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.
© 1984, 1985, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents The Elongated Man


By Gardner Fox, John Broome, Carmine Infantino, Murphy Anderson, Irv Novick, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Mike Sekowsky, Sid Greene & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1042-2 (TPB)

Once upon a time, American comics editors believed readers would become jaded if characters were over-used or over-exposed and so to combat that potential danger – and for sundry other commercial and economic reasons – they developed back-up features in most of their titles. By the mid-1960s the policy was largely abandoned as resurgent superheroes sprang up everywhere and readers just couldn’t get enough…but there were still one or two memorable holdouts.

In late 1963 Julius Schwartz took editorial control of Batman and Detective Comics and finally found a place for a character who had been lying mostly fallow ever since his debut as a walk-on in the April/May 1960 Flash.

The Elongated Man was Ralph Dibny, a circus-performer who discovered an additive in soft drink Gingold which seemed to give certain people increased muscular flexibility. Intrigued, he refined the chemical until he had developed a serum which gave him the ability to stretch, bend and compress his body to an incredible degree. Then Ralph had to decide how to use his new powers…

A quirky chap with his own small but passionate band of devotes, in recent years the perennial B-lister has become a fixture of the latest Flash TV series, but his many exploits are still largely uncollected in either print or digital formats. The only archival asset is this charming, witty and very pretty compilation which gathers his debut and guest appearances from Flash issues #112, 115, 119, 124, 130, 134, and 138 (spanning April/May 1960 to August 1963) and the Stretchable Sleuth’s entire scintillating run from Detective Comics #327-371 (May 1964-January 1968).

Designed as a modern take on the classic and immensely popular Golden Age champion Plastic Man, Dibny debuted in Flash #112’s ‘The Mystery of the Elongated Man!’ as a mysterious, masked yet attention-seeking elastic do-gooder, of whom the Scarlet Speedster was nonetheless highly suspicious, in a cunningly crafted crime caper by John Broome, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella.

Dibny returned in #115 (September 1960, inked by Murphy Anderson) when aliens attempted to conquer the Earth and the Vizier of Velocity needed ‘The Elongated Man’s Secret Weapon!’ as well as the guest-star himself to save the day.

In Flash #119 (March 1961), Flash rescued the vanished hero from ‘The Elongated Man’s Undersea Trap!’ which introduced the vivacious Sue Dibny (as a newlywed “Mrs Elongated Man”) in a stirring tale of sub-sea alien slavers by regular creative team Broome, Infantino & Giella.

The threat was again extraterrestrial with #124′s alien invasion thriller ‘Space-Boomerang Trap!’ (November 1961) which featured an uneasy alliance between the Scarlet Speedster, Elongated Man and sinister rogue Captain Boomerang who naturally couldn’t be trusted as far as you could throw him…

Ralph collaborated with Flash’s junior partner in #130 (August 1962) only just defeating the wily Weather Wizard when ‘Kid Flash Meets the Elongated Man!’ but then sprang back into action with – and against – the senior partner in Flash #134 (February 1963). Seemingly allied with Captain Cold in ‘The Man Who Mastered Absolute Zero!’ Dibny excelled in a flamboyant thriller that almost ended his budding heroic career…

Gardner Fox scripted ‘The Pied Piper’s Double Doom!’ in Flash #138 (August 1963), a mesmerising team-up which saw both Elongated Man and the Monarch of Motion enslaved by the sinister Sultan of Sound, before ingenuity and justice ultimately prevailed.

When the back-up spot opened in Detective Comics (a position held by the Martian Manhunter since 1955 and only vacated because J’onn J’onzz had been promoted to lead position in House of Mystery) Schwartz had Ralph Dibny slightly reconfigured as a flamboyant, fame-hungry, brilliantly canny globe-trotting private eye solving mysteries for the sheer fun of it.

Aided by his equally smart but thoroughly grounded wife, the short tales were patterned on classic Thin Man filmic adventures of Nick and Norah Charles, blending clever, impossible crimes with slick sleuthing, garnished with the outré heroic permutations and frantic physical antics first perfected in Jack Cole’s Plastic Man.

These complex yet uncomplicated sorties, drenched in fanciful charm and sly dry wit, began in Detective #327 (May 1964) with ‘Ten Miles to Nowhere!’ (by Fox & Infantino, who inked himself for all the early episodes). Here Ralph, who publicly unmasked to become a (regrettably minor) celebrity, discovered that someone had been stealing his car every night and bringing it back as if nothing had happened. Of course, it had to be a clever criminal plot of some sort…

A month later he solves the ‘Curious Case of the Barn-door Bandit!’ and debuts his direly distressing trademark of manically twitching his expanded nose whenever he detects “the scent of mystery in the air” after which he heads for cowboy country to unravel the ‘Puzzle of the Purple Pony!’ and play cupid for a young couple hunting a gold mine in #329.

Ralph and Sue were on an extended honeymoon tour, making him the only costumed hero without a city to protect. When they reach California, Ralph is embroiled in a ‘Desert Double-Cross!’ when hostage-taking thieves raid the home of a wealthy recluse, after which Detective #331 offered a rare full-length story in ‘Museum of Mixed-Up Men!’ (by Fox, Infantino & Joe Giella) as Batman, Robin and the Elongated Man unite against a super-scientific felon able to steal memories and reshape victims’ faces.

Returned to a solo support role in #332, the Ductile Detective discovers Sue has been replaced by an alien in ‘The Elongated Man’s Other-World Wife!’ (with Sid Greene joining as new permanent inker). Of course, nothing is as it seems…

‘The Robbery That Never Happened!’ occurred when a jewellery store customer suspiciously claims he had been given too much change, whilst ‘Battle of the Elongated Weapons!’ in #334 concentrates on a crook who adapts Ralph’s Gingold serum to affect objects, after which bombastic battle it was back to mystery-solving when EM is invited by Fairview City to round up a brazen bunch of uncatchable bandits in ‘Break Up of the Bottleneck Gang!’

While visiting Central City again, Ralph is lured to the Mirror Master’s old lair and only barely survives ‘The House of “Flashy” Traps!’ before risking certain death in the ‘Case of the 20 Grand Pay-off!’ by replacing Sue with a look-alike – for the best possible reasons – but without her knowledge or permission…

Narrowly surviving his wife’s wrath by turning the American tour into a World cruise, Ralph then tackles the ‘Case of the Curious Compass!’ in Amsterdam, foiling a gang of diamond smugglers, before returning to America and ferreting out funny-money pushers in ‘The Counterfeit Crime-Buster!’

