Elseworlds Batman volume 2


By Doug Moench, Kelley Jones, John Beatty & Malcolm Jones III (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6982-1

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…

Here a recent reissue (originally released in 2007 as Batman Vampire – Tales of the Multiverse) and now available in paperback and eBook editions collects a trilogy of unlikely Batman stories that began with a literary cross-pollination of the type publishers seem so in love with.

Crafted by Doug Moench, Kelley Jones and Malcolm Jones III, Batman and Dracula: Red Rain was and remains is a genuinely creepy adventure of heroism and sacrifice. Here the Lord of Vampires moves into Gotham City and turns the city into a hellscape unimaginable to behold.

Desperate to save his home, the Dark Knight is forced to ally himself with “good vampires” in an attempt to stop Dracula. It can’t be a spoiler to reveal that he also has to sacrifice his life and his humanity before the threat to his beloved city is ended…

This tale was a great success when it was first released in 1991; a minor gothic masterpiece, both philosophical and tension drenched, with the sleek, glossily distorted artwork of Jones & Jones III creating a powerful aura of foredoomed predestination. It alone is well worth the price of admission.

And that is a very good thing because the two sequels are a possibly unnecessary indulgence.

Batman: Bloodstorm (1994, with the somehow more visually hygienic John Beatty replacing Malcolm Jones III as inker) sees a devasted-but-still-hanging-on Gotham protected by a vampiric Batman.

The Dark Nosferatu now combines his crime-fighting mission with dispatching those bloodsuckers who escaped the cataclysmic events of Red Rain. Tragically, he is a tortured hero suffering the agonies of the damned, struggling perpetually with his unholy thirst, but is determined nonetheless never to drink human blood.

However, when the Joker assumes command of the remaining vampire packs and attempts to take control of Gotham, not even the hero’s greatest friends and a lycanthropic Cat-Woman can forestall Batman’s final fate…

And yet Batman’s eternal rest is thwarted and stolen from him after the heartsick Alfred Pennyworth and desperate Commissioner Jim Gordon recall the Batman from his tomb in Batman: Crimson Mist.

Moench, Jones & Beatty recount a bleak but predictable saga (originally released in 1999) of a beleaguered metropolis overrun by super-criminals since the caped Crusader went to his reward.

So, when his faithful manservant brings him back, the faithful retainer is horrified to find the now corrupted hero is just another malevolent, blood-hungry beast. One who plans to save Gotham by slaughtering every criminal still breathing in it…

Only a bizarre alliance of good men and monstrous villains can rectify this situation before humanity itself pays the awful price…

These stories take the concept of Batman as scary beast to logical extremes – and far beyond – but although well drawn and thoughtfully written, the sequels lack the depth and intensity of the initial tale and feel too much like most sequels – just an attempt to make some more money.

If you’re a superhero fan at least in this volume you have the real deal, so buy it and just treat the last two thirds as bonus material. If you’re a sucker for stylish bloodbaths and dramatic scarlet-drenched suspense, however, there’s plenty here for you to wade through and wallow in…
© 1991, 1994, 1999, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Sunday Classics 1943-1946


By Don Cameron, Bill Finger, Joe Samachson, Alvin Schwartz, Bob Kane, Jack Burnley, Fred Ray & various (Sterling)
ISBN: 978-1-1402-4718-2

For most of the 20th century the newspaper comic strip was the Holy Grail that cartoonists and graphic narrative storytellers hungered for. Syndicated across the country and the planet, with millions of readers and accepted (in most places) as a more mature and sophisticated form of literature than comic-books, it also paid better. The Holiest of Holies was a full-colour Sunday page.

However, it was always something of a poisoned chalice when a comicbook property became so popular that it swam against the tide (after all weren’t the funny-books invented just to reprint the strips in cheap accessible form?) to become a syndicated serial strip.

Superman, Wonder Woman, Archie Andrews and a few others made the jump in the 1940s and many features have done so since. One of the most highly regarded came late to the party even though it was probably the highest quality offering, both in its daily and Sunday format. It was called Batman and Robin.

Although a highpoint in strip cartooning, both simultaneous Batman features were cursed by ill-timing. The feature finally debuted during a period in newspaper publishing that was afflicted by rationing, shortages and a changing marketplace.

These strips never achieved the circulation they deserved, but at least the Sundays were given a new lease of life after DC began reprinting vintage stories in the 1960s in their 80-Page Giants and Annuals.

The superior quality adventures were ideal action-mystery short stories, adding an extra cachet of exoticism for young readers already captivated by enjoying tales of their heroes that were positively ancient and redolent of History with a capital “H”.

The stories themselves are broken down into complete single page instalments building into short tales averaging between four to six pages per adventure. The mandatory esoteric foes include such regulars as the Penguin (twice), Joker, Catwoman and Two-Face and all-original themed villains such as The Gopher, The Sparrow and Falstaff, but the bulk of the yarns offer more prosaic criminals, if indeed there is any antagonist at all…

A huge benefit of work produced for an audience deemed “more mature” is the freedom to explore human interest stories such as exonerating wrongly convicted men, fighting forest fires or discovering the identity of an amnesia victim. There is even a jolly seasonal yarn that bracketed Christmas week, 1945.

The writers of the strip included Don Cameron, Bill Finger, Joe Samachson, Alvin Schwartz with art by Bob Kane, Jack Burnley and Fred Ray and inking by Win Mortimer and Charles Paris. The letterer was tireless, invisible calligraphic master Ira Schnapp and the strips were all coloured by Raymond Perry.

This lovely oversized (241 x 318 mm) full colour hardback was originally published in conjunction by DC Comics & Kitchen Sink Press in 1991, and also contains a wealth of extra features such as biographical notes, a history of the strip, promotional artefacts, behind-the-scenes artwork and sketches, promotional features and much more. It’s long past time it was back in print – and eBooked too – as it’s a must for both Bat-fans and lovers of the artform and a certain anniversary is fast approaching…
© 1991, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Gotham Central Book 1: In the Line of Duty


By Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka & Michael Lark & Stephen Gaudiano (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1923-9 (HB)                    978-1-4012-2037-2 (TPB)

One of the great joys of long-lasting, legendary comics characters is their potential for innovation and reinterpretation. There always seems to be another facet or corner to develop. Such a case was Gotham Central, wherein contemporary television sensibilities cannily combined with the deadly drudgery of the long-suffering boys in blue in the world’s most famous four-colour city.

Owing as much to shows such as Homicide: Life on the Streets and Law & Order as it did to the baroque continuity of Batman, the series mixed gritty, authentic police action with a soft-underbelly peek at what the merely mortal guardians and peacekeepers had to put up with in a world of psychotic clowns, flying aliens and scumbag hairballs who just won’t stay dead.

This compilation – available in hardback, soft cover and eBook editions – collects Gotham Central #1-10 (spanning February to October 2003), lovingly crafted by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka with sublimely understated illustration from Michael Lark and comes with an erudite and informative Introduction on ‘The Mean Streets of Gotham’ by celebrated crime author Lawrence Block.

