Lex Luthor: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Bill Finger, Edmund Hamilton, Len Wein, Cary Bates, Elliot S. Maggin, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Brian Azzarello, Paul Cornell, Geoff Johns, John Sikela, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, Jackson Guice, Howard Porter, Matthew Clark, Lee Bermejo, Frank Quitely, Pete Woods, Doug Mahnke & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6207-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Sound Reason to Keep up with Science Classes as well as Reading… 9/10

Closely paralleling the evolution of the groundbreaking Man of Steel, the exploits of the mercurial Lex Luthor are a vital aspect of comics’ very fabric. In whatever era you choose, the ultimate mad scientist epitomises the eternal feud between Brains and Brawn and over those decades has become the Man of Steel’s true antithesis and nemesis as well as an ideal perfect indicator of what different generations deem evil.

This stunning compilation – part of a dedicated series introducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of venerable DC icons – is available in hardback Trade Paperback and digital formats and offers a sequence of snapshots detailing how Luthor has evolved in his never-ending battle with Superman.

The groundbreaking appearances selected are preceded here by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in the villain’s development, beginning with ‘Part I: 1940-1969 The Making of a Mastermind’. After history and deconstruction comes sinister adventure as the grim genius debuted in ‘Europe at War Part 2’ (by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster from Action Comics #23, April 1940).

Although not included here Action #22 had loudly declared ‘Europe at War’ – a tense and thinly-disguised call to arms for the still neutral USA – and as the Man of Tomorrow tried to stem the bloodshed the tale became a continued story (almost unheard of in those early days of funny-book publishing).

Spectacularly concluding in #23, Clark Kent’s European investigations revealed a red-headed fiend employing outlandish science to foment war for profit and intent on conquering the survivors as a modern-day Genghis Khan. Of course, the Man of Steel strenuously objected…

Next comes ‘The Challenge of Luthor’ from Superman #4 (Spring/March1940) and created at almost the same time: a landmark clash with the rogue scientist who, back then, was still a roguish red-headed menace with a bald and pudgy henchman. Somehow in the heat of burgeoning deadlines, master got confused with servant in later adventures and the public perception of the villain irrevocably crystalized as the sinister slap-headed super-threat we know today…

This story – by Siegel & Shuster – involves an earthquake machine and ends with Luthor exhausting his entire arsenal of death-dealing devices in attempts to destroy his enemy with no negligible effect…

From Superman #17 (July 1942), ‘When Titans Clash’, by Siegel & John Sikela, depicts how the burly bald bandit uses a mystic powerstone to survive his justly deserved execution and steals Superman’s abilities. However, the Action Ace stills maintains his wily intellect and outsmarts his titanically-empowered foe…

Jumping ahead ten years, ‘Superman’s Super Hold-Up’ World’s Finest Comics #59 (July 1952, by Bill Finger, Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye) is a supremely typical duel of wits in which the Einstein of Crime renders the Metropolis Marvel helpless with the application of a devilish height- and pressure-sensitive mega explosive device – but only for a little while…

World’s Finest Comics #88 (June 1957) provides ‘Superman and Batman’s Greatest Foes!’ (by Edmond Hamilton, Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye) which finds “reformed” master criminals Lex and the Joker ostensibly setting up in the commercial robot business – which nobody really believed – and as it happens quite correctly…

As the mythology grew and Luthor became a crucial component of Superman’s story, the bad boy was retroactively introduced into the hero’s childhood. ‘How Luthor Met Superboy!’ (from Adventure Comics #271, April 1960 by Siegel & Al Plastino) details how Superboy and the budding genius were pals until a lab accident burned off the human’s hair and in his prideful fury Lex blamed the Kryptonian and swore revenge…

In ‘The Conquest of Superman’ (Action Comics #277, June 1961 by Bill Finger, Curt Swan & John Forte) the authorities paroled Lex to help with an imminent crisis only to have the double-dealer escape as soon as the problem was fixed. By the time Superman returned to Earth, Luthor was ready for him…

Superman #164, October 1963, featured ‘The Showdown between Luthor and Superman’ (by Hamilton, Swan & George Klein): the ultimate Silver Age confrontation between the Caped Kryptonian and his greatest foe, pitting the lifelong foes in an unforgettable confrontation on the post-apocalyptic planet Lexor – a lost world of forgotten science and fantastic beasts – which resulted in ‘The Super-Duel!’ and displayed a whole new side to Superman’s previously two-dimensional arch-enemy.

Part II: 1970-1986 Luthor Unleashed previews how a more sophisticated readership demanded greater depth in their reading matter and creators responded by adding a human dimension to the avaricious mad scientist, as seen in ‘The Man Who Murdered the Earth’ from Superman #248 (February 1972 by Len Wein, Swan & Murphy Anderson).

Here Luthor dictates his final testament after creating a Galactic Golem to destroy his sworn enemy, and ponders how his obsession caused the destruction of Earth…

For the 45th anniversary of Action Comics Superman’s two greatest enemies – the other being Brainiac – were radically re-imagined for an increasingly harder, harsher world. ‘Luthor Unleashed’ in issue #544 (June 1983, by Cary Bates Swan & Murphy Anderson) saw the eternal duel between Lex and Superman lead to the destruction of Lexor and death of Luthor’s new family after the techno-terror once again chose vengeance over love. Crushed by guilt and hatred, the maniacal genius reinvents himself as an implacable human engine of terror and destruction…

Elliot S. Maggin, Swan & Al Williamson then offer a glimpse into the other motivating force in Luthor’s life by exposing ‘The Einstein Connection’ (Superman #416, February 1986) wherein a trawl through the outlaw’s life reveals a hidden link to the greatest physicist in history…

The Silver Age of comicbooks had utterly revolutionised a flagging medium, bringing a modicum of sophistication to the returning sub-genre of masked mystery men. However, after decades of cosy wonderment, Crisis on Infinite Earths transformed the entire DC Universe and led to the creation of a harder, tougher Superman. John Byrne’s radical re-imagining was most potently manifested in Luthor, who morphed from brilliant, obsessed bandit to ruthless billionaire capitalist… as seen in the introduction to Part III: 1986-2000 Captain of Industry

The tension begins with ‘The Secret Revealed’ (Superman #2, February 1987 by John Byrne, Terry Austin & Keith Williams) when the relentless tycoon kidnaps everyone Superman loves to learn his secret and after collating all the data obtained by torture and other means jumps to the most mistaken conclusion of his misbegotten life…

‘Metropolis – 900 Miles’ (Superman volume 2 #9, September1987 by Byrne, & Karl Kesel) then explores the sordid cruelty of the oligarch as he cruelly torments a pretty waitress with a loathsome offer and promises of a new life…

‘Talking Heads’ appeared in Action Comics #678 (June 1992, by Roger Stern, Jackson Guice & Ande Parks) set after Luthor – riddled with cancer from constantly wearing a green Kryptonite ring to keep Superman at arms’ length – has secretly returned to Metropolis as his own son in a hastily cloned new young and handsome body. Acting as a philanthropist and with Supergirl as his girlfriend/arm candy, young Luthor has everybody fooled, Sadly, everything looks like falling apart when rogue geneticist Dabney Donovan is arrested and threatens to tell an incredible secret he knows about the richest man in town…

‘Hostile Takeover’ comes from JLA #11 1997) wherein Grant Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell opened interstellar saga ‘Rock of Ages’ with the Justice League facing a newly-assembled, corporately-inspired Injustice Gang organised by Lex and run on his ruthlessly efficient commercial business model.

Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman are targeted by a coalition of arch-enemies comprising Chairman-of-the-Board Lex, the Joker, Circe, Mirror Master, Ocean Master and Doctor Light with ghastly doppelgangers of the World’s Greatest Heroes raining destruction down all over the globe.

Even with new members Aztek and second generation Green Arrow Connor Hawke on board, the enemy are running the heroes ragged, but the stakes change radically when telepath J’onn J’onzz detects an extinction-level entity heading to Earth from deep space…

The action and tension intensify when the cabal press their advantage whilst New God Metron materialises, warning the JLA that the end of everything is approaching.

As ever, these snippets of a greater saga are more frustrating than fulfilling, so be prepared to hunt down the complete saga. You won’t regret it…

A true Teflon businessman, Lex ended the millennium running for President and Part IV: 2000-Present 21st Century Man follow a prose appraisal with ‘The Why’ from President Luthor Secret Files and Origins #1 (2000, by Greg Rucka, Matthew Clark & Ray Snyder). Here the blueprint to power and road to the White House is deconstructed, picturing the daily frustrations and provocations which inspired the nefarious oligarch to throw his hat into the political ring…

The next (frustratingly incomplete) snippet comes from a miniseries where the antagonist was the star. ‘Lex Luthor Man of Steel Part 3’ by Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo offers a dark and brooding look into the heart and soul of Superman’s ultimate and eternal foe: adding gravitas to villainy by explaining Lex’s actions in terms of his belief that the heroic Kryptonian is a real and permanent danger to the spirit of humanity.

Luthor – still believed by the world at large to be nothing more than a sharp and philanthropic industrial mogul – allows us a peek into his psyche: viewing the business and social (not to say criminal) machinations undertaken to get a monolithic skyscraper built in Metropolis. The necessary depths sunk to whilst achieving this ambition, and Lex’s manipulating Superman into clashing with Batman, are powerful metaphors, but the semi-philosophical mutterings – so very reminiscent of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead – although flavoursome, don’t really add anything to Luthor’s character and even serve to dilute much of the pure evil force of his character.

Flawed characters truly make more believable reading, especially in today’s cynical and sophisticated world, but such renovations shouldn’t be undertaken at the expense of the character’s heart. At the end Luthor is again defeated: diminished without travail and nothing has been risked, won or lost. The order restored is of an unsatisfactory and unstable kind, and our look into the villain’s soul has made him smaller, not more understandable.