Globe-trotting creator John Broome returned to script ‘Mystery of the Millionaire Cowboy!’ in Detective #340 (June 1965) as Ralph and Sue stumble onto a seemingly haunted theatre and find crooks at the heart of the matter, whilst ‘The Elongated Man’s Change-of-Face!’ (Fox, Infantino & Greene) sees a desperate newsman publish fake exploits to draw the fame-fuelled hero into investigating a town under siege, and ‘The Bandits and the Baroness!’ (Broome) has the perpetually vacationing couple check in at a resort where every other guest is a Ralph Dibny, in a classy insurance scam story heavy with intrigue and tension.

A second full-length team-up with Batman filled Detective Comics #343 (September 1965, by Broome, Infantino & Giella), in ‘The Secret War of the Phantom General!’; a tense action-thriller pitting the hard-pressed heroes against a hidden army of gangsters and Nazi war criminals, determined to take over Gotham City.

Having broken Ralph’s biggest case, the happy couple head for the Continent and encounter ‘Peril in Paris!’ (Broome, Infantino & Greene) when Sue goes shopping as an ignorant monolingual American and returns a few hours later a fluent French-speaker…

‘Robberies in Reverse!’ (Fox) boasts a baffling situation as shopkeepers begin paying customers, leading Ralph to a severely skewed scientist’s accidental discovery, whilst #346’s ‘Peephole to the Future!’ (Broome) finds Elongated Man inexplicably developing the power of clairvoyance. It sadly clears up long before he can use it to tackle ‘The Man Who Hated Money!’ (Fox); a bandit who destroys every penny he steals.

‘My Wife, the Witch!’ was Greene’s last ink job for a nearly a year: a Fox thriller wherein Sue apparently gains magical powers whilst ‘The 13 O’clock Robbery!’, with Infantino again inking his own work, sees Ralph walk into a bizarre mystery and deadly booby-trapped mansion, before Hal Jordan’s best friend seeks out the Stretchable Sleuth to solve the riddle of ‘Green Lantern’s Blackout!’ – an entrancing, action-packed team-up with a future Justice League colleague, after which ‘The Case of the Costume-made Crook!’ find Ralph ambushed by a felon using his old uniform as an implausible burglary tool.

Broome devised ‘The Counter of Monte Carlo!’ as the peripatetic Dibnys fall into a colossal espionage conspiracy at the casino and afterward become pawns of a fortune teller in ‘The Puzzling Prophecies of the Tea Leaves!’ (Fox), before Broome dazzles and delights one more time with ‘The Double-Dealing Jewel Thieves!’ wherein a museum owner finds that his imitation jewel exhibit is indeed filled with fakes…

As Fox assumed full scripting duties, Mystic Minx Zatanna guest-starred in #355’s ‘The Tantalising Troubles of the Tripod Thieves!’, as stolen magical artefacts lead Ralph into conflict with a band of violent thugs, whilst ‘Truth Behind the False Faces!’ sees Infantino bow out on a high note as Elongated Man helps a beat cop to his first big bust and solves the conundrum of a criminal wax museum.

Detective #357 (November 1966) featured ‘Tragedy of the Too-Lucky Thief!’ (by Fox, Murphy Anderson & Greene) as the Dibnys discover a gambler who hates to win but cannot lose, whilst Greene handled all the art on ‘The Faker-Takers of the Baker’s Dozen!’ wherein Sue’s latest artistic project leads to the theft of an ancient masterpiece.

Anderson soloed with Fox’s ‘Riddle of the Sleepytime Taxi!’, a compelling and glamorous tale of theft and espionage, and when Ralph and Sue hit Swinging England in Detective #360 (February 1967, Fox & Anderson) with ‘London Caper of the Rockers and Mods!’, they meet the reigning monarch and prevent warring kid-gangs from desecrating our most famous tourist traps, before heading home to ‘The Curious Clue of the Circus Crook!’ (Greene). Here Ralph visits his old Big-Top boss and stops a rash of robberies which had followed the show around the country.

Infantino found time in his increasingly busy schedule for a few more episodes, (both inked by Greene) beginning with ‘The Horse that Hunted Hoods’, a police steed with uncanny crime solving abilities, and continuing in a ‘Way-out Day in Wishbone City!’ wherein normally solid citizens – and even Sue – go temporarily insane and start a riot, after which unsung master Irv Novick stepped in to delineate the mystery of ‘The Ship That Sank Twice!’

‘The Crooks who Captured Themselves!’ (#365, by Greene) recounts how Ralph loses control of his powers before Broome & Infantino reunited one last time for ‘Robber Round-up in Kiddy City!’ as, for a change, Sue sniffs out a theme-park mystery for Ralph to solve.

Infantino finally bowed out with the superb ‘Enigma of the Elongated Evildoer!’ (written by Fox and inked by Greene) as the Debonair Detectives tackle a thief in a ski lodge who seems to possess all Ralph’s elastic abilities…

The Atom guest-starred in #368, helping battle clock-criminal Chronos in ‘The Treacherous Time-Trap!’ by Fox, Gil Kane, Greene, and iconoclastic newcomer Neal Adams illustrated the poignant puzzler ‘Legend of the Lover’s Lantern!’, after which Kane & Greene limned the intriguing all-action ‘Case of the Colorless Cash!’.

The end of the year signalled the end of an era as Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Greene finished off the Elongated Man’s expansive run with the delightfully dizzy lost-loot yarn ‘The Bellringer and the Baffling Bongs’ (#371, January 1968).

With the next issue Detective Comics became an all Bat-family title and Ralph and Sue Dibny temporarily faded from view until revived as bit players in Flash and finally recruited into the Justice League of America as semi-regulars. Their charismatic relationship and unique, genteel style have, sadly, not survived: casualties of changing comics tastes and the replacement of sophistication with angsty shouting and testosterone-fuelled sturm und drang…

Witty, bright, clever and genuinely exciting, these smart stories from a lost age are all beautiful to look at and a joy to read for any sharp kid and all joy-starved adults. This book is a shining tribute to the very best of DC’s Silver Age and a volume no fan of fun and adventure should be without. It should not, however, be the only place you can stretch out and enjoy such classic fare…
© 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Emerald Knight


By Landry Q. Walker, Sholly Fisch, Adam Schlagman, Robert Pope, Eric Jones, Carlo Barberi & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3143-9 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955 as an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales about a variety of period heroes: a format which mirrored that era’s filmic fascination with flamboyant if fanciful historical dramas. Devised and written by Bob 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 alternated with Robin Hood, but the adventure theme 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 Showcase.

Used to premiere concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Hawkman and Strange Sports Stories as well as the epochal Justice League of America, the comic soldiered on until issue #50 when it provided another innovative new direction which once again truly caught the public’s imagination.

That issue paired two superheroes – Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter – in a one-off team-up, and was followed by other ones: Aquaman and Hawkman in #51, WWII “Battle Stars” Sgt. Rock, Captain Cloud, Mme. Marie & the Haunted Tank in #52 and Atom & Flash in #53.

