The Batman Adventures: Mad Love Deluxe Edition


By Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, with Rick Taylor & Tim Harkins (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5512-1

Harley Quinn wasn’t supposed to be a star… or even an actual comicbook character. As soon became apparent, however, the manic minx always has her own astoundingly askew and off-kilter ideas on the matter… and any other topic you could name: ethics, friendship, ordnance, true love…

Created by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. Ostensibly for kids, the breakthrough television cartoon revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and immediately began feeding back into the print iteration, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, reshaped the grim avenger and his extended team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to…

Harley Quinn was first seen as the Clown Prince of Crime’s slavishly adoring, extreme abuse-enduring assistant in Joker’s Favor (airing on September 11th 1992) where she instantly captured the hearts and minds of millions of viewers. From there on she began popping up in the incredibly successful licensed comicbook and – always stealing the show – soon graduated into mainstream DC continuity.

After a period bopping around the DCU she was re-imagined as part of the company’s vast post-Flashpoint major makeover and appeared as part of a new gritty-but-still-crazy iteration of the Suicide Squad, but at heart she’s always been a cartoon glamour-puss, with big, bold, primal emotions and only the merest acknowledgement of how reality works…

Re-presenting the 1994 one-shot Batman Adventures: Mad Love, this slight and breezy hardcover is made up of mostly recycled material – including writer Paul Dini’s comfortably inviting Foreword and co-plotter/illustrator Bruce Timm’s effusive and candidly informative ‘Mad Love Afterword’.

However, a truly unmissable bonus treat for art-lovers and all those seeking technical insight (perhaps with a view to making comics or animation their day job) is the illustrator’s full monochrome ‘Original Layouts for The Batman Adventures: Mad Love’; displaying how the story materialised page by page; previous and variant covers to earlier editions and unused painted back cover art plus highly detailed, fully-annotated colour guides for the complete story offering a perfect “How To…” lesson for aspiring creators…

All that being said though, what we want most is a great story, and the magnificently madcap mayhem commences here as Police Commissioner James Gordon heads to the dentist. When Batman easily foils the Joker’s latest manic murder attempt, the mountebank of Mirth pettishly realises he’s lost his inspirational spark.

He’s therefore in no mood for lasciviously whining lapdog Harley’s words of comfort or flirtatious pep talks…

As the Dark Knight reviews his files on the Joker’s girlfriend and ponders on how Harleen Frances Quinzel breezed through college and came away with a psychology degree that got her a position at Arkham Asylum, the larcenous lady in question has gone too far in the Joker’s lair. The trigger was comforting sympathy and telling her “precious pudden” how his baroque murder schemes could be improved…

Kicked out and almost killed (again), Harleen harks back to her first meeting with the devilishly desirable crazy clown and how they instantly clicked. She fondly recalls how her original plan to psychoanalyse the Joker and write a profitable tell-all book was forgotten the moment she fell under his malign spell to become his adoring, willing and despised slave…

She also realises that Batman quickly scotched their budding eternal love by capturing the grinning psycho-killer she secretly aided and abetted, both before and after she created her own costumed alter ego…

In fact, Batman always spoils her dreams and brutalises her adored “Mistah J”! It’s long past time she took care of him forever…

Driven by desperation and fuelled by passion, Harley Quinn swipes one of the Joker’s abortive schemes and tweaks it, and before long the Gotham Gangbuster is duped, doped, bound and destined for certain doom.

Sadly, the triumphant Little Woman hasn’t reckoned on how her barmy beloved will react when he learns she has done in mere hours what he’s failed to accomplish over many bitter years…

Coloured by Rick Taylor and lettered by Tim Harkins, the classy and classically staged main feature plays very much like a 1940s noir blend of morbid melodrama and cunning crime caper – albeit with outrageous over-the-top gags, sharply biting lines of dialogue and a blend of black humour and bombastic action – and easily qualifies as one of the top five bat-tales of all time.

A frantic, laugh-packed hoot that manages to be daring and demure by turns, Mad Love is an absolute delight, well worth the price of admission and an irresistible treasure to be enjoyed over and over again.
© 1994, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

DC’s Greatest Imaginary Stories


By Otto Binder, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, John Broome, Leo Dorfman, Edmond Hamilton, Jim Shooter, C.C. Beck, Dick Sprang, Kurt Schaffenberger, Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Bob Kane & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0534-8

Alan Moore’s infamous epigram notwithstanding, not all comics tales are “Imaginary Stories.”

When DC Editor Mort Weisinger was expanding the Superman continuity and building the legend, he realised that each new tale was an event that added to a nigh-sacred canon: that what was written and drawn mattered to the readers. But as a big concept guy he wasn’t going to let that aggregated “history” stifle a good idea, nor would he allow his eager yet sophisticated audience to endure clichéd deus ex machina cop-outs to mar the sheer enjoyment of a captivating concept.

The mantra known to every baby-boomer fan was “Not a Dream! Not a Hoax! Not a Robot!” boldly emblazoned on covers depicting scenes that couldn’t possibly be true… even if it was only a comicbook.

Imaginary Stories were conceived as a way of exploring non-continuity plots and scenarios devised at a time when editors believed entertainment trumped consistency and knew that every comic read was somebody’s first …or potentially last.

This jolly little compilation celebrates that period when whimsy and imagination were king and stretches the point by leading with a fanciful tale of the World’s Mightiest Mortal as ‘Captain Marvel and the Atomic War’ (Captain Marvel Adventures #66, October 1946) actually hoaxes the public with a demonstration of how the world could end in the new era of Nuclear Proliferation, courtesy of Otto Binder & CC Beck.

‘The Second Life of Batman’ (Batman #127 October 1959) by Bill Finger, Dick Sprang & Charles Paris doesn’t really fit the strict definition either, but the tale of a device that predicts how Bruce Wayne’s life would have run if his parents had not been killed is superb and engaging all the same.

