Chuck Dixon. ‘Vicious Cycle’ finds Rip, Booster and his freshly resurrected sister Michelle at a loss after a recent Gotham visit. After Batman, Robin and Batgirl rout B-list bad guy Killer Moth at Gotham Museum, a simultaneous robbery by meekly ineffectual Wiley Dalbert causes the dynamic trio to blink out of existence…

After experiencing the urban hell of Gotham without Batman, the team start trying to rectify the situation and learn Killer Moth’s score was planned by Dalbert as cover so that the little time traveller could swipe an ancient Egyptian knife.

Popping back further to sneakily replace the Moth, Booster clandestinely carries out the fateful robbery and stops Wiley too… but that only makes the restored reality infinitely worse…

Forced to try again – this time with Booster as Batman and Michelle impersonating Batgirl – events spiral into even crazier and more contorted convolutions (humiliating too!) before an approximate restoration of history is re-established…

Sadly the time-team’s ultra-secret efforts have brought them to the attention of stretchable sleuth Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man

Following a two-part battle against Chronos and Starro the Conqueror – not collected in this edition- the temporal turbulence resumes with ‘Reality Lost’ from #15-18 plus #19’s ‘Reality Lost: Epilogue’; written and pencilled by Jurgens with Rapmund again handling the inking chores.

Having dragged Michelle from her surprise role as Da Vinci’s muse, Booster tries to return them to Rip’s secret lab only to find it no longer exists. Thanks to Skeets’ encyclopaedic history files and temporal processors, the stranded chrononauts discover the current crisis stems from unfinished business at the museum where they met Wiley Dalbert…

Booster sets his Wayback Machine for that apparently accursed night, and walks into a trap and is attacked by Dibny. A few years from then they would be best friends in Justice League International, but at that instant the blue and gold figure is nothing more than a bold bandit as far as the Ductile Detective is concerned…

Concealing the horrors which would soon destroy Dibny’s life, Booster nevertheless convinces Elongated Man of his bona fides before enlisting his aid in tracking down the time anomaly playing hob with reality. The root cause is the ancient knife, but the real problem is that it’s been taken by Booster’s villainous, time-bending dad Rex Hunter, precipitating a perilous odyssey through the ages to recover it…

Leaving Ralph and Michelle to search time for Rip Hunter, Gold starts to hunt for the accursed blade…

Poignant pit-stops in World War I, ancient Egypt and his personal time-line result in deadly encounters with Enemy Ace Hans von Hammer, pre-lightning bolt Barry Allen, time-bandit Chronos, and even his own earlier, surlier, self-absorbed self. Through it all Booster learns the true price and value of his secret career.

Preserving the way things are causes pain and humiliation, costs everything he ever cared about and promises nothing but frustration and early death. He even had a chance to save Ted Kord after meeting Max Lord’s father before the maniac was born but lacked the guts to do what he wanted to…

After the triumph and tragedy, a potent vignette by Jurgens & Rapmund wraps things up with a recap of Booster’s ‘Origins and Omens’ of his immediate future: first seen as a teaser produced during the lead-up to twinned publishing events Blackest Night and Brightest Day

Sadly, despite its dark and foreboding appeal, moments of sheer comedy gold and fast-paced action throughout, this engaging rollercoaster ride is ultimately a true fans’ story for die-hard Fights ‘n’ Tights devotees. That’s a great shame since this is also a fabulously well-crafted story that a wider audience would certainly appreciate if only they had sufficient back-grounding.

Perhaps DC’s current TV iterations will generate enough interest to get new readers picking up old stories and joining in the fun that’s still waiting to be had…
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Batman volume 6


By Dennis O’Neil, Frank Robbins, Robert Kanigher, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Neal Adams, Irv Novick, Bob Brown, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5153-6

After three seasons the overwhelmingly successful Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. It had clocked up 120 episodes plus a theatrical-release movie since its premiere on January 12, 1966; triggering a global furore of “Batmania” and causing hysteria for all things costumed, zany and mystery-mannish.

Once the series foundered and crashed, humanity’s fascination with “camp” superheroes burst as quickly as it had boomed, and the Caped Crusader was left to a hard core of dedicated fans and followers who hoped they might now have “their” hero back.

