Batman in the Brave and the Bold: The Bronze Age volume two


By Bob Haney, Denny O’Neil, Jim Aparo, Nick Cardy, Neal Adams, Bob Brown, Frank McLaughlin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8582-1 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect Pairings for Festive Fun Seekers… 10/10

The Brave and the Bold began in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format that mirrored the contemporary movie fascination with historical dramas.

Written by Bob Kanigher, issue #1 led with Golden Gladiator, the Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. From #5 the Gladiator was increasingly alternated with Robin Hood, but such manly, mainly mainstream romps still carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning costumed character revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like sister publication Showcase.

Issue #25 (August-September 1959) featured the debut of Task Force X: Suicide Squad, followed by Justice League of America (#28), Cave Carson (#31) and Hawkman (#34). Since only the JLA hit the first time out, there were return engagements for the Squad, Carson and Hawkman.

Something truly different appeared in #45-49 with the science fictional Strange Sports Stories before Brave and the Bold #50 triggered a new concept that once again truly caught the reader’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, as did succeeding issues: Aquaman and Hawkman in #51, WWII combatants Sgt. Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie and the Haunted Tank in #52 and Atom and Flash in #53. The next team-up – Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash – swiftly evolved into the Teen Titans. After Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter, new hero Metamorpho, the Element Man debuted in #57-58.

Then it was back to superhero pairings with #59, and although no one realised it at the time this particular conjunction (Batman with Green Lantern) would be particularly significant.

After a return engagement for the Teen Titans in #60, the next two issues highlighted Earth-2 champions Starman and Black Canary, whilst Wonder Woman met Supergirl in #63.

Then, in an indication of things to come, and in anticipation of the TV-induced mania mere months away, Batman duelled hero/villain Eclipso in #64. Within two issues, following Flash/Doom Patrol (#65) and Metamorpho/Metal Men (#66), Brave and the Bold #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and the lion’s share of the team-ups. With the exception of #72-73 (Spectre/Flash and Aquaman/Atom) the comic was henceforth to be a place where Batman invited the rest of company’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

For the sake of brevity and clarity and according to the wise ones who dictate such arbitrary demarcations, it’s also the point at which Comics’ Silver Age transitioned into the Bronze Age…

This second selection of unalloyed Batman pairings with other luminaries of the DC universe reprints B&B #92-109 (spanning October/November 1970 to October/November 1973) featuring the last vestiges of a continuity-reduced DC where individual story needs were seldom submerged into a cohesive overarching scenario, and where lead writer Bob Haney crafted stories that were meant to be read in isolation, drawn by a profusion of artists with only one goal: entertainment. 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.

It thus signalled the advent of the superb Nick Cardy as an innovative illustrator: his short run of beautifully drawn and boldly experimental assignments is still startling to see five decades later.

Haney was always at his best with terse, human scale dramas, especially “straight” crime thrillers, as in the eccentric thriller in #92 wherein Batman travels to England, embroiled in a moody, gothic murder mystery with a trio of British stereotypes fancifully christened “The Bat Squad.” Although the scratch team never reappeared, ‘Night Wears a Scarlet Shroud!’ remains a period delight and a must for those who still remember when “Eng-ga-land Swung”…

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

Scripted by Denny O’Neil and illustrated by Neal Adams, #93’s ‘Red Water, Crimson Death’ is a chilling ghost story with the added advantage of having the Dark Knight’s sombre shtick counterbalanced by the musings of the sardonic laconic Cain, ethereal and hip caretaker of that haunted habitat…

Haney, Cardy and the Teen Titans returned for powerful counter-culture bomb-plot ‘Rebels in the Streets’ after which a forgotten mystery hero (I won’t spoil it for you) helps Batman get the goods on ruthless, fat-cat industrialist Ruby Ryder in ‘C.O.D. – Corpse on Delivery’ in #95 before – somewhat more palatable for continuity bugs – Sgt Rock’s second engagement with the Bat was set in contemporary times rather than in WWII. Here the honourable old soldier becomes a bureaucrat’s patsy in compelling espionage thriller ‘The Striped-Pants War!’

Haney clearly had a fondness for grizzled older heroes as former pugilist Wildcat made another comeback in #97’s South-of-the-Border saga ‘The Smile of Choclotan!’: an epic of exploration inked by Cardy over the husky he-man pencils of the hugely underrated Bob Brown.

The Phantom Stranger guested next in a truly sinister tale of suburban devil worship which found Batman thoroughly out of his depth in ‘The Mansion of the Misbegotten!’, illustrated by the man who would soon become the only B&B artist: Jim Aparo.

Brown & Cardy returned to draw the Flash saving the Gotham Gangbuster from ghostly possession in ‘The Man who Murdered the Past’ and Aparo illustrated the anniversary 100th issue as Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary had to take over for a Batman on the verge of death and trapped as ‘The Warrior in a Wheel-Chair’.

Aparo stuck around for the outrageous murder-mystery ‘Cold-Blood, Hot Gun’ wherein Metamorpho, the Element Man assists the Caped Crusader in foiling the World’s most deadly hitman, but Brave and the Bold #102 featured a true rarity.

The Teen Titans again featured in an angry tale of the generation gap but ‘Commune of Defiance’ 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 political thriller, after which Brown and Frank McLaughlin illustrated ‘A Traitor Lurks Inside Earth!’: a doomsday saga of military computers gone awry featuring the multipurpose Metal Men.

Aparo was back in #104 for a poignant story of love from beyond the grave in the enigmatically entitled ‘Second Chance for a Deadman?’ after which a depowered Wonder Woman resurfaced after a long absence in Haney & Aparo’s superb revolutionary epic ‘Play Now… Die Later!’ as Diana Prince and the Darknight Detective become pawns in a bloody South American feud exported to the streets of Gotham.

Newly penniless social reformer Green Arrow is then sucked into a murderous get-rich-quick con in #106’s ‘Double Your Money… and Die’, featuring a surprise star villain, before Black Canary co-stars 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). Inflation sucks: “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 and old soldiers never dying follows as Sgt. Rock tries once more to catch the greatest monster in history on ‘The Night Batman Sold his Soul!’ before this bronze bonanza concludes with superb supernatural thriller ‘Gotham Bay, Be My Grave!’ wherein the Caped Crusader and Jack Kirby’s then newest sensation Etrigan the Demon battle an unquiet spirit determined to avenge his own execution after nearly a century…

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 some 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? Can you…?

© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The War Years 1939-1945


By Bob Kane & Bill Finger with Gardner Fox, Joe Greene, Don Cameron, Alvin Schwartz, Sheldon Moldoff, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Fred Ray, Jack & Ray Burnley, Dick Sprang, Stan Kaye, Stan Kaye, Jack Kirby, Ed Kressey & various: curated and edited by Roy Thomas, (Chartwell Books)
ISBN: 978-0-7858-3283-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Action Adventure… 10/10

March 2019 saw the 80th anniversary of Batman’s debut in Detective Comics #27. About one year after that dynamic debut his resounding growth in popularity resulted in the launch of Batman #1 (cover-dated “Spring” and released on April 25th, 1940). At that time, only his precursor and stablemate Superman was more successful…

Created a year after and in response to the furore generated by the Man of Steel, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) confirmed DC/National Comics as the market frontrunner and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

Having established the parameters of the metahuman with 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 crimebusters were judged.

However, once the war in Europe and the East snared America’s consciousness, crime and domestic deviltry increasingly gave way to combat and espionage themes. Patriotic imagery dominated most comicbook covers – if not interiors – and the USA’s mass-publishing outfits geared up for a seemingly inevitable conflict.