‘Mr. and Mrs. Clark (Superman) Kent!’ by Binder and the brilliant Kurt Schaffenberger, was the first tale of an occasional series that began in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #9 (August 1960); depicting the laughter and tears that might result if the plucky news-hen secretly married the Man of Steel. From an era uncomfortably parochial and patronizing to women, there’s actually plenty of genuine heart and understanding in this tale and a minimum of snide sniping about “silly, empty-headed girls”…

Eventually the concepts became so bold that Imaginary Stories could command book-length status. ‘Lex Luthor, Hero!’ (Superman #149, November 1961) by Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan & Sheldon Moldoff details the mad scientist’s greatest master-plan and ultimate victory in a tale as powerful now as it ever was. In many ways this is what the whole concept was made for…

No prizes for guessing what ‘Jimmy Olsen Marries Supergirl!’ (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, #57, December 1961) is about, but the story is truly a charming delight, beautifully realized by Siegel, Swan & Stan Kaye.

Once more stretching the point ‘The Origin of Flash’s Masked Identity!’ (The Flash# 128, May 1962) by John Broome, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, although highly entertaining, is more an enthusiastic day-dream than alternate reality, and, I suspect, added to bring variety to the mix – as is the intriguing ‘Batman’s New Secret Identity’ (Batman #151, November 1961, by Finger, Bob Kane & Paris).

‘The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue!’ (Superman #162, July 1963) is possibly the most influential tale of this entire sub-genre. Written by Leo Dorfman, with art from Swan & George Klein, this startling utopian classic was so well-received that decades later it influenced and flavoured the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman continuity for years. The plot involves the Action Ace being divided into two equal wonder men who promptly solve all universal problems and even the love rivalry between Lois Lane and Lana Lang!

The writer of ‘The Three Wives of Superman!’ is currently unknown to us but the ever-excellent Schaffenberger can at least be congratulated for this enchanting tragedy of missed chances that originally saw print in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #51, from August 1964.

‘The Fantastic Story of Superman’s Sons’ (Superman #166, November 1964) by Edmond Hamilton, Swan & Klein is a solid thriller built on a tragic premise (what if only one of Superman’s children inherited his powers?), and this bright and breezy book closes with the stirring and hard-hitting ‘Superman and Batman… Brothers!’, wherein orphaned Bruce Wayne is adopted by the Kents, but cannot escape a destiny of tragedy and darkness.

Written by Jim Shooter, with art from Swan & Klein for World’s Finest Comics # 172 (cover-dated December 1967) this moody thriller in many ways signalled the end of the carefree days and the beginning of a grittier, more cohesive DC universe for a less whimsical, fan-based audience.

This collection is a glorious slice of fancy, augmented by an informative introduction from columnist Craig Shutt, and bolstered with mini-cover reproductions of many tales that tragically never made it into the collection, but I do have one minor quibble: No other type of tale was more dependent on an eye-catching, conceptually intriguing cover, so why couldn’t those belonging to these collected classics have been included here, too?

Surely, it’s time for a re-issue in either print or eBook format with all those arresting covers included. Yes, it is… and don’t call me Shirley…
© 1946, 1959-1964, 1967, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo volume 1


By Jim Aparo, Bob Haney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3375-4

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 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…

Scripted throughout by Bob Haney and reprinting B&B #98, 101-102 and 104-122 (spanning October/November 1971 through October 1975) in a sturdy hardback and/or eBook compilation, this fabulous celebration opens without preamble in debut tale ‘The Mansion of the Misbegotten!’, as the aforementioned Phantom Stranger guests in a truly sinister tale of suburban devil-worship which sees Batman thoroughly out of his depth when his godson seemingly becomes a receptacle for Satan on Earth…

Aparo returned for the anniversary 100th issue as Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary substituted for a gunshot-riddled Batman on the verge of death and trapped as ‘The Warrior in a Wheel-Chair’ and settled in for outrageous murder-mystery ‘Cold-Blood, Hot Gun’ in the next issue wherein Metamorpho, the Element Man assisted the Caped Crusader in foiling the world’s deadliest hitman.

Brave and the Bold #102 featured a true rarity. The Teen Titans featured in an angry tale of the generation gap ‘Commune of Defiance’ which began as an Aparo job, but in a bizarre turnabout Neal Adams – an artist legendary for blowing deadlines – was called in to finish the story, contributing the last nine pages of the tension-packed thriller of political hardball and civic corruption.

Jim Aparo began an unbroken run of enticing epics with B&B #104 (October/November 1972): deftly picturing a poignant story of love from beyond the grave in ‘Second Chance for a Deadman?’ after which a depowered Wonder Woman returned after a long absence in gripping revolutionary epic ‘Play Now… Die Later!’, wherein martial artist Diana Prince and Batman become pawns in a bloody South American feud exported to the streets of Gotham.

The next issue saw Green Arrow sucked into a murderous get-rich-quick con in ‘Double Your Money… and Die’, featuring a surprise star villain…

Black Canary then popped back in a clever take on the headline-grabbing – and still unsolved – D.B. Cooper hijacking of an airliner in ‘The 3-Million Dollar Sky’ from B&B #107 (June-July 1973. BTW: Inflation sucks. The man known as “Cooper” only got $200,000 when he jumped out of that Boeing 727 in November 1971, never to be see again…

A wonderfully chilling tale of obsession follows as semi-retired war hero Sgt. Rock tries once more to catch the greatest monster in history on ‘The Night Batman Sold his Soul!’

Spooky supernatural shocks were very much the tone of the times as ‘Gotham Bay Be My Grave!’ paired the Caped Crusader and Jack Kirby’s then-latest sensation Etrigan the Demon in battle against an unquiet spirit determined to avenge his own execution after nearly a century. It was followed by a canny Cold War adventure starring semi-regular Wildcat in his civilian guise as Ted Grant, retired heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

Although the veteran Justice Society hero was usually stationed on the alternate Earth 2 at this time, no explanation was ever given for his presence on “our” planet. Haney always chose great plots and stories over choking details and canonical quibbles. It used to drive continuity-conscious fans utterly nuts…

Issue #111 boasted “the strangest team-up in history” as Batman joined forces with his greatest enemy, the Joker, for a brilliantly complex tale of cross and double cross in ‘Death has the Last Laugh!’ – which possibly led to the Harlequin of Hate’s own short-run series a year later.