For comicbook editor Julius Schwartz – who had tried to keep the most ludicrous excesses of the show out whilst still cashing in on his global popularity – the solution was simple: ditch the tired shtick, gimmicks and gaudy paraphernalia and get Batman back to basics; solving baffling mysteries and facing life-threatening perils.

That also meant phasing out the boy sidekick…

Although the college freshman Teen Wonder would still pop back for the occasional guest-shot yarn, this sixth astoundingly economical monochrome monument to comics ingenuity and narrative brilliance features him only sporadically. Robin had finally spread his wings and flown the nest for a solo back-up slot in Detective Comics, alternating with caped newcomer Batgirl.

Chronologically collecting Batman’s cases from February 1971 to September 1972 – issues #229-244 of his own title as well as the front halves of Detective Comics #408-426 – the 33 tales gathered here (some Batman issues were giant reprint editions, so only their covers are reproduced within these pages) were written and illustrated by forward-thinking creators determined make the masked manhunter relevant and interesting on his own terms once more.

One huge factor aiding the transition was the fact that the publishers now acknowledged that a large proportion of their faithful readership were discerning teens or even adults, not just kids looking for a quick, disposable entertainment fix. Working through other contemporary tropes – most notably a renewed global fascination in all things supernatural and gothic – the creative staff deftly reshaped Batman into a hero capable of actually working within the new “big things” in comics: realism, organised crime, social issues, suspense and even horror…

During this period the long road to our modern obsessive, scarily dark Knight gradually revealed a harder-edged, grimly serious caped crusader, whilst carefully expanding the milieu and scope of Batman’s universe – especially his fearsome foes, who all ceased to be harmless buffoons and inexorably metamorphosed back into the macabre Grand Guignol murder-fiends which typified the villains of the early 1940s.

This mini-renaissance also resulted in a groundbreaking experiment now lauded as one of the first great extended Batman epics…

The moody mayhem begins with ‘Asylum of the Futurians’ by Robert Kanigher, Irv Novick & Frank Giacoia from Batman #229, which pitted the astounded hero against a sect of self-proclaimed mutants who might simply have been the craziest, most self-deluding killers he had ever faced.

Detective Comics #408 offered a short sharp shocker by neophyte scripters Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. Limned by Neal Adams & Dick Giordano, ‘The House That Haunted Batman’ showcased spectral apparitions, the apparent death of Robin and a devilish mystery perpetrated by one of the Gotham Guardian’s most sinister enemies. Frank Robbins, Novick & Giordano then addressed an ongoing social revolution as our hero stopped a juvenile delinquent gang-war. When the now-united kids’ occupied a palatial new building the ‘Take-Over of Paradise’ (Batman #230) led to a vicious murder. Luckily the Caped Crimebuster was on hand to solve the case before a renewed bloodbath began…

Detective Comics #409 pitted Batman against a disfigured lunatic slashing portraits and killing their subjects in ‘Man in the Eternal Mask’ (Robbins, Bob Brown & Giacoia) whilst the next issue proved to be another chilling and memorable murder-mystery from the most celebrated creative team of the decade. ‘A Vow from the Grave!’ by Denny O’Neil, Adams & Giordano at their visually spectacular best, featured an exhausted Batman hunting one ruthless killer and inadvertently stumbling into another murder in an enclave of retired circus freaks…

Multi-talented Dick Giordano was the inker of choice for the Darknight Detective at this time; his slick, lush line and brushwork lending a veneer of continuity to every penciller. Unless I say otherwise, please assume it’s him on every cited story from now on…

The Dark Knight was lured to Vietnam to save an airliner full of hostages in Batman #231 (Robbins, with Novick pencils), barely surviving a vicious vengeance scheme triggered by the ‘Blind Rage of the Ten-Eyed Man’.

Then the first subtle plot-strands were woven in a breathtakingly ambitious saga unlike anything seen in comics before. Detective Comics #411 found Batman still in the East, undercover and hunting Dr. Darrk; leader of the lethally clandestine League of Assassins so casually introduced in #405. The pursuit led ‘Into the Den of the Death-Dealers’ (O’Neil, Brown) where a climactic struggle resulted in the monster’s death and freedom for an exotic hostage he was holding. Her name was Talia

We learned more of her in Batman #232 where O’Neil & Adams introduced her father – immortal eco-terrorist Râ’s Al Ghūl – in a whirlwind adventure which became one of the signature high-points of the entire Batman canon.