Lee Bermejo’s art, however, is astoundingly lovely and fans of drawing should consider buying this simply to stare in wonder at the pages of beauty and power that he’s produced here. Or read the entire story in its own collected edition…

Rather more comprehensive and satisfying is ‘The Gospel According to Lex Luthor’ as first seen in All-Star Superman #5. Crafted by Morrison, Frank Quitely & Jamie Grant from September 2006, here an unrepentant Luthor on Death Row grants Clark Kent the interview of his career and scoop of a lifetime, after which ‘The Black Ring Part 5’ (Action Comics #894, December 2010 by Paul Cornell & Pete Woods) confirms the genius’ personal world view as Death of the Endless stops the universe just so she can have a little chat with Lex and see what he’s really like…

This epic trawl through the villain’s published life concludes with a startling tale from Justice League volume 2, #31 (August 2014) as the post-Flashpoint, re-rebooted New 52 DCU again remade Lex into a villain for the latest generation: brilliant, super-rich, conflicted and hungry for public acclaim and approval. In ‘Injustice League Part 2: Power Players’ by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Keith Champagne & Christian Alamy, bad-guy Luthor has helped save the world from extradimensional invaders and now wants to be a hero. His solution is to make the real superheroes invite him to join the Justice League, and that can be accomplished by ferreting out Batman’s secret identity and blackmailing the Dark Knight into championing his admission…

Lex Luthor is arguably the most recognizable villain in comics and can justifiably claim that title in whatever era you choose to concentrate on; goggle-eyed Golden Age, sanitised Silver Age or malignant modern and Post-Modern milieus. This book captures just a fraction of all those superb stories and offers a delicious peek into the dark, unhealthy side of rivalry and competition…

This monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a good bad-guy is a true delight for fans of all ages and vintage.
© 1940, 1942, 1952, 1954, 1957, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1972, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2014, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: A Death in the Family


By Jim Starlin, Marv Wolfman, Jim Aparo, George Pérez & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401225162 (HC)                        978-1-4012-3274-0 (TPB)

Modern comicbooks live or die on the strength of their “Special Event” publishing stunts but every so often such storylines can get away from editors and publishers and take on a life of its own. This usually does not end well for our favourite art form, as the way the greater world views the comics microcosm is seldom how we insiders and cognoscenti see it. Just check out the media frenzies that grew around the Death of Superman or Death of Captain America crossovers…

One of the most controversial comics tales of the last century saw an intriguing marketing attention-grabber go spectacularly off the rails – for all the wrong reasons – to become instantly notorious whilst simultaneously and sadly masking the real merits of the piece.

Created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger & Jerry Robinson, Robin, the Boy Wonder debuted in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940): a juvenile circus acrobat whose parents were murdered by a greedy mob boss. The story of how Batman took the orphaned Dick Grayson under his scalloped wing and trained him to fight crime has been told, retold and revised many times over the decades and still undergoes the odd tweaking to this day

The child Grayson fought beside Batman until 1970 when, as a sign of the turbulent times, he flew the nest, to become a Teen Wonder and college student. His invention as a junior hero for younger readers to identify with had inspired an incomprehensible number of costumed sidekicks and kid crusaders throughout the industry, and Grayson continued in similar vein for the older, more worldly-wise readership of America’s increasingly rebellious youth culture.

Robin even had his own solo series in Star Spangled Comics from 1947-1952, a solo spot in the back of Detective Comics from the end of the 1960s which he alternated and shared with Batgirl, and a starring feature in anthology utility comic Batman Family. During the 1980s the young warrior led the New Teen Titans, re-established a turbulent working relationship with Batman and reinvented himself as Nightwing. This of course left the post of Robin open…

After Grayson’s departure Batman worked alone until he caught a streetwise young urchin trying to steal the Batmobile’s tires. Debuting in Batman #357 (March 1983) this lost boy was Jason Todd, and eventually the little thug became the second Boy Wonder (#368, February 1984), with a short but stellar career, marred only by his impetuosity and tragic links to one of the Caped Crusader’s most unpredictable foes…

Todd had serious emotional problems that became increasingly apparent in the issues leading up to A Death in the Family wherein the street kid became more callous and brutal in response to the daily horrors he was being exposed to. When he caused the death of a vicious, abusive drug-dealer with diplomatic immunity, Todd entered a spiral that culminated in the first unforgettable story-arc collected in this volume (available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions), collectively comprising Batman #426-429, and #440-442 as well as New Teen Titans #60-61 and material from Batman Annual #25.

As Batman #426 (December 1988) opens, Jason is acting ever more violently. Seemingly incapable of rudimentary caution, he is suspended by Batman who believes the boy has not adjusted to the death of his parents. Meanwhile, the Joker is again on the loose. But rather than his usual killing frenzy, the Clown Prince is after mere cash, as the financial disaster of “Reaganomics” has depleted his coffers – meaning he can’t afford his outrageous signature murder gimmicks…

Without purpose, Jason wanders the streets where he grew up. When he sees an old friend of his parents, she reveals a shocking secret. The woman who raised him was not his birth-mother…

She knows of a box of personal papers indicating three women, each of whom might be his true mother. Lost and emotionally volatile, Jason sets out to track them down…

His potential mother is either Lady Shiva, world’s deadliest assassin, Mossad agent Sharmin Rosen or Dr. Sheila Haywood, a famine relief worker in Ethiopia. As the lad bolts for the Middle East and a confrontation with destiny, he is unaware Batman is also in that troubled region, hot on the Joker’s trail as the Maniac of Mirth attempts to sell a stolen nuclear missile to any terrorist who can pay…

The estranged heroes accidentally reunite to foil the plot, and Jason crosses Rosen off his potential mom-list. As Batman offers to help Jason check the remaining candidates the fugitive Joker escapes to Ethiopia. After eliminating Shiva, who has been training terrorists in the deep desert, the heroes finally get to Jason’s true mother Sheila Haywood, unaware that she has been blackmailed into a deadly scam involving stolen relief supplies with the Clown Prince of Crime…

I’m not going to bother with the details of the voting fiasco that plagues all references to this tale: it’s all copiously detailed elsewhere (just Google and see) but suffice to say that to test then-new marketing tools a 1-900 number was established and – thanks to an advanced press campaign – readers were offered the chance to vote on whether Robin would live or die in the story. You can even see the original ad reproduced here…

Jason dies.

The kid had increasingly become a poor fit in the series and this storyline galvanised a new direction with a darker, more driven Batman. The changes came almost immediately as Joker, after killing Jason in a chilling, unforgettably violent manner, becomes UN ambassador for Iran (later revised as the fully fictional Qurac – just in case) and – at the personal request of the Ayatollah himself – attempted to kill the entire UN General Assembly during his inaugural speech.

With echoes of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Superman then becomes a government watchdog tasked with stopping Batman from breaching diplomatic immunity as the vengeance-hungry Caped Crusader attempts to stop the Joker at any cost, leading to a spectacular yet chillingly inconclusive conclusion with the portents of dark days to come…

And here is the true injustice surrounding this tale: the death of Robin (who didn’t even stay dead) and the voting debacle took away from the real importance of this story – and perhaps deflected some real scrutiny and controversy. Starlin had crafted a clever and bold tale of real world politics and genuine issues which most readers didn’t even notice…

Terrorism Training Camps, Rogue States, African famines, black marketeering, charity relief fraud, Economic, Race and Class warfare, diplomatic skulduggery and nuclear smuggling all featured heavily, as did such notable hot-button topics as Ayatollah Khomeini, Reagan’s Cruise Missile program, the Iran-Contra and Arms for Hostages scandals and the horrors of Ethiopian refugee camps.

Most importantly, it signalled a new and fearfully casual approach to violence and death in comicbooks.

This is a superbly readable tale, morally challenging and breathtakingly audacious – but it’s controversial in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons. But don’t take my word for it: read it and see for yourself.

The saga is appended here by an afterword from Marv Wolfman, before the sequel he penned introduces the third kid to don the cape and pixie boots…

After Grayson’s departure and Jason’s death the shock and loss traumatised Batman. Forced to re-examine his own origins and methods, he becomes a far darker knight…

After a period of increasingly undisciplined encounters Batman is on the very edge of losing not just his focus but also his ethics and life: seemingly suicidal on his frequent forays into the Gotham nights. Interventions from his few remaining friends and associates prove ineffectual. Something drastic had to happen if the Dark Knight is to be salvaged.

Luckily there was an opening for a sidekick…

The second story arc here is a crossover tale originally running in Batman #440-442 and New Teen Titans #60-61 from October to December 1989. Plotted by Wolfman and George Pérez, scripted by Wolfman with the Batman chapters illustrated by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo, and the Titans sections handled by Pérez, Tom Grummett & Bob McLeod, a new character enters the lives of the extended Batman Family; a remarkable child who will change the shape of the DC Universe.

‘Suspects’ sees Batman rapidly burning out, but not only his close confederates but also an enigmatic investigator and a mystery villain have noticed the deadly deterioration. However, as the criminal mastermind embroils the wildly unpredictable Two-Face in his scheme, the apparently benevolent voyeur is hunting for Dick Grayson: a mission successfully accomplished in second chapter, ‘Roots’.

The first Robin had become disenchanted with the adventurer’s life, quitting the New Teen Titans and returning to the circus where the happiest and most tragic days of his life occurred. Here he is confronted by a young boy who has deduced the secret identities of both Batman and Robin…

‘Parallel Lines’ then unravels the enigma of Tim Drake, who as a toddler was in the audience the night the Flying Graysons were murdered. Tim was an infant prodigy, and when, months later he saw new hero Robin perform the same acrobatic stunts as Dick Grayson, he instantly realises who the Boy Wonder must be – and thus, by extrapolation, the real identity of Batman.

A passionate fan, Drake followed the Dynamic Duo’s exploits for a decade: noting every case and detail. He knew when Jason Todd became Robin and was moved to act when his murder led to the Caped Crusader going catastrophically off the rails.

Taking it upon himself to fix his broken heroes, Drake determines to convince the “retired” Grayson to became Robin once more – before Batman makes an inevitable, fatal mistake. It might all be too little too late, however, as in ‘Going Home!’, Two-Face makes his murderous move against a severely sub-par Gotham Guardian…

Concluding with a raft of explosive and highly entertaining surprises in ‘Rebirth’, this long-overlooked Bat-saga introduces the third Robin (who would get into costume only after years of training – and fan-teasing) whilst acknowledging both modern sentiments about child-endangerment and the classical roles of young heroes in heroic fiction. Perhaps a little slow and definitely a bit too sentimental in places, this is nevertheless an excellent, key Batman story, and one no fan should be unaware of.