I feel – like many others of my era and inclinations – that superhero comics were never more apt or effective than when whole-heartedly combating global fascism with explosive, improbable excitement courtesy of a myriad of mysterious, masked marvel men. I have similar thoughts about the early 1970s “relevancy period”, when my masked miracle men turned to tackling slum landlords, super-rich scum, social injustice, crushing poverty and environmental issues: at least we won that one and don’t have to face real atrocities like that anymore…

All the most evocatively visceral moments of the genre seem to come when gaudy gladiators soundly thrashed – and I hope you’ll please forgive the appropriated (but now truly offensive) contemporary colloquialism – “Nips and Krauts”.

A companion to volumes starring Superman and Wonder Woman, Batman: The War Years 1939-1945 is superb hardcover archive curated by comicbook legend Roy Thomas, exclusively honing in on the Gotham Gangbusters’ euphoric output from those war years, even though in those long-ago dark days, comics creators were wise enough to offset and counterbalance their tales of espionage and imminent invasion with a barrage of home-grown threats as well as gentler or even more whimsical four-colour fare…

Past master of WWII-era material Thomas opens this tome with scene-setting Introduction Batman: The War Years and prefaces each chapter division with an essay offering tone and context before the four-colour glories commence with Part 1: From Perfidy to Pearl Harbor

Following the cover to Detective Comics #27, the first the Dark Knight story offers is the ‘Case of the Chemical Syndicate!’ by Bob Kane and his close collaborator Bill Finger. The spartan, understated yarn introduces dilettante criminologist and playboy wastrel Bruce Wayne, drawn into a straightforward crime wherein a cabal of industrialists are successively murdered. The killings stop only when an eerie figure dubbed “The Bat-Man” intrudes on Police Commissioner Gordon’s stalled investigation and ruthlessly deals with the hidden killer.

Most of the early tales were untitled, but for everyone’s convenience have in later years been given descriptive appellations by the editors, and were teeming with intriguing extras.

Cover-dated November 1939, Detective Comics #33 featured Gardner Fox & Kane’s (with lifetime ghost-artist Sheldon Moldoff quietly toiling on in unsung anonymity with the named creator) ‘The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom’: a blockbusting disaster thriller which just casually slips in the secret origin of the Gotham Guardian, as mere prelude to intoxicating air-pirate adventure…

With backgrounds inked by new kid Jerry Robinson, the Grim Detective hunted all-pervasive enemy agents in Finger & Kane’s ‘The Spies’. They ultimately prove no match for the vengeful Masked Manhunter in #37.

The covers for Detective Comics #38 (April 1940 and introducing Robin) and Batman #1 (Spring 1940) then precede Finger, Kane, Robinson & George Roussos’ ‘The Strange Case of the Diabolical Puppet Master’: an eerie episode of uncanny mesmerism and infamous espionage first seen in Batman #3 (Fall 1940).

The all-out action continues with a magnificent horrific Joker jape from Detective Comics #45 (November 1940) as ‘The Case of the Laughing Death’ displays the Harlequin of Hate undertaking a campaign of macabre murder against everyone who has ever defied or offended him. Apart from its release date, the wartime connection comes through the catastrophic climax aboard a ship under full steam…

Detective #55 (September 1941, by Finger, Kane, Robinson & Roussos) favours a back-to-basics approach with spectacular mad scientist thriller ‘The Brain Burglar’ as diabolical Dr. Deker plunders the thoughts and inventions of patriotic armaments inventors.

From Batman #8 (newly-promoted to bi-monthly just as the nation began paper-rationing), cover-dated December 1941-January 1942, comes a then-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…

This initial section then closes with the cover to Batman #10 before neatly segueing into Part 2: The Home Front War: a section heavy on the unforgettable patriotic covers crafted by Fred Ray, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson and others: preceded here by a context-establishing briefing from Thomas.

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 more scripters gradually joined the ever-expanding team to detail morale-boosting adventures during the darkest days of World War II.

I’m certain it’s no coincidence that many of these Golden Age treasures are also some of the best and most reprinted tales in the Batman canon. With Finger at a peak of creativity and production, everybody on the Home Front was keen to do their bit – even if that was simply making kids of all ages forget their troubles for a while…

Beginning with a gallery consisting of World’s Finest Comics #5. 6 and 7 (Ray), Detective #64 and 65 (Robinson, with Joe Simon & Jack Kirby pitching in on the latter) and Batman #12 (Robinson & Roussos), the story portion then offers the astounding case of ‘The Harlequin’s Hoax!’ (Detective #69 November 1942) with Joseph Greene, Kane, Robinson & Roussos detailing the Joker’s latest escapade, which ends explosively in an aircraft factory…

The chapter ends – following the stunning Robinson cover for Batman#12 – with Don Cameron’s ‘Swastika Over the White House!’ (limned by Jack & Ray Burnley from Batman #14, October/November 1942): a typically rousing slice of spy-busting action readers were gratuitously lapping up at the time.

Part 3: Guarding the Home Front opens with another historically-informative essay – and Jack Burnley’s cover to Batman #15 – before Cameron and those Burnley boys introduce plucky homeless boy Bobby Deen as ‘The Boy Who Wanted to be Robin!’ so badly he became an easy mark for a sinister Svengali…

The same art team illustrated Finger’s powerful propaganda tale ‘The Two Futures’, which examined an America under Nazi subjugation after which Cameron, Kane & Robinson go back to spooky basics in Detective Comics #73 (March 1943) as ‘The Scarecrow Returns’, intent on profiting from wrecking American morale through a campaign of terror…

Following Burnley’s cover to World’s Finest #9 (Spring 1943) is Finger, Robinson & Roussos’ saga of a criminal mastermind who invents a sure-fire ‘Crime of the Month!’ scheme from that same anthological issue.

Augmented by the all-Robinson eye-catcher from the front of Batman #17 (June/July 1943), WFC #10 (Summer) provides Finger, Robinson & Roussos’ ‘The Man with the Camera Eyes’: a gripping battle of wits between the tireless Gotham Guardians and a crafty crook possessing an eidetic memory, leading to the chapter’s end and a stunning Burnley masterpiece from the front of World’s Finest #11 (Fall 1943)…

Part 4: Closing the Ring supplements that vital history feature with the cover to Batman #18 – by Ed Kressey, Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye – before Finger, Kane & Roussos introduce a fascinating new wrinkle to villainy with the conflicted doctor who operates ‘The Crime Clinic’ in Detective #77. Crime Surgeon Matthew Thorne would return many times over the coming decades…

The next issue (#78, August 1943) then pushes the patriotic agenda with ‘The Bond Wagon’ (by Greene, Burnley & Roussos) wherein Robin’s efforts to raise war funds through a parade of historical look-alikes is targeted by Nazi spies and sympathisers.

Batman #19 (October/November) then delivers the magnificent artwork of rising star Dick Sprang who pencilled breathtaking fantasy masterpiece ‘Atlantis Goes to War!’ with the Dynamic Duo rescuing that fabled submerged city from overwhelming U-Boat assault.

The same creative team returned for Batman #21 (February/March 1944) as detailing the sly antics of murderous big city mobster Chopper Gant who cons a military historian into planning his capers, briefly bamboozling Batman and Robin with his warlike ‘Blitzkrieg Bandits!’