‘Daughter of the Demon’ is a timeless globe-girdling mystery yarn that draws the increasingly dark detective from Gotham’s concrete canyons to the Himalayas in search of hostages Robin and Talia, purportedly captured by forces inimical to both Batman and the mysterious figure who claims to working in secret to save the world…

Ra’s was a contemporary, more acceptable visual embodiment of the classic inscrutable ultimate foreign devil (as typified in a less forgiving age as the “Yellow Peril” or Dr. Fu Manchu). This kind of alien archetype permeates popular fiction and is still an astonishingly powerful villain-symbol, although the character’s Arabic origins – neutral at the time – seem to uncomfortably embody a different kind of ethnic bogeyman in today’s post 9/11 world.

The concept of a villain who has the best interests of the planet at heart is not a new one, but Ra’s Al Ghul, whose avowed intent is to reduce teeming humanity to viable levels and save the world from our poison, hit a chord in the 1970s – a period where ecological issues first came to the attention of the young. It was a rare kid who didn’t find a note of sense in what “the Demon’s Head” planned.

The spectacular tale ended with a shocking pronouncement of what Ra’s intended for Batman…

A return to relative normality came in ‘Legacy of Hate!’ (Detective Comics #412 by Robbins, Brown) as Bruce Wayne headed to Northern England for a convocation of kin gathered to settle the ownership and disposition of ancient Waynemoor Castle. Sadly, even Batman could not separate the spate of attempted murders which followed into purely human perpetrators and the manor’s vengeful ghost knight…

Issue #413 blended the spooky tone of the times with a healthy dose of social inclusion as ‘Freak-Out at Phantom Hollow!’ (Robbins, Brown) found Batman saving two abused hippie kids being picked on in a rural hamlet, only to become embroiled in a witch’s curse and mad bomber’s plot. Batman #233 was an all-reprint edition after which #234 featured the stellar return of one of the hero’s most tragic foes.

As comics became increasingly more anodyne in the 1950s, psychologically warped actualised schizophrenic Two-Face was dropped from Batman’s roster of rogues, but with ‘Half an Evil’ (O’Neil, Adams & Giordano) he resurfaced at the forefront of grimmer, grittier stories.

When a string of bizarre and brutal robberies afflicting Gotham, the baffled Batman has to use all his ingenuity to discern the reasoning and discover the identity of a ruthless hidden mastermind in time to thwart a diabolical scheme…

An aura of Film Noir redemption colours O’Neil & Novick’s ‘Legend of the Key Hook Lighthouse!’ from Detective Comics #414, as Batman tracks gunrunners to a haunted coastal bastion in Florida. However, only a supernatural intervention enables him to save bystanders who, whilst not exactly innocent, certainly don’t deserve the fate psychotic banana republic despot General Ruizo planned for them…

In Batman #235’s ‘Swamp Sinister!’ (O’Neil, Novick) some early insights into the true character of Talia and her ruthless sire manifest as the Dark Knight races to recover a stolen bio-weapon whilst over in Detective Comics #415 Robbins & Brown’s ‘Challenge of the Consumer Crusader’ sees the Gotham Gangbuster uncover an extortion ring inside the nation’s most respected product-testing organisation.

Detective Comics #400 had introduced a dark counterpoint to the Gotham Gangbuster wherein driven scientist Kirk Langstrom created a serum to make him superior to Batman and paid a heavy price. Over two further exploits Langstrom and his fiancée Francine had endured his monstrous transformations until Batman found a cure. Now that trilogy was expanded in #416 as Frank Robbins pencilled and inked his own script ‘Man-Bat Madness!’ wherein Kirk seemingly slipped back into his transformative madness. Luckily, Batman had the faith to look beyond appearances and discern a hidden factor in the scientist’s inexplicable recidivism…

‘Wail of the Ghost-Bride!’ (Batman #236, Robbins, Novick) blends mysticism with an solid murder-plot, cover-up and blistering action after which a journalist tries to become ‘Batman for a Night’ (Detective Comics #417, Robbins, Brown & Giordano) but only succeeds after experiencing a similar crime-created loss…

‘Night of the Reaper!’ – by O’Neil, Adams & Giordano from Batman #237 – is one of the most revered tales of the era: a harrowing Halloween epic which finds Robin working with his old mentor to solve a string of barbarous killings only to uncover a pitifully deranged perpetrator as much sinned-against as sinner…