With the next bimonthly issue B&B became a 100-Page Super Spectacular title: a much missed high-value experiment which offered an expanded page count of new material supplemented by classic reprints that turned many contemporary purchasers into avid fans of “the good old days”.

First to co-star in this new format was Kirby’s super escape artist Mister Miracle who joins the Gotham Guardian (himself regarded as the world’s greatest escapologist until the introduction of Jolly Jack’s Fourth World) in a tale of aliens and ancient Egyptians entitled ‘The Impossible Escape!’ whilst #113 sees the return of robotic misfits the Metal Men in a tense siege situation as the heroes must rescue the population of a hostage skyscraper in ‘The 50-Story Killer!’ before Aquaman helps save Gotham City from atomic annihilation in the gripping terrorist saga ‘Last Jet to Gotham’ in #114.

‘The Corpse that wouldn’t Die!’ is a decidedly different kind of drama as Batman is declared brain-dead after an assault, with size-shifting superhero the Atom compelled to occupy his brain to complete the Caped Crusader’s “last case”.

Needless to say, the Gotham Gangbuster recovers in time for another continuity-crunching supernatural team-up with the Spectre in #116’s ‘Grasp of the Killer Cult’ before embarking on a ‘Nightmare Without End’: a brilliant espionage thriller guest-starring aging World War II legend Sgt. Rock and the survivors of Easy Company, and a fitting end to the 100-page experiment.

The Brave and the Bold#118 returned to standard comic book format, if not content, as both Wildcat and the Joker join Batman in the rugged fight-game drama ‘May the Best Man Die!’. Sometime-villain Man-Bat also had his own short-lived series at his time and he impressively guests in #119’s exotic tale of despots and bounty-hunters ‘Bring Back Killer Krag’.

Possibly the most remarkable, if not uncomfortable, pairing in this volume comes from B&B #120.

Jack Kirby’s biggest hit at DC in the 1970s was Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth. Set in a post-disaster world where animals talk and hunt dumb human brutes, it proved the perfect vehicle for the King’s uncanny imagination, and ‘This Earth is Mine!’ uncomfortably finds Batman mystically sucked into that bestial dystopia to save a band of still-sentient human shamans in a tale more akin to the filmic “Planet of the Apes” franchise than anything found in funnybooks.

The Metal Men bounced back in #121’s heist-on-rails thriller ‘The Doomsday Express’, an early and moving advocacy of Native American rights with as much mayhem as message to it, before this first volume concludes with awesome spectacle as ‘The Hour of the Beast’ depicts Swamp Thing’s return to Gotham City to save it from a monstrous vegetable infestation.

By taking his cues from news headlines, popular films and proven genre-sources, Bob Haney continually produced gripping adventures that thrilled and enticed with no need for more than a cursory nod to an ever-more onerous continuity. Anybody could pick up an issue and be sucked into a world of wonder, and no matter what his scripts demanded Aparo staged and depicted it with veracity, verve and unassailable potency.

Consequently, 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.

These 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 could anybody resist? Seriously: can you…?
©1972,1973, 1974, 1975, 2012, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman Adventures volume 4


By Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Kelley Puckett, Alan Grant, Dan Raspler, Ty Templeton, Ronnie Del Carmen, Mike Parobeck, Rick Burchett, Dev Madan, Glen Murakami, Dan Riba, Kevin Altieri, Butch Lukic & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6061-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An Ideal Gift for Young, Old and Especially Yourself… 10/10

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

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

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

A faithful comicbook translation was prime material for collection in the newly-emergent trade paperback market but only the first year was ever released, plus miniseries such as Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures: The Lost Years. Nowadays, however, we’re much more evolved and reprint collections have established a solid niche amongst the cognoscenti and younger readers…

This fourth, final and Seasonally sensitive compendium gathers issues #28-36 of The Batman Adventures (originally published from January-October 1995) plus The Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1 and The Batman Adventures Annual #2: a scintillating, no-nonsense frenzy of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy that celebrates traditional values such as gift-giving, crime-crushing, mistletoe-related smooching, world conquest, forgiveness, and all out action in uncanny and outlandish places…

The merriment and mayhem open with the varied contents of The Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1: and a moody ‘Intro’ from Dini & Dan Riba before grossly uncivilised cop Harvey Bullock and his so very long-suffering partner Renee Montoya go undercover as Department Store Santa and Elf in ‘Jolly Old St. Nicholas’ (Dini & Timm).

The apparently invisible thief plundering the store was expecting cops – but not Batgirl – but the assembled embarrassed heroes never contemplated having to battle a seriously-slumming super-villain exposed by the police action…

Next shiny bauble is ‘The Harley and the Ivy’ wherein Dini & Ronnie Del Carmen depict the larcenous ladies going on an illicit shopping spree after kidnapping Bruce Wayne, thanks to a dose of Ivy’s mind-warping kisses…

Slightly darker and far colder, ‘White Christmas’ by Dini & Glen Murakami then pits Batman against the increasing bereft and deranged Mr. Freeze who tries to turn Gotham City into a vast snow-globe as a tribute to his dead wife before The Joker enquires ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’ (Dini & Timm, Kevin Altieri & Butch Lukic) whilst attempting to kill every reveller in Gotham Square at the stroke of midnight…

Having saved the city yet again old comrades Batman and Jim Gordon then get together for a spot of breakfast and moment of quiet contemplation in ‘Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot’ (Dini & Riba) to wrap up this potent parcel of Christmas cheer.

Like the show, most Batman Adventures stories were crafted as 3-act plays and the conceit resumes here with issue #28 (January 1995) as Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett celebrate the holidays with ‘Twelve Days of Madness’ It opens with ‘What Child is This?’ as escaped loon Harley Quinn misses her Mistah J and drops him a note in Arkham Asylum.