This combined compilation offers also a full cover gallery by Mike Mignola & Pérez plus a lost treasure for fans and aficionados. Printed comics are produced with a long lead-in time so when the phone poll to determine Jason’s fate was launched, the editors had to prepare for both outcomes. Wrapping up proceedings here is the alternate final page by Aparo & DeCarlo depicting Robin’s survival to gratify the dreams of those who originally voted against what these days would have been agonisingly and inappropriately dubbed “R-exit”…

Potent, punchy and eminently readable, this is a bold Bat-treat well worth tracking down and devouring.
© 1988,1989, 2006, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman and the Outsiders volume 1


By Mike W. Barr, Marv Wolfman, Jim Aparo, George Pérez & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1401268121 (HC)

During the early 1980s the general trend of comics sales was yet another downturn – although team-books were holding their own – and the major publishers were less concerned with experimentation than with consolidation. Many popular titles were augmented by spin-offs, a recurring tactic in publishing troughs.

At the time the Dark Knight was the star of two and two half titles, sharing World’s Finest Comics with Superman (until its cancellation in 1986) and appearing with rotating guest-stars in The Brave and the Bold, as well as his regular lead spots in both Batman and Detective Comics. He was also a member of the Justice League of America.

In July 1983 B&B was cancelled with issue #200, but inside was a preview of a new Bat-title. One month later Batman and the Outsiders debuted…

All the details can be found in ‘Out with the Bold, in with The Outsiders’: scripter Mike W. Barr’s introductory reminiscence to this commemorative hardback collection (also available as an eBook) gathering a daring departure for the Gotham Gangbuster and re-presenting The Brave and the Bold #200, BATO #1-13 and a crossover episode which spread into New Teen Titans #37, collectively spanning July 1983-August 1984.

The core premise of the new series was that Batman became increasingly convinced that the JLA was not fit for purpose; that too many problems were beyond their reach because they were hamstrung by international red tape and, by inference, too many laws.

It all kicks off in ‘Wars Ended… Wars Begun!’ with a revolution in the European nation of Markovia (nebulously wedged into that vague bit between France, Belgium and Russia) and details a telling personal crisis when Bruce Wayne’s friend Lucius Fox goes missing in that war-torn country. As neither the US State Department nor his fellow superheroes will act, Batman takes matters into his own hands. He begins sniffing around only to discover that a number of other metahumans, some known to him and others new, are also sneaking about below the natives’ radar.

Markovia’s monarchy is threatened by an attempted coup, and is being countered by the King’s unorthodox hiring of Dr. Jace, a scientist specialising in creating superpowers. When King Victor dies, Prince Gregor is named successor whilst his brother Brion is charged with finding their sister Tara who has been missing since she underwent the Jace Process.

To save his sister and his country, Brion submits to the same procedure. Meanwhile two more Americans are clandestinely entering the country…

Rex (Metamorpho) Mason is a chemical freak able to turn into any element, and he wants Jace to cure him, whereas Jefferson (Black Lightning) Pierce is infiltrating Markovia as Batman’s ace-in-the-hole. Things go badly wrong when a ninja assassin kills the General Pierce is negotiating with, and he is blamed. As Batman attempts to extricate him the Caped Crusader finds a young American girl in a bombed-out building: a teenager with fantastic light-based superpowers… and amnesia.

As Prince Brion emerges from Jace’s experimental chamber, revolutionaries attack and not even his new gravity and volcanic powers, or the late-arriving Metamorpho, can stop them. Brion is shot dead and dumped in an unmarked grave whilst the Element Man joins Batman, who – encumbered by the girl – is also captured by the rebels. The heroes and Dr. Jace are the prisoners of the mysterious Baron Bedlam

The second issue provides the mandatory origin and plans of the Baron, but while he’s talking the new heroes are mobilising. Like the legendary Antaeus, Brion (soon to be known as Geo-Force) is re-invigorated by contact with Earth and rises from his grave, whilst the girl (code-named Halo) is found by the ninja ‘Katana’.

Together they invade the Baron’s HQ during ‘Markovia’s Last Stand!’ Not to be outdone, the captive heroes break free and join forces with the newcomers to defeat the Baron, who now has powers of his own courtesy of the captive Jace.

As introductory stories goes, this is well above average, with plenty of threads laid for future development, and the tried-&-tested super-team formula (a few old and a few new heroes thrown together for a greater purpose) that worked so well with the New X-Men and New Teen Titans still proved an effective one.

As always Barr’s adroit writing meshed perfectly with the understated talents of Jim Aparo; an artist who gave his all to a script…

Issue #3 began a long run of high-quality super-hero sagas with ‘Bitter Orange’, as the new team get acquainted whilst stopping a chemical terrorist with a hidden agenda, and is followed by that preview from B&B #200: a hospital hostage crisis tale designed to tease and introduce new characters, followed here by ‘One-Man Meltdown’ (BATO #4) in which a radioactive villain from Batman’s past returns with malice in mind but acting on a hidden mastermind’s agenda…

New Teen Titans #37 (December 1983) features next. ‘Light’s Out, Everyone!’ by Marv Wolfman, George Pérez & Romeo Tanghal is the first part of a cross-over tale wherein Dr. Light and the Fearsome Five kidnap Dr. Jace and Titans and Outsiders must unite to rescue her. Concluding with ‘Psimon Says’ in BATO #5, its most notable feature is the portentous reuniting of Brion with his sister Tara, the Titan known as Terra.

‘Death Warmed Over’ and ‘Cold Hands, Cold Heart’ tell the tale of The Cryonic Man, a villain who steals frozen body-parts, before ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’ offers a sinister supernatural Christmas treat guest-starring possibly Aparo’s most fondly remembered character (most certainly for me) The Phantom Stranger.

Issue #9 introduces a new super-villain gang in ‘Enter: The Masters of Disaster!’ (the first half of a two-part tale) plus a brief back-up tale of Halo in ‘Battle For the Band’, written by Barr and illustrated by Bill Willingham & Mike DeCarlo.

Illustrated by Steve Lightle & Sal Trapani, ‘The Execution of Black Lightning’ epically concludes the Masters of Disaster saga, before issue #11 begins exposing ‘The Truth About Katana’: exploring her past and the implications of her magic soul-drinking blade. ‘A Sword of Ancient Death!’ is by Barr & Aparo and continues with ‘To Love, Honour and Destroy’, leading directly into #13’s impressive final inclusion.

‘In the Chill of the Night’ (illustrated by Dan Day & Pablo Marcos) sees the desperate team attempting to capture a drugged, dying and delusional Dark Knight as his fevered mind and memories pit him against the gunman who murdered his parents…

With a full cover gallery – including the diptych assemblage of NTT #37 and BATO #50 – original Aparo art, house ad and preliminary character designs, this is a splendid package to appeal to dedicated Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatics. Although probably not flashy enough to cross the Fan-Barrier into mainstream popularity, Batman and the Outsiders was always a highly readable series and is re-presented here in most accessible manner. An open-minded new reader could do lots worse than try out this forgotten corner of the DCU.
© 1983, 1984, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Joker: A Celebration of 75 Years


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson and many & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4759-1

When the very concept of high priced graphic novels was just being shelf-tested way back in in the late 1980s, DC Comics produced a line of glorious full-colour hardback compilations spotlighting star characters and celebrating standout stories decade by decade from the company’s illustrious and varied history.

They then branched out into themed collections which shaped the output of the industry to this day; such as a fabulous congregation of yarns which offer equal billing and star status to one of the most enduring arch-foes in fiction: The Maestro of Malignant Mirth known only as The Joker.

So much a mirror of and paralleling the evolution of the epochal Batman, the exploits of the Joker are preceded here by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in the villain’s development, beginning with the years 1940-1942 and Part I: The Grim Jester.

After deconstruction comes sinister action as debut appearance ‘Batman Vs. The Joker’ (by Bill Finger & Bob Kane from Batman #1, Spring 1940) provides suspenseful entertainment whilst introducing the most diabolical member of the Dark Knight’s rogues’ gallery. A chilling moody tale of brazen extortion and wilful wanton murder begins when an eerie character publicly announces that he will kill certain business and civic figures at specific times…

An instant hit, the malignant murdering Joker kept coming back. ‘The Riddle of the Missing Card’ (Finger, Kane & Jerry Robinson, Batman #5 1941) once again saw the Crime Clown pursue loot and slaughter, but this time with a gang of card-themed crooks at his side. It did not end well for the whimsical butcher…

Fame secured, the Devil’s Jester quickly became an over-exposed victim of his own nefarious success. In story terms that meant seeking to “reform” and start over with a clean slate. Turning himself in, the maniac grasses on many criminal confederates but ‘The Joker Walks the Last Mile’ (Finger, Kane & Robinson, Detective Comics #64 June 1942) soon shows that tousled viridian head twisting inexorably back towards murderous larceny…

As years passed and tastes changed, the Laughing Killer mellowed into a bizarrely baroque bandit and Part II: The Clown Prince assesses that alteration, before providing fascinating examples beginning with ‘Knights of Knavery’ from Batman #25 (1944 by Don Cameron, Jack Burnley & Robinson).

Here he and arch-rival The Penguin fractiously join forces to steal the world’s biggest emerald and outwit all opposition, before falling foul of their own mistrust and arrogance once the Caped Crusaders put their own thinking caps on.

‘Rackety-Rax Racket’ Batman #32 (1945 by Cameron & Dick Sprang) is another malevolently marvellous exploit which sees the ideas-starved Prankster of Peril finding felonious inspiration in college-student hazing and initiation stunts, after which ‘The Man Behind the Red Hood’ (Detective Comics #168, February 1951) reveals a partial origin as part of a brilliantly engrossing mystery by Finger, Lew Sayre Schwartz & Win Mortimer, which all began when the Caped Crusader regales eager young criminology students with the story of “the one who got away”… just before the fiend suddenly came back…

In ‘The Joker’s Millions’ (Detective Comics #180, February1952) pulp sci fi writer David Vern Reed, Sprang & Charles Paris provide a gloriously engaging saga disclosing how the villain’s greatest crime rival took revenge from the grave by leaving the Harlequin of Hate too rich to commit capers.

