Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo volume 3


By Jim Aparo with Bob Haney, Mike W. Barr, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Denny O’Neil, Cary Burkett, Bill Kelly, Paul Kupperberg, Martin Pasko, Michael Fleisher, Alan Brennert, John Byrne & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7161-9 (HB)

After periods as a historical adventure and try-out vehicle, The Brave and the Bold proceeded to win critical as well as commercial acclaim through team-ups. Pairing regular writer Bob Haney with the best artists available, a succession of DC stars joined forces before the comicbook hit its winning formula.

The winning format – featuring mass-media superstar Batman with other rotating, luminaries of the DC universe in complete stand-alone stories – paid big dividends, especially after the feature finally found a permanent artist to follow a variety of illustrators including Ramona Fradon, Neal Adams, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Irv Novick, Nick Cardy, Bob Brown and others…

At this time editors favoured regular if not permanent creative teams, feeling that a sense of visual and even narrative continuity would avoid confusion amongst younger readers and the slickly versatile Jim Aparo was a perfect match for a drawing brief that could encompass the entire DC pantheon and all of time, space and relative dimensions in any single season…

James N. Aparo (August 24, 1932 – July 19, 2005) was a true quiet giant of comicbooks. Self-taught, he grew up in New Britain Connecticut, and after failing to join EC Comics whilst in his 20s, slipped easily into advertising, newspaper and fashion illustration. Even after finally becoming a comics artist he assiduously maintained his links with his first career.

For most of his career Aparo was a triple-threat, pencilling, inking and lettering his pages. In 1963 he began drawing Ralph Kanna’s newspaper strip Stern Wheeler, and three years later began working on a wide range of features for go-getting visionary editor Dick Giordano at Charlton Comics. Aparo especially shone on the minor company’s licensed big gun The Phantom

When Giordano was lured away to National/DC in 1968 he brought his top stars (primarily Steve Ditko, Steve Skeates and Aparo) with him. Aparo began his lengthy, life-long association with DC illustrating and reinvigorating moribund title Aquaman – although he continued with The Phantom until his duties increased with the addition of numerous short stories for the monolith’s burgeoning horror anthologies and revived 1950s supernatural hero The Phantom Stranger

Aparo went on to become an award-winning mainstay of DC’s artistic arsenal, with stellar runs on The Spectre, The Outsiders and Green Arrow but his star was always linked to Batman’s…

A broadening of Aparo’s brief is celebrated in this third sturdy hardback and/or eBook compilation, which gathers the prestigious lead stories from Detective Comics #444-446, 448, 468-470, 480, 492-499, 501, 502, 508, 509, Batman Family #17, The Brave and the Bold #152, 154-178, 180-182 and Untold Legend of the Batman #1-3 including all pertinent covers – cumulatively spanning January 1975 through January 1982. This fabulous celebration opens sans preamble with the first three chapters of an extended saga from Detective Comics. Written by Len Wein, the ‘Bat-Murderer!’ serial launched in #444, with the “World’s Greatest Detective” perfectly framed for the killing of his occasional lover Talia Al Ghul. Hunted in his own city, Batman’s dilemma worsens in #445 as a ‘Break-in at the Big House!’ draws him deeper into the deadly conspiracy, after incarcerated Ra’s Al Ghul apparently kills himself to further bury the Dark Knight…

Although a desperate fugitive, the Gotham Guardian finds time to solve actual murders and capture another obsessive crazy in #446’s ‘Slaughter in Silver!’ featuring the debut of certified whacko Sterling Silversmith

The Bat-Murderer epic was completed by other artists and is therefore not included here (you can see it in other collections such as Tales of the Batman: Len Wein) but Aparo did limn the last cover – #448 – as well as Detective’s 468, 469 and 470, before his next interior drama surfaced in Batman Family #17 (April/May 1978). Written by Gerry Conway, ‘Scars!’ pits Batman and Robin against a deranged monster literally de-facing beautiful women, before the cover for Detective #480 and B&B #152 refocus attention on Aparo’s team-up triumphs.

Aparo and scripter Bob Haney resumed their epic run of enticing costumed with The Brave and the Bold #152 (July 1979) wherein ‘Death Has a Golden Grab!’ found the Atom helping the Caped Crimecrusher stop a deadly bullion theft. The cover of B&B #153 and 154 follow, as does the contents of the latter, with Element Man Metamorpho treading ‘The Pathway of Doom…’ to save old girlfriend Sapphire Stagg and help Batman disconnect a middle eastern smuggling pipeline…

Mike W. Barr joins Haney in scripting #155’s ‘Fugitive from Two Worlds!’ as Green Lantern clashes with the Dark knight over jurisdiction rights regarding an earth-shaking alien criminal as well as (after the cover to #156) 157’s ‘Time – My Dark Destiny!’ with alternate futurian Kamandi lost in present day Earth and under the sway of ruthless criminals…