Brubaker & Rucka co-wrote the eponymous two-part premier tale ‘In the Line of Duty’ wherein a desperate child-kidnap investigation by detectives Marcus Driver and Charlie Fields of ex-Commissioner Gordon’s hand-picked Major Crimes Unit leads them all unawares to the temporary hideout of murderous superfreak Mr Freeze.

The cold-hearted killer horrifically eliminates Charlie but sadistically leaves Driver injured and alive… as an object lesson.

The GCPD have a strange relationship with the Dark Knight. 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, a civilian is employed to turn on the bat-signal on the roof when crises occur and the public are told the eerie light is simply used to keep the cowardly, superstitious underworld cowed…

In such circumstances all real cops are loath to ask for The Bat’s help and Driver and his grieving, angry colleagues pull out all the stops to find and capture Freeze before the masked vigilante insultingly finishes their job for them.

However, as night falls and the flash-frozen body count rises, Marcus deduces what Freeze is planning and has no choice but to ask new Police Commissioner Akins to suspend his embargo and call in the whacko expert before hundreds more die…

From an era when comicbook noir was enjoying a superb renaissance, this classic take on the theme of the hunt for a cop-killer is a masterpiece of edgy and fast-paced tension whilst simultaneously smoothly and memorably introducing a large cast of splendidly realised new and very individual players…

Brubaker solo-scripts the second story as ‘Motive’ finds the now fit-for-duty Driver and his temporary partner Romy Chandler using solid police work to solve the outstanding kidnap case, all the while under the gun since arson villain The Firebug is dancing on the horizon, burning down Gotham one building at a time.

Fourteen-year old babysitter Bonnie Lewis vanished while walking home from her yuppie client’s house, and a subsequent ransom demand later proved to be a fake. Now, after her body is found, Driver and Chandler meticulously re-examine the facts and discover that almost everybody involved has been lying…

As they methodically sift evidence, alibis and possible motives, they begin to realise that even this tragically normal crime has its roots in both common greed and the gaudy madness of the city’s abundant metahuman menaces…

The gripping procedural drama then segues back to the city’s aristocracy of maniacs as Greg Rucka scripts ‘Half a Life’ with focus switching to Renee Montoya: a solid cop with too many secrets.

After her former partner Harvey Bullock was fired with extreme prejudice, tongues started wagging, but now an old case threatens to destroy her career and end her life…

When arresting rapist Marty Lipari, he tried to stab her, and Montoya forcefully subdued him. Now her morning is ruined after the skel sues her for ten million dollars in damages.

It only gets worse when she and partner Crispus Allen get a bogus case dumped on them by the corrupt, lazy meatheads in Robbery Division. However, the capper is dinner with her traditional, devout Catholic parents who still want her to settle down and have kids…

Her life begins to truly unravel when a photo of her kissing another woman does the rounds of colleagues, friends and family. Not all her fellow cops are homophobic bigots: but just enough are. That’s why she kept her life private for years.

Now, apparently outed by Lipari’s hired gumshoe Brian Selker, she is targeted by Internal Affairs when first the PI and then Lipari himself are found shot to death.

With her lover Darla threatened, her gun identified as the murder weapon and a huge quantity of illicit drugs found in her apartment, Renee is soon on her way to jail – another bad egg just like Bullock…

Nobody in MCU thinks she’s guilty but the evidence is overwhelming, and the crisis comes when en route she’s busted out by masked men and taken to the hidden citadel of one of Batman’s most nightmarish nemeses…

Utterly alone, in the unfriendliest job in the world, in the nastiest town on Earth, Montoya has to deal alone with a crazed maniac who’s destroyed her life just so he can be with her forever.

As a Major Crimes detective she’s seen how bad The Bat’s enemies can get, but this time she’s the target, not the hunter or witness, and it’s not just her life at stake…

This engrossing drama never steps outside of human bounds, irrespective of the nature of evil in Gotham, and the original comic presentation (from issues #6-10) won Eisner, Harvey, Eagle and Prism awards for Best Story of 2003.

Sadly not included in this volume are the two earlier tales from Renee’s past (you might want to track down Batman Chronicles #16 – Two Down, by Rucka & Jason Pearson & Cam Smith and Detective Comics#747 – Happy Birthday Two You, by Rucka, William Rosado & Steve Mitchell) which explained that oblique connection to her obsessive suitor. You can find them in the original 2005 trade paperback Gotham Central: Half a Life. and hopefully future editions will restore them to this volume too.

The appropriate quota of human drama, tension, stress and machismo all play well under Michael Lark’s deft subtle artwork, adding a grimy patina of pseudo-reality to good old-fashioned cops ‘n’ robbers stories, all playing out with compulsive veracity in what can only be described as the urban city of the damned.

This smart cop thriller set on the edge of hell is a stunning study in genre-crossing storytelling, and this edition includes a full cover gallery by Lark as well as a fulsome section of designs and character sketches in bonus feature ‘Staffing the GCPD’.

Dark, suspenseful and so very addictive, this is a book no bat-freak or crime buff can afford to miss.
© 2004, 2005, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 4


By Bill Finger, Don Cameron, Joseph Greene, Joe Samachson, Jack Schiff, Bob Kane, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7130-5

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) 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 Steel, 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.

Presented in original publishing release order, the tomes trace the character’s growth into the icon who would inspire so many and develop the resilience needed to survive the stifling cultural vicissitudes that coming decades would inflict upon him and his partner, Robin.

Re-presenting astounding cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #66-74, Batman #12-15 and pertinent stories from World’s Finest Comics #7-9, this book covers groundbreaking escapades from August 1942 to April 1943: 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 more scripters joined the ever-expanding team to detail 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 chief writer Bill 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 brief while…

This volume starts in grand style with the debut of a true classic villain as Finger, Kane & Robinson expose ‘The Crimes of Two-Face’ (Detective Comics #66): a classical tragedy in crime-caper form as Gotham DA Harvey Kent (whose name was later changed by editorial diktat to Dent) is disfigured in court and goes mad – becoming the conflicted thief and killer who remains one of the Caped Crusader’s greatest foes.

Batman #12 (August/September 1942) follows with another four classics. ‘Brothers in Crime’ – by Don Cameron & Robinson – reveals the tragic fates of a criminal family after which the Joker returns in ‘The Wizard of Words’ by Finger, Kane, Robinson and George Roussos.

Jack Burnley illustrated the spectacular daredevil drama ‘They Thrill to Conquer’ before ‘Around the Clock with Batman’ recounts a typical “day in the life” of the Dynamic Duo, complete with blazing guns, giant statues and skyscraper near-death experiences…

Then, from World’s Finest Comics #7 (Fall 1942), comes an imaginative thriller of chilly thrills and spills in ‘The North Pole Crimes!’ whilst Detective #67 features the Penguin as ‘Crime’s Early Bird!’, before Two-Face’s personal horror-story continues in ‘The Man Who Led a Double Life’ from #68.