It was all a vindictive double-barrelled scheme though, making the Joker a patsy and twice a fool as the Caped Crusaders eventually find to their great amusement…

Then from World’s Finest Comics #61 (November 1952) Reed, Kane, Schwartz & Paris perpetrate ‘The Crimes of Batman’ as Robin is taken hostage and the Gotham Gangbuster is compelled to commit a string of felonies to preserve the lad’s life. Or so the Joker vainly hopes…

‘Batman – Clown of Crime’ (Batman #85, August 1954 by Reed, Sheldon Moldoff & Paris) captures the dichotomy of reason versus chaos as the eternal arch enemies’ minds are swapped in a scientific accident. Soon a law-abiding Joker and baffled Robin are hunting down a madcap loon with the ultimate weapon at his disposal, the secret of the Gotham Guardian’s true identity

The Silver Age of comicbooks utterly revolutionised a flagging medium, bringing a modicum of sophistication to the returning sub-genre of masked mystery men. However, for quite some time the changes instigated by Julius Schwartz in Showcase #4 – which rippled out to affect all National/DC Comics’ superhero characters – generally passed Batman and Robin by.

Fans buying Batman, Detective Comics, World’s Finest Comics and even Justice League of America would read adventures that in look and tone were largely unchanged from the safely anodyne fantasies that had turned the grim Dark Knight into a mystery-solving, alien-fighting costumed Boy Scout as the 1940s turned into the1950s.

By the end of 1963, Schwartz – having either personally or by example revived and revitalised much of DC’s line and by extension the entire industry with his modernizations – was asked to work his magic with the creatively stalled and nigh-moribund Caped Crusaders just as they were being readied for mainstream global stardom.

‘The Joker’s Jury’ (Batman #163 May 1963) by Finger, Moldoff & Paris was the last sight of the Clown before his numerous appearances on the blockbuster Batman TV show warped the villain and left him unusable for years…

Here, however, Robin and his mentor are trapped in the criminal enclave of Jokerville, where every citizen is a fugitive bad-guy dressed up as the Clown Prince and where all lawmen are outlaws…

The story of the how the Joker was redeemed as a metaphor for terror and evil is covered in Part III: The Harlequin of Hate and thereafter confirmed by the single story which undid all that typecasting damage.

‘The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge’ (Batman #251 September 1973 by Dennis O’Neil & Neal Adams) reversed the zany, “camp” image by re-branding the characters and returning to the original 1930s concept of a grim and driven Dark Avenger chasing an insane avatar of pure evil.

Such a hero needs far deadlier villains and, by reinstating the psychotic, diabolically unpredictable Killer Clown who scared the short pants off the readers of the Golden Age, set the bar high. A true milestone that utterly redefined the Joker for the modern age: the frantic saga sees the Mirthful Maniac stalking his old gang, determined to eradicate them all with the hard-pressed Gotham Guardian desperately playing catch-up. As the crooks die in all manner of Byzantine and bizarre ways, Batman realises his arch-foe has gone irrevocably off the deep end.

Terrifying and beautiful, for many fans this is the definitive Batman/Joker story.

The main contender for that prize follows. ‘The Laughing Fish/The Sign of the Joker’ appeared in Detective Comics #475-476 (February and April 1978) concluding a breathtaking signature run of retro tales by Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers & Terry Austin

The absolute zenith in a short but stellar sequence resurrecting old foes naturally starred the Dark Knight’s nemesis at his most chaotic; beginning with ‘The Laughing Fish’ before culminating in ‘The Sign of the Joker!’, comprising one of the most reprinted Bat-tales ever concocted and even adapted as an episode of the award-winning Batman: The Animated Adventures TV show in the 1990s.

In fact, you’ve probably already read it. But if you haven’t… what a treat you have awaiting you!

As fish with the Joker’s horrific smile began turning up in sea-catches all over the Eastern Seaboard, the Clown Prince attempts to trademark them. When patent officials foolishly tell him it can’t be done, they start dying… publicly, impossibly and incredibly painfully…

The story then culminated in a spectacular apocalyptic clash which shaped, informed and redefined the Batman mythos for decades to come…

Although Crisis on Infinite Earths transformed the entire DC Universe it left the Joker largely unchanged, however it did narratively set the clock back far enough to present fresher versions of most characters.

‘To Laugh and Die in Metropolis’ comes from Superman volume 2 #9 (September1987) wherein John Byrne & Karl Kesel reveal how the Malicious Mountebank challenges the Man of Steel for the first time. The result is a captivating but bloody battle of wits, with the hero’s friends and acquaintances all in the killer clown’s crosshairs…

The next (frustratingly incomplete) snippet comes from one of the most effective publicity stunts in DC’s history.

Despite decades of wanting to be “taken seriously” by the wider world, every so often a comicbook event gets away from editors and publishers and takes on a life of its own. This usually does not end well for our beloved art form, as the way the greater world views the comics microcosm is seldom how we insiders and cognoscenti see it.

One of the most controversial sagas of the last century saw an intriguing marketing stunt go spectacularly off the rails – for all the wrong reasons – and become instantly notorious whilst sadly masking the real merits of the piece.

‘A Death in the Family’ Chapter Four originated in Batman #427 (December 1988), concocted by Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo and needs a bit more background than usual…

Robin, the Boy Wonder debuted in Detective Comics#38 (April 1940) created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger & Jerry Robinson. He was a juvenile circus acrobat whose parents were murdered by a mob boss. The story of how Batman took the orphaned Dick Grayson under his scalloped wing and trained him to fight crime has been told, retold and revised many times over the decades and still undergoes the odd tweaking to this day

The child Grayson fought beside Batman until 1970 when, as a sign of the turbulent times, he flew the nest, becoming a Teen Wonder and college student. His invention as a junior hero for younger readers to identify with had inspired an incomprehensible number of costumed sidekicks and kid crusaders, and Grayson continued in similar vein for the older, more worldly-wise readership of America’s increasingly rebellious youth culture.

During the 1980s the young hero led the New Teen Titans, re-established a turbulent working relationship with Batman and reinvented himself as Nightwing. This of course left the post of Robin open…

After Grayson’s departure Batman worked alone until he caught a streetwise young urchin trying to steal the Batmobile’s tires. Debuting in Batman#357 (March 1983) this lost boy was Jason Todd, and eventually the little thug became the second Boy Wonder (#368, February 1984), with a short but stellar career, marred by his impetuosity and tragic links to one of the Caped Crusader’s most unpredictable foes…

Todd had some serious emotional problems which became increasingly apparent in the issues leading up to ‘A Death in the Family’ story arc. As the street kid became more callous and brutal in response to the daily horrors he was exposed to he deliberately caused the death of a vicious drug-dealer with diplomatic immunity. Jason then began a guilty spiral culminating in the story-arc which comprised Batman#426-429.

Ever more violent and seemingly incapable of rudimentary caution, Jason is suspended by Batman. Meanwhile the Joker is returns, but rather than his usual killing frenzy, the Clown Prince is after mere cash, because the financial disaster of “Reaganomics” has depleted his coffers – meaning he can’t afford his outrageous murder gimmicks…

Without purpose, Jason has been wandering the streets where he grew up. Encountering a friend of his dead mother, he learns a shocking secret. The woman who raised him was not his birth-mother, and there exists a box of personal papers indicating three different women who might be his true mother.

Lost and emotionally volatile Jason sets out to track them down…

After monumental efforts, he locates Dr. Sheila Haywood working as a famine relief worker in Ethiopia. As Jason heads for the Middle East and a confrontation with destiny, he is unaware that Batman is also in that troubled region, hot on the Joker’s trail since the Maniac of Mirth is attempting to sell stolen nuclear weapons to any terrorist who can pay…

When Jason finds his mother, he has no idea that she has been blackmailed into a deadly scam involving stolen relief supplies by the Clown Prince of Crime…

I’m not going to bother with the details of the voting fiasco that plagues all references to this tale as it’s all copiously detailed elsewhere, but suffice to say that to test then-new marketing tools a 1-900 number was established and, thanks to an advanced press campaign, readers were offered the chance to vote on whether Robin would live or die in the story.

Against every editorial expectation vox populi voted thumbs down and Jason died in a most savage and uncompromising manner….

The kid had increasingly become a poor fit in the series and this storyline galvanised a new direction with a darker, more driven Batman, beginning almost immediately as the Joker, after killing Jason in a chilling and unforgettably violent manner, became UN ambassador for Iran (later revised as the fully fictional Qurac – just in case…) and at the request of the Ayatollah himself attempted to kill the entire UN General Assembly during his inaugural speech…

And here is the true injustice surrounding this tale: the death of Robin (who didn’t even stay dead) and the media uproar over the voting debacle took away from the real importance of this story – and perhaps deflected some real scrutiny and controversy. Starlin had crafted a clever and bold tale of real world politics and genuine issues which most readers didn’t even notice.

Terrorism Training Camps, Rogue States, African famines, black marketeering, Relief fraud, Economic, Race and Class warfare, Diplomatic skullduggery and nuclear smuggling all featured heavily, as did such notable hot-button topics as Ayatollah Khomeini, Reagan’s Cruise Missile program, the Iran-Contra and Arms for Hostages scandals and the horrors of Ethiopian refugee camps. Most importantly it signaled a new and fearfully casual approach to violence and death in comics-books.

The story selected to represent the lad here is a poor choice, however. This is not to say that ‘A Death in the Family’ is a lesser tale: far from it, and Starlin, Aparo & DeCarlo’s landmark, controversial story of the murder of brash, bright Jason Todd by the Joker shook the industry and still stands the test of time.

However, all that’s included here is the final chapter, and even I, having read it many times, was bewildered as to what was going on.

If you want to see the entire saga – and trust me, you do – seek out a copy of the complete A Death in the Family

In 1989 Batman broke box office records in the first of a series of big budget action movies. The Joker was the villain du jour and stole the show. That increased public awareness again influenced the comics and is covered in Part IV: Archnemesis before ‘Going Sane’ Part Two ‘Swimming Lessons’ provides a fresh look at the motivations behind the maniacal madness.