The next team-up – Robin, Aqualad and Kid Flash – quickly evolved into Teen Titans and after Metal Men/the Atom and Flash/Martian Manhunter appeared, a new hero debuted in #57-58: Metamorpho, the Element Man.

From then it was back to the increasingly popular superhero pairings with #59, and although no one realised it at the time, that particular conjunction – Batman with Green Lantern – would be particularly significant….

After a return engagement for the Teen Titans, two issues spotlighting Earth-2 champions Starman and Black Canary and Earth-1’s Wonder Woman with Supergirl, an indication of things to come came when Batman duelled hero/villain Eclipso in #64: an early acknowledgement of the brewing TV-induced mania mere months away.

Within two issues (following Flash/Doom Patrol and Metamorpho/Metal Men), B&B #67 saw the Caped Crusader take de facto control of the title and the lion’s share of the team-ups. With the late exception of #72 and 73 (Spectre/Flash and Aquaman/Atom) the comic was henceforth a place where Batman invited the rest of company’s heroic pantheon to come and play…

Decades later, the Batman Animated TV series masterminded by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini in the 1990s revolutionised the Dark Knight and subsequently led to some of the absolute best comicbook adventures in his seventy-year publishing history with the creation of the spin-off print title…

With constant funnybook iterations and tie-ins to a succession of TV cartoon series, Batman has remained popular and a sublime introducer of kids to the magical world of the printed page. One fun-filled incarnation was Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which gloriously celebrated the team up in both its all-ages small-screen and comicbook spin-off.

Shamelessly and magically plundering decades of continuity arcana in a profusion of alliances between the Dark Knight and DC’s other heroic creations, the show was supplemented by a cool kid’s periodical full of fun, verve and swashbuckling dash, cunningly crafted to appeal as much to the parents and grandparents as those fresh-faced neophyte kids…

This stellar trade paperback and digital collection re-presents issues #13, 14, 16, 18, 19 and 21 in an immensely entertaining package suitable for newcomers, fans and aficionados of all ages originally released between March and November 2010. Best of all, although not necessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience…

Following the format of the TV show, each tale opens with a brief vignette adventure before telling a longer tale. Issue #13 sees the Caped Crimebuster break a leg while working with Angel O’Day and Sam Simeon (the astonishingly daft but wonderful Angel & The Ape) and laid up for main feature ‘Night of the Batmen’ (by Sholly Fisch, Robert Pope & Scott McRae) as an army of (uninvited and unwelcome) heroic comrades – including Green Arrow, Plastic Man, Aquaman and Shazam!-powered Captain Marvel among others – impersonate the Dark Knight to keep Gotham safe from fiends such as Bane, Killer Croc, Penguin, Deadshot and Catwoman. However, when the Joker joins the party, it results in the real deal ending his recuperation early…

Crafted by Landry Q. Walker & Eric Jones, the next yarn opens with Bats and Plastic Man tackling the Scarecrow before the Gotham Gangbuster meets the Huntress. She is having trouble with a costumed crazy with a nasty obsession and ends up briefly ‘Captured by Mr. Camera!’

The same creative crew return for #16 as a battle with the Teen Titans against Nocturna hatches a sinister sub-plot in ‘Egg Hunt! or: The Evil of Egg Head!’ as the ovoid mastermind revives antediluvian elder god Y’ggphu Soggoth (offering a guilty treat for old fans of truly naff supervillains) and Batman needs the aid of Wonder Woman to scramble the scheme…

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #18 alters the format slightly with a brace of linked tales from Walker & Jones. ‘Life on Mars’ features Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz defeating the human extermination plans of super-psionic shapeshifting White Martian Ma’alefa’ak before a strangely off-kilter Dark Knight calls in mystic master Doctor Fate to diagnose and treat a case of possession in follow-up thriller ‘All in the Mind’

The last two yarns collected here both co-star Hal Jordan and other stalwarts of the Green Lantern Corps. From #19 and by Adam Schlagman, Carlo Barberi & Terry Beatty, ‘Emerald Knight’ details how the ring-slinger is captured by ultimate tech pirate Cyborg Superman and robotic Manhunters. Unable to prevail alone, Jordan temporarily bequeaths his power to Batman who lead his comrades in the Corps to victory, after which a brief interlude battling dinosaur gangsters beside the Lady Blackhawks leads to the Gotham Guardian and the fully-restored Jordan uniting to defeat ‘The Menace Known as Robert’. Another Walker & Jones production, this depicts the calamitous threat of a primordial alien horror invading Earth and the terrifying lengths Batman will go to save the world…

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV-addicted kids, these mini-sagas are also wonderful, traditional comics thrillers no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a fabulously fun rollercoaster ride and confirms the now-seamless link between animated features and comicbooks. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end; really unmissable entertainment…

What more do you need to know?
© 2010, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 3


By Neal Adams with Dennis O’Neil, Frank Robbins, Len Wein, Dick Giordano & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4075-2 (TPB)

It’s Batman’s anniversary year. What are you reading?

As the 1960s began Neal Adams was a young illustrator who had worked in advertising and ghosted some newspaper strips whilst trying to break into comics. Whilst pursuing a career in advertising and “real art” he did a few comics pages for Archie Comics and subsequently became one of the youngest artists to co-create and illustrate major licensed newspaper strip Ben Casey (based on a popular TV medical drama series).

That comics fascination never faded, however, and Adams drifted back to National/DC, doing a few covers as inker or penciller before eventually finding himself at the vanguard of a revolution in pictorial storytelling…

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

This particular package celebrates the covers and pertinent contents of Batman #232, 234-241, 243-246, 251, 255, Batman Annual #14, Batman Black & White # 4, The Brave and the Bold #99, Detective Comics #412-422, 439, 600, Heroes Against Hunger, Limited Collectors’ Edition C-25, C-51, C-59, Robin #1, Saga of Ra’s Al Ghul #4, World’s Finest Comics # 211, 244-246, 258; cumulatively embracing June 1971 to September 1996.

Following Adams’ liberally illustrated Foreword and key collaborator Denny O’Neil’s recollections describing their work process in his Introduction, the comics gold begins.

Throughout this period Adams remained one of the industry’s top cover artists, generating a stunning succession of mesmerising images on most Bat-related titles (and plenty of other comics). Those are listed here in chronological release order…

Behind a macabre eye catcher, Batman #232 (June 1971) took the hero to new heights as former kidnap victim Talia returns and we learn more of her as O’Neil & Adams – with inking as usual from Dick Giordano – introduce her father: immortal eco-terrorist Râ’s Al Ghūl.