Batman #13 (October/November 1942) tugged heartstrings when ‘The Batman Plays a Lone Hand’ but returned to more traditional ground after the Joker organized a ‘Comedy of Tears’ (by Jack Schiff, Kane, Robinson & Roussos). Although ‘The Story of the Seventeen Stones!’ (drawn by Burnley) then offered a deliciously experimental murder-mystery, the heroes slipped into comfortable Agatha Christie – or perhaps Hitchcock territory – as they tackled a portmanteau of crimes on a train in Cameron, Kane, Robinson and Roussos’ ‘Destination: Unknown!’ to close the issue.

Joseph Greene scripted the Joker’s next escapade in the astounding case of ‘The Harlequin’s Hoax!’ (Detective #68 before our heroes endure the decidedly different threat of ‘The Man Who Could Read Minds!’: another off-beat thriller from Cameron that premiered in Detective #70.

Cameron also wrote all four stories in Batman #14 (December 1942/January 1943). ‘The Case Batman Failed to Solve’ (illustrated by Jerry Robinson) is a superb example of the sheer decency of the Caped Crusader as he fudges a mystery for the best possible reason; ‘Prescription for Happiness’ (art by Bob Kane & Robinson) is a masterful example of the human-interest drama that used to typify Batman tales as a poor doctor discovers his own true worth, and ‘Swastika Over the White House!’ (Jack & Ray Burnley art) is typical of the spy-busting action yarns readers were gratuitously lapping up at the time.

The final story ‘Bargains in Banditry!’ – also from the Burnley boys – is another canny crime caper featuring fowl felon the Penguin.

Detective Comics #71 (January 1943, Finger, Kane & Robinson) featured ‘A Crime a Day!’ – one of the most memorable and thrilling Joker escapades of the period – whilst ‘Brothers in Law’ (by Schiff and the Burnleys from the Winter 1942 World’s Finest Comics #8) pits Batman and Robin against a Napoleon of Crime and feuding siblings who had radically differing definitions of justice…

Samachson, Kane & Robinson crafted Detective #72 which saw found our heroes crushing murderous con-men in ‘License for Larceny’ before Batman #15 (February/March 1943) lead with Schiff, Kane & Robinson’s Catwoman romp ‘Your Face is your Fortune!’ whilst Cameron and those Burnleys introduced plucky homeless boy Bobby Deen as ‘The Boy Who Wanted to be Robin!’

The same team concocted powerful propaganda tale ‘The Two Futures’, which examined an America under Nazi subjugation after which ‘The Loneliest Men in the World’ (Cameron, Kane & Robinson) was – and remains – one of the very best Christmas Batman tales ever created; full of pathos, drama, fellow-feeling and action…

Cameron, Kane & Robinson went back to spooky basics in Detective Comics#73 (March 1943) when ‘The Scarecrow Returns’, a moody chiller followed by the introduction of comical corpulent criminal psychopaths ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee!’ in #74, before this gripping volume concludes with the Batman portion of World’s Finest #9 (Spring 1943) as Finger, Robinson & Roussos recount the saga of a criminal mastermind who invented a sure-fire ‘Crime of the Month!’ scheme…

These are the stories that cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin and brought 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…
© 1942, 1943, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Metamorpho, the Element Man


By Bob Haney, Gardner Fox, Ramona Fradon, Joe Orlando, Sal Trapani, Charles Paris & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0762-5

By the time Metamorpho, the Element Man was introduced to the costumed hero-obsessed world the first vestiges of a certifiable boom were just becoming apparent. As such the light-hearted, almost absurdist take struck a Right-time, Right-place chord, blending far out adventure with tongue-in-cheek comedy.

The bold, brash Man of a Thousand Elements debuted in The Brave and the Bold #57 (December 1964/January 1965) and, after a follow-up try-out in the next issue, catapulted right into his own title for an eclectic and oddly engaging 17-issue run. Sadly, this canny monochrome compendium – collecting all those eccentric adventures plus team-up tales from B&B #66 and 68 and Justice League of America #42) – is currently the only archival collection available. Until someone rectifies that situation, at least you can revel in some truly enchanting black-&-white illustration…

Unlike most of these splendid Showcase editions, the team-up stories here are not re-presented in original publication order but closeted together at the back, so if stringent continuity is important to you, the always informative old-school credit-pages will enable you to navigate the wonderment in the correct sequence…

Sans dreary preamble the action commences with ‘The Origin of Metamorpho’ written by Bob Haney (who created the character and wrote everything here except the JLA story). The captivating art is by Ramona Fradon & Charles Paris and introduces glamorous he-man Soldier of Fortune Rex Mason, currently working as a globe-trotting artefact procurer and agent for ruthlessly acquisitive scientific genius/business tycoon Simon Stagg.

Mason is obnoxious and insolent but his biggest fault as far as his boss is concerned is that the mercenary dares to love and be loved by the millionaire’s only daughter Sapphire

Determined to rid himself of the impudent Mason, Stagg dispatches his potential son-in-law to retrieve a fantastic artefact dubbed the Orb of Ra from the lost pyramid of Ahk-Ton in Egypt. The tomb raider is accompanied only by Java, a previously fossilised Neanderthal corpse Rex had discovered in a swamp and which (whom?) Stagg had subsequently restored to full life. Mason plans to take his final fabulous fee and whisk Sapphire away from her controlling father forever, but fate and his companion have other ideas…

Utterly faithful to the scientific wizard who was his saviour, Java sabotages the mission and leaves Mason to die in the tomb, victim of an ancient, glowing meteor. The man-brute rushes back to his master, carrying the Orb and fully expecting Stagg to honour his promise and give him Sapphire in marriage…

Trapped, knowing his time has come; Mason swallows a suicide pill as the scorching rays of the star-stone burn through him…

Instead of death relieving his torment Rex is mutated into a ghastly chemical freak capable of shape-shifting and transforming into any of the elements or compounds that comprised the human body: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, calcium, iron, cobalt and so many others…

Hungry for vengeance, Mason follows and confronts his betrayers only to be overcome by the alien energies of the Orb of Ra. An uneasy détente is declared as Mason accepts Stagg’s desperate offer to cure him …“if possible”.

The plutocrat is further horrified when Rex reveals his condition to Sapphire and finds she still loves him. Totally unaware of Stagg’s true depths of duplicity, Mason starts working for the tycoon as metahuman problem-solver Metamorpho, the Element Man.

Brave and the Bold #58 (February-March 1965) reveals more of Stagg’s closeted skeletons when old partner Maxwell Tremayne kidnaps the Element Man and later abducts Sapphire to his ‘The Junkyard of Doom!’ Apparently, the deranged armaments manufacturer was once intimately acquainted with the girl’s mother and never quite got over it…

The try-out comics were an unqualified success and Metamorpho promptly debuted in his own title, cover-dated July-August 1965, just as the wildly tongue-in-cheek “High Camp” craze was catching on in all areas of popular culture; blending ironic vaudevillian kitsch with classic movie premises as theatrical mad scientists and scurrilous spies began to appear everywhere.