Following the cover of reprint giant Batman #238, Detective Comics #418 writes a temporary finish to the short-lived career of The Creeper as ‘…And Be a Villain!’ (O’Neil, Novick) pits the Gotham Guardian against a former hero being simultaneously killed and driven crazy by his own powers. At the heart of the problem is the criminal scientist forcing Creeper to steal in return for a promised cure, but that’s no help as Batman battles a foe faster, stronger, more agile and far scarier than he…

A corpse weighed down with Batman figurines leads the hero into an underworld imbroglio packed with shameful family freaks, a ruthless master smuggler and the pitiful ‘Secret of the Slaying Statues!’ (Detective #419 from O’Neil & Novick) whilst Christmas classic ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night!’ (O’Neil & Novick in Batman #239) sees the masked manhunter striving to save a desperate, poverty-struck single-parent from making the worst decision of his life – with a little seasonal help from a higher power…

Robbins again solos for Detective Comics #420’s ‘Forecast for Tonight… Murder!’ as a radioactive dead man stalks one of Gotham’s greatest philanthropists; easily outwitting Batman’s every preventative measure. It only gets tougher when the hero discovers he might be safeguarding the wrong injured party…

The long-brewing war between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul went to Def Con 3 in Batman #240 when O’Neil, Novick & Giordano set the scene for the groundbreaking “series-within-a-series” soon to follow. When Batman uncovers one of his opponent’s less worthy and far more grisly projects he is forced to compromise his principles and deliver ‘Vengeance for a Dead Man!’ The end-result will be open war between Batman and the Demon’s Head…

Batman had to break a blackmailer who knew all Gotham’s dirty secrets out of prison during a full-scale riot in ‘Blind Justice… Blind Fear!’ (an all-Robbins affair from DC #421) whilst in the following issue O’Neil, Brown & Giordano had the Dark Knight expose a cunning hijacking ring using radical methodology for corporate reasons in ‘Highway to Nowhere!’

Another sociopathic killer debuted in Batman #241 as the hero hunts for freelance spy Colonel Sulphur whose extortion scheme revolved around his threat to kill a Pentagon officer’s wife. ‘At Dawn Dies Mary McGuffin!’ by O’Neil & Novick sees Batman scouring Gotham in a tense race against the clock in direct counterpoint to Detective #423’s ‘The Most Dangerous Twenty Miles in Gotham City’ (Robbins, Brown) wherein the masked manhunter’s cognitive skills are tested trying to slip a Russian agent past a gang of ultra-patriots. The killers don’t care that he’s being exchanged for a captive American, they just want to kill a commie and send a message…

Batman #242-244 (and the epilogue from #245 not included in this volume) formed a single extended saga taken out of normal DC continuity. It promised to relate the final confrontation between two opposing ideals. O’Neil, Novick & Giordano opened the campaign in Batman #242 with ‘Bruce Wayne – Rest in Peace!’ With his civilian identity taken off the board, Batman gathers a small team of specialist allies – comprising criminal alternate-identity Matches Malone, scientific advisor Dr. Harris Blaine and Ra’s’ top assassin Ling – to destroy the Demon forever.

Meanwhile it was business as usual in Detective #424 where ‘Double-Cross-Fire!’by Robbins & Brown – played out an astoundingly cunning murder plot with Batman challenging Commissioner Gordon (and us readers) to spot the telltale clue which gave the game away. O’Neil & Novick then get all Shakespearean in #425 where ‘The Stage is Set… for Murder!’ with Batman carefully seeking to glean which thespian was plotting a big, bloody finish before the curtain comes down forever…

O’Neil, Adams & Giordano returned with the second chapter of their landmark epic as Batman #243 sees the team – plus latecomer Molly Post – bombastically invade Ra’s’ Swiss citadel moments after their intended target passes away…

Nobody suspected the ageless villain’s resources included ‘The Lazarus Pit’ which could revive the dead…

In Detective Comics #426, a spate of inexplicable suicides amongst the wealthy leads Batman to suave gambler Conway Treach: a man who just can’t lose. Soon however, the huckster learns that his grim opponent has his own system for winning ‘Killer’s Roulette!’; another suspenseful Robbins masterpiece which leads chronologically and conclusively to Batman #244 and the fateful finale wherein ‘The Demon Lives Again!’ Sadly, despite all his supernal gifts and forces, Ra’s cannot escape the climactic vengeance of his implacable foe in dream-team O’Neil, Adams & Giordano’s compulsive climax.