The story comes from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #66 (December 1994) LoDK began in the frenzied atmosphere following the movie. With planet Earth completely Bat-crazy for the second time in 25 years, DC wisely supplemented the Gotham Guardian’s regular stable of titles with a new one specifically designed to focus on and redefine his early days and cases through succession of retuned, retold classic stories.

Three years earlier the publisher had boldly begun retconning their entire ponderous continuity via the landmark maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths; rejecting the concept of a vast multiverse and re-knitting time so that there had only ever been one Earth.

For new readers, this solitary DC world provided a perfect place to jump on at a notional starting point: a planet literally festooned with iconic heroes and villains draped in a clear and cogent backstory that was now fresh and newly unfolding.

Many of their greatest properties were graced with a reboot, all enjoying the tacit conceit that the characters had been around for years and the readership were simply tuning in on just another working day.

Batman’s popularity was at an intoxicating peak and, as DC was still in the throes of re-jigging narrative continuity, his latest title presented multi-part epics reconfiguring established villains and classic stories: infilling the new history of the re-imagined, post-Crisis hero and his entourage.

An old adage says that you can judge a person by the calibre of their enemies, and that’s never been more ably demonstrated than in the case of Batman and The Joker. The epic battles between these so similar yet utterly antithetical icons have filled many pages and always will…

With that in mind, 4-part psychological study ‘Going Sane’ by J.M. DeMatteis, Joe Staton & Steve Mitchell takes us back to a time when Batman was still learning his job and had only crossed swords with the Clown Prince of Crime twice before…

After a murderously macabre circus-themed killing-spree in the idyllic neighbourhood of Park Ridge and abduction of crusading Gotham Councilwoman Elizabeth Kenner, a far-too-emotionally invested Batman furiously plays catch-up. This leads to a disastrous one-sided battle in front of GCPD’s Bat signal and a frantic pursuit into the dark woods beyond the city.

Driven to a pinnacle of outrage, the neophyte manhunter falls into the Joker’s devilishly prepared trap and is caught in an horrific explosion. His shattered body is then dumped in the by an incredulous, unbelieving killer clown reeling in shock at his utterly unexpected ultimate triumph…

Stand-alone extract ‘Swimming Lessons’ opens here with Batman missing and Police Captain James Gordon taking flak from all sides for not finding the Predatory Punchinello or the savage mystery assailant who recently murdered an infamous underworld plastic surgeon…

Under Wayne Manor faithful manservant Alfred fears the very worst whilst in a cheap part of town thoroughly decent nonentity Joseph Kerr suffers terrifying nightmares of murder and madness.

His solitary days end when he bumps into mousy spinster Rebecca Brown. Days pass and the two lonely outcasts find love in their mutual isolation and a shared affection for classic slapstick comedy. The only shadows blighting this unlikely romance are poor Joe’s continual nightmares and occasional outbursts of barely suppressed rage…

As days turn to weeks and then months, Alfred sorrowfully accepts the situation and prepares to close the Batcave forever. As he descends, however, he is astounded to see the Dark Knight has returned…

The story of Joe Kerr – fictive product of a deranged mind which simply couldn’t face life without Batman – is another yarn readers will want to experience in full, but that too will only happen in a different collection…

The World’s Greatest Detective continues to relentlessly battle the Clown Prince in ‘Fool’s Errand’ (Detective Comics #726, October 1998) as Chuck Dixon & Brian Stelfreeze depict a vicious mind-game conducted by the Hateful Harlequin from his cell, using a little girl as bait and an army of criminals as his weapon against the Dark Knight after which ‘Endgame’ Part Three ‘…Sleep in Heavenly Peace’ (Detective Comics #741 February 2000 by Greg Rucka, Devin Grayson, Damian Scott, Dale Eaglesham, Sean Parsons, Sal Buscema & Rob Hunter) sees the Joker plaguing a Gotham City struggling to recover from a cataclysmic earthquake.

It’s Christmas but the stubborn survivors are so stretched striving to stop The Joker’s plan to butcher all the babies left in town they are unable to notice that his real scheme will gouge a far more personal wound in their hearts…

‘Slayride’ by Paul Dini, Don Kramer & Wayne Faucher (Detective Comics #826 February 2007 and another Seasonal special) is one of the best Joker – and definitely the best Robin – stories in decades. This Christmas horror story sees our Crazed Clown trap third Boy Wonder Tim Drake in a stolen car, making him an unwilling participant in a spree of vehicular homicides amongst the last-minute shoppers.

If there is ever a Greatest Batman Christmas Stories Ever Told collection (and if there’s anybody out there with the power to make it so, get weaving please!), this just has to be the closing chapter….

Brining us up to date Part V: Rebirth focuses on the 2011 New 52 continuity-wide reboot and an even grimmer, Darker Knight who debuted in Detective Comics volume 2 #1 with what might be assumed to be the last Joker story. As crafted by Tony Daniel & Ryan Winn, ‘Faces of Death’ follows the mass-murdering malcontent on another pointless murder spree which culminates in his apparent death, leaving behind only his freshly skinned-off face nailed bloodily to an asylum wall…

A year later the Joker explosively returned, mercilessly targeting all of Batman’s allies in a company-wide crossover event dubbed Death of the Family. The crippling mind-games and brutal assaults culminated in ‘But Here’s the Kicker’ (Batman #15, February 2013 by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo & Jonathan Glapion) and purportedly the final battle between Bat and Clown: but we’ve all heard that before, haven’t we…?

The Joker has the rare distinction of being arguably the most iconic villain in comics and can claim that title in whatever era you choose to concentrate on; Noir-esque Golden Age, sanitised Silver Age or malignant modern and Post-Modern milieus. This book captures just a fraction of all those superb stories…

Including pertinent covers by Sayre Swartz & Roussos, Mortimer, Moldoff, Adams, Rogers & Austin, Byrne, Mike Mignola, Staton & Mitchell, Stelfreeze, Alex Maleev & Bill Sienkiewicz, Simone Bianchi, Daniel & Winn and Capullo, this monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a good bad-guy is a true delight for fans of all ages and vintage.
© 1940, 1941, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1951, 1952, 1954, 1964, 1973, 1978, 1987, 1988, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 1


By Neal Adams with Bob Haney, Leo Dorfman, Cary Bates & various (DDC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0041-1 (HC):                   978-1-4012-3537-6 (PB)

As the 1960s began Neal Adams was a young illustrator who had worked in advertising and ghosted some newspaper strips whilst trying to break into comics. Whilst pursuing a career in advertising and “real art” he did a few comics pages for Archie Comics and subsequently became one of the youngest artists to co-create and illustrate a major licensed newspaper strip – Ben Casey (based on a popular TV medical drama series).

That comics fascination never faded however, and Adams drifted back to National/DC doing a few covers as inker of penciller and eventually found himself at the vanguard of a revolution in pictorial storytelling…

He made such a mark that DC chose to reprint every piece of work Adams ever did for them into a series of commemorative collections. Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams is the first of three superb tomes (available in  variety of formats) featuring the “Darknight Detective” – as he was dubbed back then – and featuring every cover, story and issue in original publication order.

‘From Me to You: An Introduction’ gives you the history of his early achievements in his own words, after which the covers of Detective Comics #370 (December 1967, inking Carmine Infantino) and the all-Adams Brave and the Bold #75 (January 1968), Detective #372 (February), B&B #76 (February/March), Batman #200 and World’s Finest Comics #174 (both March) all serve as a timely taster for the artist’s first full-length narrative…

The iconoclastic penciller first started truly turning heads and making waves with a couple of enthralling Cape & Cowl capers beginning with World’s Finest Comics #175 (April 1968) and ‘The Superman-Batman Revenge Squads!’

Scripted by Leo Dorfman and inked by Dick Giordano, the story detailed how an annual – and friendly – battle of wits between the crime-busters is infiltrated by alien and Earthly criminal groups intent on killing their foes whilst they are off-guard…

WFC #176 (June) then featured a beguiling enigma in ‘The Superman-Batman Split!’ – written by fellow newcomer Cary Bates. Ostensibly just another alien mystery yarn, this twisty little gem has a surprise ending for all and guest stars Robin, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl and Batgirl, with Adams’ hyper-dynamic realism lending an aura of solid credibility to even the most fanciful situations.

It also ushered in an era of gritty veracity to replace previously anodyne and frequently frivolous Costumed Dramas…

More Dynamite Covers follow: Batman #203 (July/August) leads to Brave & Bold #79 (August/September) and heralded Adams’ assumption of the interior art chores for a groundbreaking run that rewrote the rulebook for strip illustration…

‘The Track of the Hook’ – written by Bob Haney and inked Giordano – paired the Gotham Guardian with justice-obsessed ghost Deadman: formerly trapeze artist Boston Brand who was hunting his own killer, and whose earthy, human tragedy elevated the series’ costume theatrics into deeper, more mature realms of drama and action.

The stories aged ten years overnight and instantly became every discerning fan’s favourite read.

Covers for World’s Finest Comics #178-180 (spanning September through November) segue sweetly into Brave and the Bold #80 (October/November 1968) with ‘And Hellgrammite is his Name’ finding Batman and the Creeper clashing with an infallible, insect-themed super-hitman again courtesy of Haney, Adams & Giordano.

B&B #81 saw the Flash aid the Caped Crusader against an unbeatable thug in ‘But Bork Can Hurt You!’ (inked by Giordano & Vince Colletta) after which Aquaman became ‘The Sleepwalker from the Sea’ in an eerie tale of mind-control and sibling rivalry.

Interwoven through those thrillers are the covers for World’s Finest #182 (February 1969, inking Curt Swan’s pencils), #183 (March, inking over Infantino), Batman #210 and Detective #385 (both March and all Adams).

B&B # 83 took a radical turn (and is the only story herein without a cover since that one was limned by Irv Novick) as the Teen Titans try to save Bruce Wayne’s latest foster-son from his own inner demons in ‘Punish Not my Evil Son!’ (Haney & Giordano as ever on board) but the next team-up was one that got many fans in a real tizzy in 1969.