‘The Curse of Isis’ comes from WFC #13 (Spring 1944) courtesy of Finger & Jack Burnley with inks by brother Ray & George Roussos: a maritime mystery of superstition, smugglers and sabotage with devious transatlantic crooks targeting hapless American Merchant Marine sailors, after which a legendary classic still proves its worth and punch…

Crafted at the end of 1944, Greene & Sprang’s ‘The Year 3000!’ was a timely allegory of recent terrors and earnest warning to tomorrow as the usual scenario boldly switches to an idyllic future despoiled when the Saturnian hordes of Fura invade Earth and nearly crush humanity.

Happily, one brave man and his young friend find records of ancient heroes named Batman and Robin and, patterning themselves on the long-gone champions, lead a rebellion which overturns and eradicates those future fascists…

The war’s end and aftermath are covered in the feature opening Part 5: Victory after which this titanic tome concludes on a redemptive high note as ‘Batman Goes to Washington!’ (Alvin Schwartz & Robinson, from Batman #28, April/May 1945) finds the Dark Knight supporting a group of former criminals heading to the nation’s capital to argue the case for jobs for ex-offenders.

Typically, some gang bosses react to the threat to their potential labour pool with murderous overkill and the whole affair is neatly completed by a brace of contemporary Sprang covers, from Detective Comics #101 (July) and Batman #30 (August/September 1944).

This stuff set the standard for comic superheroes. Whatever you like now, you owe it to these tales. Superman gave us the idea, and writers like Finger and Cameron refined and defined the meta-structure of the costumed crime-fighter. Where the Man of Steel was as much social force and wish fulfilment as hero, Batman and Robin did what we ordinary mortals wanted and needed to do. They taught bad people the lesson they deserved.

The history of the American comic book industry – in almost every major aspect – stems from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of DC’s twin icons: Superman and Batman. These wartime tales cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin, bringing welcome surcease 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…
™ & © 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers


By Marshall Rogers, Bob Rozakis, Steve Englehart, Dennis J. O’Neil, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, James Robinson, Terry Austin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3227-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Bat-Magic… 10/10

William Marshall Rogers (January 22nd 1950 – March 24th 2007) was a true but quiet giant of comic books. He was born in Flushing, Queens region of New York City and attended Kent State University in Ohio (yeah, that Kent State) where he trained as an architect.

He afterwards worked lots of menial jobs – both inside the arts industries and the real world – before his first work was published, and that only after years of trying, getting close and resolutely trying harder and always getting better at his craft. He was first published in Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine after which he got his big break at DC under editor Julie Schwartz, doing superhero back-up strips in prestigious title Detective Comics.

That led to work on Batman and a fortuitous pairing with high-level Marvel defector Steve Englehart in 1977.

A period of pure magic resulted and the creators would reunite regularly thereafter: on Mister Miracle, Madame Xanadu (DC first direct sale title), Eclipse’s I am Coyote, Scorpio Rose and Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Silver Surfer, as well as Batman sequel series Dark Detective.

In 1989, he was the first artist for the revived Batman newspaper strip (from November 6th until January 21st 1990.

Always in demand, Rogers worked on countless features for many companies over the years but was at his boldly experimental best drawing Howard the Duck and G.I. Joe, adapting Harlan Ellison’s Demon With a Glass Hand (1986) and illustrating Don McGregor’s noir thriller Detectives Inc.: A Remembrance of Threatening Green. Perhaps his most personal contribution was his own charming fantasy Cap’n Quick and a Foozle

Although his contributions to Batman’s canon were relatively few, they are all of exceptional quality and this commemorative hardback and digital tome reprints Roger’s contributions from Detective Comics #468, 471-476, 478, 479, 481; DC Special Series #15, Secret Origins #6; Legends of the Dark Knight #132-136 and Dark Detective #1-6, cumulatively spanning April 1977 to September 2005.

This fabulous celebration opens sans preamble in ‘Battle of the Thinking Machines’, scripted by Bob Rozakis and inked by Terry Austin. The big fight yarn was the culmination of a series of solo stories starring rotating back up stars Green Arrow, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Hawkman and the Atom wherein each singly battled computerised schemer The Calculator. Here, the villain returns to face lead hero Batman at the front of the book, with all the aforementioned costumed champions in attendance as the Printed Circuit Predator sought a way to inoculate himself from all future superheroic interference…

In the mid-1970s Marvel were kicking the stuffing out of DC Comics in terms of sales if not quality product. The most sensible solution – as always – seemed to be to poaching away top talent. That strategy had limited long-term success but one major defection was Steve Englehart, who had recently scripted groundbreaking, award winning work on the Avengers, Defenders and Dr. Strange titles.

He was given the Justice League of America for a year but also requested – and was given – the Batman slot in flagship title Detective Comics. Expected to be daring, innovative and forward looking, he instead chose to invoke a classic and long-departed style which became a new signature interpretation, and one credited with inspiring the 1989 movie mega-blockbuster. It also gibed perfectly with the notions of Rogers and his inseparable inker Austin. Initially Englehart was paired with artists Walt Simonson & Al Milgrom for the series, introducing in ‘…By Death’s Eerie Light!’ and ‘The Origin of Dr Phosphorus’; not only a skeletal, radioactive villain but also the corrupt City Council of Rupert “Boss” Thorne.

In those issues – not included here – the Caped Crusader first isolated and then outlawed in his own city. The team also provided the sequel ‘The Master Plan of Dr. Phosphorus!’ which introduced another landmark character: captivating Modern Woman Silver St. Cloud.

With issue #471 (August 1977) relative newcomers Rogers & Austin took over the art chores and true magic began to be made. As the scripts brought back golden-age and revered A-list villains, the art captured and reinforced the power and moodiness of the strip’s formative years whilst adding to the unique and distinctive iconography of the Batman.

Last seen in Detective Comics #46 (1940), quintessential Mad Scientist Hugo Strange came closer than any other villain to destroying both Bruce Wayne and the Batman in ‘The Dead Yet Live’ and ‘I Am The Batman!’ (Detective #471 and #472 respectively), briefly stealing his identity and setting in motion a diabolical scheme that would run through the entire sequence…

Teen Wonder Robin returned in Detective Comics #473’s ‘The Malay Penguin!’ as podgy Napoleon of Crime the Penguin challenged a temporarily reunited Dynamic Duo to an entrancing, intoxicating duel of wits, after which ‘The Deadshot Ricochet’ updates an old loser in the second ever appearance of a murderous high society dilettante sniper (after an initial outing in Batman #59, 1950). The tale so reinvigorated the third-rate trick-shooter that he’s seldom been missing from the DC Universe since; starring in a number of series such as Suicide Squad and Secret Six, and even in a couple of eponymous miniseries and on both silver and small screens.

The best was saved for last, with all the sub-plots concerning Silver St. Cloud, Boss Thorne, Gotham City Council, and even a recurring ghost culminating in THE classic confrontation with The Joker.

The absolute zenith in this short, stellar sequence resurrecting old foes could only star the Dark Knight’s nemesis at his most chaotic. Cover-dated February and April 1978, Detective #475-476 introduces ‘The Laughing Fish’ before culminating in ‘The Sign of the Joker!’: one of the most reprinted Bat-tales ever concocted. It was later adapted as an episode of award-winning Batman: The Animated Adventures TV show in the 1990s.

In fact, you’ve probably already read it. But if you haven’t… what a treat you have awaiting you! Manic and murderous, the Harlequin of Hate goes on a murder spree after mutating fish.