‘Attack of the Atomic Avenger’ sees nuclear nut-job Kurt Vornak trying to crush Stagg Industries, only to be turned into a deadly, planet-busting radioactive super-atom, after which ‘Terror from the Telstar’ pits the charismatic cast against Nicholas Balkan, a ruthless criminal boss set on sabotaging America’s Space Program.

Mad multi-millionaire T.T. Trumbull then uses his own daughter Zelda to get to Simon Stagg through his heart, accidentally proving to everyone who knew him that the old goat actually has one. This was part of the maniac’s attempt to seize control of America in ‘Who Stole the U.S.A.?’, but the ambitious would-be despot backed up the scheme with an incredible robot specifically designed to destroy Metamorpho.

Happily, Rex Mason’s guts and ingenuity proved more effective than the Element Man’s astonishing powers…

America saved, the dysfunctional family head South of the Border, becoming embroiled in ‘The Awesome Escapades of the Abominable Playboy’ as Stagg tries to marry Sapphire off to Latino Lothario Cha Cha Chavez. The wilful girl is simply trying to make Mason jealous and had no idea of her dad’s true plans; Stagg senior has no conception of Chavez’s real intentions or connections to the local tin-pot dictator…

With this issue the gloriously stylish Ramona Fradon left the series, to be replaced by two artists who strove to emulate her unique, gently madcap manner of drawing with varying degrees of success. Luckily veteran inker Charles Paris stayed on to smooth out the rough edges…

First up was E.C. veteran Joe Orlando whose 2-issue tenure began with outrageous doppelganger drama ‘Will the Real Metamorpho Please Stand Up?’ wherein eccentric architect Edifice K. Bulwark tries to convince Mason to lend his abilities to his chemical skyscraper project. When Metamorpho declines Bulwark and Stagg attempt to create their own Element Man… with predictably disastrous consequences.

‘Never Bet Against an Element Man!’ (#6 May-June 1966) took the team to the French Riviera as gambling grandee Achille Le Heele snookers Stagg and wins “ownership” of Metamorpho. The Creepy Conchon’s ultimate goal necessitated stealing the world’s seven greatest wonders (such as the Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower) and, somehow, only the Element Man can make that happen…

Sal Trapani took over pencilling with #7’s ‘Terror from Fahrenheit 5,000!’ as the acronymic super-spy fad hits hard. Metamorpho is enlisted by the C.I.A. to stop suicidal maniac Otto Von Stuttgart destroying the entire planet by dropping a nuke into the Earth’s core, before costumed villain Doc Dread is countered by an undercover Metamorpho becoming ‘Element Man, Public Enemy!’ in a diabolical caper of doom and double-cross…

Metamorpho #9 shifted into the realm of classic fantasy when suave and sinister despot El Mantanzas maroons the cast in ‘The Valley That Time Forgot!’: battling cavemen and antediluvian alien automatons, after which a new catalysing element is added in ‘The Sinister Snares of Stingaree!’

This yarn introduces Urania Blackwell – a secret agent somehow transformed into an Element Girl and sharing all Metamorpho’s incredible abilities. Not only is she dedicated to eradicating evil such as criminal cabal Cyclops, but Urania is also the perfect paramour for Rex Mason…

He even cancels his wedding to Sapphire to go gang-busting with her…

With a new frisson of sexual chemistry sizzling beneath the surface, ‘They Came from Beyond?’ finds the conflicted Element Man confronting an apparent alien invasion whilst ‘The Trap of the Test-Tube Terrors!’ provides another attempt to cure Rex of his unwanted powers. This allows mad scientist Franz Zorb access to Stagg Industry labs long enough to build an army of chemical horrors…

The plot thickens with Zorb’s theft of a Nucleonic Moleculizer, prompting a continuation in #14 wherein Urania is abducted only to triumphantly experience ‘The Return from Limbo’

Events and stories grew increasingly outlandish and outrageous as the TV superhero craze intensified and ‘Enter the Thunderer!’ (#14, September/October 1967) depicted Rex pulled between Sapphire and Urania as marauding extraterrestrial Neutrog terrorises the planet in preparation for the awesome arrival of his mighty mutant master.

The next instalment heralded an ‘Hour of Armageddon!’ as the uniquely menacing Thunderer takes control of Earth until boy genius Billy Barton assists the Elemental defenders in defeating the mutant horror.

Trapani inked himself for Metamorpho #16; an homage to H. Rider Haggard’s She novels wherein ‘Jezeba, Queen of Fury!’ changes the Element Man’s life forever.

When Sapphire marries playboy Wally Bannister, the heartbroken Element Man undertakes a mission to find the lost city of Ma-Phoor. Here he encounters an undying beauty who wants to conquer the world and just happens to be Sapphire’s exact double.

Moreover, the immortal empress of a lost civilisation had once loved an Element Man of her own: a Roman soldier named Algon transformed into a chemical warrior two millennia previously.

Believing herself reunited with her lost love, Jezeba finally launches her long-delayed attack on the outside world with disastrous, tragic consequences…

The strangely appetising series came to a shuddering and unsatisfactory halt with the next issue as the superhero bubble burst and costumed comic characters suffered their second recession in fifteen years. Metamorpho was one of the first casualties, cancelled just as (or perhaps because) the series was emerging from its quirky comedic shell with the March-April 1968 issue.

Illustrated by Jack Sparling, ‘Last Mile for an Element Man!’ sees Mason tried and executed for the murder of Wally Bannister, resurrected by Urania Blackwell and set on the trail of true killer Algon. Along the way, Mason and Element Girl uncover a vast, incredible conspiracy and rededicate themselves to defending humanity at all costs.

The tale ends on a never-resolved cliffhanger: when Metamorpho was revived a few years later no mention was ever made of these last game-changing issues…

The elemental entertainment doesn’t end here though as this tome somewhat expiates the frustrating denouement with three terrific team-up tales beginning with The Brave and the Bold #66 (June/July 1966) and ‘Wreck the Renegade Robots’ where a mad scientist usurps control of the Metal Men just as their creator Will Magnus is preoccupied turning Metamorpho back into an ordinary mortal…

Two issues later (B& B #68 October/November 1966) the still Chemically Active Crime-buster battles Bat-Baddies Penguin, Joker and Riddler as well as a fearsomely mutated Caped Crusader in the thoroughly bizarre ‘Alias the Bat-Hulk!’ – both tales coming courtesy of Haney, Mike Sekowsky & Mike Esposito.

Sekowsky also drew the last story in this volume. Justice League of America #42 (February 1966) sees the hero joyfully join the World’s Greatest Superheroes to defeat a cosmic menace deemed The Unimaginable. The grateful champions instantly offer him membership but are astounded when – and why – ‘Metamorpho Says… No!’: a classic adventure written by Gardner Fox and inked by Bernard Sachs.

The wonderment finally concludes with a sterling pin-up of the Element Man and his core cast by Fradon & Paris.