Before that though you can enjoy the fabulous frontage for World’s Finest #185 (June 1969) after which ‘The Angel, the Rock and the Cowl’ recounts a World War II exploit where Batman and Sgt. Rock of Easy Company hunt Nazi gold together, only closing the case 25 years later.

Try to ignore the kvetching about relative ages and which Earth we’re on: you should really focus on the fact that this is a startlingly gripping tale of great intensity, beautifully realised, and one which has been criminally discounted for decades as “non-canonical”.

Detective Comics #389 (July), World’s Finest #186 (August and pencilled by Infantino) precede Brave and the Bold #85. Behind a stunning cover is arguably the best of an incredible run of action adventures…

‘The Senator’s Been Shot!’ reunites Batman and Green Arrow in a superb multi-layered thriller of politics, corruption and cast-iron integrity, with Bruce Wayne being appointed as a stand-in for a law-maker whilst the Emerald Archer receives a radical make-over that turned him into the fiery liberal gadfly champion of the relevancy generation and still informs his character today, both in funnybooks and on TV screens…

Wrapping up this initial artistic extravaganza are the covers for Detective Comics #391 and 392, (September and October 1969) completing a delirious run of comics masterpieces no ardent art lover or fanatical Fights ‘n’ Tights aficionado can do without.
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Knightfall


By Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan, Jim Balent, Bret Blevins, Klaus Janson, Mike Manley & various (DC Comics) ISBN: 978-1-4012-3379-2

The early 1990s were troubled times for the American comicbook industry, with speculative collectors rather than fans driving the business. Many new companies had established themselves using attention-catching gimmicks augmented by cutting-edge print technology and shameless pandering to simplistic sex and violence and the tactics had worked, sparking a glossy, four-colour Gold-Rush amongst fans and, more importantly, previously disinterested outsiders.

With vapid ploys and fleeting trends fuelling frantic mass-multiple purchases by buyers who were too scared to even open up the hundreds of polybagged, technologically-enhanced variant-covered issues they intended to pay for college and a condo with, the major publishers were driven to design boldly bonkers stunts just to keep the attention of their once-devoted readership. At least here, however, story-content still held some worth and value…

In 1992 DC began their epic Death of Superman story-arc and apparently immediately afterward began preparing a similar tradition-shaking, continuity-shattering epic for their other iconic household-name property. Groundwork had already been laid with the introduction of Jean-Paul Valley, a mild-mannered student utterly unaware that he had been programmed since birth by his father and an ancient warrior-cult to become an hereditary instrument of assassination (see Batman: Sword of Azrael) so all that was needed was to sort creative personnel and decide just how best to shake up the life of the Gotham Guardian…

KnightFall, and the subsequent KnightQuest and KnightsEnd, follow the brutal fall, replacement and inevitable return of Bruce Wayne as the indomitable, infallible Batman and was another spectacular success from the old guard which showed all the comicbook upstarts and Young Turks the true value of proper storytelling. It also proved the unshakable power of established characters, as the world was gripped by the Dark Knight’s horrific defeat at the hands of a blatantly superior nemesis.

The crossover publishing event impacted many comics outside the usual Batbook suspects, spawned a bunch of toys, three novelisations, many (necessarily incomplete) trade paperback collections and even jumped the pond to Britain’s staid BBC who turned it into a serialised audio-play on Radio One…

In 2012 DC finally began collecting the entire saga into three huge chronological compilations which, whilst still not truly complete, render the tale a far smoother and more readable experience for older fans and curious newcomers…

Batman: KnightFall volume 1, which could be best codified as and divided into ‘The Breaking of the Bat’ and ‘Who Rules the Night’, gathers the pertinent contents of Batman: Vengeance of Bane Special #1, Batman #491-500, Detective Comics #659-666, Showcase ’93 #7-8 and Batman: Shadow Of The Bat #16-18 – spanning January to October 1993 – and scrupulously covers the most traumatic six months of Bruce Wayne’s adult life in instalments of a shared and progressing narrative alternating between Bat-titles and discrete creative teams.

What you won’t find out here: in the months preceding the start of KnightFall (roughly correlating to Batman issues #484-489 and Detective #654-658), a mysterious new criminal had entered Gotham, covertly observing the Caped Crimebuster at work as the hard-pressed hero tackled sinister crime-lord Black Mask, psycho-killer Metalhead and juvenile military genius The General, all whilst foiling an assassination plot against Police Commissioner Jim Gordon.

On the edge of exhaustion, Wayne began seeing doctor and holistic therapist Shondra Kinsolving, whilst assigning Tim Drake – the third Robin – to training and monitoring Jean-Paul Valley, with the intention of turning the former Azrael’s dark gifts to a beneficial purpose.

Kinsolving was also treating Drake’s father, crippled after an attack by another of the City’s endless stream of criminal lunatics…

Coldly clinical observer Bane revealed himself and designed further tests for the depleted Dark Knight, challenging Batman for the right to rule Gotham, by manufacturing confrontations with Killer Croc and The Riddler; the latter augmented and driven crazy by a dose of deadly super-steroid Venom

Thus, the action begins here with the origin of the calamitous challenger in ‘Vengeance of Bane’ by Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan & Eduardo Barretto, wherein the hulking brute is fully revealed and exposed.

Years ago, on the Caribbean island of Santa Prisca, the ruling junta imprisoned the pregnant wife of a freedom fighter. When the baby was born, he was sentenced in his father’s stead to life on the hellish prison rock of Pena Duro where he somehow thrived, touched by the horror and madness to inexorably become a terrifying, brilliant master of men.

Not merely surviving but educating himself and ultimately thriving on the hard medicine of life, the boy knew he had a destiny beyond those walls. Eventually he named himself Bane.

His only non-hostile contacts became his faithful lieutenants, Trogg, Zombie and the Americano Bird, whose tales of the Bat in Gotham City fired the eternal prisoner’s jealousy and imagination…

Santa Prisca’s entire economy is based on drug smuggling and Bane’s moment came when one of his periodic rages crippled thirty inmates. After finally being subdued by an army of guards he was turned over to scientists testing a new iteration of the muscle and aggression-enhancing formulation Venom. The effects of the steroid had caused the death of all previous candidates, but Bane survived and the delighted technologists devised biological implants that would deliver doses of the drug directly into his brain, enabling him to swiftly multiply his strength and speed at the press of a button…

A plan formed and the patient faked his own death. Disposed of as trash, he returned, seizing the Venom supply, rescuing his comrades and indulging in a fearsome vengeance-talking against his oppressors. Then he turned greedy eyes towards Gotham and the only rival he could imagine…

KnightFall proper begins after Bane’s challenge to the already on-the-ropes Gotham Gangbuster with Batman #491 as ‘The Freedom of Madness’ (Doug Moench & Jim Aparo) sees the ambitious strategist steal National Guard armaments and use them to free every insane super-criminal locked away in Arkham Asylum.

Pushed almost beyond rationality, Batman orders Robin to stick with his mission to train and de-program Jean-Paul and sets out to recapture all his most dangerous enemies, whilst Bane sits back, watching and waiting…

Issue #492 sees the round-up start with the Mad Hatter in ‘Crossed Eyes and Dotty Teas’ (Moench & Norm Breyfogle) proving that even Bane can make mistakes, for whilst Batman acts according to plan and scotches the Hatter’s main party, the Mad Cap Maniac has already despatched a mind-controlled Film Freak to track down their mysterious liberator…

Detective Comics #659 opens with Hellenic god-obsessed Maxie Zeus, innocuous Arnold Wesker and hyperthyroid brute Amygdala fleeing shattered Arkham in ‘Puppets’ (Dixon & Breyfogle) as Batman is called to the alley where the broken, lifeless body of Film Freak is found.

As The Ventriloquist, Wesker used the gangster doll Scarface to express his murderous schemes and – with Amygdala now in tow – has begun a lethal search to get back his old boss. The Dark Knight is obsessively locked on recapturing all his old enemies and ignores Robin’s pleas for rest and reason before tackling the hulking brute, but the confrontation does allow the cool-headed Boy Wonder to turn the tables on Bird, secretly following the Dynamic Duo for Bane.

However, the Pena Duro inmate is too much for the apprentice adventurer and only Bane’s order stops Bird from killing the boy too soon. The chaos is building in Gotham and the master planner wants nothing to spoil his intricate schemes…

Moench & Breyfogle then contribute ‘Redslash’ (Batman #493) as knife-wielding nut-job Victor Zsasz invades a girl’s school. The blood-soaked psycho marks each kill with a new scar on his own body and it’s been too long since his last…

By-the-book cop Lieutenant Stan Kitch’s wait-and-see policy only results in two more deaths that Batman cannot scrub from his own over-worked conscience. In the final confrontation patrolwoman Rene Montoya needs all her determination and utmost efforts to prevent the Dark Knight from beating Zsasz to death…

The chaos grows…

When they last met, Bane nearly crippled Killer Croc and the diseased carnival freak goes looking for payback in Detective #660, but his ‘Crocodile Tears’ (Dixon, Jim Balent & Scott Hanna) lead Robin – still craftily tracking Bird and Bane – into a deadly trap in the City’s sewers before Batman#494’s ‘Night Terrors’ (Moench, Aparo & Tom Mandrake) finally sees the re-emergence of the Joker, having fun his own way whilst looking for a partner to play with.

