By Ty Templeton, Rick Burchett & John Beatty (DC Comics)
The Batman Animated TV series masterminded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini revolutionised the Dark Knight and led to some of the absolute best comic book adventures in his nigh seventy-year publishing history. The miniseries collected here features the entire Batman Family in adventures set directly following the Batman Adventures: the Lost Years miniseries.
‘With a Price on his Head’ is an unforgettable yarn as a millionaire victim puts an open bounty on the Joker, and Batman’s protective custody plan goes horribly wrong. With the Clown Prince loose in the Batcave and the team hunting down assorted opportunistic super-criminals only Alfred and Batgirl can save the day.
Two-Face commandeers a live game-show in a powerful and stylish tale of parenting entitled ‘Lucky Day’ whilst Batman is saved by his ultimate hero the Grey Ghost in ‘Just Another Day’, a charming shocker featuring the Scarecrow.
Catwoman deals savagely with a millionaire-model who enjoys animal-testing in the hard-hitting ‘Claws’ and the tragic Mister Freeze returns in ‘Polar Opposites’ before the magic concludes with ‘Last Chance’ as Nightwing returns to his circus roots and meets the legendary ghost of Boston Brand – better known to all comic fans as Deadman.
Without ever diluting the power and mood of the character, these tales perfectly honed the grim hero and his team to a wholly accessible and memorable form that the youngest of readers can enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and style that only the very rarest of “real” Batman comics have come near to achieving. This is Bat-Gold and every fan should own it.
Part of a series of trade paperbacks intended to define DC’s top heroes through the decades (the other being Superman, of course) these books always deliver a superb wallop of comicbook magic and a tantalising whiff of other, perhaps better, times.
Divided into sections partitioned by cover galleries this gem opens with ‘There is no Hope in Crime Alley!’ from Detective Comics #457 (1976) a powerful and genuinely moving tale that introduced Leslie Thomkins, the woman who first cared for the boy Bruce Wayne on the night his parents were murdered, delivered with great sensitivity by Denny O’Neil and Dick Giordano. This is followed by a chilling murder-mystery from the most celebrated creative team of the decade. ‘A Vow From the Grave’ by O’Neil, Neal Adams and Giordano originally appeared in Detective Comics #410 (1971). This section concludes with a macabre thriller by the same team from Batman # 237. ‘Night of the Reaper!’, as well as being Batman at his finest, is also notable for the creative involvement of Berni Wrightson and Harlan Ellison.
The second section leads off with a Batgirl and Robin (the Teen Wonder) team-up from the first issue of Batman Family (1975). ‘The Invader from Hell!’ pitted the young heroes against the ghost of Benedict Arnold, and although not the best work of Elliot Maggin or Mike Grell, it is a solid piece of storytelling all the same. ‘Marriage: Impossible!’ by Frank Robbins, Adams and Giordano (Detective Comics #407, 1971), however is another beloved classic; the final chapter in a triptych of tales that introduced the tragic scientist Kirk Langstrom, whose experiments doomed him to life as the monstrous Man-Bat.
By the close of the 1970s DC’s multiple Earths continuity would become something of a millstone, but in 1977 it was still a source of charm and delight. ‘From Each Ending …A Beginning!’ is taken from DC Superstars #17 and revealed the origin of the Earth 2 Huntress as well as the fate of the 1940s Batman and Catwoman, courtesy of then rising stars Paul Levitz, Joe Staton and Bob Layton.
Section three stars the villains and starts with a long-neglected Joker tale from Batman #260. ‘This One’ll Kill You, Batman!’ is by O’Neil, the brilliant and underrated Irv Novick, and Giordano, and is followed by far and away the most popular single Batman story of the period. From Batman #232, ‘Daughter of the Demon!’ introduced the immortal eco-terrorist Râ’s Al Ghūl in a whirlwind adventure by that supreme team O’Neil, Adams and Giordano.