Individually enticing, always exciting but oddly frustrating in total, this book will delight readers who aren’t too wedded to cloying continuity but simply seek a few moments of casual, fantastic escapism.
© 1965-1967, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Black Lightning volume two


By Dennis O’Neil, Gerry Conway, J.M. DeMatteis, Martin Pasko, Paul Kupperberg, Dick Dillin, George Tuska, Rick Buckler, Marshall Rogers, Mike Netzer/Nasser, Romeo Tanghal, Joe Staton, Pat Broderick, Dick Giordano, Gerald Forton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7546-4

Black Lightning was DC’s first African American superhero to star in his own solo title, which launched in 1977…

When former Olympic decathlete Jefferson Pierce returned to the streets of Suicide Slum, Metropolis to teach at inner city Garfield High School, he was determined to make a real difference to the disadvantaged and often troubled kids he used to be numbered amongst. However, when he interrupted a drug buy on school grounds and sent the dealer packing, he opened everyone around him to mob vengeance and personal tragedy…

When the ruling racketeers – an organised syndicate dubbed The 100 – came seeking retaliation, one of Pierce’s students paid the ultimate price. The traumatised teacher realised he needed the shield of anonymity if he was to win justice and safety for his beleaguered home and charges…

Happily, tailor Peter Gambi – who had raised Jefferson and taken care of his mother after the elder Pierce was murdered – had a few useful ideas and inexplicable access to some pretty far-out technology…

Soon, equipped with a strength-&-speed-enhancing forcefield belt and costume, plus a mask and wig that completely changed his appearance, a fierce new vigilante stalked the streets of Metropolis…

Now with the urban avenger the star of his own television series, those early groundbreaking adventures have been gathered into a series of astoundingly accessible, no-nonsense trade paperback and eBook collections.

This second outing gathers a flurry of back-up and guest appearances from May 1979 to October 1980, gathered from various titles where the urban avenger prowled after his solo title folded. They cumulatively comprise World’s Finest Comics #256-259 and #261, DC Comics Presents #16, Justice League of America #173-174, Detective Comics #490-491 and #495-495 and The Brave and the Bold #163 plus pertinent material from Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #3 (1985) and Who’s Who in the DC Universe #16 (1992).

Following an informative Introduction by character originator Tony Isabella reprising Black Lightning: The In-Between Years, the (relatively) down-to-earth superhero antics commence with ‘Encounter with a Dark Avenger!’ (by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Frank Chiaramonte, taken from World’s Finest Comics #256).

Here the electric warrior is manipulated into a potentially fatal confrontation with equally fervent urban vigilante Green Arrow. As the heroes clash neither is aware that the 100’s ousted boss Tobias Whale is behind their mutual woes…

That short yarn saw Black Lightning as GA’s guest star and served as a prelude to ‘Death Ransom!’ in WF #257, the beginning of Pierce’s second (strictly backup) series. Crafted by O’Neil, George Tuska & Bob Smith, it sees a fateful, brutal clash with The Whale and results in a wary ceasefire for the archenemies as they unite to destroy the swiftly rebuilding 100 cartel…

Of course, a scorpion’s gotta sting and the alliance only lasts one issue before Whale betrays Lightning’s trust and another innocent dies in ‘The Blood of the Lamb!’ (O’Neil, Rich Buckler & Romeo Tanghal, World’s Finest #258)…

World’s Finest #259 provides a labyrinthine conundrum as the hero and a horde of gunman act on a deathbed tip-off and converge on a seedy welfare hotel that might be ‘The Last Hideout’ (O’Neil, Marshall Rogers, Michael Nasser/Netzer & Vince Colletta) of a legendary criminal and his ill-gotten gains. Sadly, only the masked hero cared about collateral casualties…

‘Return of the River Rat!’ (O’Neil, Tanghal & Colletta, World’s Finest #261) ended this back-up run on a mediocre note as school chaperone Jefferson Pierce is fortuitously on hand during a river cruise party just when an exiled mobster tries to sneak back into the USA by submarine…

A co-starring role in DC Comics Presents #16 (December 1979) then finds the street-smart urban avenger and Superman confronting a heartsick and violently despondent alien trapped on Earth for millennia in ‘The De-volver!’ (courtesy of O’Neil, Joe Staton & Frank Chiaramonte) after which the lone avenger gets a nod of approval from the Big Guns of Superheroing…

Justice League of America #173-174 (December 1979 and January 1980) offered a smart two-parter with a twist ending as the League try to induct the mysterious, unvetted vigilante.

After much fervent debate, they decide to set their still-unsuspecting candidate a little problem to prove his worth.

However, as a vermin-controlling maniac unleashes terror upon Metropolis, the ‘Testing of a Hero’ and ‘A Plague of Monsters’ (Gerry Conway, Dillin & Frank McLaughlin) takes the old recruitment drive into a very fresh direction and leads to disappointment all around…

Still Not Quite Popular Enough, the hero was found tenure in the more moody and grounded Detective Comics beginning with #490 (May 1980). Here Martin Pasko, Pat Broderick & McLaughlin reveal how ‘Lightning Strikes Twice Out!’ as a protracted clash with a ruthless Haitian gang led by Mama Mambu leads to his kidnap and the loss of his powers and gimmicks in concluding chapter ‘Short-Circuit’ (Detective #491).

A corrupt Senator stealing oil shipments to finance a private army and attempted takeover of America is brought down by separate-but-convergent investigations conducted by Black Lightning and Batman in ‘Oil, Oil… Nowhere’ (Paul Kupperberg & Dick Giordano; The Brave and The Bold #163, June 1980) after which J.M. DeMatteis & Gerald Forton assume creative control of the Lightning’s path in Detective Comics #494 Detective Comics #494.

‘Explosion of the Soul’ (September 1980) sees the streets haunted by a murderous junkie-killing vigilante, and all Pierce’s investigations seem to lead inexorably back to one of his students…

Ending on a dark note of tragedy, ‘Animals’ (DeMatteis & Forton, Detective #494) then sees the Suicide Slum School Olympics turned into a charnel house when a juvenile street gang seizes the girls’ hockey team and demands safe passage and new lives in Switzerland. When Black Lightning intercedes, not everybody gets out alive…

Supplemented with a cover gallery by Ross Andru, Giordano, Jim Aparo, Neal Adams & Dillin, and including fact-packed background and data pages about ‘Black Lightning’ from Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe #3 (1985) and an updated entry from Who’s Who in the DC Universe #16 (1992) this potent package of fast-paced Fights ‘n’ Tights thrillers are so skilfully constructed that even the freshest neophyte will be able to settle in for the ride without any confusion and enjoy a self-contained rollicking rollercoaster of terrifically traditional superhero shenanigans.

So, what are you waiting for?
© 1979, 1980, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

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


By Bob Haney, Mike Sekowsky, Marv Wolfman, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Neal Adams, Bob Brown, Nick Cardy, Irv Novick & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7517-4 (TPB)

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 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 provided 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 – evolved rapidly 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 first collection of unalloyed Batman pairings with other luminaries of the DC universe reprints B&B #74-91 (spanning October/November 1967 to August/September 1970) 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.