As a strange outbreak of lunacy suddenly grips the city, ‘God Rest Ye Psycho Councilmen’ finds esteemed psychologist Dr. Heimlich visit the institution and recommending making the Joker direct a little Christmas theatre for the inmates…

Happily, the Dark Knight is on hand to expose shocking charlatanry and handle the ‘Asylum Fideles’ threatening to upset he mental applecart…

Batman Adventures #29 finds Bruce Wayne again hunting Ra’s Al Ghul as ‘Demonseed’ (Dev Madan & Burchett), opens with ‘Secret Hopes, Secret Fears’ and the in-mufti manhunter trailing a deadly Tesla Device aLl over the world, with former beloved Talia trying to kill him at every opportunity.

‘Wayne: Bruce Wayne’ sees the ex-lovers reunited to stop a third party purloining the menacing mechanism before facing inevitable and ultimate betrayal in ‘Till Death Do You Part’

It’s a spotlight on bad guys as Puckett, Burchett & Murakami reveal the story of a ‘Natural Born Loser’ in #30.

In-joke Triumvirate of Terror Mastermind, Mr. Nice and The Perfesser (who bear litigiously remarkable resemblances to DC editors Mike Carlin, Archie Goodwin and Dennis O’Neil) return in a tryptic of origin tales beginning with ‘Waiting for the Dough’ as yet another criminal mastermind breaks into their prison in search of a treasure map.

Sadly, those individual confrontations – continued in ‘The Dark Nice Returns’ and concluding with ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Pearl’ – only prove that the top dog in Gotham is actually the Bat…

Alan Grant scripts #31 for Madan & Burchett to illustrate as youthful ideologue ‘Anarky’ convenes ‘The People’s Court’ to judge rich businessmen such as Bruce Wayne for their money-grubbing acts. With his mentor captured, teen wonder Robin becomes the key ‘Witness for the Defense’ and combines ‘The Gentle Art of Philosophy’ with his usual derring-do to win the argument and save the day

Dan Raspler, Parobeck & Burchett reveal ‘A Soldier’s Story’ in #32 as ‘Into the Valley of Death’ sees criminals wage war in Gotham dressed as rival armies from history. Crazed rival millionaires playing games from their childhood have sponsored this chaotic ‘War and Remembrance’ but it’s Batman who wins ‘The Last Battle’

Batman Adventures #33 covers ‘Just Another Night’ (Ty Templeton, Madan & Burchett) as a movie night with single mum Veronica Thomas and her son Justin spirals into terror when they are mugged by a gunman on the way home. Paralysed by traumatic ‘Deja Vu’, Bruce goes on a maddened rampage of childish revenge leading to a justice and a ‘Dark Victory’ of sorts, but ‘At What Cost…’?

The first volume of the series wraps up with a 3-issue epic starring one of the Dark Knight’s most insidious enemies. It begins with ‘In Memoriam’ (#34 by Puckett, Parobeck & Burchett) as deranged psychologist Hugo Strange pays ‘Charons Fee’ to exact his vengeful schemes. Later, as Batman pursues super-thief Catwoman, he realises some of his memories have been erased. However, by deductively ‘Filling in the Gaps’ the Caped Crimebuster only allows Strange ‘Total Recall’ to Bruce Wayne’s past…

In #35 ‘The Book of Memory’ (Puckett, Templeton, Parobeck & Burchett) heralds ‘Strange Days’ as Catwoman turns a mindwiped Batman into her perfect acrobatic accomplice. With Gotham’s guardian missing Robin consults Commissioner Gordon and soon ‘The Trap is Set…’.

Elsewhere, as Hugo Strange spirals into breakdown, ‘Uptown, Saturday Night’ reveals how Batman is captured and cured. Or so it seems…

‘The Last Batman Adventure’ appears in #36 as Templeton, Parobeck & Burchett depict Robin and his junior partner, ‘Batman, The Boy Wonder’, still searching for Bruce’s purloined past. Afflicted with the mentality of a child, the hero convinces Catwoman to help him ensure ‘Batman, The Dark Knight Returns’, but they are almost too late to prevent ‘The Unusual Fate of Hugo Strange’ after the tragic madman goes after the true author of all his woes…

This spectacular softcover selection (also available as an eBook) concludes with a high-octane occult romp by Dini, Murakami & Timm first published in The Batman Adventures Annual #2.

‘Demons’ sees Ra’s Al Ghul blow up parts of Gotham to secure a long-lost mystic tablet and win a rare victory over the late-arriving Dark Knight. Overpowered and outgunned, Batman contacts consultant supernatural specialist Jason Blood and discovers the demonologist and the “Demon’s Head” are ancient adversaries…

Surviving drug-induced magical dreams, Batman realises that Al Ghul plans to invoke a demonic entity Haahk in his city and scourge humanity from the Earth. Nevertheless, he heads for a showdown he knows he cannot win, but Blood has one more secret to reveal: his longevity is caused by a demon imprisoned in his body…

Etrigan dwells inside Jason, lives to fight and is ferociously eager to settle score with Ra’s and Haahk…

Epic and electrifying, this rocket-paced tribute to Jack Kirby crackles with kinetic energy and moody menace: a perfect point to end on and one that promises more and greater thrills to come…

Breathtakingly written and iconically illustrated, these stripped-down rollercoaster-romps are pure, irresistible Bat-magic and this is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.
© 1995, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

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.

Batman: The Golden Age Volume 3


By Bill Finger, Joseph Greene, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Schiff, Bob Kane, Jack Burnley, Fred Ray, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7130-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Thrilling and Totally Traditional… 10/10

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.

Debuting a year after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) cemented DC/National Comics as the market frontrunner and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the parameters of the metahuman in their Man of Tomorrow, the physical mortal perfection and dashing derring-do of the strictly-human Dynamic Duo rapidly became the swashbuckling benchmark by which all other four-colour crime-busters were judged.