The final section features two highly distinctive tales illustrated by two of the most unique stylists in American Comics. From Detective Comics #442 (1974) Archie Goodwin and the legendary Alex Toth collaborated on the magnificent barnstorming thriller ’Death Flies the Haunted Skies!’, whilst O’Neil and Marshall Rogers crafted the enigmatic and experimentally retro ‘Ticket to Tragedy’ (Detective Comics #481 (December 1978 – January 1979), both lost masterpieces that only improve with each rereading.
Including pin-ups by Walt Simonson, Dick Giordano and Jim Aparo, several brief essays on super-villains, Bat-Books of the Seventies, key artists of the period, the prodigious cast of characters and the classic tales, this volume attempts the impossible task of encapsulating the greatest and most innovative decade in the Caped Crusader’s long history and comes very close to pulling it off. I can think of no better introduction to the world of the Dark Knight.
This themed collection re-presents some of the key clashes between the Gotham Guardian and the immortal mastermind and eco-activist Ra’s Al Ghul – a contemporary and more acceptable visual embodiment of the classic inscrutable foreign devil as typified in a less forgiving age as the Yellow Peril or Dr. Fu Manchu. This kind of alien archetype permeates fiction and is an overwhelmingly powerful villain symbol, although the character’s Arabic origins, neutral at the time, seem to embody a different kind of ethnic bogeyman in today’s post 9/11 world.
The concept of a villain who has the best interests of the planet at heart is not a new one, but Ra’s Al Ghul, whose avowed intent is to reduce teeming humanity to viable levels and save the world from our poison, hit a chord in the 1970s – a period where ecological issues first came to the attention of the young. It was a rare kid who didn’t find a note of sense in what the Demon’s Head planned.
Although the character is best remembered for the O’Neil/Adams collaborations, this book kicks off with a seminal story from Detective Comics #411 that featured the sinister League of Assassins (introduced in #405 I believe) and the exotic Talia. ‘Into the Den of the Death Dealers’ was written by Denny O’Neil and illustrated by the great Bob Brown, and inked by Dick Giordano.
‘Daughter of the Demon’ from Batman #232 by O’Neil and Neal Adams (with Giordano inking) is one of the signature high-points of the entire Batman canon, an exotic mystery yarn that draws the increasingly Dark Knight from Gotham’s concrete canyons to the Himalayas in search of hostages Robin and Talia. If you’re one of the few who hasn’t read this much reprinted tale I’m not going to spoil the joy that awaits you.
From Batman #235, with penciller Irv Novick joining regulars O’Neil and Giordano comes ‘Swamp Sinister’ a mystery tale and bio-hazard drama that gives some early insights into the true character of Talia and her ruthless sire. ‘Vengeance for a Dead Man’ (Batman #240) by the same creative team sets the scene for the groundbreaking “series-within-a-series” soon to follow as Batman uncovers one of Ra’s Al Ghul’s less worthy and far more grisly projects. As a result there was open war between Batman and the Demon…
Batman #242-244 and the epilogue from #245 (not included in this volume) formed an extended saga taken out of normal DC continuity, relating what was to be the final confrontation between two opposing ideals. Novick penciled the first part ‘Bruce Wayne – Rest in Peace!’ which saw Batman gather a small team of allies, including the still active today Matches Malone, to destroy the Demon forever, and Neal Adams returned with the second part ‘The Lazarus Pit’ which seemed to we consumers of the day a brilliant conclusion to the epic. But with the last three pages the rug was pulled out from under us and the saga continued!
How sad for modern fans with so many sources of information today: the chances of creators genuinely surprising their devoted readers are almost nonexistent but in the faraway 1970s, we had no idea what to expect from #244 when ‘The Demon Lives Again!’ hit the shops and news-stands. In a classic confrontation Batman triumphed and Ra’s Al Ghul disappeared for many years. He was considered by DC as a special villain and not one to be diluted through overuse. How times change…
In 1978 the company was experimenting with formats and genres in a time of poor comic sales. Part of that drive and was an irregular anthology entitled DC Special Series. From the all-Batman 15th issue comes an oddly enticing little gem scripted by Denny O’Neil and drawn by a talented young newcomer called Michael Golden, inked by the ubiquitous Dick Giordano. ‘I Now Pronounce you Batman and Wife’ is a stylish, pacy thriller that anticipates the 1980s sea-change in comics storytelling, but the most interesting aspect of the tale is the plot maguffin that inspired a trilogy of graphic novels in the 1990s and today’s Batman and Son (ISBN13: 978-1-84576-429-6) serial.