A whirlwind adventure which became one of the signature highpoints of the entire Batman canon, ‘Daughter of the Demon’ is a timeless globe-girdling mystery yarn drawing the increasingly grim hero from Gotham’s concrete canyons to the Himalayas in search of hostages Robin and Talia, purportedly captured by forces inimical to both Batman and the mysterious figure who claims to be working in secret to save the world…

Ra’s was a contemporary, more acceptable visual embodiment of the classic inscrutable ultimate foreign devil (as typified in a less forgiving age as the “Yellow Peril” or Dr. Fu Manchu). This kind of alien archetype permeates popular fiction and is still an astonishingly powerful villain-symbol, although the character’s Arabian origins – neutral at the time – seem to uncomfortably embody a different kind of ethnic bogeyman in today’s post 9/11, ISIS-infested world.

The concept of a villain who has the best interests of the planet at heart is not a new one, but Ra’s Al Ghul, whose avowed intent is to reduce teeming humanity to viable levels and save the world from our poison, hit a chord in the 1970s – a period where ecological issues first came to the attention of the young. It was a rare kid who didn’t find a note of sense in what “the Demon’s Head” planned. The spectacular tale ended with a shocking pronouncement of what Ra’s intended for Gotham’s Guardian…

The chilling covers for Detective Comics #412 and 413 (this was the peak of the revival in supernatural comics, after all), leads to Batman #234 which featured the stellar return of one of the hero’s most tragic foes.

As comics became increasingly more anodyne in the 1950s, psychologically warped, physically actualised schizophrenic Two-Face was quietly retired from Batman’s roster of rogues, but with ‘Half an Evil’ (O’Neil, Adams & Giordano), he resurfaced at the forefront of grimmer, grittier stories.

When a string of bizarre and brutal robberies afflicts the city, the baffled Batman has to use all his ingenuity to discern the reasoning and discover the identity of a ruthless hidden mastermind in time to thwart a diabolical scheme…

Covers for Detective #414-417 Batman #235-236 lead into another much-reprinted classic. ‘Night of the Reaper!’ – by the usual suspect from Batman #237 – is one of the most revered tales of the era: a harrowing Halloween epic which finds Robin working with his old mentor to solve a string of barbarous killings, only to uncover a pitifully deranged perpetrator as much sinned-against as sinner…

The fronts for Detective# 418-422, The Brave and the Bold #99, Batman #238-241 and World’s Finest Comics # 211 bring us to Batman #243 (August) as the long-brewing war between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul reaches Def Con 3: a single extended saga taken out of normal DC continuity and depicting the final confrontation between two opposing ideals.

Not included here are the non-Adams episodes from Batman #240 and 242 (although they are available in many other collections). In them, the Darknight Detective abandoned his civilian identity by faking Bruce Wayne’s death and gathered a small team of specialist allies – comprising criminal alternate-identity Matches Malone, scientific advisor Dr. Harris Blaine and Ra’s’ top assassin Ling – suborned to the side of the angels by his own superstitious code of honour and sworn to destroy the Demon forever.

O’Neil, Adams & Giordano reunited for Batman #243 which sees the team – plus latecomer Molly Post – invade the Demon’s Swiss citadel moments after their intended target dies. Nobody suspects the ageless villain’s resources include ‘The Lazarus Pit’ which can revive the dead…

The fateful finale came in #244, wherein ‘The Demon Lives Again!’ Sadly, despite all his supernal gifts and forces, Ra’s cannot escape the climactic vengeance of his implacable foe in dream-team O’Neil, Adams & Giordano’s compulsive climax. With the job done, a short addendum in #245 resolves ‘The Bruce Wayne Murder Case!’, restoring the billionaire to his rightful place in Gotham’s social whirl…

The all-Adams cover to Batman #246 (October 1972) leads to another graphic landmark. ‘The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge’ comes from Batman #251 (September 1973 by Dennis O’Neil & Neal Adams) and finally ended forever the zany, “camp” taint of the TV show by re-branding the characters and returning to the original 1930s concept of a grim and driven Dark Avenger chasing an insane avatar of pure evil.

Such a hero needs truly deadly villains and – by reinstating the psychotically unpredictable Killer Clown who scared the short pants off readers in the Golden Age – this single-issue yarn set the bar very, very high. A true milestone that utterly redefined the Joker for the modern age: the story sees the Mirthful Maniac stalking his old gang, determined to eradicate them all with the hard-pressed Gotham Guardian desperately playing catch-up. As the crooks die in all manner of Byzantine and bizarre ways, Batman realises his arch-foe has gone irrevocably off the deep end….

Terrifying and beautiful, for many fans this is the definitive Batman/Joker story, but signalled Adam’s graduation to other jobs and away from regular bat-missions. Before that departure, however, the cover to Detective #439 (February/March 1974) and one last thriller awaited.

Scripted by Len Wein and inked by Giordano, ‘Moon of the Wolf’ from Batman #255 (March/April 1974) pits the ultimate human hero against a tragic former sportsman mutated into a truly supernatural lupine killer and enslaved by old enemy Professor Milo

From Limited Collectors’ Edition C-25 comes a pin-up before a rare example of the artist’s commercial comics work appears. Adams produced art for a series of comics adventures starring various Marvel and DC heroes – as well as screen icons such as Star Trek and Planet of the Apes – for Power Records’ line of Book and Records sets. These offered a vinyl recording of a story accompanied by a fully illustrated comic tale. The Batman offerings began with ‘Trumping the Joker’ in Stacked Cards (PR-27, 1975 and written & illustrated by Adams) was followed a year later, by PR-30 (Adams, Frank Robbins and Giordano) wherein ‘Robin Meets Man-Bat’. The all-ages tales are accompanied by a house ad for the DC stars available in Power Records’ unique packages.

Still a huge draw as a cover artist, between 1977-1996 Adams generated Bat-related frontages for World’s Finest Comics # 244-246 & 258, Limited Collectors’ Edition C-51 (a wraparound reprinting the “Bride of the Demon” saga) and C-59 (‘Batman’s Strangest Cases’), the Heroes Against Hunger benefit comic, a pin-up in Detective Comics #600, covers for Saga of Ra’s Al Ghul #4 (another wraparound), Batman Annual #14, and pin-ups for Robin #1 and Batman Black & White # 4.

The history of Batman is inescapably linked to and shaped by Neal Adams’ efforts, and captivating secrets of creation are revealed in the stunning Neal Adams Sketchbook section (featuring comic art, ads, storyboards and conceptualisations for a Batman amusement park) which closes this compelling and irresistible tome (still readily available in trade paperback and digital editions).

With the game-changing classics in this volume, Batman finally returned to the commercial and critical top flight he had enjoyed in the 1940s reviving and expanding upon his original conception as a remorseless, relentless avenger of injustice. The next few years would see the hero rise to unparalleled heights of quality so stay tuned: the very best is just around the corner… that dark, dark corner…
© 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 2005, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Swamp Thing: The Bronze Age Volume One


By Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson, Nestor Redondo; with Michael Wm. Kaluta & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8440-4 (TPB)

The first fan-sensation of the modern age – now officially enshrined as the Bronze Age – of American comicbooks – Swamp Thing has powerful popular fiction antecedents and in 1972 was seemingly a concept whose time had come again. Prime evidence was the fact that Marvel were also working on a man-into-mucky, muddy mess character at the very same time.