With the game-changing classics in this volume, Batman finally returned to the commercial and critical top flight he had enjoyed in the 1940s reviving and expanding upon his original conception as a remorseless, relentless avenger of injustice. The next few years would see the hero rise to unparalleled heights of quality so stay tuned: the very best is just around the corner… that dark, dark corner…
© 1971, 1972, 2015 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Booster Gold volume 4: Day of Death


By Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2643-5

After the cosmos-crunching Crisis on Infinite Earths re-sculpted the DC Universe in 1986, a host of characters got floor-up rebuilds for the tougher, no-nonsense, straight-shooting New American readership of the Reagan-era.

A number of corporate buy-outs such as Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and The Question were assimilated into DC’s roster with their own hotly hyped solo titles. There were even a couple of all-new big launches for the altered sensibilities of the Decade of Excess such as Suicide Squad and a shiny, happy, headline-hungry hero named Booster Gold.

The blue and yellow paladin debuted amidst plenty of hoopla in his own title (cover-dated February 1986 – the first post-Crisis premiere of the freshly integrated superhero line) and presented a wholly different approach to the traditional DC costumed boy-scout.

Created, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens, the saga featured a brash, cockily mysterious metahuman golden-boy jock who had set up his stall as a superhero in Metropolis, actively seeking corporate sponsorships, selling endorsements and with a management team in place to maximise the profit potential of his crusading celebrity.

Accompanied everywhere by sentient flying-football-shaped robot Skeets, the glitzy showboat soon encountered high-tech criminal gang The 1000 and a host of super-villains, earning the ire of many sinister masterminds and the shallow approbation of models, actresses, headline-hungry journalists, politicians and the ever fickle public…

His time came and went and Booster’s title folded, but he lived on as a Justice Leaguer International where he became part of comics’ funniest double-act riffing off the aforementioned Blue Beetle.

Booster and Ted Kord (technically the second Blue Beetle) were the class clowns of Maxwell Lord’s Justice League International: a couple of obnoxiously charming frat-boys who could save the day but never get the girl or any respect. When Lord murdered Beetle, precipitating an Infinite Crisis, Booster was shattered but redefined himself as a true hero in the multiversal conflagrations of 52 and Countdown.

In landmark weekly maxi-series 52 and ultimately Infinite Crisis, the intriguing take on Heroism diverged down strange avenues when Booster – a hero traditionally only in it for fame and fortune – became a secret saviour, repairing the cracks in Reality caused by all the universe-warping shenanigans of myriad universal, multiversal Crises and uncontrolled time-travel.

Working at the instruction of enigmatic and irascible mentor Rip Hunter: Time Master, Booster surrendered all his dreams of acclaim to save us all over and over and over again.

This fourth time-bending full-colour trade paperback collects Booster Gold volume 2 #20-25 and Brave and the Bold volume 3 #23 from July to December 2009, and continues reviewing catastrophic conflicts from the time-line guardian’s never-ending battle to keep history on track and mankind in existence.

The action opens with ‘Shadows of Tomorrow’ from Brave and the Bold volume 3 #23 July 2009, by Jurgens and inker Norm Rapmund as, in his citadel beyond chronology, Booster is shocked to see his mentor Rip rematerialise in a badly beaten state, muttering the name “Magog”. A little checking reveals the name belongs to a hulking horned metahuman: a hero – of sorts – and despite the recuperating Hunter’s pleas to leave well enough alone, Booster slips into the time-stream to confront the military-trained hardliner…

The trail leads to war-torn Kahndaq during the US occupation and a tenuous team-up with a colleague who is everything Booster despises: a self-righteous hero who thinks the ends justify the means, even with the lives of hostage children precariously in the balance…

Booster Gold #20 featured ‘1952 Pick Up’ (by Keith Giffen, Pat Oliffe & Rapmund) – a light-hearted homage to B-movie sci fi and the Fantastic Four as the time traveller fetches up in early 1950s Nevada on the site of a clandestine and forgotten American space shot…

Before long he’s captured by covert operatives Frank Rock and Karin Hughes from an invisible agency dubbed Task Force X and embroiled in a secret mission involving traitorous Russian rocket scientists… and if he’s not extremely careful Booster could erase the timeline of a close future-friend and colleague…

The major portion of this collection then moves on to cover some unexpected fallout of the murder of the Dark Knight.