Batman: The Golden Age is a series of paperback feasts (there’s also weightier, pricier, more capacious hardback Omnibus editions available, and digital iterations too) re-presenting the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

Set out in original publishing release order, the tomes trace the character’s growth 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.

Re-presenting astounding cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #57-65, Batman #8-11 and pertinent stories from World’s Finest Comics #4-6, this book covers groundbreaking escapades from November 1941 to July 1942: as the Dynamic Duo continually develop and storm ahead of all competition.

As the heroes’ influence expanded, new talent joined the stable of creators. Jerry Robinson had already worked with 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 evidence to the burgeoning popularity of the characters. Behind a superbly evocative “Infinity” cover by Fred Ray & 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 later radically revised and recycled by Finger & Kane as a sequence of the Batman daily newspaper strip from September 23rd – November 2nd

‘The Superstition Murders’ is an enthralling example of the “ABC Murders” – style plot and the issue wraps up on a high as ‘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 details how the Penguin turns his formidable talents to bounty-hunting his fellow criminals in ‘The King of the Jungle’, and is followed here by 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’ (Detective #60): another excursion into mania starring the Joker, leaving Bill Finger free to concentrate on the four fabulous tales comprising Batman #9 (February-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 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 Caped Crusaders’ best and finest adventures have had a Seasonal 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…

Next is another much-reprinted classic (aren’t they all?) from Detective Comics #61. ‘The Three Racketeers’ is the perfect example of a vintage Batman novella as a trio of criminal big-shots swap stories of the Gotham Guardians over a quiet game of cards, and the ripping yarn even conceals a sting-in-the-tail that still hits home 75 years later.

America had entered World War II by this period and the stories – especially the patriotic covers – went all-out to capture the imagination, comfort the down-hearted and bolster the nation’s morale.

One of the very best (and don’t just take my word for it – type “World’s Finest covers” into your preferred search engine and see for yourselves – go on, I’ll wait) designed and executed by the astounding Jerry Robinson precedes ‘Crime takes a Holiday’, (WFC #5, Spring 1942, by Finger, Kane & Robinson), a canny mystery yarn revealing how and why the criminal element of Gotham City suddenly “downs tools”. Naturally it’s all part of a devious master-plan and just as naturally our heroes soon get to the bottom of it…

The same creative team also produced ‘Laugh, Town Laugh!’ (Detective #62, April 1942) wherein the diabolical Joker goes on a murder-spree to prove to the nation’s comedians and entertainers who actually is the “King of Jesters”.

Cover-dated April-May 1942, Batman #10 follows with another four mini-masterpieces. Scripted by Greene ‘The Isle That Time Forgot’ sees the Dynamic Duo trapped in a land of dinosaurs and cavemen, whilst ‘Report Card Blues’ (also Greene) scripting, has the heroes inspire a wayward kid to return to his studies by crushing the mobsters he’s ditched school for.

Robinson soloed as illustrator and Jack Schiff typed the words for the classy jewel caper (oh, for those heady days when Bats wasn’t too grim and important to stop the odd robbery or two!) ‘The Princess of Plunder’ starring everyone’s favourite Feline Femme Fatale Catwoman, before the boys headed way out west to meet ‘The Sheriff of Ghost Town!’

This extremely impressive slice of contemporary Americana came courtesy of Finger, Kane & Robinson, who then went on to produce ‘A Gentleman in Gotham’ for Detective Comics #63.

Here the Caped Crusader has to confront tuxedoed International Man of Mystery Mr Baffle, before the Crime Clown again causes malignant mirthful mayhem in ‘The Joker Walks the Last Mile’ (Detective #64. June 1942).

Obviously, he didn’t since he was cover-featured and lead story in Batman #11 (June-July 1942). Finger is writer for ‘The Joker’s Advertising Campaign’ and ‘Payment in Full’ – a touching melodrama about the District Attorney and the vicious criminal to whom he owes his life, before ‘Bandits in Toyland’ features the scripting debut of pulp Sci Fi author Edmond Hamilton who details why a gang of thugs are stealing dolls and train-sets.

Finger then returns for ‘Four Birds of a Feather!’ which finds Batman in Miami to scotch the Penguin’s dreams of a crooked gambling empire…

There’s another cracking War cover and brilliant Bat-yarn from World’s Finest Comics #6 (Summer 1942) in ‘The Secret of Bruce Wayne!’ as Greene and Robinson provide a clandestine identity exposé tale that would become a standard plot of later years, before the volume closes with one more superb patriotic cover (this one by Jack Kirby & Joe Simon for Detective Comics #65) and a gripping crime-romp as Jack Burnley & George Roussos render Greene’s poignant and powerful North Woods thriller ‘The Cop who Hated Batman!’

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 – and there ain’t many who thinks otherwise! – 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 This Book…
© 1941, 1942, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Tales of the Batman: Carmine Infantino


By Carmine Infantino, Gardner Fox, John Broome, Cary Bates, Gerry Conway, Don Kraar, Mike Barr, Geoff Johns & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4755-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Fun foe One and All … 9/10

Born on May 24th 1925, Carmine Michael Infantino was one of the greatest comic artists America ever produced; a multi-award-winning innovator who was there when comicbooks were born, reshaped the industry in the Silver Age and was still making fans when he died in 2013

As an artist he co-created and initially visualised The Black Canary, Detective Chimp, Pow-Wow Smith, the Silver Age Flash, Elongated Man, Deadman, Batgirl, Dial H for Hero and Human Target and revitalised characters such as Adam Strange and Batman. He worked for many companies, and at Marvel ushered in a new age by illustrating the licensed Star Wars comicbook and working on titles such as Avengers, Daredevil, Ms. Marvel, Nova, Star-Lord and Spider-Woman

His work on two iterations of the Batman newspaper strip are fondly remembered and whilst acting as Art Director and Publisher of National DC oversaw the most critically acclaimed period in the company’s history, ushering in the “relevancy” era and poaching Jack Kirby from Marvel to create the Fourth World, Kamandi, The Demon and others…

Very much – and repeatedly – the right man in the right time and place, Infantino shaped American comicbook history like few others, and this hardcover compendium (and eBook) dedicated to his contributions to the lore of Batman collects the stunning covers from Detective Comics #327-347, 349, 351-371, 500 and Batman #166-175, 181, 183-185, 188-192, 194-199 plus the Bat-Saga stories he drew for Detective #327, 329, 331, 333, 335, 337, 339, 341, 343, 345, 347, 349, 351, 353, 357, 359, 361, 363, 366-367, 369, and 500.