A collapsed tunnel saves Robin, but Bruce Wayne seems hell-bent on self-destruction; unable to relax until the maniacs are back behind padded bars. Ignoring all pleas from Alfred and Tim, he heads out into the night and narrowly prevents Jim Gordon’s murder at the hands of illusion-casting cannibal Cornelius Stirk, but is woefully unaware that the Clown Prince has allied with the Scarecrow and kidnapped Gotham Mayor Armand Krol

In Detective #661 the Arkham Alumni terrorise Krol, forcing him to further sabotage the benighted metropolis through emergency edicts even as pyromaniac Garfield Lynns sets the ‘City on Fire’ (Dixon, Nolan & Hanna). Having allowed Robin to tag along, Batman permits the Boy Wonder to tackle Firefly whilst the exhausted manhunter searches for less predictable prey. Meanwhile, Wesker is closing in on his Scarface and a recently de-toxified Riddler can’t pull off a robbery because there’s nobody around to answer his obsessively-constructed crime conundrums…

Barely breaking stride to take out the Cavalier, the Caped Crusader stumbles across the Firefly and almost dies at the hands of the relative lightweight in ‘Strange Bedfellows’ (Batman #495, Moench, Aparo & Bob Wiacek) as, impatient to help, Jean-Paul takes to the streets on his own, eager to contribute in his makeshift masked identity…

Finally convinced to take a night off, Bruce attends a civic gala and is recognised by Bane just as Poison Ivy turns up to kidnap all of Gotham’s glitterati. As Batman fights floral-based zombies, Gordon and his top aide Harvey Bullock lead the GCPD into a perfect ambush set by Scarecrow and the Joker…

Detective #662 sees Robin spectacularly if injudiciously tackle Riddler’s ‘Burning Questions’ (Dixon, Nolan & Hanna) just as Batman finally writes finis to Firefly’s horrific depredations, and unsanctioned vigilante Huntress secretly joins the battle to stem the rising tide of chaos, after which Batman #496 commences the climactic clash between the completely exhausted Masked Manhunter and his maddest monsters in ‘Die Laughing’ (Moench, Aparo & Josef Rubinstein), with Scarecrow and Joker explosively sealing off the Gotham River Tunnel… with the broken Mayor at the bottom of it.

Only the detonation of the tunnel roof and a million gallons of ingressing river prevent Batman from beating the Harlequin of Hate to death, but Detective #663 proves there’s ‘No Rest for the Wicked’ (Dixon, Nolan & Hanna) as our hero frantically hauls Krol to safety, merely to fall victim to a concerted assault by Bane’s hit squad.

Narrowly escaping, the harried hero heads home only to find Alfred unconscious and his home invaded by the orchestrator of all his woes…

Batman #497 presents the end of the road in ‘Broken Bat’ – by Moench, Aparo & Dick Giordano – as Bane finally attacks in person, mercilessly beating the exhausted but valiantly battling hero, ultimately breaking Batman’s spine in a savage demonstration of his physical and mental superiority.

Detective #664 sees the beginning of Bane’s Reign in ‘Who Rules the Night’ (Dixon, Nolan & Hanna) as the Scourge of Pena Duro drops the broken Batman’s body in the middle of Gotham; publicly declaring himself the new boss.

Even after Alfred and Robin intercept the ambulance carrying their shattered friend and mentor, saving his life proves a touch-and-go proposition, and in the interval Joker and Scarecrow come to a parting of the ways whilst the Ventriloquist is reunited with his malevolent master Scarface.

Gotham is a city at war and soon Boy Wonder and ex-Azrael are prowling the rooftops trying to stem the tide…

The tale diverges here to reveal the contents of Showcase ’93 #7 and 8, wherein Alfred, Robin and Jean-Paul restlessly wait by the comatose Wayne’s bedside, and traumatised Tim Drake recalls how mere days previously they thwarted the latest murder-spree of erstwhile Gotham DA Harvey Dent.

‘2-Face: Double Cross’ and the concluding ‘2-Face: Bad Judgment’ (Moench & Klaus Janson) depict the Double Desperado again challenging his one-time ally by setting up a hangman’s court in a confused and tragic attempt to convict Batman of causing all the former prosecutor’s problems…

Batman #498’s ‘Knights in Darkness’ (Moench, Aparo & Rick Burchett) see the brutalised Wayne regain consciousness as a paralysed, paraplegic wreck, only to reveal an even greater loss: his fighting spirit. Faking a road crash to explain his massive injuries, Tim and Alfred consult blithely oblivious Dr. Kinsolving in an attempt to restore the billionaire’s shattered spirit and broken body, whilst Bane goes wild in the city, mercilessly consolidating his hold on the various gangs and rackets.

To further his schemes and swiftly counter any stubborn opposition, the King of Gotham recruits Catwoman as his personal thief and retrieval service…

And in Wayne Mansion, as Shondra begins her course of therapy – now knowing full well her patient’s injuries were not caused by pranging a Porsche – Tim Drake carries out Bruce’s wishes and offers Jean-Paul the role and Mantle of Batman…

Gotham City is a criminal’s paradise with thugs big and small running riot now that the Dark Knight has been so publicly destroyed, but Detective #665 reveals ‘Lightning Changes’ (Dixon, Nolan & Giordano) as the new but inexperienced Batman and Robin team start wiping up the street scum and making them fear the night again, under strict instructions from Wayne to avoid major threats until they’re ready.

Valley, however, seems to be slowly coming unglued, happily using excessive force and chafing to test himself against Bane.

Meanwhile, demoralised, wheelchair-bound Bruce is becoming increasing dependent on Shondra. When he can’t find her, he wheels himself through the gardens to the adjoining house of Tim’s father Jack Drake in time to interrupt an abduction by masked gunmen. Despite his best efforts, Wayne is unable to stop them taking Shondra and the elder Drake, whilst in Gotham the new Bat has overstepped his orders and determined to go after Bane – even if it means allying with gangsters and risking the lives of innocent children…

One final diversion comes next in a sidebar tale from Shadow of the Bat#16-18 wherein Alan Grant, Bret Blevins, Mike Manley & Steve George describe how the sinister Scarecrow returns to his old college life long enough to turn innocent students into his phobic slaves as part of a grandiose and clearly crazy plan to turn himself into ‘The God of Fear’

Juvenile ideologue and criminal genius Anarky escapes prison just in time to see “Batman” facing off against his first fully deranged super-villain and realises that the Dark Knight is as much a threat to the people as the Tatterdemalion of Terror. The young rebel decides that for the good of the common man he should take them both out…

It doesn’t quite work out that way, but after Scarecrow exposes Batman to his fear gas and it doesn’t work, they combine to vanquish the failed deity. Valley, in an increasingly rare moment of rationality, lets Anarky off with a pretty scary warning. The former Azrael muses on how his programming had made him immune to the fear chemicals, but he couldn’t be more wrong…

The Beginning of the End starts in Batman #499 with ‘The Venom Connection’ (Moench, Aparo & Hanna), as Jean-Paul’s ruthless savagery and burgeoning paranoia drives a wedge between him and Robin, whilst oblivious to it all, the rededicated and driven Bruce Wayne uses the sleuthing skills of a lifetime to trace the kidnappers to Santa Prisca…

In the Batcave, Jean-Paul realises he is still subject to the deep programming that created Azrael when he falls into a trance and awakens to find he has designed deadly new high-tech gauntlets to augment his war on crime. Bane, meanwhile, ignores all entreaties to act, refusing to bother with a mere impostor.

In a blockbusting raid, Batman and Robin capture Bane’s lieutenants, although the Darker Knight coldly risks children’s lives to achieve victory. Alienated and deeply troubled, Tim resolves to tell Bruce but finds the Mansion deserted. Bruce and Alfred have left for the Caribbean, unaware that they have a svelte stowaway in the form of Selina Kyle

Detective #666 pushes things to fever-pitch with ‘The Devil You Know’ (Dixon, Nolan & Hanna) as the augmented, ever-angry and clearly losing it Batman breaks Trogg, Bird and Zombie out of jail and follows them back to Bane, only to fall before the sheer power and ferocity of the Venom-addicted living juggernaut…

Batman #500 is divided into a landmark two-part conclusion. ‘Dark Angel 1: the Fall’, by Moench, Aparo & Terry Austin, sees Batman frantically escape certain death at Bane’s hands and retreat to the Batcave where Azrael’s submerged programming – dubbed “the System” – takes temporary control: devising a perfectly-honed technological armoured suit that turns Batman into a human war-machine. Far more worrying is the rift that drives Robin, Nightwing and every other possible ally away as Valley prepares for his final confrontation with Bane…

The infuriated King of the City wants it too: challenging the impostor to a highly public duel in the centre of Gotham. ‘Dark Angel 2: the Descent’ (art by Mike Manley) sees a catastrophic clash which comprehensively crushes Bane and publicly proclaims the return of a new, darker Champion of the Night. As Batman narrowly chooses to leave Bane a crushed and humiliated living trophy rather than dead example, Robin – who had to save a train full of innocent bystanders from becoming collateral casualties of Batman – realises something very bad has come to Gotham…

To Be Continued…

There’s something particularly enticing about these colossal mega-compilations (available in both printed and digital editions) that utterly delights the 10-year-old in me: proven, familiar favourite stories in a huge, wrist-numbing package offering a vast hit of full-colour funnybook action, suspense and solid entertainment. And there’s even better to come…
© 1993, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 2


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6808-4

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

Set out in original publishing release 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. Those necessary details dealt with, what you really need to know is that this is a collection of Batman tales that see the character grow into the major player who would inspire so many and develop the resilience to survive the stifling cultural vicissitudes the coming decades would inflict upon him and his partner, Robin.

With the majority of material crafted by Bill Finger and illustrated by Bob Kane, there’s no fuss, fiddle or Foreword, and the book steams straight into the meat of the matter, representing the astounding cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #46-56, Batman#4-7 and the Dynamic Duo’s stories from World’s Best Comics #1 and World’s Finest Comics #2-3; cumulatively covering all the groundbreaking escapades from December 1940 to November 1941

Plunging right in to the perilous procedures, Detective Comics #46 (inked by Kane and regular embellishers Jerry Robinson & George Roussos) features the return of Batman’s most formidable scientific adversary as the heroes must counteract the awesome effects of ‘Professor Strange’s Fear Dust’ after which issue #47 delivers drama on a more human scale in ‘Money Can’t Buy Happiness’.

This action-packed homily of parental expectation and the folly of greed leads into Batman #4 (Winter 1941) which features ‘The Joker’s Crime Circus’ and the piratical plunderings of ‘Blackbeard’s Crew and the Yacht Society’. Then ‘Public Enemy No.1’ tells a gangster fable in the manner of Jimmy Cagney’s movie Angels With Dirty Faces, and ‘Victory For the Dynamic Duo’ involves the pair in the treacherous world of sports gambling.