The volume concludes with another key multi-part epic, this time from Detective Comics #485, 489 and 490. Although picky me still wishes that all parts were included the truncated version here has no significant loss of narrative flow as Batman becomes involved in a civil war for leadership of the Al Ghul organization between the Demon and the aged oriental super-assassin the Sensei – who older fans will know as the villain behind the murder of Deadman.
It all begins with ‘The Vengeance Vow!’ as a long-standing member of the Batman Family is murdered, drawing the Caped Crimebuster into battle with the deadly martial artist Bronze Tiger. The concluding parts ‘Where Strike the Assassins!’ and ‘Requiem for a Martyr!’ whilst perhaps not as powerful as the O’Neil/Novick/Adams/Giordano run are nevertheless a stirring thriller with a satisfactory denouement, elevated to dizzy heights by the magnificent artwork of Don Newton. Inked here by Dan Adkins, Newton’s Batman could well have become the definitive 1980s look, but the artist’s tragically early death in 1984 cut short what should have been a superlative career.
Ra’s Al Ghul has become just another Bat-Foe in recent years, familiarity indeed breeding mediocrity if not contempt. But these unique tales from a unique era are comics at there very best and this book is well overdue for a definitive re-issue.
This themed collection re-presents some of the best clashes between the Gotham Guardian and the tragic lawyer-turned-criminal Harvey Dent – the visual embodiment of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde known as Two-Face.
To get you up to speed, the book starts with the most recent interpretation of the character’s origin, an impressive two-page recap by the Marks Waid and Chiarello, first seen in Countdown #27 (December 2007), before the book proper begins with the classic original trilogy of tales from Detective Comics #66, 68 and 80 (August and October 1941, and October 1943).
Written by the inimitable Bill Finger, and illustrated by Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and George Roussos they told the tragic tale of Harvey Kent (yes that’s right, his name was only altered to Dent in the 1950s) a brilliant and fearless District Attorney driven insane when a mobster destroyed the left side of his gorgeous face with vitriol (that’s Sulfuric Acid, if you weren’t staying awake in Chemistry).
His life destroyed in the very courtroom of his greatest triumphs, Kent embarked on a crime-spree throughout Gotham City, taking the number “2” as his inspiration and using the toss of a double-headed coin to make all his key moral decisions for him. It took all of the dynamic Duo’s efforts to stop him, but he kept turning up like a bad penny until the fledgling science of plastic surgery cured his uniquely visual form of split personality.
He more or less returned in Detective #187 (September 1952). ‘The Double Crimes of Two-Face’ (by Don Cameron, Dick Sprang and Charles Paris) is a classic “fair-play” mystery featuring the character’s return so I’ll say nothing about it and let you solve it yourselves, but he returned for keeps in ‘Two-Face Strikes Again!’ (Batman #81, February-March 1954), by David Vern and the immaculate art team of Sprang and Paris.
As comics become increasingly more anodyne in the 1950s Two-Face faded from view, but with the return of a grimmer, moodier hero in the early 1970s the scene was set for a revival of Batman’s more warped villains. ‘Half an Evil’ (Batman #234, August 1971) is a spectacular action packed mystery, one the absolute best collaborations of Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano.
By 1989 a revitalized post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC were busily revising their internal history and from Secret Origins Special #1 Mark Verheiden, Pat Broderick and Giordano produced a new take on the tragedy of Harvey Dent, which served as a basis for the following 1996 two-part tale from Batman #527 and 528. ‘The Face Schism’ and ‘Schismed Faces’, by Doug Moench, Kelly Jones and John Beatty is a slick and ghoulish carnival tale of twists, turns and double crosses, but in all that cleverness it rather forgets to be clear and entertaining.
The penultimate yarn is also rather disappointing, but not for any storytelling deficiencies. ‘Face the Ecaf’ is from Batman #653, and is by James Robinson, Don Kramer and Wayne Faucher. It’s set in the “One Year Later” period following the Infinite Crisis event when all the Bat heroes abandoned Gotham and Two-Face was given the job of protecting the city by the Dark Knight.