Also included are the contents of The Brave and the Bold #172, 183, 190, 194 and DC Comics Presents: Batman #1: an artistic association cumulatively spanning May 1964 to September 2004.

I’m assuming everybody here loves comics and that we’ve all had the same unpleasant experience of trying to justify that passion to somebody. Excluding your partner (who is actually right – the living room floor is not the place to leave your $£#!D*&$£! funnybooks) even today, many people still have an entrenched and erroneous view of strip art, resulting in a frustrating and futile time as you tried to dissuade them from that opinion.

If so, this collection might be the book you want next time that confrontation occurs, offering breathtaking examples of the prolific association of one the industry’s greatest illustrators with possibly the artform’s greatest creation.

Many of these “Light Knight” sagas stem from a period which saw the Dynamic Duo, remoulded, reshaped and set up for global Stardom – and subsequent fearful castigation from fans – as the template for the Batman TV show of the 1960s. It should be noted, however, that the television producers and researchers took their creative impetus from stories of the era preceding the “New Look Batman” – as well as the original movie serial of the 1940s…

So, what happened?

By the end of 1963, Julius Schwartz had revived much of National/DC’s line – and the entire industry – with his modernization of the superhero, and was then asked to work his magic with the creatively stalled and nigh-moribund Caped Crusader.

Bringing his usual team of top-notch creators with him, Schwartz stripped down the core-concept, downplaying aliens, outlandish villains and daft transformation tales to bring a cool modern take to the capture of criminals: even overseeing a streamlining rationalisation of the art style itself.

The most apparent innovation was a yellow circle around the Bat-symbol, but far more importantly, the stories also changed. A subtle aura of genuine menace had re-entered the comfortable and absurdly abstract world of Gotham City.

Infantino was key to the changeover, which reshaped a legend – but this was while still pencilling Silver Age superstar The Flash – so, despite generating the majority of covers, Infantino’s interior art was limited to alternate issues of Detective Comics with the lion’s share of narrative handled by Bob Kane’s uncredited deputies Sheldon Moldoff, Joe Giella, Chic Stone & others, or occasional guest artists such as Gil Kane…

Punctuated throughout this collection by his chronologically sequenced covers, Infantino’s part in the storytelling revolution began then and kicks off here with Detective #327 – written by John Broome and inked by Joe Giella at the very peak of their own creative powers.

‘The Mystery of the Menacing Mask! is a cunning “Howdunnit?”, long on action and moody peril, as discovery of a criminal “underground railroad” leads Caped Crusaders Batman and Robin to a common thug seemingly able to control the heroes with his thoughts…

‘Castle with Wall-To-Wall Danger!’ (Detective #329 with Broome and Giella in their respective roles) follows: a captivating international thriller which sees the heroes braving a deadly death-trap in Swinging England in pursuit of a dastardly thief.

A rare full-length story in #331 guest-starred Elongated Man (Detective Comics’ back-up feature: a costumed sleuth blending the charm of Nick “Thin Man” Charles with the outré heroic antics of Plastic Man).

The ‘Museum of Mixed-Up Men’ (Broome & Infantino) teamed the eclectic enigma-solvers against a super-scientific felon, whilst in #333 Bat Man & Robin fought against a faux goddess and genuine telepaths in the ‘Hunters of the Elephants’ Graveyard!’, written by Gardner Fox and inked by Giella.

The same team revealed the ‘Trail of the Talking Mask!’ in #335, giving the Dynamic Duo an opportunity to reinforce their sci-fi credentials in a classy high-tech thriller guest-starring private detective Hugh Rankin (of Mystery Analysts of Gotham City fame) before ‘The Deep-Freeze Menace!’ (Detective #337 introduced a fearsome fantasy chiller pitting Batman against a super-powered caveman encased in ice for 50,000 years…

DC’s inexplicable (but deeply cool) long-running love-affair with gorillas resulted in a cracking doom-fable as ‘Batman Battles the Living Beast-Bomb!’ in #339, highlighting the hero’s physical prowess in a duel of wits and muscles against a sinister, super-intelligent simian.

Up until this time the New Look Batman was forging his more realistic path, as the TV series was still in pre-production. The Batman television show (premiering on January 12th, 1966 and running for three seasons of 120 episodes in total) show aired twice weekly for its first two seasons, resulting in vast amount of Bat-awareness, no end of spin-offs and merchandise – including a movie – and the overkill phenomenon of “Batmania”.

No matter how much we might squeal and foam about it, a huge portion of this planet’s population Batman is always going to regard that “Zap! Biff! Pow!” buffoonish costumed boy scout as The Real Deal…

Regrettably this means that the comic stories published during that period have been similarly excoriated and maligned by most Bat-fans ever since. It is true that some tales were crafted with overtones of the “camp” fad, presumably to accommodate newer readers seduced by the arch silliness and coy irony of the show, but no editor of Julius Schwartz’s calibre would ever deviate far from the characterisation that had sustained Batman for nearly thirty years, or the then-recent re-launch which had revitalised the character sufficiently for television to take an interest at all.

Nor would such brilliant writers as John Broome, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox and Robert Kanigher ever produce work which didn’t resonate on all the Batman’s intricate levels just for a quick laugh and a cheap thrill. The artists tasked with sustaining the visual intensity included Infantino, Moldoff, Stone, Giella, Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene, with covers from Gil Kane and Joe Kubert supplementing Infantino’s stunning, trend-setting, fine-line masterpieces.