Detective Comics #48 finds them defending America’s bullion reserves in ‘The Secret Cavern’, and they face an old foe when ‘Clayface Walks Again’ (Detective Comics #49, March 1941), as the deranged horror actor resumes his passion for murder and re-attempts to kill Bruce Wayne’s old girlfriend Julie.

Detective Comics #50 pits Batman and Robin against acrobatic burglars in ‘The Case of the Three Devils’, leading neatly into Batman #5 (Spring 1941). Once again, the Joker plays lead villain in ‘The Riddle of the Missing Card’ before the heroes prove their versatility by solving a quixotic crime in Fairy Land via ‘The Book of Enchantment’.

‘The Case of the Honest Crook’ follows: one of the key stories of Batman’s early canon. When a mugger steals only $6 from a victim, leaving much more behind, his trail leads to a vicious gang who almost beat Robin to death. The vengeance-crazed Dark Knight goes on a rampage of terrible violence that still resonates in the character to this day.

The last story from Batman #5 ‘Crime does Not Pay’ once again deals with kids going bad and the potential for redemption, after which World’s Best Comics#1 (Spring 1941 – destined to become World’s Finest Comics with its second issue) offers an eerie murder mystery concerning ‘The Witch and the Manuscript of Doom’

With most stories still coming from unsung genius Finger and the art chores shared out between Kane, Robinson & Roussos, the team got a new top contributor as Fred Ray signed on to produce the fantastic World’s Finest covers.

‘The Case of the Mystery Carnival’, ‘The Secret of the Jade Box’ and ‘Viola Vane’ (Detective#51, 52 and 53 respectively) are mood-soaked crimebusting set-pieces featuring fairly run-of-the mill thugs, which serve as perfect palate-cleansers for ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Remember!’ from WF#2: a powerful character play and a baffling mystery that still packs a punch today.

‘Hook Morgan and his Harbor Pirates’ finds the Dynamic Duo cleaning up the docks whilst the four tales from Batman #6 (‘Murder on Parole’, ‘The Clock Maker’, ‘The Secret of the Iron Jungle’ and ‘Suicide Beat’) offer a broad range of yarns encompassing a prison-set human interest fables to the hunt for a crazed maniac to racket busting and back to the human side of being a cop.

Detective #54 went back to basics with spectacular mad scientist thriller ‘The Brain Burglar’ after which a visit to a ghost town results in an eerie romp ‘The Stone Idol’ (Detective#55) before World’s Finest#3 launches a classic villain with the first appearance of one of Batman’s greatest foes in ‘The Riddle of the Human Scarecrow’.

The volume ends with four grand tales from Batman#7. ‘Wanted: Practical Jokers’ again stars the psychotic Clown Prince of Crime, whilst ‘The Trouble Trap’ finds our heroes crushing a Spiritualist racket before heading for Lumberjack country to clear up ‘The North Woods Mystery’.

The last story is something of a landmark case, as well as being a powerful and emotional melodrama. ‘The People Vs. The Batman’ finds Bruce Wayne framed for murder and the Dynamic Duo finally sworn in as official police operatives. They would not be vigilantes again until the grim and gritty 1980’s…

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 inspired and inspirational writers like Bill Finger refined and defined the meta-structure of the costumed crime-fighter.

Where the Man of Steel was as much Social Force and juvenile wish-fulfilment as hero, Batman and Robin did what we ordinary mortals wanted to do most: teach bad people the lessons they richly 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.
© 1940, 1941, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman & Superman in World’s Finest Comics: The Silver Age volume 1


By Edmond Hamilton, Bill Finger, Alvin Schwartz, Curt Swan, Dick Sprang, Stan Kaye, John Fischetti, Charles Paris, Ray Burnley & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6833-6   Some things were just meant to be: Bacon & Eggs, Rhubarb & Custard, Chalk & Cheese…

For many years Superman and Batman worked together as the “World’s Finest” team. They were friends as well as colleagues and the pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes (in effect the company’s only costumed stars) could cross-pollinate and, more importantly, cross-sell their combined readerships.

This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in the early 1940s, whereas in comics the pair had only briefly met whilst on a Justice Society of America adventure in All-Star Comics #36 (August-September 1947) – and perhaps even there they missed each other in the gaudy hubbub…

Of course, they had shared the covers of World’s Finest Comics from the outset, but never crossed paths inside; sticking firmly to their specified solo adventures within. For us pictorial continuity buffs, the climactic real first time was in the pages of Superman’s own bi-monthly comic (issue #76, May/June 1952).

That yarn kicks off this stunning paperback compendium of Silver Age solid gold, accompanied here by the leads story from World’s Finest Comics #71-94, spanning July/August 1954 to May/June 1958.

Science fiction author Edmond Hamilton was tasked with revealing how Man of Steel and Caped Crusader first met – and accidentally uncovered each other’s identities – whilst sharing a cabin on an over-booked cruise liner. Although an average crime-stopper yarn, it was the start of a phenomenon. The art for ‘The Mightiest Team in the World’ was by the superb Curt Swan and inkers John Fischetti & Stan Kaye.

With dwindling page counts, rising costs but a proven readership and years of co-starring but never mingling, World’s Finest Comics #71 presented the Man of Tomorrow and the Gotham Gangbuster in the first of their official shared cases as the Caped Crusader became ‘Batman – Double for Superman!’ (by Alvin Schwartz with Swan & Kaye providing the pictures) as the merely mortal hero traded identities to preserve his comrade’s alter ego and latterly his life…

‘Fort Crime!’ (Schwartz, Swan & Kaye) saw them unite to crush a highly-organised mob with a seemingly impregnable hideout, after which Hamilton returned for ‘Superman and Batman, Swamis Inc’, a clever sting-operation that almost went tragically awry. Next, an alien invader prompted an insane rivalry which resulted in ‘The Contest of Heroes’ (Bill Finger, Swan & Kaye, from WFC #74.

The same creative team produced ‘Superman and Robin!’ wherein a disabled Batman could only fret and fume as his erstwhile assistant seemingly dumped him for a better man, whilst ‘When Gotham City Challenged Metropolis’ (Hamilton, Swan & Charles Paris) saw the champions at odds as their hometowns over-aggressively vied for a multi-million dollar electronics convention.

A landmark tale by Hamilton, Swan & Kaye invented a new sub-genre when a mad scientist’s accident temporarily removed the Caped Kryptonian’s powers and created ‘The Super Bat-Man!’ in #77. The theme would be revisited for decades to come…

Arguably Batman’s greatest artist joined the creative crew ‘When Superman’s Identity is Exposed!’ (Hamilton, Dick Sprang & Kaye) as a mysterious source kept revealing the Man of Steel’s greatest secret, only to be revealed as a well-intentioned disinformation stunt, before the accent switched to high adventure when the trio became ‘The Three Musicians of Bagdad’ – a stunning time-travel romp from Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye.

When the Gotham Gazette faced closure days before a spectacular crime-expose, Clark Kent and Lois Lane joined dilettante Bruce Wayne as pinch-hitting reporters on ‘The Super-Newspaper of Gotham City’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Charles Paris) after which ‘The True History of Superman and Batman’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye, #81) saw a future historian blackmail the heroes into restaging their greatest exploits so his erroneous treatise on them would be accurate…

Hamilton also produced a magnificent and classy costumed drama when ‘The Three Super-Musketeers!’ visited 17th century France to solve the mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask whilst Bill Finger wrote a brilliant and delightful caper-without-a-crime in ‘The Case of the Mother Goose Mystery!’ after which Hamilton provided insight on a much earlier meeting of the World’s Finest Team with ‘The Super-Mystery of Metropolis!’ in #84, all for Sprang & Kaye to enticingly illustrate.

Hamilton, Swan, Sprang & Kaye demonstrated how a comely Ruritanian Princess inadvertently turned the level-headed heroes into ‘The Super-Rivals’ (or did she?), before monolithic charity-event ‘The Super-Show of Gotham City’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye) was almost turned into a mammoth pay-day for unscrupulous con-men.

‘The Reversed Heroes’(Finger, Sprang & Ray Burnley) once again saw the costumed champions swap roles when Batman and Robin gained powers thanks to Kryptonian pep-pills found by criminal Elton Craig, just as Superman’s powers faded…

World’s Finest #87 presented ‘Superman and Batman’s Greatest Foes!’ (Hamilton, Sprang, Kaye) which found “reformed” villains Lex Luthor and the Joker ostensibly setting up in the commercial robot business – which nobody really believed – after which seminal sequel ‘The Club of Heroes’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye) reprised a meeting of Batmen from many nations (as debuted in Detective Comics #215, January 1955 and a key plank of Grant Morrison’s epic Batman: the Black Glove serial) but added the intriguing sub-plot of an amnesiac Superman and a brand-new costumed champion…

That evergreen power-swap plot was revived in #90’s ‘The Super-Batwoman’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye) when the headstrong heroine defied Batman by restarting her costumed career and was quickly compelled to swallow Elton Craig’s last Krypton pill to prevent criminals getting it…

A stirring time-busting saga of ‘The Three Super-Sleepers’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye) saw our heroes fall into a trap which caused them to slumber for 1000 years and awaken in a fantastic world they could never escape, but of course they could and, once back where they belonged, ‘The Boy from Outer Space!’ (Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye) detailed how a super-powered amnesiac lad crashed to Earth and briefly became Superman’s junior partner Skyboy, whilst ‘The Boss of Superman and Batman’(author unknown, but impeccably illustrated as always by Sprang & Kaye) revealed how a brain-amplifying machine turned Robin into a super-genius more than qualified to lead the trio in their battle against insidious rogue scientist Victor Danning

Wrapping up this initial compendium with comfortable circularity, the Man of Tomorrow replaced the Caped Crusader with a new partner and provoked a review of ‘The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team’ by Hamilton, Sprang & Kaye, ending these supremely enticing Fights ‘n’ Tights on an epic high.

These are gloriously clever yet uncomplicated tales whose dazzling style has returned to inform if not dictate the form for much of DC’s modern television animation – especially the fabulous Batman: The Brave and the Bold series – and the contents of this titanic tome are a veritable feast of witty, charming thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have.
© 1952, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

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.