It’s part Six of Eight.
Surely such a major storyline should be left to its own collection and not simply truncated and shoved in any old how? It’s not as if there isn’t plenty of other fine material around to fill those twenty odd pages. Or was the temptation of one more major name on the package too much for Marketing to resist?
Rant over: the book does end with possibly the best modern Two-Face tale yet produced. ‘Two of a Kind’ is a short piece of Noir perfection by Bruce Timm that first appeared in Batman: Black and White #1 in 1996. Rendered in the style of the Batman Animated TV show it is suave, sultry, steamy and shocking. You’ll love it!
All the tales have been lavishly recoloured (except that last one, of course) and quibbles notwithstanding, this is a great book stuffed with quality reading entertainment. As an introduction to one of Batman’s best baddies, or simply as a wonderful way to spend some downtime, this is highly recommended.
By Jeph Loeb, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino (DC Comics)
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-84576-741-9
This cosmic saga is taken from the high profile but often disappointing comic series highlighting DC’s twin top guns, specifically issues #37-42, with the usually excellent Alan Burnett scripting and the very classy Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs providing the pictures.
A seemingly mundane robbery leads the World’s Finest Team to the ends of the universe as Superman is targeted by the worst monsters on Apokolips to provide the ultimate tyrant Darkseid with yet another ultimate weapon. Quite where all these shenanigans lead is pretty much a foregone conclusion even for the casual reader, and as all the character ramifications are negated by the events of Final Crisis, Death of the New Gods and the sundry other mega-crossovers DC seems permanently embroiled in, it’s very hard to summon enough energy to connect to the events here.
Full of contemporary Sturm und Drang, this is fast, flashy and furious, but not particularly challenging or memorable fare, good for a wet afternoon, but sadly, not a classic nor a keeper.
By Howard Chaykin & Dan Brereton (DC Comics)
Howard Chaykin returns to a favourite period in US history for this dark, decadent and brooding Elseworlds thriller. Forgive me if you’ve heard it all before, but Elseworlds tales are adventures using established characters and properties in non-standard continuities and milieus, such as JFK’s America here.
1961: At the dawn of an era of stunning political and social turmoil Gotham City is as buzzed as every other city in America. But no other city is as corrupt and morally bankrupt as this town, with a police force full of thugs and shake-down artists. So it’s a good thing that the busty masked psychopath Batgirl is there to keep them in line along with her Euro-trash boyfriend Robin. But that doesn’t make things any easier for the few decent cops such as Commissioner Jim Gordon or Detective Bruce “Hard Way” Wayne.
Wayne’s a pretty dedicated guy, who comes from old money – till they lost it all in the Great Depression – but even he’s out of his depth when the deadly Bianca Steeplechase, white-faced, green-haired, smiling maniac and her pet cop ‘Two-Face’ Duell go on a City-Hall sanctioned killing-spree and frame him for the murder of stripper-turned-stoolie Selina Kyle.
And just why has Gordon’s troubled daughter Barbara returned to the city and bought the abandoned old Wayne place..?
The original 3-issue miniseries was swiftly followed by a one-shot sequel ‘Thrillkiller ‘62’ which I can’t say too much about without spoiling your enjoyment, but which compellingly continues the gritty, sordid drama with even more radically re-interpreted DC mainstays being adult and nasty during the Golden Years of the Kennedy Administration.
When this series debuted in 1997 I admit I wasn’t all that taken with it, but now, years later, seeing it all neatly packaged in one book has altered that opinion. This dark, heady brew, full of trademark Chaykin cynicism and indignation, with Brereton’s brooding, brutal paintings, depicting characters with little warmth or gentleness to them is a powerful, fully realised vision which would work as a story even if it wasn’t a fanciful conceit playing with long-established and cherished icons. This is a very Dark Knight in a very nasty place and thus a huge treat for all older fans.
By Bob Kane & various (DC Comics)
The history of the American comicbook industry in most ways stems from the raw, vital and still compelling tales of two iconic creations published by DC/National Comics: Superman and Batman. It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in chronological order in relatively cheap, and gloriously cheerful, compilations.