The Caped Crime-crusher took full possession of Brave and the Bold with #74’s fast-paced and dryly funny ‘Rampant Run the Robots’ as the Metal Men confront human prejudice and perfidious inventors whilst in #75 The Spectre joins the Dark Knight to free Gotham City’s Chinatown from an ancient wizard and ‘The Grasp of Shahn-Zi!’; both tales drawn by the new semi-regular art team of Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.

Illustrated by Mike Sekowsky & Jack Abel, Plastic Man helped solve the mystery of plastic-obsessed maniac The Molder in #76’s ‘Doom, What Is Thy Shape?’ after which Andru & Esposito return to limn the Atom’s participation in foiling a criminal circus performer in ‘So Thunders the Cannoneer!’

The vastly underrated Bob Brown stepped in to draw ‘In the Coils of the Copperhead’ wherein Wonder Woman found herself vying with the newly-minted Batgirl for Batman’s affections. Of course, it was all a cunning plan… or was it?

Neal Adams was a young illustrator who had worked in advertising and ghosted some newspaper strips whilst trying to break into comics. With #75 he had become a cover artist for B&B and with #79 (August-September 1968) he took over the interior art for a game-changing groundbreaking run that rewrote the rulebook for strip illustration.

‘The Track of the Hook’ paired the Dark Knight Detective with a justice-obsessed ghost. Deadman was murdered trapeze artist Boston Brand who perpetually hunted his own killer, and whose earthy, human tragedy elevated the series’ campy costumed theatrics into deeper, more mature realms of drama and action. The stories matured ten years overnight and instantly became every discerning fan’s favourite read.

‘And Hellgrammite is his Name’ then finds Batman and the Creeper defying a bug-themed super-hitman, and the Flash aids the Caped Crusader in defeating an unbeatable thug in ‘But Bork Can Hurt You!’ (both inked by Dick Giordano) before Aquaman becomes ‘The Sleepwalker from the Sea’ in an eerie tale of mind-control and sibling rivalry.

Issue # 83 took a radical turn as the Teen Titans try to save Bruce Wayne’s latest foster-son from his own inner demons in ‘Punish Not my Evil Son!’ but the next team-up was one that got many fans in a real tizzy in 1969.

‘The Angel, the Rock and the Cowl’ recounted a World War II exploit where Batman and Sgt. Rock of Easy Company hunt Nazi gold and a war criminal together, only closing the case twenty-five years later. Ignoring the kvetching about relative ages and which Earth we’re on, which raised a storm in an eggcup back then, you should focus on the fact that this is a startlingly gripping tale of great intensity and beautifully realised: one which was criminally discounted for decades as “non-canonical”.

Brave and the Bold #85 is arguably the best of an incredible run. ‘The Senator’s Been Shot!’ reunited Batman and Green Arrow in a superb multi-layered thriller of politics, corruption and cast-iron integrity, wherein Bruce Wayne stands in for a law-maker and the Emerald Archer receives a radical make-over that turned him into the fiery liberal gadfly champion of the relevancy generation…

Boston Brand returned in #86, as Batman found ‘You Can’t Hide from a ‘Deadman!’: a captivating epic of death, redemption and resurrection that became a cornerstone of Bat-mythology forever after.

What follows is a decidedly different adventure written and drawn by Mike Sekowsky and starring the venerable comics icon he had made fresh and exciting all over again.

Inked by Giordano and entitled ‘The Widow-Maker’, it tells of the son of one of Batman’s old foes who attempts to add to his tally of motoring murders by luring the Caped Crusader into a rigged high-performance car race. That’s when recently de-powered Diana Prince, once and future Wonder Woman, steps in…

Following Adams’ iconoclastic and influential run was always going to be a tough act, but veteran Irv Novick – who would also unfairly tread in Adams’ mighty shadow on Batman for years to come – did sterling work here on a gritty tale of boxing and Cold War mind-games as the Caped Crusader meets golden age troubleshooter Wildcat in ‘Count Ten… and Die!’ (B&B #88, February-March 1970).

Esposito inked that tale before reuniting with long-time collaborator Ross Andru for a brief return engagement that began with a spooky suspense-thriller pitting Batman against the mystery sensation Phantom Stranger (and his rationalist rival Dr. Terry Thirteen) in #89’s ‘Arise Ye Ghosts of Gotham!’

The team then switch pace and genre for a time-bending science fiction thriller ‘You Only Die Twice!’ guest-starring interstellar champion Adam Strange and threatening to record the fall from grace and death of the Gotham Guardian.

The comics content concludes here with issue #91, as ‘A Cold Corpse for the Collector’ provides a true gem of love and death. Haney was always at his best with terse, human scale dramas, especially “straight” crime thrillers, and his pairing of the Batman with Black Canary (transplanted from Earth-2 to replace Wonder Woman in the Justice League) saw the recently-widowed heroine searching for the Earth-1 counterpart of her dead husband…

What she got was self-delusion, heartbreak and imminent death in a masterpiece of ironic melodrama. It also signalled the advent of the superb Nick Cardy as illustrator: a short run of beautifully drawn and boldly experimental assignments that are still startling to see nearly five decades later.

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? Seriously: can you…?
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Super Powers by Jack Kirby


By Jack Kirby with Joey Cavalieri, Paul Kupperberg, Adrian Gonzalez, Pablo Marcos, Alan Kupperberg, Greg Theakston & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7140-4

Famed for his larger than life characters and gigantic, cosmic imaginings, Jack Kirby (1917-1994) was an astute, imaginative, spiritual man who lived through poverty and gangsterism, the Great Depression, Post-War optimism, Cold War paranoia, political cynicism and the birth and death of peace-seeking counter-cultures. He was open-minded and utterly wedded to the making of comics stories on every imaginable subject. He also always believed that sequential narrative was worthy of being published as real books right beside mankind’s other literary art forms.

Looks like he was right, and – as usual – just ahead of the times, doesn’t it?

Thanks to his recent centenary there’s a magnificent abundance of Kirby commemorative collections around these days (though still not all of it, so I remain a partially disgruntled dedicated fan). This particular trade paperback and eBook compendium re-presents The King’s last complete conceptual outing for DC and one that has been neglected by fans for far too long.

During the 1980s costumed heroes stopped being an exclusively print cash cow as big toy companies licensed Fights ‘n’ Tights titans and reaped the benefits of ready-made comicbook spin-offs. DC’s most recognizable characters became a best-selling line of action figures and were inevitably hived off into a brisk and breezy, fight-frenzied miniseries.

Super Powers launched in July 1984 as a 5-issue miniseries with Kirby covers and his signature Fourth World characters prominently represented. Jack also plotted the stellar saga with scripter Joey Cavalieri providing dialogue, as Adrian Gonzales & Pablo Marcos illustrated a heady cosmic quest comprising numerous inconclusive battles between agents of Good and Evil.