Both Swampy and the Man-Thing were thematic revisions of Theodore Sturgeon’s classic novella It and bore strong resemblances to an immensely popular Hillman Comics character dubbed The Heap. He/it slurped through the back of Airboy Comics (née Air Fighters Comics) from1943. My fan-boy radar suspects Roy Thomas’ marsh-monster the Glob (debuting in Incredible Hulk #121 from November 1969 and promptly returning in #129, June 1970) either inspired both DC and Marvel’s creative teams, or was part of that same zeitgeist. It should also be remembered that Skywald (a very minor player with big aspirations) released a black-&-white magazine in their Warren Comics knock-off line entitled The Heap in the Autumn of 1971.

For whatever reason, by the end of the 1960s superhero comics had started another steep sales decline, once again succumbing to a genre boom and horror/mystery resurgence: a sea-change augmented by a swift rewriting of the specific terms of the Comics Code Authority. At DC, With EC veteran Joe Orlando as editor, House of Mystery and sister title House of Secrets returned to short story anthology formats and gothic mystery scenarios, taking a lead from such TV successes as Twilight Zone and Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.

Referencing the sardonic narrator/storyteller format of EC horror titles, Orlando created Cain and Abel to shepherd readers through brief, sting-in-the-tail yarns produced by the best creators, new and old, that the company could hire. Artists Neal Adams, Mike Kaluta, and especially Bernie Wrightson produced their best work for these titles, and the vast range of successors the horror boom generated at DC.

The twelfth anthology issue of the resurrected House of Secrets cemented the genre into place as the industry leader. There writer Len Wein & Wrightson produced a throwaway gothic thriller set at the turn of the 19th century, wherein gentleman scientist Alex Olsen is murdered by his best friend and his body dumped in a swamp. Years later, his beloved bride – now the unsuspecting wife of the murderer – is stalked by a shambling, disgusting beast that seems to be composed of mud and muck…

This epic trade paperback and digital compilation gathers material from House of Secrets #92, and the contents of Swamp Thing #1-13 (cumulatively covering June/July 1971 to November/December 1974) and perfectly encapsulates the changing face and taste of the times, opening here with that so-pivotal gothic vignette…

‘Swamp Thing’ cover-featured in HoS #92 (June-July 1971), and struck an immediate chord with the buying public. The issue was the best-selling DC comic of that month, and reader response was fervent and persistent.

By all accounts, the only reason there wasn’t an immediate sequel or spin-off was that the creative team didn’t want to produce one. Eventually however, bowing to interminable pressure, and with the sensible idea of transplanting the concept to contemporary America, the first issue of Swamp Thing appeared on newsstands in the Spring of 1972. It was an unqualified hit and an instant classic.

Wein and Wrightson produced ten issues together, crafting an extended, multi-chaptered tale of justice/vengeance and a quest for answers that was at once philosophically typical of the time and a prototype for the story-arc and mini-series formats that dominate today’s comics production. They also used each issue/chapter to pay tribute to a specific sub-genre of timeless horror story whilst advancing the major plot…

Here, the saga resumes with a fresh origin as ‘Dark Genesis’ finds Alec and Linda Holland deep in the Louisiana Bayou, working on a bio-restorative formula that will revolutionise global farming. Working in isolation, they are protected by Secret Service agent Matt Cable, when representatives of an organisation called the Conclave demand that they sell their research to them – or else.

Obviously, the patriotic pair refuse, and the die is cast. The lab is bombed and Linda dies instantly but Alec, showered with his own formula and blazing like a torch, hurtles to a watery grave in the swamp. He does not die…

Transformed by the formula (and remember, please, that this is prior to Alan Moore’s landmark re-imagining of the character) Holland is transformed into a gigantic man-shaped monster, immensely strong, unable to speak, and seemingly composed of living plant matter. Holland’s brain still functions however, and he vacillates between finding his wife’s killers and curing his own monstrous condition. Cable, misinterpreting the evidence, also wants revenge, but he thinks that the monster is the cause of death of his two charges…

Over the next nine issues, Swamp Thing travelled the world, encountering the darkest outbreaks of classic supernature and the insatiable greed of human monsters.

The first was black sorcerer Anton Arcane and his artificial homunculi The Un-Men (eventually the grotesque stars of their own Vertigo series), in ‘The Man Who Wanted Forever.’ The wizard transported Holland to his Balkan castle and sought to mystically trade places with the stupendous swamp beast. The temptation proved too great, but when the restored scientist realised the cost, he violently recanted…

The next issue introduced Abigail Arcane and her tragic Frankenstein-influenced father ‘The Patchwork Man’ in a classic case of monster misunderstanding, which results in her joining free agent Cable in stalking the mossy misanthrope. As Holland makes his torturous way back to the USA, hunters and hunted are waylaid and encounter a Scottish werewolf in ‘Monster on the Moors!’ before at last returning to America and finding ‘The Last of the Ravenwind Witches!’ as well as even more mob-handed human intolerance…

In the wilds of Vermont, he encounters Paradise on Earth, courtesy of an old clockmaker but when the idyll is turned into ‘A Clockwork Horror’ by the voracious Conclave, his torment is transformed into sheer rage, leading to one of the most evocative and revered team-ups of the 1970s.

Swamp Thing #7’s ‘Night of the Bat’ featured the final showdown with the remorseless robber-barons of The Conclave in their Gotham City HQ: a landmark collaboration with the resurgent Batman, himself finally recovering from the hyper-exploitation of the “Campy” TV show era.

Wrightson’s rendering of the superhero through the lens of a horror artist inspired a whole generation of aspiring comics professionals and firmly set the Caped Crusader to rest, replaced with a grim and moody Dark Knight.

Somewhat at a loss after the end of his quest (Swamp Thing came out bi-monthly, so the tale had taken well over a year to tell – unprecedented at a time when most comics still had two or more complete stories per issue), the Moss Monster shambled aimlessly through America’s hinterlands encountering a Lovecraftian horror in the New England town of Perdition. ‘The Lurker in Tunnel 13!’ After dealing with eldritch cancer god M’Naagalah, Holland (as well as Abigail and Cable) were drawn into a US military cover-up involving a marooned and benevolent alien in ‘The Stalker from Beyond!’ which benefitted from supplemental inking by Michael Kaluta before the classic run concluded with #10’s ‘The Man Who Would Not Die!’: a tale of ghostly retribution amidst the graves of unquiet plantation slaves with unliving atrocity Anton Arcane making his first of many demonic returns…

The issue was plotted by Wrightson and marked his swansong on the title: the next chapter in the Swamp Thing saga was still dictated by Wein but the miraculously gifted hands of Nestor Redondo: possible the only artist who could have matched the visual intensity of the feature’s visual originator.

