Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 2


By Neal Adams with Dennis O’Neil, Frank Robbins, Robert Kanigher, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Dick Giordano, Bob Haney, Leo Dorfman, Cary Bates & various (DDC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0041-1 (HC) 978-1-4012-3537-6 (PB)
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Dark and Stormy Knight… 9/10

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 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 or penciller before eventually finding himself at the vanguard of a revolution in pictorial storytelling…

He made such a mark that DC recently chose to reprint every piece of work Adams ever did for them into a series of commemorative collections. This is the second of three superb tomes (available in a variety of formats including last minute delivery eBook) starring the “Darknight Detective” as he was dubbed back then and featuring every cover, story and issue in original publication order.

This particular package revisits the frontages and pertinent contents of Batman #217, 220-222, 224-227, 229-231, Brave and the Bold #86, 88-90, 93, 95, Detective Comics #394-403, 405-411 and World’s Finest Comics #199, 200 and 202; cumulatively embracing October 1968 through May 1971.

Following Adam’s Foreword ‘In the Thick of It’ – describing his work process and how he worked to get a conceptual as well as visual grip on the Batman – his most celebrated inker Dick Giordano provides the history of his move from Charlton Comics and traces his own career of glittering prizes in his Introduction ‘It Was the Best of Times’ before the comics gold begins.

One of Adams’ earliest illustrated triumphs was The Brave and the Bold #79 (August-September 1968 and in the previous collected volume), pairing the Gotham Gangbuster with justice-obsessed ghost Deadman AKA murdered trapeze artist Boston Brand who was hunting his own killer.

Brand returns in the first full tale here as Batman learns ‘You Can’t Hide from a Deadman!’ (B&B #86; October/November 1969) written & drawn by Adams. Inked by Giordano it is a captivating epic of death, redemption and resurrection that became a cornerstone of Bat-mythology for the next three decades, as a mentally compromised Deadman attacks his old ally, drawing him into a showdown with the deadly Sensei in mystic enclave Nanda Parbat

Throughout this period Adams was producing a stunning succession of mesmerising covers on most Bat-related titles. The next chronological examples are Batman #217 (November 1968) and Detective Comics #394 (December) which lead to another milestone…

Dennis O’Neil’s script for Detective #395’s ‘The Secret of the Waiting Graves’ (January 1970, and inked by Giordano) instituted a far more mature and sinister – almost gothic – take on the Caped Crusader as he confronted the psychotic and nigh-immortal lovers named Muerto whose passion for each other was fuelled by deadly drugs and sustained by a century of murder…

Adams’ captivating dynamic hyperrealism was just the final cog in the reconstruction of the epic Batman edifice but it was also an irresistibly compelling one…

Covers for Detective #396 and Batman #219 (February 1970) follow, as does a short but unforgettable novella that reinstated a grand 1940s institution.

In the 1940s the yuletide season brought forth specially crafted seasonal tales (part warm spirituality, part Dickens, part O. Henry, part redemption story) that perfectly encapsulated everything the festival ought to mean.

They led to the idea that Batman Owned Christmas, but the wealth of fresh miracle tales that began with the astounding Holidays vignette ‘The Silent Night of the Batman’ (written by Mike Friedrich) is just as crucial to the still-potent comicbook tradition.

Instantly deemed a revered classic with its eerily gentle, moving modern interpretation of the Season of Miracles, it remains one of the best Batman stories of all time…

After March dated covers for B&B #88 and Batman #220, O’Neil, Adams & Giordano are reunited for Detective #397 and another otherworldly mystery thriller wherein obsessive millionaire art collector Orson Payne resorts to theft and worse in his quest for an unobtainable love in ‘Paint a Picture of Peril!’, after which covers for Detective #398, B&B #89, Batman #221, Detective #399 and Batman #222 bring us to a big anniversary moment with June 1969’s Detective Comics #400.

Scripted by Frank Robbins, this epic introduced a dark counterpoint to the Gotham Gangbuster as driven scientist Kirk Langstrom devises a serum to make himself superior to Batman and pays a heavy price in ‘Challenge of the Man-Bat!’

More covers come next – B&B #90, Detective #401 and Batman #224 – after which Detective #402 (August) reveals how the Dark Knight captures the out-of-control thing that was once Kirk Langstrom and ponders if he has the right to kill or cure the beast in Robbins, Adams & Giordano’s ‘Man or Bat?’

Eye-grabbing covers from Batman #225 and Detective Comics #403 segue into yet another full-on classic as #404 delivers the magnificent ‘Ghost of the Killer Skies!’ (scripted by O’Neil), which finds the Masked Manhunter attempting to solve a series of impossible murders on the set of a film about German WWI fighter ace Hans von Hammer.

All evidence seemed to prove that the killer could only be a vengeful phantom but the astonished hero proved otherwise… or thought he did…

Covers for Batman #226, Detective #405, Batman #227, World’s Finest Comics #199 and Detective #406 (spanning November and December) bring us to the final chapter in the triptych of tales featuring tragic Kirk Langstrom.

‘Marriage: Impossible!’ (Detective #406 Robbins, Adams, Giordano), completes the ambitious scientist’s fall from grace when he infects his fiancée Francine Lee with his own accursed mutation, forcing the Dark Knight into an horrific choice…

At the end of the 1960s the Comics Code Authority revoked its ban on crime and horror comics to allow publishers to exploit the global interest in the supernatural. This had instantly affected comics production, enabling and ensuring more and more stories exploited macabre overtones. It even led to the revival of horror and suspense anthologies. One such was the venerable House of Mystery; and unquestionably the oddest team-up in B&B history.

Scripted by Denny O’Neil. The Brave and the Bold #93’s ‘Red Water, Crimson Death’ is a chilling ghost story with the added advantage of having the Batman’s sombre shtick deftly counterbalanced by the musings of sardonic, laconic Cain, ethereal and ultra-hip caretaker of that haunted habitat…

By this time Batman had – for comics fans at least – shed the more ludicrous trappings of the Camp 1960s TV show. One huge factor aiding the transition was the fact that the publishers now acknowledged that a large proportion of their faithful readership were discerning teens or even adults, not just kids looking for a quick, disposable entertainment fix.

Working through other contemporary tropes – most notably a renewed global fascination with all things supernatural and gothic – the creative staff deftly reshaped the Gotham Guardian into a hero capable of actually working within the new “big themes” in comics: realism, organised crime, social issues, suspense and even horror…

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

Thus, following covers for WF #200 and Batman #229, Detective Comics #408 (February 1971) offers a short sharp shocker by neophyte scripters Len Wein & Marv Wolfman. Limned by Adams & Giordano, ‘The House That Haunted Batman’ showcased spectral apparitions, the apparent grisly death of Robin and a devilish mystery perpetrated by one of the Gotham Guardian’s most sinister enemies…

Brave & Bold #95, Batman #230 and Detective Comics #409 are represented by their covers whilst the next issue proved to be another chillingly memorable murder-mystery from the most celebrated creative team of the decade. ‘A Vow from the Grave!’ – by O’Neil, Adams & Giordano at their visually spectacular best – features an exhausted Batman hunting one ruthless killer and inadvertently stumbling into another murder in an enclave of retired circus freaks before the covers from WF #202, Batman #231 and Detective Comics #411 (May 1971) brings the vintage wonder to a close, completing a delirious run of comics masterpieces no ardent art lover or fanatical Fights ‘n’ Tights aficionado can do without.
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.