Eschewing any preamble, we hurtle straight into action with ‘Power Beyond Price!’, as ultimate cosmic nemesis Darkseid despatches four Emissaries of Doom to destroy Earth’s superheroes. Sponsoring and empowering Lex Luthor, The Penguin, Brainiac and The Joker, the Dark God’s emissaries and their stooges jointly target Superman, Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman and Hawkman

The combat escalates in #2’s ‘Clash Against Chaos’ with the Man of Steel and Scarlet Speedster tackling Luthor, whilst Aquaman and Green Lantern scupper the Penguin. Meanwhile Dark Knight and Winged Wonder confront an astoundingly-enhanced Harlequin of Hate…

With Alan Kupperberg inking #3, an inconclusive outcome leads to a regrouping of evil and an attack by Brainiac on Paradise Island, as in ‘Amazons at War’ the Justice League rally until Superman is devolved into a brutal beast who attacks his former allies.

All-out battle ensues in ‘Earth’s Last Stand’ before King Kirby steps up to write and illustrate the fateful finale: a cosmos-shaking conclusion designated ‘Spaceship Earth – We’re All on It!’ (November 1984, with Greg Theakston suppling inks)…

A bombastic Super Powers Promotional Poster then leads into the second Super Powers miniseries, spanning September 1985 to February 1986.

Scripted by Paul Kupperberg, the Kirby/Theakston saga ‘Seeds of Doom!’ recounts how deadly Darkseid despatches techno-organic bombs to destroy Earth, a diabolical deed requiring practically every DC hero to unite to counter the threat.

With teams of Super Powers travelling to England, Rome, New York, Easter Island and Arizona the danger is magnified ‘When Past and Present Meet!’ as the seeds warp time and send Aquaman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz back to days of King Arthur

Super Powers #3 (November 1985) finds Red Tornado, Hawkman and Green Arrow plunged back 75 million years in ‘Time Upon Time Upon Time!’ even as Doctor Fate, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman are trapped in 1087 AD, battling stony-faced giant aliens on Easter Island.

Superman and Firestorm discover ‘There’s No Place Like Rome!’ as they battle Darkseid’s agent Steppenwolf in the first century whilst Batman, Robin and Flash visit a far-flung future where Earth is the new Apokolips in #5’s ‘Once Upon Tomorrow’.

Eventually Earth’s scattered but indomitable champions converge on Luna to spectacularly squash the schemes-within-schemes of ‘Darkseid of the Moon!’

Jack Kirby was and remains unique and uncompromising: his words and pictures comprise an unparalleled, hearts-and-minds grabbing delight no comics lover can possibly resist. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind.

That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s life’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the entire American comics scene – and indeed the entire comics planet – affecting the lives of billions of readers and thousands of creators in all areas of artistic endeavour for generations. Most tellingly, he is still winning new fans and apostles every day, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. His work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep and simultaneously mythic and human.

He is the King and there will never be another.
© 1984, 1985, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman & Superman in World’s Finest Comics: The Silver Age volume 2


By Edmond Hamilton, Bill Finger, Jerry Coleman, Curt Swan, Dick Sprang, Stan Kaye, Sheldon Moldoff, Charles Paris, Ray Burnley & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7780-2

For decades Superman and Batman worked together as the “World’s Finest” team. They were friends as well as colleagues and the pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could cross-pollinate and, more importantly, cross-sell their combined readerships.

This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in the early 1940s, whereas in comics the pair had only briefly met whilst on a Justice Society of America adventure in All-Star Comics #36 (August-September 1947) – and perhaps even there they missed each other in the brightly-hued hubbub…

Of course, they had shared the covers of World’s Finest Comics from the outset, although never crossing paths inside; sticking firmly to their specified solo adventures within. For us pictorial continuity buffs, the climactic real first time was in the pages of Superman’s own bi-monthly comic (issue #76, May/June 1952, as seen in the previous volume of this splendid compilation series). However once that Rubicon was crossed, thanks to spiralling costs and dwindling page-counts the industry never looked back…

This second stunning trade paperback (and eBook) compendium of Silver Age solid gold re-presents the lead stories from World’s Finest Comics #95-116, spanning July/August 1958 to March 1961: another astounding archive of adventure that opens with an Edmond Hamilton, Dick Sprang & Ray Burnley yarn pitting the temporarily equally multi-powered and alien-entranced champions against each other in ‘The Battle of the Super-Heroes’.

A magical succession of magnificent and light-heartedly whacky classics began in #96 with Hamilton’s ‘The Super-Foes from Planet X’ wherein indolent and effete aliens dispatch fantastic monsters to battle the titanic trio for the best possible reasons…

Bill Finger took over scripting with #97, incomprehensibly turning the Man of Steel on his greatest friends in ‘The Day Superman Betrayed Batman’, after which ‘The Menace of the Moonman!’ pits the heroes against a deranged hyper-powered astronaut, ‘Batman’s Super-Spending Spree!’ baffles all his close friends and Lex Luthor devilishly traps Superman in the newly-recovered Bottle City of Kandor to become ‘The Dictator of Krypton City’ – all breathtaking epics beautifully limned by Sprang & Kaye.

Sprang inked himself in the rocket-paced super-crime thriller ‘The Menace of the Atom-Master’ whereas it took Curt Swan, Burnley, Sprang & Sheldon Moldoff to properly unveil the titanic tragedy of ‘The Caveman from Krypton’ in #102.

‘The Secret of the Sorcerer’s Treasure’ (Sprang & Moldoff) then reveals a couple of treasure hunters driven mad by the tempting power of freshly unearthed magical artefacts whilst Luthor quickly regrets using a hostage Batwoman to facilitate ‘The Plot to Destroy Superman’.

After the metamorphosis which turned Clark Kent into ‘The Alien Superman’ proves not at all what it seems to be, ‘The Duplicate Man’ in WF #106 sees the ultimate downfall of a villain who develops an almost unbeatable crime tool.

Next up ‘The Secret of the Time-Creature’ encompassed centuries and resulted in one of Finger’s very best detective thrillers to baffle but never stump the Cape & Cowl Crusaders, after which Jerry Coleman assumes the writer’s role with ‘The Star Creatures’ (art by Sprang & Stan Kaye), the tale of an extraterrestrial moviemaker whose deadly props were stolen by Earth crooks.