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

The story culminates in a spectacularly apocalyptic clash among the city’s rooftops which shaped and informed the Batman mythos for the next two decades…

Having said all he wanted to say, Steve Englehart left Batman and soon after quit comics for a few years. After a reprinted story in #477, Rogers drew one last extended adventure for #478-479…

Len Wein scripted ‘The Coming of… Clayface III’ and ‘If a Man be Made of Clay…’ with Dick Giordano replacing Austin as inker on a tale of obsession and tragedy. Another Golden Age villain got a contemporary make-over. Here a deranged scientist seeks to cure his deformed body and instead becomes a walking, predatory disease until the overmatched manhunter steps in…

‘Death Strikes at Midnight and Three’ is taken from all-Batman DC Special Series#15 (Summer 1978): an ambitious if not totally successful text-thriller in pulp style marrying a wealth of superb illustrations by Rogers to Denny O’Neil’s uncharacteristically lacklustre prose as the Gotham Gangbuster hunts a murderous self-proclaimed genius of crime through the city night.

O’Neil & Rogers were far more effective in crafting enigmatic, experimentally retro comics tale ‘Ticket to Tragedy’ (Detective Comics #481 December 1978/January 1979), with Batman stalking a killer from London to America to prove to a disillusioned scientist that justice could still be found for the innocent…

After a long time away, Rogers – and Austin – returned to the Dark Knight in ‘Secret Origin of The Golden Age Batman’ (Secret Origins #6 September 1986), wherein Roy Thomas précised and codified the history of the 1940s (or Earth-2) hero just in time for ongoing sensation Crisis on Infinite Earths to wipe it all away in a new unified, rationalised DCU.

Post-Crisis, Legends of the Dark Knight was a Batman title employing star guest creators to reimagine the hero’s history and past cases for modern audiences.

Devised by Archie Goodwin, James Robinson, Rogers, Bob Wiacek & John C. Cebollero, issues #132-136 (August-December 2000) explore Wayne family history in story arc ‘Siege’ as an elderly mercenary and his deadly team return to Gotham in ‘Assembly’. Colonel Brass has a multi-layered plan for profit and personal gratification that harks back to the old days when he was a trusted aide and virtual son to Bruce’s grandfather Jack Wayne.

Regrettably, as seen in ‘Assault’, ‘Breach’, ‘Battle’ and ‘Defense’, that involves not only duping business woman Silver St. Cloud and plundering the city but also taking over Wayne Mansion, and digging down to some old hidden caves (now fully-inhabited and packed with Bat paraphernalia). Of course, if that entails wiping out any surviving Waynes who might keep Brass from his long-awaited revenge and reward, that’s just a well-deserved bonus…

Under Englehart, Rogers & Austin, Detective Comics managed to be nostalgically avant-garde and iconoclastically traditional at the same time, setting both the tone and the character structure of Batman for decades to come, and leading, indirectly, to both an award-winning animated TV series and the blockbuster movie of 1989. That made thoughts of a reunion run both constant and inevitable – like a school reunion where you forget yourself for a moment, then catch yourself pogoing to “God Save the Queen” in the bar mirror. Of course, the truth is you can’t ever go back and you just look like an idiot doing it now.

Although not quite as bad as that, Batman: Dark Detective #1-6 (July-September 2005) suffers from an excess of trying too hard as Englehart, Rogers & Austin reunited to recount what happened after the major players reassembled on ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ as Silver St. Cloud returns to Gotham to help her new fiancé Senator Evan Gregory secure his nomination as a Gubernatorial candidate. That means looking for donations from old lover Bruce Wayne, but events are further complicated when the Joker announces his own run for the role. His tactics can be best described by his own slogan “Vote for Me …Or I’ll Kill You”.

The plot thickens in ‘You May See a Stranger’ as – amidst a growing bodycount – other lethal loons make their own sinister sorties. Now, as well as The Joker’s terrifyingly unconventional political aspirations, Batman also has to deal with The Scarecrow’s unwitting release of Wayne’s repressed memories of a murder attempt upon himself the night after his parents were killed, and a frankly ludicrous clone-plot as Two Face tries to fix himself through Mad Science.

Before long, the shamefully inescapable occurs as Bruce and Silver succumb to long-thwarted unresolved passions in ‘Two Faces Have I’

Plagued by guilt – both long entrenched and of more recent vintage – the Dark Knight writhes in manufactured nightmares even as fresh horrors are actually happening in grim reality. ‘Thriller’ sees the Maniac of Mirth abduct Silver and her recently un-engaged would-be Governor joins Batman in a rescue bid in ‘Everybody Dance Now’ that leads only to tragedy and doom in catastrophic concluding chapter ‘House’

Rounding out the magnificent mystery and mayhem is a lengthy Cover Gallery by Rogers and his many inkers and colourists.

These tales are just as fresh and welcoming today, their themes and scenes just as compelling now as then and Marshall Roger’s vision of Batman is a unique and iconic one. This is a Bat-book literally everybody can enjoy and this lavish compilation is a treat any Batfan or comics aficionado will always treasure.
© 1977,1978, 1979, 1986, 2000, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman Begins – the Movie and Other Tales of the Dark Knight


By Scott Beatty, Denny O’Neil, Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Bill Willingham, Kilian Plunkett, Dick Giordano, Rick Burchett, Scott McDaniel, Tom Fowler & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0440-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Bat Fun… 8/10

It looks like I’m just destined to be wrong. Do you remember flared jeans, or even bell-bottoms? From which time? As the 1970s gasped to a close I said that we’d never see those again. Horribly, tragically, I was wrong.

I was seven when the Batman TV show first aired, and I loved it. By the time I was nine I had learned the word ‘travesty’ and loathed the show with a passion. When it was all over and the “Camp” fallout had faded from my beloved comics, giving way to the likes of Frank Robbins, Denny O’Neil and the iconoclastic Neal Adams, I was in seventh heaven and praised pantheons of deities that I should never see ‘Batmania’ again. I was, of course, doubly wrong.

The Caped Crusader reconquered the world in 1989 and only the increasing imbecility of its movie sequels stopped that particular multimedia juggernaut. Now there’s a been a whole new sequence of films (some not half-bad – though that’s beside the point) spin-offs and a new iteration beyond that beckons. Each of these cinematic milestones generated its own host of print (and latterly, digital) tie in Bat Products.

Originally released in 2005, this crafty marriage of an inevitable “Official Movie Adaptation” of Batman Begins with a well-considered selection of thematically similar stories is one of the best I can recall and a nice prospect if you’re looking for a great read or ideal gift option…

The lead feature – creditably handled by Scott Beatty on script with Kilian Plunkett & Serge LaPointe illustrating – is an intensely readable reworking of the myth, so much so that I was able, for once, to stifle the small, shrill and incessant comic-fan voice that always screams “why do they keep mucking about with this?”, and “why isn’t the comic version good enough for those movie morons?”

I do, however, still question the modern hang-up with having to start from origin stories at all. Was Star Wars: A New Hope a relative flop because we didn’t know how Darth Vader got Laryngitis? Which Bond movie tells us how he got to be so mean and sardonic? Why can’t film-makers assume that an audience can deduce motivation without a brand-spanking-new road-map every time? Although to be painfully honest, most modern comics seem to be afflicted with this bug too…

Could it be that it’s simply a cheap way of adding weight to the villain du jour, who can then become a Motivating Force in the Birth of the Hero? Said baddies this time out are the Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul, but I’m not going to speak any more about the cinema or plot of a movie that’s already being superseded by this generation’s Gotham Guardian. Batman fans will have already passed judgement…

Accompanying the filmic iteration, and following a pin-up by Ruben Procopio, is ‘The Man Who Falls’ by the aforementioned O’Neil and veteran Bat-artist Dick Giordano and taken from Secret Origins of the World’s Greatest Heroes. This is a skilful, engaging comics retooling of the so-pliable natal legend, created to address the media mania around the 1989 movie.