Gerry Conway steps in to script a brief reunion with Wonder Woman in #158’s ‘Yesterday Never Dies!’ as memory-warping foe Déjà vu attacks international diplomats whilst Denny O’Neil teams Batman with arch enemy Ra’s Al Ghul to prevent environmental disaster in #159’s ‘The Crystal Armageddon’ Denny O’Neil and Cary Burkett makes ‘The Brimstone Connection’ in #160, working with Supergirl to free kidnap victims and thwart a scheme by devious Colonel Sulphur to steal experimental rocket fuel…

The contents for the next two The Brave and the Bold’s (plus covers for #161-164) depict Conway’s ‘A Tale of Two Heroes!’ – as Batman and star-faring Adam Strange trade locales and murder mysteries and Bill Kelley’s ‘Operation: Time Bomb!’ (with Earth-2’s Batman joining Sgt. Rock to battle Nazi advances and crazed soldier the Iron Major in war-torn France) before a landmark miniseries took up Aparo’s full attention.

Researched and scripted by Len Wein, Untold Legend of the Batman #1-3 originally ran from July-September 1980 and ambitiously rationalised the hero’s entire career into one seamless whole. Interspersed with the covers to Detective #492-494 and B&B #165-167, it begins with ‘In the Beginning’ pencilled by John Byrne with Aparo inking before ‘With Friends Like These…’ and ‘The Man Behind the Mask!’ – with Aparo on full art duties – solves a bizarre mystery that had the Caped Crusader frantically re-examining his past…

Cary Burkett returns in Brave and the Bold #168 (November 1980) to liberate ‘Shackles of the Mind!’ as Green Arrow and Batman unite to save a reformed criminal and skilled escapologist from a maniac’s mind control.

The cover of Detective #496 precedes B&B #169‘Angel of Mercy, Angel of Death!’ (by Barr and cover-dated December 1980) wherein sorceress Zatanna seeks the Dark Knight’s aid for a faith healer who is not what she seems and is followed by the cover for Detective #497 the thrilling cover/contents of B&B #170 wherein Burkett concludes his exceptional thriller series Nemesis with Batman helping the face-shifting superspy to determine ‘If Justice is Blind!’

Covers for Detective #498-499, 501-502 and B&B #171-173 bracket April 1981’s Brave and the Bold #173 and 174 as Conway explains ‘One of Us is not One of Us’ when the almighty Guardians of the Universe recruit Earth’s Dark-knight Detective to determine who is the impostor in their august midst before calling in trusted GL Hal Jordan ‘To Trap an Immortal’

For B&B #175 Paul Kupperbergteams ace reporter Lois Lane with Batman to battle killer cyborg Metallo and determine what drives The Heart of the Monster’, before Martin Pasko steps in for #176, reuniting the Gotham Gangbuster with the terrifying Swamp Thing in convoluted tale of murder and frame-ups ‘The Delta Connection!’

For #177, Barr returns to pose a complex and twisted mystery involving Batman and Elongated Man in ‘The Hangman Club Murders!’, after which rising star Alan Brennert comes aboard for #178. ‘Paperchase’ finds Batman and eerie avenger The Creeper tracking a monstrous shapeshifting killer fuelled by rage and indignation and driving the city into madness.

Michael Fleischer arrived for #180 (November 1980) and took the series into unknown realms as ‘The Scepter of the Dragon God!’ sees Chinese wizard Wa’an-Zen steal enough mystic artefacts to conquer Earth and destroy The Spectre. Foolishly, the mystic has gravely underestimated the skill and bravery of merely mortal Batman…

Bracketed by covers for Detective #508 and 509, B&B #181 features Brennert & Aparo paying tribute to the societally-convulsive Sixties as ‘Time, See What’s Become of Me…’ revisits teen trouble-shooters Hawk and the Dove who have gotten older but no wiser in their passionate defence of the philosophies of robust interventionist action and devout pacifism. When increasingly unstable Hawk accidentally causes the death of a drug-dealers’ son, it triggers an intervention by Batman and a painful reconciliation between the long-divided brothers…

This volume concludes with another moving Brennert bonanza as B&B #182’s ‘Interlude on Earth-2’ finds “our” Batman inexplicably drawn to that parallel world in the aftermath of the death of its own Dark Knight. Confronted by and greatly discomforting grieving Dick GraysonRobin of Earth-2 – and original Batwoman Kathy Kane, the Batman must nevertheless help them defeat resurgent maniac foe Hugo Strange before he can return to his rightful place and time…

These tales are just as fresh and welcoming today, their themes and premises are just as immediate now as then and Jim Aparo’s magnificent art is still as compelling and engrossing as it always was. This is a Bat-book literally everybody can enjoy.

Here are some of the best and most entertainingly varied yarns from a period of magnificent creativity in the American comics industry. Aimed at a general readership, gloriously free of heavy, cloying continuity baggage and brought to stirring action-packed life by one of the greatest artists in the business, this is a Batman for all seasons and reasons with the added bonus of some of the most fabulous and engaging co-stars a fan could imagine. How can anybody resist? More importantly: why should you…?
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