The latest Batman edition sees the Dynamic Duo fully developed and storming ahead of all competition in these stories originally published in 1941and 1942. As the characters’ popularity grew, new talent joined the stable of creators. Jerry Robinson had already joined writer Bill Finger and penciller Bob Kane, and during this period two further scripters joined the team.
Detective Comics #57 featured ‘Twenty-Four Hours to Live’, a tale of poisonings and Crimes of Passion whilst the Perfidious Penguin returned in the next issue to make our heroes the victims of ‘One of the Most Perfect Frame-Ups’. A few weeks later Batman #8 (now Bi-Monthly!) came out, cover dated December 1941-January 1942. Such a meteoric rise and expansion during a time of extreme paper shortages gives heady evidence to the burgeoning popularity of the characters. Behind a superbly evocative “Infinity” cover by Fred Ray and Jerry Robinson lurked four striking tales of bravura adventure.
‘Stone Walls Do Not A Prison Make’ is a brooding prison drama, followed by a rare foray into science fiction as a scientist abused by money-grubbing financial backers turns himself into a deadly radioactive marauder in ‘The Strange Case of Professor Radium’ (this tale was radically revised and recycled by Finger and Kane as a sequence of the Batman daily newspaper strip from September 23rd to November 2nd 1946). ‘The Superstition Murders’ is a gripping example of the “ABC Murders”-style plot and ‘The Cross Country Crimes’ sees the Joker rampage across America in a classic blend of larceny and lunacy.
The Batman tale from Detective Comics #59 was written by Joseph Greene and sees the Penguin turn his formidable talents to bounty-hunting his fellow criminals in ‘The King of the Jungle’, followed by the rip-roaring modern cowboy yarn ‘The Ghost Gang Goes West’ which first appeared in the winter issue of World’s Finest Comics (#4). Jack Schiff, who had a long and auspicious career as an editor at DC, scripted ‘The Case of the Costume-Clad Killers’ from Detective Comics #60, another excursion into mania starring the Joker, leaving Bill Finger free to concentrate on the four fabulous tales in Batman #9 (Feb-March 1942), one of the greatest single issues of the Golden Age and still a cracking parcel of joy today.
Behind possibly the most reproduced cover ever crafted by the brilliant Jack Burnley are ‘The Four Fates’: a dark and moving human interest drama featuring a quartet of fore-doomed mobsters, a maritime saga based on the classic Moby Dick, entitled ‘The White Whale’, another unforgettable Joker yarn ‘The Case of the Lucky Law-Breakers’, and the birth of a venerable tradition in an untitled story called here for expediency’s sake ‘Christmas’.
Over the decades many of the Dynamic Duo’s best and finest adventures have had a Christmas theme (and why there’s never been a Greatest Christmas Batman Stories is a mystery I’ve pondered for years!) and this touching – even heart-warming – story of petty skulduggery and little miracles is where it all really began. There’s not a comic fan alive who won’t dab away a tear…
This volume ends with another much-reprinted classic (aren’t they all?) from Detective Comics #61. ‘The Three Racketeers’ is the perfect example of a Batman short story where a trio of crime big-shots swap stories of the Gotham Guardians over a quiet game of cards, and has a sting-in-the-tail that still hits home more than fifty years later.
These are the stories that cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin and brought temporary relief to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate, the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your hamster to buy the Batman Chronicles (great fun, great value; why are you waiting…)
By Archie Goodwin & Scott Hampton (DC Comics)
One of the most important scripts in the incredible writing career of the late, great Archie Goodwin addressed a social issue that very much plagues us still, but is now so ubiquitous a plot maguffin, and often so poorly handled by contemporary creators in all narrative arts media that it threatens to become just another fashionable story device, and a weakened, trite one at that. That problem is child-abuse and Night Cries is one of the most effective stories dealing with it that comics have ever produced.