Hard on its heels and prefaced by a pin-up courtesy of Bill Sienkiewicz comes one of the better stories of recent vintage. ‘Air Time’ is by Greg Rucka, Rick Burchett & Rodney Ramos from Detective Comics #757 in 2001. It’s a taut countdown thriller that in many ways presages the style adopted for the wonderful procedural series Gotham Central.

KReasons’ (Batman #604, 2002), by Ed Brubaker & Scott McDaniel, revisits Batman’s origins in a tale seeking to redefine his relationship to inimical amour Catwoman, before the volume concludes with the brilliant ’Urban Legend’ from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #168.

In a grim and unsettling tale of frailties, Tom Fowler illustrates a wickedly sharp Bill Willingham script stuffed with the dark humour and skewed sensibilities that made his Fables stories such a joy for grown-ups who love comics.

This is a smart package for any casual reader the films might send our way, with a strong thematic underpinning. In an era of streaming and ultra-rapid home release, I’m increasingly unsure of the merit of comic adaptations, but if you are into such things it’s probably best they’re done well, like here…
© 1989, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham


By Mike Mignola, Richard Pace, Troy Nixey, Dennis Janke & Dave Stewart (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5806-1 (TPB)

The origins of the Dark Knight are so well-known now that it’s simple to twist and tweak them to suit almost any tale. It doesn’t hurt that the character has a universal recognition factor that holds up in almost any imaginary scenario…

Released in 2015, available in trade paperback and digital formats and collecting the 3-issue Elseworlds miniseries (from November 2000 – January 2001), The Doom That Came to Gotham was written by horror moodmeister Mike Mignola (Hellboy; duh!) and Richard Pace (Negative Burn; Ashes; Imaginary fiends) with art from Troy Nixey (Harley Quinn; Trout; Only the End of the World Again), inker Dennis Janke & colourist & Dave Stewart.

In case you came in late: During the 1990s, DC regrouped and rebranded its frequent dalliances with alternate reality scenarios under the copious and broad umbrella of a separate imprint. The Elseworlds banner and credo declared that heroes would be taken out of their usual settings and put into strange places and times – some that have existed, or might have existed, and others that can’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t exist…

No doubts here, however, as the tale deftly takes us back to Roaring Twenties America, dishing out a daring dose of pulp fiction plumb centre in the ghastly spine-chilling mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and their darkly-demented contemporaries…

It’s 1928 and orphaned Bruce Wayne is returning to Gotham City two decades after his parents were murdered by a maniac. He’s been roving the world, and recently uncovered the fate of long-lost Professor Cobblepot’s Antarctic expedition. That resulted in a clash with a naked madman who talked to penguins and a large slab of ice with a creature inside it: a thing that never evolved on this world…

By the time he and his close associates Alfred, Dick, Jason and the rest have docked in his bleak and daunting home town, they have all had more than enough of the vile dreams the thing in the hold has generated…

There are more surprises when he reaches his long-closed mansion: a dead man who somehow speaks and a mysterious stranger named Jason Blood who has been sent to deliver a dire warning. Turning into an actual demon the visitor warns that to save Gotham, Bruce must cut out its heart…

Although shocked, Bruce is ready to act, and dons the strange uniform that makes him look like a human bat…

And thus begins a skilful, macabre pastiche as the desperate driven mystery man haunts the alleys and byways of the city, testing corrupt cops, self-serving officials and outright villains – all with names most comics fans will recognise – uncovering a long-suppressed, centuries-old secret even as literal Things From Beyond human comprehension and the borders of time and space congregate.

Can even a heroic Bat Man triumph against such odds and if so, at what cost…?

Complementing the eldritch epic is a full cover gallery by Mignola and a hefty sketches and design section, featuring pencilled pages by Pace (originally slated to illustrate the tale) and layouts by Nixey.

Bold, compelling, potently stylish and chilling in all the right places, The Doom That Came to Gotham is a supernatural romp to delight and impress: once read and never forgotten…
2000, 2001, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Gotham County Line


By Steve Niles & Scott Hampton, with Jose Villarrubia (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0905-6 (TPB)

Many superheroes have a universal genre plasticity and can fit seamlessly into almost any kind of story. Even so, it’s almost no stretch at all to see DC’s Dark Knight tackling marauding monsters and dire demonic disaster, such as in this lost gem, long overdue for a new edition.

Released in 2006 and collecting a 3-issue miniseries (October-December 2005) by written by Steve Niles (30 Days of Night; Simon Dark; Criminal Macabre) with art by Scott Hampton (Silverheels; Batman: Night Cries; Simon Dark) and colourist Jose Villarrubia, the sinister suspense opens in ‘The Obvious Kill’ as yet another Batman-Joker clash throws up an aggravating mind-worm for the Dark Knight: is there a continuance of spirit and personality after death?

Suddenly obsessed with the notion, the manhunter’s subsequent researches are interrupted by a strange series of robbery/murders in the notionally peaceful, sleepy suburbs of the big, bad city. Reluctantly investigating, Batman overturns the police findings and discovers a serial killer at work. In the process of stopping the slaughter, Detective Radmuller of the Gotham County Sheriff’s Department is killed. He won’t be the last…

After closing the case, Batman returns to the city, unaware that the officer has subsequently risen from the dead. With unalloyed horror Batman realises that this case only really kicked into high gear after the death of the perpetrator. …

With zombies prowling the city and county – and even faithful manservant Alfred exhibiting symptoms – a nightmare-wracked but still ardently rationalistic Batman is forced to face the incredible facts of supernatural incursion by the ghost of Boston Brand – murdered aerialist and questing spirit Deadman – who accompanies him on ‘Death’s Highway’ in search of a solution to the plague of walking dead…

With life itself in retreat, Deadman, mystic guardian Phantom Stranger and recently deceased sidekick Jason (Robin) Todd hold back the hordes of unlife, allowing Batman to divine the root cause of the necromantic disaster and set the balance right again on the ‘Night of the Living Death’.

Batman is one of the few heroic icons who has always been equally at home with super-science and the supernatural and the Dark Knight’s arena is here extended to beyond the veil of tears and deep into nightmare territory.

Rife with zombies, ritual killers, early life revelations and doom-drenched guest-stars, this still manages to be a crime thriller and a detective mystery Bat-fans will enjoy and cross-over readers – especially horror aficionados – can revel in.
© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Haunted Knight


By Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1 401-28486-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Seasonal Wonderment… 9/10

The creative team of Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale have tackled many iconic characters in a number of landmark tales, but their reworkings of early Batman mythology – such as The Long Halloween – must certainly rank amongst their most memorable.

Set during the Batman: Year One scenario created by Frank Miller, and originally released as a 13-part miniseries (running from Halloween to Halloween), it detailed the early alliance of Police Captain Jim Gordon, District Attorney Harvey Dent and the mysterious vigilante Batman, to destroy the unassailable mob boss who ran Gotham City: Carmine Falcone – “The Roman”.