The only non-Time Master to know Booster’s secret was Batman. His deductive skills were beyond par and after noticing recurring anomalies around the shooting of Barbara Gordon the Dark Detective intuited Booster had tried hundreds of times to prevent it. Batman held his tongue as well as many photographs which proved Booster was not just a flashy, sensation-seeking bumbler…

Now as ‘Day of Death’ begins Booster raids the Batcave to retrieve that evidence only to be jumped by the Gotham Guardian’s successor…

Before he can even attempt to explain, they are both ambushed by the mysterious chronal raider called Black Beetle continuing to carry out his campaign to unmake history. Pausing only to gloat for a second the Beetle vanishes, followed an instant later by the substitute Batman…

And in the background a second glass tube appears. They both contain the uniforms of Robins who died in battle…

As I’m sure you all recall: following an all-out invasion by the New Gods of Apokolips, the original Batman was apparently killed at the conclusion of Infinite Crisis. The world at large was unaware of the loss, leaving the superhero community to mourn in secret whilst a small, dedicated army of assistants, protégés and allies – trained over years by the contingency-obsessed Dark Knight – formed the Network to police Gotham City in the days which followed: marking time until a successor could be found or the original restored…

Most of the Bat-schooled battalion refused to believe their inspirational mentor dead. On the understanding that he was merely lost, they eventually accepted Dick Grayson (the first Robin and latterly Nightwing) as a stand-in until Bruce Wayne could find his way back to them…

Now however Grayson has clearly been excised by Black Beetle and Booster has to rectify the situation before time unravels even further…

A new chapter opens with the Beetle conferring with a cloaked superior even as Booster consults his infinitely upgraded cybernetic companion who is keyed into to the ever-changing intricacies of the time-stream. Skeets informs Booster that the landmark first battle between the Teen Titans and the Ravager now ended with the young heroes’ deaths and like an intricate line of dominoes led to the eradication of most of Earth’s adult defenders… and worse…

Inserting himself into the appropriate moment to rectify the glitch, Booster is shocked to see Ravager’s terrifying father Deathstroke the Terminator aligned with Black Beetle to ensure the Titans’ doom…

Overwhelmed and beaten, Booster awakes to discover he’s failed again. The Teen Titans are dead and Rip Hunter is screaming at him. Also on the scene is mystic mystery Raven. She originally caused the Titans to unite, hoping to use them to stop her demonic sire Trigon conquering Earth, but now…

Hunter quickly ferries Booster and the witch to 2020AD to see what becomes of humanity. His actual plan is to find Black Beetle and try to glean the reason for his insane acts…

In that particular future Trigon idly presides over the last remnants of mankind with the Beetle at his side, but as Booster finds himself battling the demon lord, Hunter and Raven have united with a few strangely familiar characters in one glorious, last-ditch attempt to banish Trigon and unmake this fractured reality.

Although they are triumphant, the real battle is lost elsewhere as the Beetle raids Trigon’s treasure vault and steals the artefact he’s been after all along. Despite his best efforts Hunter is too slow to stop the Machiavellian monster stealing a scarlet scarab which promises unlimited power to the one who knows its secret…

With the greater game lost and the Beetle off the field, Booster finally has the leeway needed to fix the most urgent section of time and correct history, but is it all too little too late?

Everything is wrapped up and the scene set for the next catastrophic crisis when ‘Day of Death Aftermath’ sees Booster return to the Batcave for those photos and get the shock of his utterly unconventional life…

Fantastically absorbing and entertaining, this riotous romp is tragically a true fans’ story for die-hard comics mavens, with in-jokes and shared historical moments adding to the unbridled enthusiasm and exuberance of a classy time-busting tale. That’s a great pity since this is also a fabulously well-crafted story that a wider audience would certainly appreciate if only they had sufficient back-grounding.

I’m in touch with the continuity and still struggled occasionally but I’d love to be proved wrong and see if a total innocent could follow this nuanced little gem and get the buzz it gave me…

Who’s game to give it a go?
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.