Most of the tales here reflect those gentler times and editorial policy of focusing on Batman’s reputation as “The World’s Greatest Detective”, so colourful, psychotic costumed super-villains are still in a minority, but there are first appearances for a number of exotic foes who would become regular menaces for the Dynamic Duo in years to come.

Broome & Infantino then detailed the screen-inspired, comedically-catastrophic campaign of ‘The Joker’s Comedy Capers!’ in #341 and the mayhem and mystery continued in Detective Comics #343 (September 1965) with ‘The Secret War of the Phantom General!’: a tense thriller pitting our hard-pressed heroes against a hidden army of gangsters and Nazi war criminals.

Detective #345 debuted a terrifying and tragic new villain in ‘The Blockbuster Invasion of Gotham City!’ (scripted by Fox). Here a monstrous giant with the mind of a child and the raw, physical power of a tank is constantly driven to madness at sight of Batman and only placated by the sight of Bruce Wayne

‘The Strange Death of Batman!’ (Fox, Detective# 347) saw the opening shot of habitual B-list villain the Bouncer in a bizarre experimental yarn which has to be seen to be believed, whereas it’s business as usual when monstrous, microcephalic man-brute returns in ‘The Blockbuster Breaks Loose!’: a blistering, action-fuelled thriller by Fox, Infantino & Giella from Detective #349. This tale sports a cover by Infantino’s colleague Joe Kubert whilst also hinting at the return of a long-forgotten foe…

Detective #351 premiered game-show host turned felonious impresario Arthur Brown in a twisty, puzzle-packed battle of wits detailing ‘The Cluemaster’s Topsy-Turvy Crimes!’ (Fox, Infantino & Sid Greene) after which the action continues with ‘The Weather Wizard’s Triple-Treasure Thefts!’ (Fox/Giella in #353).

The Dynamic Duo battle in spectacular opposition to the Flash’s meteorological arch-enemy: one of the first times a DC villain moved out of his usually stamping grounds whilst Detective #357 delivers a clever secret identity saving puzzler when – apparently – ‘Bruce Wayne Unmasks Batman!’ (Broome, Infantino & Giella) as prelude to big changes in the Batman mythos…

After three seasons (perhaps two and a half would be more accurate) the Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. It had clocked up 120 episodes since the US premiere. The era ended but the series had had an undeniable effect on the world, the comics industry and most importantly on the characters and history of its four-colour inspiration. Most notable was a whole new caped crusader who became an integral part of the DC universe.

The comic-book premiere of that aforementioned new character came in ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl’ (Detective Comics#359, cover-dated January 1967). Gardner Fox provided art team supreme Infantino & Greene a ripping yarn to introduce Barbara Gordon: mousy librarian and daughter of the venerable Police Commissioner into the superhero limelight. Thus, by the time the third season began on September 14th, 1967, she was well-established among comics fans at least….

A different Batgirl – Betty Kane, teenaged niece of the 1950s Batwoman – was already a nearly-forgotten comics fixture but for reasons far too complex and irrelevant to mention was conveniently ignored to make room for a new, empowered woman in the fresh tradition of Emma Peel, Honey West and the Girl From U.N.C.L.E. She was considered pretty hot too, which is always a plus for television…

Whereas she fought the Penguin on the small screen, her print origin features the no less ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever yarn that still stands up today.

Editor Schwartz always preferred to play-up mysteries and crime conundrums in Detective Comics and #361’s ‘The Dynamic Duo’s Double-Deathtrap!’ was one of Fox’s best, especially as drawn by the now increasingly over-stretched Infantino and Greene. The plot involves Cold War spies and a maker of theatrical paraphernalia; I shall reveal no more to keep you guessing when you read it…

Detective #363 was a full co-starring vehicle as the Dynamic Duo challenged the new Batgirl to deduce Batman’s secret identity whilst tracking down the enigmatic Mr. Brains in ‘The True-False Face of Batman!’ and led to a taut suspense thriller stretching across Detective #366 and 367 – an almost unheard-of event in those cautiously reader-friendly days…

As devised by Fox, Infantino & Greene ‘The Round Robin Death Threats’ involves a diabolical murder-plot threatening to destroy Gotham’s worthiest citizens, with the tension peaking and the drama concluding in high style with ‘Where There’s a Will… There’s a Slay!’: a dark and deadly denouement barely marred by that dreadful title…

It was just a symptom of the times – as is Detective #369 (November 1967) – which somewhat reinforces boyhood prejudices about icky girls in the otherwise classy thriller ‘Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo!’

Here Robin seemingly abandons Batman for a curvy new partner, but the best of clandestine reasons, ignominiously signalling – other than for the occasional cover – the end of Infantino’s tenure as a bat-illustrator.

His next contribution on view here came in anniversary landmark Detective Comics #500 (March 1981): part of a huge creative jam-session: specifically examining the legend of the immortal hero in ‘What Happens When a Batman Dies?’

Scripted by Cary Bates and inked by Bob Smith, this chapter co-stars restless revenant Deadman as the Gotham Guardian hovers in a coma between this world and the next, yet still manages to find a way to save himself…

The cover is another collaborative effort with Dick Giordano, José Luis García-López, Joe Kubert and Tom Yeates all joining forces.

Next up; a quartet of tales from The Brave and the Bold, with Jim Aparo providing covers whilst Infantino handled interior art. Issue #172 (March 1981, and inked by Steve Mitchell) paired the Caped Crimebuster with Firestorm in the Gerry Conway scripted ‘Darkness and Dark Fire’, with the World’s Greatest Detective striving to solve the mystery of the Nuclear Man’s periodic mental blackouts, after which #183 (February 1982, written by Don Krarr and inked by Mike DeCarlo) sees our hero join forces with The Riddler to prevent ‘The Death of Batman!’