However, even before that epic undertaking, the creators worked together on another All Hallows adventure; one that grew like Topsy to eventually become a triptych of Prestige One-Shot Specials under the aegis of Archie Goodwin’s most significant editorial project…

After the continuity-wide reset of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and with DC still in the throes of re-jigging its entire narrative history, a new Batman title launched, presenting multi-part epics refining and infilling the history of the post-Crisis hero and his entourage.

The added fillip was a fluid cast of prominent and impressively up-and-coming creators…

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight was a fascinating experiment, even if ultimately the overall quality became a little haphazard and hit-or-miss.

Most of the early story-arcs were quickly collected as trade paperback editions – helping to jump-start the graphic novel sector of the comics industry – and the moody re-imaginings of the Gotham Guardian’s early career gave fans a wholly modern insight into the ancient yet highly malleable concept.

As explained in ‘Trick or Treat’ – Editors Goodwin’s reproduced introduction from the 1996 compilation – the first Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special began life as a story-arc for the monthly series before being cannily promoted to a single, stand-alone publication released for October 1993. Its success spawned the two sequels also included in this volume and the aforementioned Long Halloween epic…

Collected in one spooky stripped-down paperback and/or eBook compilation, those three scary stories comprise a raw and visceral examination of an obsessive hero still learning his trade and capable of deadly misjudgements as seen in initial yarn ‘Fears’.

Here, after spectacularly capturing terror-obsessed psychopath Jonathan Crane, the neophyte Caped Crusader leaves him to mere policemen ill-equipped to cope with the particular brand of malicious insanity cultivated by The Scarecrow

It’s fair to say that the man behind the bat mask is distracted; still attempting to reconcile his nocturnal and diurnal activities, young Bruce Wayne is currently floundering before the seductive and sophisticated blandishments of predatory social butterfly and matrimonial black widow Jillian Maxwell. Faithful major-domo Alfred Pennyworth is not so easily swayed, however…

Left too much to his own devices, Scarecrow has run wild through Gotham, but when he abducts Gordon, he at last makes a mistake the Dark Knight can capitalise upon…

One year later another Halloween brings ‘Madness’ as rebellious teen Barbara Gordon choses exactly the wrong moment to run away from home: a night when her dad’s mysterious caped pal is frantically hunting Jervis Tetch – a certified nutcase abducting runaways to attend decidedly deadly Tea Parties orchestrated by a truly Mad Hatter

Steeped in personal nostalgia as a maniac rampages through his city, inadvertently trampling upon some of Bruce Wayne’s only happy memories (of his mother’s favourite book), the heroic pursuer almost dies at the hands of the Looking Glass Loon, only to be saved by unlikely angel Leslie Thompkins – another woman who will loom large in the future life of the Batman…

The final fable here pastiches a Christmas classic by Charles Dickens as ‘Ghosts’ sees a delirious Bruce Wayne uncharacteristically taking to his bed early on the night before Halloween.

After socialising with young financier Lucius Fox, eating bad shrimp and crushing baroque bird bandit The Penguin, our sick and weary playboy lapses into troubled sleep, only to be visited by three spectres…

Looking like Poison Ivy, The Joker and the corpse of Batman himself, whilst representing Past, Present and inescapable Future, these phantoms prove that only doom awaits unless the overachieving hero strikes a balance – or perhaps truce – between his two divergent identities…

Trenchant with narrative foreboding – long-time fans already know the tragedies in store for all the participants, although total neophytes won’t be left wondering – these eerily enthralling Noir thrillers by Loeb perfectly capture the spirit of the modern Batman, supremely graced with startlingly powerful images of Mood, Mystery and rampant Mayhem from the magic pencil and brush of Tim Sale, vividly augmented by the colours of Gregory Wright and lettering of Todd Klein.

Adding lustre to these moody proceedings are a gallery of prior covers culled from earlier collections as well as a Sale Batman sketch, making this one of the very best Batman books you could read.
So, do…
© 1993, 1994, 1995, 2014, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Gotham Central book 2: Jokers and Madmen


By Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, Greg Scott, Brian Hurtt, Stephen Gaudiano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2543-8 (TPB)

There are two names horrifically synonymous with Gotham City, USA.

If you’re a cop, you keep your own opinions about the Batman, and it’s pretty much unanimous that the Joker is not someone you ever want to deal with. A madman with a homicidal flair for the theatrical, the clown loves a special occasion. It’s Christmas and it’s started to snow…

One of the greatest rewards of long-lasting, legendary comicbook characters is their infinite potential for innovation and reinterpretation. There always seems to be another facet or aspect to develop. Such is the case in regard to the much-missed spinoff series Gotham Central, wherein cop show sensibilities cannily combined with the deadly drudgery of the long-suffering boys in blue patrolling the world’s most famous four-colour city.

Owing as much to shows like The Rookie, Law & Order, The Shield or Blue Bloods as it did to the baroque continuity of the Dark Knight, the mesmerising tales of the bleakly understated series combined gritty, authentic police action with furtive, soft-underbelly glimpses at what merely mortal peacekeepers have to put up with in a world of psychotic vaudevillians, flying aliens and scumbag hairballs who just won’t stay dead.

This second huge paperback volume (also available in digital formats), collects more urban-level exploits of the hard-pressed peacekeepers of the most dangerous city in America – as first seen in Gotham Central #11-22 and spanning November 2003 to October 2004.

The patrol begins with moodily effulgent introduction ‘Noir Town’ courtesy of crime author Duane Swiercznski and a handy double-page feature re-introducing the hardworking stiffs of First Shift, Second Shift and the Police Support team comprising the ‘Gotham City Police Department, Major Crimes Unit’ before the dark dramas resume…

First up is uncharacteristic tearjerker ‘Daydreams and Believers’ by Ed Brubaker, Brian Hurtt and colourist Lee Loughridge which explores the GCPD’s strange relationship with the masked manhunter who unwelcomely assists their efforts.

They all know he’s out there, but the official line is that he’s an urban myth and the Administration refuses to acknowledge his existence. Thus, civilian receptionist Stacy is the only person allowed to operate the rooftop bat-signal whenever crises occur, whilst the public are informed that the eerie light is simply used to keep the cowardly, stupid, superstitious underworld cowed…

Here, however, we get a glimpse into the shy lamplighter’s inner thoughts as she observes the fractious byplay of the MCU regulars: all getting by thinking they’re fooling everyone else with their jealous bitching, petty sniping and tawdry clandestine affairs.

It’s all okay, though. Stacy has her own world to retreat into: one where the mighty Batman is her enigmatic but passionate lover…

The main event opens with a Yuletide shopping panic that looks to be the most memorable ever. Crafted by Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Michael Lark & Stephen Gaudiano, ‘Soft Targets’ finds the entire Major Crimes Unit frantically hunting a sniper randomly shooting citizens. Things get even nastier and more fraught after Mayor Dickerson is killed as he consults with new Police Commissioner Michael Akins.