Nestor Redondo was born in 1928 at Candon, Ilocas Sur in the American Territory of the Philippines. Like so many others he was influenced by US comic-strips such as Tarzan, Superman, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon which were immensely popular in the entertainment-starved Pacific Archipelago.

Drawing from an early age Nestor emulated his brother Virgilio – who already worked as a comics artist for the cheap magazines of the young country. The Philippines became a commonwealth in 1935, and achieved full-independence from the USA in 1946, but maintained close cultural links to America.

His parents pushed him into architecture but within a year Nestor had returned to comics. A superb artist, he far outshone Virgilio – and everybody else – in the cottage industry. His brother switched to writing and the brothers teamed up to produce some of the best strips the Islands had ever seen, the most notable and best regarded being Mars Ravelo’s ‘Darna’.

Capable of astounding quality at an incredible rate of speed, by the early 1950s Nestor was drawing for many comics simultaneously. Titles such as Pilipino Komiks, Tagalog Klasiks, Hiwaga Komiks and Espesial Komiks were fortnightly and he usually worked on two or three series simultaneously, pencils and inks. He also produced many of the covers.

In 1953 he crafted an adaptation of MGM film Quo Vadis for Ace Publications’ Tagalong Klasiks #91-92. Written by Clodualdo Del Mundo, it was serialized to promote the movie in country, but MGM were so impressed by the art-job they offered 24-year old Nestor a US job and residency. He declined, thinking himself too young to leave home yet.

If you’re interested, you can see the surviving artwork by Googling “Nestor Redondo’s Quo Vadis”, and you should because it’s frankly incredible.

Ace was the country’s biggest comics publisher, but by the early 1960s they were in dire financial straits. In 1963 Nestor, Tony Caravana, Alfredo Alcala, Jim Fernandez, Amado Castrillo and brother Virgilio set up their own company CRAF Publications, Inc., but the times were against them (and publishers everywhere). About this time, America came calling again, but in the form of DC and Marvel Comics. By 1972, US based Tony DeZuñiga had introduced a wave of Filipino artists to US editors, and Nestor produced short horror tales for House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Phantom Stranger, Secrets of Sinister House, Witching Hour, The Unexpected, Weird War Tales, fill-ins for Marvel’s Man-Thing, an astonishingly beautiful run on Rima the Jungle Girl (a loose adaptation of W H Hudson’s seminal 1904 novel Green Mansions) before being tapped to take over as illustrator on Swamp Thing. He also worked on Lois Lane and Tarzan and in 1973 produced adaptations including Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for Vincent Fago’s Pendulum Press Illustrated Classics: later reprinted as Marvel Classics Comics.

In later years he moved to Marvel where he inked and eventually fully illustrated Savage Sword of Conan.

During that DC period he was tapped to draw an adaptation of King Arthur which DC killed before it was completed (once again some pages survive and the internet is your friend if you want to see them) and illustrated issue C-36 of the tabloid sized Limited Collectors’ Edition: The Bible. (please link)

Sporting a Luis Dominguez cover, Swamp Thing #11 was cover-dated July/August 1974 and sees the monster back at last in his Bayou home, with Cable and Abigail close on his root-riddled heels. When mutant beasts and ‘The Conqueror Worms!’ attack his human pursuers, Holland rushes to the rescue and the relationship between hunters and prey alters forever…

The carnivorous Worms have suborned crazed survivalist Professor Zachary Nail and taken captives and when their secret plans are exposed war breaks out for possession of Earth…

In the aftermath, Swamp Thing is sucked into an arcane time-loop locked on constantly-killed and perpetually-resurrecting Milo Mobius …until Holland finds a way to break the circle of ‘The Eternity Man’

This initial collection then concludes with Cable, Abigail and new recruit Bolt instigating ‘The Leviathan Conspiracy’ to liberate the Federally imprisoned Swamp Thing and put him beyond the reach of government scientists forever…

A genuine landmark of the art form, these stories are also superb examples of old-fashioned comics wonderment, from a less cynical and sophisticated age, but with a passion and intensity that cannot be matched. And, ooh, that artwork…

If you love comics you must have his buried treasure.
© 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Man Who Laughs


By Ed Brubaker, Doug Mahnke, Patrick Zircher & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1622-1 (HB) 978-1-4012-1626-9 (TMB)

This March saw the 80th anniversary of the Bat-Man’s debut in Detective Comics #27. About one year later his inescapable primal nemesis debuted in Batman #1 (cover-dated “Spring” and released on April 25th, 1940. Thus, I’m selfishly pleasing myself and getting my patronising geek on by indulging in a few fond looks back and sharing some books you might like to try for yourselves. Here’s one featuring a superb brace of creative collaborations revelling in the sheer power the Dark Knight has exerted over the decades, and one that’s happily now available in digital formats as well as in a good old-fashioned Hardcover and Trade Paperback tomes…

Grittily devious writer Ed Brubaker teamed with artist Doug Mahnke, colourist David Baron and letterer Rob Leigh treated us to a rather gripping treatment based on the original 1940s debut tales (with a tip of the hat to the Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers tales of the early seventies), in the form of an impressive prestige one-shot released in February 2005.

The title – and apparently the original inspiration for the Clown Prince of Crime himself – comes from Paul Leni’s seminal 1928 film classic starring Conrad Veidt in the title role. The plot concerns the actions of innocent Gwynplaine who had a permanent smile carved into his face by the King as a punishment for his father’s crimes…

Set not long after the events of Batman: Year One, The Man Who Laughs sees Police Captain Jim Gordon recognise that Gotham City has been changed forever when an outlandish and macabre serial killer goes on a very public, attention-seeking murder spree. Even his secret ally and vigilante outlaw The Batman is daunted by the sheer scale and audacity of the chalk-faced lunatic who seems utterly unstoppable and capable of anything…

The initial ghastly, gore-drenched clash of wills is a trip into hell for all concerned, but even with the Joker behind bars, the prognosis for the future seems grim beyond all reckoning…

The remainder of this book collects a 3-part adventure from Detective Comics #784-786 (September-November 2003). Here Brubaker scripts a generational serial-killer mystery steeped in the continuity of DC’s Golden Age guest-starring the original Green Lantern. Radio tycoon Alan Scott was Gotham City’s superhero-in-residence in the 1940s and early 1950s before mysteriously dropping out of sight as the “Red-baiting”, “Commie-hunting” decade unfolded…

Illustrated by Patrick Zircher, Aaron Sowd & Steve Bird, with hues by Jason Wright & letters by Todd Klein, ‘Made of Wood’ skips to contemporary times as Batman hunts a prolific serial killer who originally terrorised the populace in 1948. This maniac left a nasty signature message carved into his victims way back when and even assassinated the then-Mayor before simply disappearing. Now he’s apparently back to add to his tally