Scripter Mike Barr and inker Sal Trapani worked with Infantino on B&B #190 (September 1982) and #194 January 1993), respectively challenging the Dark Knight to visit planet Rann and find out ‘Who Killed Adam Strange?’ before subsequently working with the Flash against Doctor Double-X and the Rainbow Raider when they ‘Trade Heroes – And Win!’

One final Infantino fling comes from DC Comics Presents: Batman #1 (September 2004), courtesy of writer Geoff Johns, with inks by Giella and a retro cover from Ryan Hughes, as ‘Batman of Two Worlds’ gets real metaphysical with narrative boundaries as the modern Batman and Robin investigate murder on the set of the 1960s Batman TV show in a bizarrely engaging romp with a mystery villain to expose…

The visual cavalcade then ends on a nostalgic high with ‘Batman and Robin Retail poster’ – AKA the front cover of this titanic tome – possibly the most iconic bat-image of the era.

Whether you tend towards the anodyne light-heartedness of then, the socially acceptable psychopathy of the assorted movie franchises or actually just like the comicbook character, if you can make a potential convert sit down, shut up and actually read these wonderful adventures for all (reasonable) ages, you might find that the old adage “Quality will out” still holds true. And if you’re actually a fan who hasn’t read this classic stuff and revelled in the astounding timeless art, you have an absolute treat in store…
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1981, 1982, 1983, 2004, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Harley and Ivy The Deluxe Edition


By Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Ty Templeton, Shane Glines, Dan DeCarlo, Ronnie Del Carmen, Rick Burchett, Stéphane Roux & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6080-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Psychosis and Spice and Everything Nice… 9/10

Created by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. Ostensibly for kids, the breakthrough TV animation series revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and immediately began feeding back into the print iteration, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, reshaped the grim avenger and his extended team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to…

The series offered a superbly innovative retro makeover for many classics super-villains and even added one unexpected candidate to the Rogues Gallery. Harley Quinn wasn’t supposed to be a star… or even an actual comicbook character. As would soon become apparent, however, the manic minx had her own off-kilter ideas on the matter…

Harley was first seen as the Clown Prince of Crime’s slavishly adoring, abuse-enduring assistant in Joker’s Favor (airing on September 11th 1992) where she instantly captured the hearts and minds of millions of viewers.

From there on she began popping up in the licensed comicbook and – always stealing the show – infiltrated mainstream DC comicbook continuity and into her own title. Along the way a flash of inspired brilliance led to her forming a unique relationship with toxic floral siren and plant-manipulating eco-terrorist Poison Ivy… a working partnership that delivered a bounty of fabulously funny-sexy yarns…

Collecting the eponymous 3-issue miniseries from 2004 plus Batman Adventures Annual #1 (1994), Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1 (1995), Batman and Robin Adventures #8 (July 1996), Batgirl Adventures #1 (1998) and material from Batman: Gotham Knights #14 (April 2001) and Batman Black and White #3 (2014) this deluxe hardback (and eBook) is an amazing cornucopia of comic treasures to delight young and old alike.

It begins with a global-spanning romp written by Dini, illustrated by Timm & Shane Glines from Batman: Harley & Ivy #1-3 as the ‘Bosom Buddies’ have a spat that wrecks half of Gotham before escaping to the Amazon together to take over a small country responsible for much of the region’s deforestation and spreading a heady dose of ‘Jungle Fever!’.

Once Batman gets involved the story suddenly shifts to Hollywood and the very last word in creative commentary on Superheroes in the movie business as ‘Hooray for Harleywood!’ delivers showbiz a devastating body blow it can never recover from….

As we all know, Harley is (literally) insanely besotted with killer clown The Joker and next up Dini, Dan DeCarlo & Timm wordlessly expose her profound weakness for that so very bad boy as she’s released from Arkham Asylum only to be seduced back into committing crazy crimes and stuck back in the pokey again, all in just ‘24 Hours’

‘The Harley and the Ivy’ comes from Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1 wherein Dini and Ronnie Del Carmen depict the larcenous ladies going on an illicit shopping spree after kidnapping Bruce Wayne thanks to a dose of Ivy’s mind-warping kisses…

‘Harley and Ivy and… Robin’ (Batman and Robin Adventures #8, by Dini, Ty Templeton & illustrator Rick Burchett) features more of the same except here the bamboozled sidekick becomes an ideal Boy Toy Wonder: planning their crimes, giving soothing foot-rubs and bashing Batman until a little moment of green-eyed jealously spoils the perfect set-up…

Batgirl Adventures #1 was the original seasonal setting for ‘Oy to the World’ (Dini & Burchett) as plucky teen Babs Gordon chases thieving thrill-seeking Harley through Gotham’s festive streets and alleys only to eventually team up with the jaunty jester to save Ivy from murderous Yakuza super-assassins.

Batman: Gotham Knights #14 yielded up brilliantly dark but saucily amusing tale ‘The Bet’ written by Dini and illustrated by Del Carmen. Incarcerated once more in Arkham, the Joker’s frustrated paramour and irresistible, intoxicatingly lethal Ivy indulge in a little wager to pass the time: namely, who can kiss the most men whilst remaining in custody. This razor-sharp little tale manages to combine innocent sexiness with genuine sentiment, and still packs a killer punch-line after the Harlequin of Hate unexpectedly pops in…

The madcap glamour-fest finishes with a moment of monochrome suspense as ‘Role Models’ (Dini & Stéphane Roux) sees a little girl escape her manic kidnapper and find sanctuary of a sort with the pilfering odd couple…

DC Comics sat on a goldmine of quality product for years but now they’re finally unleashing a blizzard of all-ages collections and graphic novels such as this one: child-friendly iterations of their key characters all stemming from the Paul Dini/Bruce Timm Batman series. These adventures are consistently some of the best comics produced of the last three decades and should be eternally permanently in print, if only as a way of attracting new young readers to the medium.

Batman: Harley and Ivy is a frantic, laugh-packed hoot that manages to be daring and demure by turns. An absolute delight, well worth the price of admission and an irresistible seasonal treasure to be enjoyed over and over again.
© 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2014, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

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.