The ruthless shooter guns down a school teacher and the medical examiner collecting her body and soon the pre-Christmas streets are deserted. The assassin then identifies himself by launching a website promoting “Batman for Mayor” and the appalled police realise just who they’re dealing with…

As Stacy turns on the roof signal her greatest wish comes true at last as the Gotham Guardian sweeps her off her feet… microseconds before a fusillade of shots nearly makes her the latest statistic…

As the Dark Knight vanishes into the snowy darkness after the maniac, Gotham’s Finest get back to their meticulous police work, tracking ballistics and hunting for the website’s point of origin. Mounting media frenzy and their own frustration lead to crippling tension and soon they’re all at each other’s throats, before a potentially nasty situation is immediately curtailed by a new posting…

A live web-cam feed starts, counting down to a fresh victim somewhere in the huge terrified powder-keg conurbation…

As the cops pull out all the stops to identify the building on-screen and resort to old dependables, such as violently rousting the Harlequin of Hate’s (surviving) former flunkies, the scene suddenly changes. Now it shows prime media pain-in-the-neck Angie Molina as a captive of the killer clown: stashed somewhere anonymous and slowly ticking down to a bloody and show-stopping demise…

And just when things can’t get any crazier, The Joker turns himself in…

Even the insufferably cocky kook’s capture doesn’t halt the slaughter, since the proudly Machiavellian perpetrator can carry on killing by pre-programmed remote control even as he languishes in a cell…

When Lt. Ron Probson elects to go all “old school” in his interview with the loon, it only results in his own death and the clown’s escape. Stacy barely avoids death a second time because Captain Maggie Sawyer saves her questions for later and shoots first – and often…

Working a lead, Detectives Nate Patton and Romy Chandler have meanwhile found the captive reporter and realised the Joker’s convoluted, mass-murderous endgame, but even with Batman on scene they don’t all make it out…

‘Life is Full of Disappointments’ (Brubaker and Rucka with art from Greg Scott) then focuses on disgruntled Second Shift veteran Jackson SargeDavies who is still chafing at once again being passed over for promotion – especially as prissy new Day Shift commander David Cornwell has been parachuted in from outside the unit to run things…

As the squad come back from burying their dead, Sarge and partner Nelson Crowe catch a nasty case: a dead girl in a dumpster. However, Stephanie Becker was no lost indigent or fun-loving party girl killed for the contents of her purse. She worked in accounting at prestigious Washburn Pharmaceuticals and was killed with an exotic toxin…

As the grizzled old-timers methodically work the facts, they connect a succession of odd occurrences which lead them to First Shift colleagues Tommy Burke and Dagmar Procjnow, currently investigating the suspicious death of middle aged widow Maryellen Connolly. She is a still-warm stiff previously employed in the same office and slain the same way…

All the evidence seems to point to an unsanctioned million-dollar deficit and deep Mafia involvement at the Pharma factory, but the diligent detectives keep pushing and discover a far older possible motive for the murders…

This gritty grimoire of Gotham atrocity ends with the bleakly chilling ‘Unresolved’ (Brubaker, Lark & Gaudiano from issues #19-22) which features the reappearance of conflicted fan-favourite and all-around slob Harvey Bullock after the GCPD reopen a landmark cold case.

Marcus Driver and new partner Josie Mac are called to a hostage situation where a deranged perp continually screams about voices in his head before eating his own shotgun…

The troubled stiff was Kenny Booker – sole survivor of an infamous High School bombing which shocked the city eight years previously – and the fresh tragedy compels Driver to take another look at the still-unsolved mystery…

The “Gotham Hawks” were a championship school baseball team eradicated in a locker room explosion, but every effort of Bullock and his squad could never pin down a single solid lead. However, when Marcus and Josie re-examine the accumulated evidence, they find a potential link to one of Batman’s weirdest and creepiest foes.

It’s not enough and they are forced to call in the disgraced ex-cop for a consult. The move is a huge mistake as they are utterly unprepared for the fallout when Bullock talks to them.

Apparently, the legendary maverick was fired after arranging the death of a killer the law couldn’t touch, and he took to drowning his days in booze. However, this case has haunted Harvey for years and now that he sees a possible solution, he goes completely off the rails in his hunger to finish things.

The trouble is that even now the facts tumbling in are increasingly pointing to a completely different culprit from the one Bullock always suspected, but the fixated former lawman just won’t listen…

Going on a rampage, he courts death by brutalising malevolent mobster The Penguin whilst miles away another suspect, galvanised after years of apparent anonymity, breaks out of Arkham Asylum and goes hunting…

Even after all this, the true story is far more twisted than the bewildered detectives could have possibly imagined and the eventual conclusion destroys further lives, sanity and honour before the dust at last settles…

From an era when comicbook noir was enjoying a superb renaissance, these classic thrillers are masterpieces of edgy, fast-paced tension packed with layers of human drama, tension, stress and suspense.

Solid gritty police drama seamlessly blended with the grisly fantasy of the modern superhero seems like a strange brew, but it delivers knockout punches time after time in this captivating series which was the notional inspiration for Gotham TV series outlining just how Batman’s city got that way…
© 2003, 2004, 2009, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity – the Deluxe Edition


By Matt Wagner, with Dave Stewart & Sean Konot (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5690-6 (HC)
Comics fans – especially diehard lifelong aficionados of the superhero genre – have an innate appreciation and love of mythologizing. The hunger lures like a siren, hits like a speeding locomotive and dictates our lives and fate like Doomsday freshly arrived. We just can’t help ourselves…

DC Comics have been responsible for many outstanding tales that have become modern day legends, ever since the primal creation of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman: slowly interweaving the undying fantasy favourites into a rich tapestry of perfect adventure which has taken on a life of its own, inextricably entrenched in the dream-lives of generations of children and the adults – and screen icons – they became.

It was only relatively recently that DC fully acknowledged the imaginative treasure-trove they were sitting on: cannily building on the epic, cross-generational appeal and elder statesman status of their founding stars. One of the most impressive of the efforts is this evergreen fable, originally released in 2003 as a 3-part Prestige Format miniseries.

As seen in Batman and the Mad Monk, Sandman Mystery Theatre, The Shadow: The Death of Margo Lane or Zorro, auteur Matt Wagner has an uncanny gift for re-imagining and updating the raw power of Golden Age classics while celebrating and sustaining the core mystique of the originating concept. With Trinity he revealed a new canonical first collaborative venture of the all-conquering triumvirate, set in the brave new lone universe post-Crisis on Infinite Earths

Following an effusive Introduction from novelist and A-List comics-scribe Brad Meltzer, the brief encounter opens in the Art Deco Metropolis as oafish Clark Kent‘s morning is ruined by an assassin who shoots a commuter train driver and brings the morning rush-hour to a screeching, crashing, cataclysmic halt…

It soon becomes apparent that the subsequent near-disaster has been devised simply to distract and assess the capabilities of the mighty Man of Steel. That night a daring raid on S.T.A.R. Labs is ruthlessly foiled by a silent, caped visitor to the “City of Tomorrow”, but Superman knows nothing about it until it’s all over.

…And at the bottom of the world, more mysterious masked minions at last liberate Superman’s warped and retarded clonal antithesis Bizarro from its icy imprisonment deep beneath the Antarctic mantle…

Another promising day is spoiled for the reporter by a visit from Bruce Wayne, a reluctant occasional ally, and equally obnoxious whether in his playboy charade or as his true self: the dread Batman.