Matters are further complicated when a guilt-plagued and exceedingly short-tempered Green Lantern returns to action, determined to finally close the case he fumbled nearly 50 years previously…

Brubaker is an excellent writer at the peak of his abilities here providing tension and catharsis in equal measure and the art on both stories is effective and compelling. This is one of the better collections in the canon of the Dark Knight and a great treat for any fan or casual browser.
© 2003, 2005, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo volume 2


By Jim Aparo with Bob Haney, Cary Burkett, Archie Goodwin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4296-1 (HB)

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

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

At that time editors favoured regular – if not permanent – creative teams, feeling that a sense of visual and even narrative continuity circumvented confusion amongst younger readers. The slickly versatile Jim Aparo was a perfect match for a drawing brief that encompassed DC’s entire DC pantheon and all of time, space and relative dimensions in any single season…

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

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

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

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

Aparo and scripter Bob Haney continue their run of enticing all-action epics in this second sturdy hardback and/or eBook compilation, gathering B&B #123-136, 138-145, and 147-151 plus the lead stories from Detective Comics #437 & 438 (cumulatively spanning December 1975 through June 1979) in a fabulous celebration that opens sans preamble.

With this collection of Batman’s pairings with other luminaries of the DC universe we find a creative team that had gelled into a perfect machine producing top-notch yarns aimed at the general readership – which would often annoy and appal the dedicated fans and continuity-obsessed reader.

B&B #123 brought back and united Plastic Man and Metamorpho with the Darknight Detective in ‘How to Make a Super-Hero’ as well as featuring a rare incidence of a returning villain: ruthless tycoon Ruby Ryder, once again playing her seductive mind-games with the pliable, gullible Elastic Ace.

Always looking for a solid narrative hook, Haney spectacularly broke the fourth wall in ‘Small War of the Super Rifles’ when Batman and Sgt. Rock needed the assistance of artist Aparo and editor Murray Boltinoff to stop a gang of ruthless terrorists. This is another one that drove many fans batty…

‘Streets of Poison’ in #125 is a solid drug-smuggler yarn with exotic locales and a lovely hostage for Batman and the Flash to deal with, after which John Calnan stepped in to ink #126’s Aquaman team-up, solving the sinister mystery of ‘What Lurks Below Buoy 13?’

It was back to basics next when Wildcat returns to help quash a people-smuggling racket in the ‘Dead Man’s Quadrangle’ whilst #128’s ‘Death by the Ounce’ finds the Caped Crusader recruiting Mister Miracle and Big Barda to help him rescue a kidnapped Shah and save a global peace treaty.

Ever keen to push the envelope, the next yarn is actually a jam-packed 2-parter with #129’s ‘Claws of the Emperor Eagle’ pitting Batman, Green Arrow and the Atom against the Joker, Two-Face and a host of bandits in a manic race to possess a statue that had doomed every great conqueror in history. The epic, globe-trotting saga concluded with an ironic bang in ‘Death at Rainbow’s End’.

The last time Wonder Woman appeared (B&B #105) she was a merely mortal martial artist but in Brave and the Bold #131 she exults in all her super-powered glory to help Batman fight Catwoman and ‘Take 7 Steps to… Wipe-Out!’

When DC cautiously dipped its editorial toe in 1970s Martial Arts craze #132 found Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter joining ‘Batman… Dragon Slayer??’, as Denny O’Neil succeeded editor Boltinoff, resulting in a rather forced and silly tale of duelling fight stylists and purloined historical treasures.

Normal service resumes and Deadman steps in to deliver ‘Another Kind of Justice!’ to rum-runner Turk Bannion as his heir and murderer turns to a more modern form of smuggling before ‘Demolishment!’ (#134) sees Green Lantern defect to the soviets, a la The Manchurian Candidate with Batman’s hasty rescue attempt going badly awry…

In #135 the robotic Metal Men re-emerge to solve the mystery of a 19th century artificial intelligence in ‘More Than Human!’, but when Ruby Ryder is unmasked as behind the plot, it costs Bruce Wayne everything he owns and only the timely assistance of Green Arrow in concluding chapter ‘Legacy of the Doomed!’ is able to restore the status quo.

Mister Miracle is back in #138, tackling a ‘Mile High Tombstone!’ with Batman to save a missing geologist and thwart deranged escapologist Cosimo (and a killer computer), after which ‘Requiem for a Top Cop!’ sees Commissioner Jim Gordon targeted by alien bounty hunter Vorgan, forcing the Gotham Gangbuster to call in alien cop Hawkman

‘Dastardly Events Aboard the Hellship!’ in B&B #140 pits Wonder Woman and Batman against circus-obsessed billionaire super-spy Dimitrios, whilst Black Canary pops in to help quash the Joker’s byzantine extortion scheme in ‘Pay – Or Die!’

In #142, ‘Enigma of the Death-Ship!’ sees Aquaman and his wife Mera battle the Dark Knight to suppress a ghastly family secret, before the sordid trail leads to the most respected man in America and a confrontation with the Creeper in ‘Cast the First Stone’ (as Cary Burkett teams with Haney on script).

Haney solos on the magical mystery tale of ‘The Arrow of Eternity’ as Caped Crusader and Emerald Archer head back in time to Agincourt to foil a wicked plot by time-tamperer the Gargoyle after which the Phantom Stranger and Batman face ‘A Choice of Dooms!’ pursuing voodoo crimelord Kaluu

Supergirl enjoyed her first ever B&B Bat team-up (she had paired with Wonder Woman in #63, co-starring in the ferociously-dated and indefensible ‘Revolt of the Super-Chicks!’) in issue #147 where Burkett and Aparo’s ‘Death-Scream from the Sky!’ sees her and Batman save the world from extermination by satellite and a surprise super villain…

‘The Night the Mob Stole X-Mas!’ is a piece of seasonal fluff scripted by Haney and pencilled by Joe Staton with Aparo applying his overwhelming inks to a tale of cigarette smugglers and aging mafioso with the still-itinerant Plastic Man helping the provide a Christmas miracle.

The disbanded Teen Titans briefly reform in #149 for Haney’s ‘Look Homeward, Runaway!’, hunting a kid gang moving from petty crime to the big leagues after which ‘Today Gotham… Tomorrow the World!’ celebrates a landmark anniversary with an extended tale of Bruce Wayne’s abduction by terrorists and the undercover superhero who secretly shadows him. No hints here from me…

The brave, bold portion of our entertainment comes to a close with a rather era-specific yarn co-starring the Flash as #151 features a predatory haunt feeding off patrons at the ‘Disco of Death’.