Stellar cover artist Curt Swan (with Stan Kaye inking) finally makes the move to interior illustrator for ‘The Bewitched Batman’, detailing a tense race against time to save the Gotham Guardian from an ancient curse, before ‘The Alien who Doomed Robin’ (Sprang & Moldoff) sees a symbiotic link between monster marauder and Boy Wonder leave the senior heroes apparently helpless… at least for a little while…

‘Superman’s Secret Kingdom’ (Finger, Sprang & Moldoff from #111, August 1960) is a compelling lost world yarn wherein a cataclysmic holocaust deprives the Man of Steel of his memory and Batman and Robin must find and cure him at all costs…

The next issue – by Coleman, Sprang & Moldoff – delivered a unique and tragic warning in ‘The Menace of Superman’s Pet’ as a phenomenally cute teddy bear from space proves to be an unbelievably dangerous menace and unforgettable true friend. Bring tissues, you big baby…

In an era when disturbing or terrifying menaces were frowned upon, many tales featured intellectual dilemmas and unavoidably irritating pests to torment our heroes. Both Gotham Guardian and Man of Steel had their own magical 5th dimensional gadflies and it was therefore only a matter of time until ‘Bat-Mite Meets Mr. Mxyzptlk’: a madcap duel to determine whose hero was best… with America caught in the metamorphic middle.

WF #114 reveals Superman, Batman and Robin shanghaied to the distant world of Zoron as ‘Captives of the Space Globes’ where their abilities are reversed. Nevertheless, justice is still served in the end, after which ‘The Curse that Doomed Superman’ sees the Metropolis Marvel consistently outfoxed by a scurrilous Swami with the Darknight Detective helpless to assist him…

Swan & Kaye at last return for #116’s thrilling monster mash ‘The Creature from Beyond’ to wrap up this volume with a criminal alien out-powering Superman whilst concealing an incredible secret…

These are gloriously clever yet uncomplicated tales whose dazzling style has returned to inform if not dictate the form for much of DC’s modern television animation – especially the fabulous Batman: The Brave and the Bold series – and the contents of this titanic tome offer a veritable feast of witty, charming thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have.
© 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Team-Ups of the Brave and the Bold


By J. Michael Straczynski, Jesús Saíz, Chad Hardin, Justiniano, Cliff Chiang & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2793-7 (HB)                :978-1-4012-2809-5 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955; an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales starring a variety of period heroes and a format mirroring and cashing in on that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas.

Devised and written by Robert Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was replaced by National Periodicals/DC Comic’s iteration of Robin Hood, but the high adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning superhero revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like the astounding successful Showcase.

Used to launch enterprising concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Strange Sports Stories, Hawkman and the epochal Justice League of America, the title then evolved to create a whole sub-genre – although barely anybody noticed at the time…

That was Superhero Team-Ups.

For almost a decade DC had enjoyed great success pairing Superman with Batman and Robin in World’s Finest Comics and in 1963 sought to create another top-selling combo from their growing pantheon of masked mystery men. It didn’t hurt that the timing also allowed extra exposure for characters imminently graduating to their own starring vehicles after years as back-up features…

This was during a period when almost no costumed heroes acknowledged the jurisdiction or (usually) existence of other costumed champions. When B&B offered this succession of team-ups, they were laying the foundations for DC’s future close-knit comics continuity. Now there’s something wrong with any superstar who doesn’t regularly join every other cape or mask on-planet every five minutes or so…

That short-lived experiment eventually calcified as “Batman and…” but for a while readers were treated to some truly inspired pairings such as Metal Men and Metamorpho, Flash and The Spectre or Supergirl and Wonder Woman.

The editors even achieved their aim after Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad remained together after their initial foray and expanded into the Teen Titans

That theme of heroes united together for a specific time and purpose was revived in 2007 for the third volume of The Brave and the Bold, resulting in many exceedingly fine modern Fights ‘n’ Tights classics, and this compilation – available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – collects issues #27-33 (November 2009 – June 2010): the first seven issues scripted by TV and comics star scribe J. Michael Straczynski.

The run of easily accessible, stand-alone tales delved into some of the strangest nooks and crannies of the DCU and opens here with ‘Death of a Hero’, illustrated by Jesús Saíz wherein teenager Robby Reed visits Gotham City and soon decides to help out a Batman sorely pressed by the machinations of The Joker

The child prodigy had his own series in the 1960s as a kid who found a strange rotary device dotted with alien hieroglyphics that could temporarily transform him into a veritable army of super-beings when he dialled the English equivalents of H, E, R and O…

Here, however, after the lad dials up futuristic clairvoyant Mental Man, the visions he experiences force him to quit immediately and take to his bed…

He even forgets the Dial when he leaves, but it is soon picked up by down-&-out Travers Milton who also falls under its influence and is soon saving lives and battling beside the Dark Knight as The Star

What follows is a meteoric and tragic tale of a rise and fall…

Again limned by Saíz, B&B #28 takes us a wild trip to the ‘Firing Line’ as the Flash (Barry Allen) falls foul of a scientific experiment and winds up stranded in the middle of World War II. Injured and unable to properly use his powers, the diminished speedster is taken under the wing of legendary paramilitary aviator squadron The Blackhawks, but finds himself torn when his scruples against taking life crash into the hellish cauldron of the Battle of Bastogne and his martial love for his new comrades in arms…

Brother Power, The Geek was short-lived experimental title developed by the legendary Joe Simon at the height of the hippy-dippy 1960s (of just last week if you’re a baby booming duffer like me). He was a tailor’s mannequin mysteriously brought to life through extraordinary circumstances, just seeking his place in the world: a bizarre commentator and ultimate outsider philosophising on a world he could not understand.

That cerebral angst is tapped in ‘Lost Stories of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’ as the elemental outcast crawls out of wreckage in Gotham City and clashes with Batman as they both strive to save homeless people from authoritarian brutality and greedy arsonists. Like the times it references, this story is one you have to experience rather than read about…

Straczynski & Saíz then play fast and loose with time travel in ‘The Green and the Gold’ as mystic Lord of Order Doctor Fate is helped through an emotional rough patch by Green Lantern Hal Jordan. As a result of that unnecessary kindness the mage gets to return the favour long after his own demise at the moment the Emerald Warrior most needs a helping hand…

Illustrated by Chad Hardin & Walden Wong and Justiniano, The Brave and the Bold #31 describes the ‘Small Problems’ encountered by The Atom after Ray Palmer is asked to shrink into the synapse-disrupted brain of The Joker and perform life-saving surgery. Despite his better judgement the physicist eventually agrees, but nobody could have predicted that he would be assimilated into the maniac’s memories and be forced to relive the Killer Clown’s life…

Straczynski & Saíz reunite as sea king Aquaman and hellish warrior Etrigan the Demon combine forces in a long-standing pact to thwart a revolting Cthonic invasion of ‘Night Gods’ from a hole in bottom of the ocean before this mesmerising tome concludes with a bittersweet ‘Ladies Night’ from times recently passed, illustrated by Cliff Chiang.

When sorceress Zatanna experiences a shocking dream, she contacts Wonder Woman and Batgirl Barbara Gordon, and insists that they should join her on an evening of hedonistic excess and sisterly sharing. Only Babs is left out of one moment of revelation: what Zatanna foresaw would inescapably occur to her the next day at the hands of the Joker…

Smart, moving and potently engaging, these heroic alliances are a true treat for fans of more sophisticated costumed capers, and skilfully prepared in such a way that no great knowledge of backstory is required. Team-ups are all about finding new readers and this terrific tome is a splendid example of the trick done right…
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.