The visit is a courtesy call between distant colleagues. A terrorist group calling itself “The Purge” would have obtained samples of Kryptonite had the Dark Knight not intervened. Now they plan to raid Lex Luthor‘s citadel and professional courtesy demands that Superman be fully apprised…
Meanwhile, in a most secret hideaway a strangely formidable young girl named Diana auditions for the Most Dangerous Man on Earth: a criminal overlord in need of a perfect warrior to lead his massed forces…

Ra’s Al Ghul always gets what he wants and after the charismatic Demon’s Head charms Bizarro with honeyed words of friendship, the freakish doppelganger is only too happy to bring him a present…

Tragically, Russian nuclear submarines are a bit tricky to handle and the super-simpleton manages to drop one of its atomic missiles en route. The lost nuke explodes far from any regular shipping lines, however. Apart from fish, the only creatures affected are a race of immortal women warriors, invisible to mortal eyes and forgotten by Man’s World for millennia…

As mysterious mercenary Diana prepares to carry out The Demon’s orders, in Metropolis another Amazon tracks down Superman and politely enquires why he dropped an A-Bomb on her home. Eschewing rash accusations or pointless fisticuffs they soon come to realise the true nature of the horrific event and unite to track the stolen sub to the Sahara, promptly falling into an ambush by Al Ghul’s fanatical forces. The guns, knives, nerve gas and suicide bombers prove no problem, but a booby-trapped nuke is another matter entirely…

Barely surviving the detonation, Man of Steel and Princess of Power head for Gotham City to seek the grudging assistance of The Demon’s most implacable foe, only to find the Dark Knight is already on the case, having just unsuccessfully engaged with Al Ghul’s Amazonian field commander.

Reluctant to admit a need for allies and inherently suspicious of bright and shiny super-people chronically unable to make hard decisions or get their hands dirty, Batman nevertheless enters into a tenuous alliance with the dilettante champions to stop the insane plans of an immortal madman determined to wipe out modern civilisation and cleanse the Earth of toxic humanity…

Hard-hitting, epic and spectacular, this Wagnerian saga (you have no idea how long and hard I struggled before succumbing to that painful pun) superbly illustrates the vast gulfs between the oh-so-different heroes and how they nevertheless mesh to form the perfect team. Strongly character-driven throughout, the protracted struggle to defeat Al Ghul and his infamous allies offers tension, mystery, genuine humour and powerful plot-twists galore, all wrapped up in a bombastic feast of frenzied action supplemented with savvy cameos and guest shots by other – albeit lesser – keystones of the DCU.

Stunningly illustrated by Wagner, lavishly coloured by Dave Stewart and subtly lettered by Sean Konot, this Deluxe hardcover and digital edition also includes a glorious cover gallery – including the tie-in covers to the miniseries that graced Adventures of Superman #628, Wonder Woman #204 and Batman #627, plus a beautiful Sketchbook section featuring a wealth of the artist’s preliminary drawings, layouts, designs and ideas.

When producing this type of tale there’s always the dilemma of whether to trade on current continuity or to deconstruct and attain a more grandiose, mythic feel, but part-time and casual readers need not worry. Wagner has hewn to the timeless fundamentals to craft a gratifyingly “Big” story which still manages to reveal more about the individual stars involved than a year’s worth of periodical publishing.

Trinity is primal adventure: accessible, exciting and rewarding, with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as they should always be but so seldom are. Team ups and retrofits should all be this good.
© 2003, 2004, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman and the Outsiders volume 2


By Mike W. Barr, Jim Aparo, Alan Davis, Jerome K. Moore, Alex Saviuk, Jan Duursema, Rick Hoberg, Bill Willingham, Trevor Von Eeden, Ron Randall & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7753-6 (HC)

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

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

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

The core premise of the new series revealed that Batman was convinced that the JLA was no longer fit for purpose; that too many problems were beyond their reach because they were hamstrung by international red tape and, by inference, too many laws.

To fix the problem he recruited a new team intended to be living weapons in his arsenal: a combination of old allies and new talent.

Markovian scientist Dr. Jace specialised in creating superpowers. When King Victor died, she used her process on Prince Brion and his sister Tara to create Earth-powered Geo-Force (and Terra). Rex (Metamorpho) Mason is a chemical freak able to turn into any element, and Jefferson (Black Lightning) Pierce is an electrically powered urban vigilante.

They were supplemented by female samurai/ninja Katana who wields a magic soul-drinking blade and an amnesiac American girl with inexplicable light-based powers answering to Halo.

The introductory stories cleverly peeled back layers of mystery shrouding all the newcomers, with plenty of plot threads laid for future development in the tried-&-tested super-team formula that had worked so well with the New X-Men and New Teen Titans.

This enticing hardback collection (also available as an eBook) resumes the daring departure of the Gotham Gangbuster, re-presenting BATO #14-23 and Batman and the Outsiders Annual #1, collectively spanning October 1984-July 1985, and also includes relevant pages from the Who’s Who Guide to the DC Universe. The entirety of the book is graced by the adroit writing of Mike W. Barr which – for the majority of the run – meshed perfectly with the understated talents of Jim Aparo; an artist who gave his all to a script. Eventually though he would move on to be replaced by a growing star of the “British Invasion”…

The action opens with the first Annual as ‘…Land Where Our Fathers Died…’ introduces a gang of ultra-patriots seeking to head the country in their own hard right direction called the Force of July in a barbed epic written by Barr and episodically illustrated by Jerome Moore, Alex Saviuk, Jan Duursema and Rick Hoberg with Aparo on inks.

Illustrated by Bill Willingham & Bill Anderson, BATO #14’s ‘Two by Two…’ and #15’s ‘Going for the Gold’ (spectacularly and moodily rendered by Trevor Von Eeden) comprise a two-part thriller set at the 1984 Olympics with raving loon and self-proclaimed god Maxie Zeus unleashing a super-powered minion on the team in an ploy to reclaim the Great Games for his own glory…

Aparo returns in #16 for the start of extended epic ‘The Truth About Halo’: as inconclusive opening ‘…Goodbye…’ sees a couple claiming to be her parents reclaim the memory-wiped child before the next two issues spotlight Metamorpho. This diverting digression takes the depleted team to the desert and back three millennia for ‘We Are Dying, Egypt… Dying’ and ‘Who Wears the Crown of Ra?’, to explore the fateful origins of the ancient antecedents of Element Man.

Seasonal Christmas tale. ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Red “S”?’ then offers a powerful tale of date-rape and sexual bullying, which results in Geo-Force battling Superman to a standstill, after which a new year resolution details ‘The Truth About Halo: Part Two’ as grotesque gang boss Tobias Whale, debased criminal surgeon Dr. Moon and kinky assassin Syonide reveal the sordid, shocking truth about teenager Violet Harper, if not how she lost her memory and gained her powers. Powerful and haunting, the Barr/Aparo thriller drops as many bodies as secrets…

BATO #23 offers a triptych of solo tales by Barr, with Katana getting ‘The Silent Treatment’ (Jerome K. Moore) while saving priceless and extremely fragile Japanese pottery from thieves in, after which Geo-Force battles a tricked-up and amok robot shark in ‘Jaws 4… Gotham, 0!’ (limned by Von Eeden) and Black Lightning clashes with a sham radical social activist in Ron Randall’s ‘The Roar of the Ghetto-Blaster!’.

Slick stylist Alan Davis became regular artist with issue #22, as ‘The Truth About Halo: Part Three’ promised to disclose ‘What She is and How She Came to Be!’. Invading the recently wrecked and abandoned Justice League Satellite, Batman’s squad and Dr. Jace utilise its advanced technology to scan Violet and finally find what they’ve been looking for…

Sadly, that only leads to Halo being abducted and imprisoned by immortal, antediluvian light beings called Aurakles, prompting the heroes to breach the walls of reality to get her back…

With a full cover gallery, Who’s Who data pages on Black Lightning, Geo-Force, Halo and Katana and a team pin-up by Davis, this is a splendid package to appeal to dedicated Fights ‘n’ Tights fanatics. Batman and the Outsiders was always a highly readable series and is re-presented here in most accessible manner so open-minded new readers in search of quality storytelling could do lots worse than try out this near-forgotten corner of the DCU.
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