This is not a polemical or attention-seeking tale. The subject is key to the plot, affects the characters fundamentally, and is dealt with accordingly. There is no neat and tidy solution. This isn’t a soap-box subject and the victims and perpetrators aren’t paraded as single-faceted ciphers. This is a serious attempt to tell a story in which child-abuse is an integral factor and not cause nor excuse for violence and pain, but since the whole subject is a controversial one readers should be aware of the facts going in.
Gotham City is a pit of everyday horrors but when a serial killer is identified who seems to target entire families even Batman and Commissioner Gordon are troubled by the suppressed feelings the killings dredge up within themselves. Suspecting a link between the killings and a child-abuse clinic funded by Bruce Wayne, detectives interview a traumatised little girl who saw the killer. She identifies The Batman…
Moody, dark and chilling, this examination of family ties and group responsibilities reveals a complex web of betrayals and shirked duties that weaves throughout American society. When a connection to US servicemen, used, abused and betrayed by their own government is revealed, the metaphor for a system that prefers to ignore its problems rather than deal with them is powerfully completed.
Powerful and unsettling, yet blending startling action with horror and drama, this is a perfect vehicle for the talents of Scott Hampton, whose eerily haunting painted pages subtly disclose uncomfortable secrets that have been suppressed for far too long. This lost gem is out-of-print and long overdue for another release.
By Michael Green, Denys Cowan & John Floyd (DC Comics)
Apparently every writer wants a crack at the big guns and that seems to constitute rewriting the origin of a character every five minutes, so imagine my surprise that this re-re-re-working of the first meeting between Batman and the Joker reads so very well. Although I’ve complained about it often enough, a rethink on the relationship doesn’t have to be a desperate stunt or cheap trick.
Gotham City: Batman has prowled the night for only forty-two weeks but in that time has made a big impact. Crime is on the run and the obsessed hero allows himself the reward of falling in love with the vivacious and feisty Lorna Shore. In his hubris Batman imagines that he’s on top of his self-appointed mission and ready for anything. But Gotham has never before experienced a criminal like Jack…
Unlike previous origin tales such as the Red Hood (gentleman bandit of the 1950s) or the tragic victim of The Killing Joke, the man who will become the Joker is a cold, emotionless sociopath. This career criminal is already coldly crazy and the best Batman has ever faced. So when the outmatched and floundering hero makes a devil’s bargain with a gang-boss the events that lead to the birth of the Harlequin of Hate are his fault. And every death the Joker causes is forever Batman’s responsibility…
Screen Writer Michael Green has crafted a solid, compelling thriller that does much to delineate what the post-Infinite Crisis Batman will be. There are novel revelations and wonderfully intimate asides for long-time fans to appreciate. As ever the raw kinetic energy of Denys Cowan’s drawing adds penetrating edginess to the mix. If you have to reboot classic characters every so often, then this is the way to do it.
Top rate action and adventure, but continuity reactionaries and general nitpickers might want to wait for the eventual softcover release and leave themselves one less thing to bemoan.
By Doug Moench, Kelley Jones & John Beatty (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-111-5 (hardback) ISBN: 978-1563891403 (trade paperback)
Released under the “Elseworlds” banner, where familiar properties are mixed with new or exotic genres outside regular continuities, this tale is a full-on traditional fantasy set in a feudal, mystic world of flying castles, wizards and monsters. Lilandra and Majister are sorcerers locked in a lifelong duel with an evil wizard. Sacrificing their lives and that of a baby they have mystically conjured, the pair create a fearsome beast that will eventually inflict their revenge on the terrifying Dark Joker and save the humans of the rural idyll known as The Wild.
But before the bat-winged monster can rescue innocent mankind from Dark Joker’s depredations, a beautiful, doomed woman named Saressa must tame the beast and teach it the humanity its tragic upbringing has deprived it of…
Although some of Jones and Beatty’s best artwork, this is not one of author Moench’s best scripts, managing somehow to be both heavy-handed and flimsy at the same time. The fantasy milieu is quite forced at times, his dialogue florid (even for Moench!) and the story seems unsure of its audience; injecting utterly unnecessary moments of gory excess into a solid plot that could with a little judicious pruning be quite recommendable for a younger readership.
Pretty but flawed, this is a book only really for the committed fan and collector.