This stunning compilation concludes with a brace of gripping thrillers from Archie Goodwin, after he took over the editor’s desk from Julie Schwartz in Detective Comics #437 (November 1973). He also wrote a stunning run of experimental yarns, beginning with ‘Deathmask’: a brilliant supernatural murder-mystery featuring an Aztec curse and seemingly unstoppable killer; all magnificently depicted by Jim Aparo. Following that, Detective #438 brought forth ‘A Monster Walk Wayne Manor’ wherein the abandoned stately pile (Batman having relocated to a bunker under the Wayne Foundation building) became home to a warped and dangerous old enemy…

By taking his cues from news headlines, popular films and proven genre-sources Bob Haney continually produced gripping adventures that thrilled and enticed with no need for more than a cursory nod to an ever-more-onerous continuity. Anybody could pick up an issue and be sucked into a world of wonder. Consequently, these tales are just as fresh and welcoming today, their themes and premises are just as immediate now as then and Jim Aparo’s magnificent art is still as compelling and engrossing as it always was. This is a Bat-book literally everybody can enjoy.

These are some of the best and most entertainingly varied yarns from a period of magnificent creativity in the American comics industry. Aimed at a general readership, gloriously free of heavy, cloying continuity baggage and brought to stirring, action-packed life by one of the greatest artists of the art form, 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: in this anniversary year, how can you…?
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 2013, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman, Batman vs. The Penguin, Batman vs. The Joker


By Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Alvin Schwartz, Edmond Hamilton, David Vern Reed, Bill Woolfolk, Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff, Lew Sayre Schwartz & various (Four Square/New English Library)
ISBNs: 1688, 1692 and 1694

The Silver Age of comicbooks utterly revolutionised the medium, bringing a modicum of sophistication to the returning genre of masked mystery men. However, for quite some time the changes instigated by Julius Schwartz in Showcase #4 (October 1956) which rippled out in the last three years of the decade to affect all of National/DC Comics’ superhero characters generally passed by Batman and Robin.

Fans buying Batman, Detective Comics, World’s Finest Comics and even Justice League of America would read adventures that in look and tone were largely unchanged from the safely anodyne fantasies that had turned the Dark Knight into a mystery-solving, alien-fighting costumed Boy Scout just as the 1940s turned into the1950s.

By the end of 1963, Schwartz having – either personally or by example – revived and revitalised much of DC’s line and the entire industry with his modernization of the Superhero, was asked to work his magic with the creatively stalled and nigh-moribund Caped Crusaders.

Bringing his usual team of top-notch creators with him, the Editor stripped down the core-concept, downplaying all the ETs, outlandish villains and daft transformation tales, bringing a cool modern take to the capture of criminals whilst overseeing a streamlining rationalisation of the art style itself. The most apparent change to us kids was a yellow circle around the Bat-symbol but, far more importantly, the stories also changed. A subtle aura of genuine menace had crept back in.

At the same time, Hollywood was preparing to produce a television series based on Batman and, through the sheer karmic insanity that permeates the universe, the producers were basing their interpretation upon the addictively daft material that the publishers were turning their Editorial backs on and not the “New Look Batman” that was enthralling the readers.

The TV show premiered on January 12th 1966 and ran for 3 seasons (120 episodes in total), airing twice weekly for its first two seasons. It was a monumental, world-wide hit and sparked a wave of trendy imitation. The resulting media hysteria and fan frenzy generated an insane amount of Bat-awareness, no end of spin-offs and merchandise – including a movie – and introduced us all to the phenomenon of overkill.

“Batmania” exploded across the world and then, as almost as quickly, became toxic and vanished.

To this day, no matter how much we might squeal and foam about it, or what has occurred since in terms of comics, games or movies, to a huge portion of this planet’s population Batman is always going to be that “Zap! Biff! Pow!” costumed buffoon…

To tap into the frenzy, American book publisher Signet/New American Library – a company well-used to producing media tie-in titles such as Girl from U.N.C.L.E. or novelisations like Breakfast at Tiffany’s – released 5 paperbacks starring Batman and Robin, beginning in March 1966.

Technically, it was 4 plus a prose adaptation of the movie that was released later in the year (and the second was in fact an all-new prose novel by Winston Lyon – AKA William Woolfolk – which I’ll be covering in a later review), so in the proper fashion of the times, British counterparts quickly followed.

This terrific little trio of monochrome paperback pocket books – spearhead of National Periodical Publications’ on-going efforts to reach wider reading audiences – were published in 1966 to accompany the launch of the Batman TV show, and fully fuelled the “Camp” superhero craze which saw Masked Manhunters and costumed crazies sneak into every aspect of popular entertainment.

Each breathtaking tome contains 5 reformatted stories of the Dynamic Duo, culled from the archives and crafted by some of the greatest scripters and illustrators the industry has ever seen. Collected here in incontrovertible black-&-white are the tales from this trio of cartoon books which blew my unformed little mind in that most auspicious year for fun and fantasy escapism…

The first UK release was Batman which featured primarily crime stories rather than the baroque super-villain fare that informed and monopolised the television iteration. In the aforementioned mid-1950s, fancy-dress felons had all but vanished from view, and the new Schwartz Batman also eschewed costumed crazies … at least until the TV show made them stars in their own right.

The reformatted mini-masterpieces start with the positively eerie 1940 origin tale ‘The Legend of the Batman – Who He Is and How He Came to Be!’ by Gardner Fox, Bob Kane & Sheldon Moldoff from Batman #1 (Spring 1940). This piece was actually recycled from portions of Detective Comics #33 and 34 (1939) but still offers in 13 perfect panels what is effectively the best ever origin of the character.

The drama continued with ‘The Web of Doom’ (from Batman #90, March 1955, by Bill Finger, Moldoff & Charles Paris), in which a biologist loses a package of deadly germ phials somewhere in Gotham City. Batman and Robin have only days to track down 3 criminals who hold the key to restoring the savant’s shattered memories and retrieving the deadly parcel…

Batman #92, from June 1955, provided ‘Fan-Mail of Danger!’ (Finger, Moldoff & Paris) as letters to the gracious heroes pile up and the lads hired a secretary to handle the load. Sadly, Susie Smith’s over-eager diligence almost exposes Batman’s secret identity to a cunning counterfeiter…

There was one exception in this collection to the “no loons” rule. The Joker tale ‘The Crazy Crime Clown!’ is something extra-special from Batman #74 (December 1952/January 1953, by Alvin Schwartz, Dick Sprang & Charles Paris) and sees the exotic but strictly larcenous Harlequin of Hate apparently go bonkers.

He is committed to the Gotham Institute for the Insane but, naturally, there’s method in the seeming madness which Batman only discovers after he too infiltrates the worthy asylum in disguise…

Cunning criminal mastermind Mr. Blank almost takes over the underworld by destroying a new super-computer in ‘The Crime Predictor!’ (Batman #77, June/July 1953, courtesy of Edmond Hamilton, Bob, Lew Sayre Schwartz & Paris), and it took all of the ingenuity of the World’s Greatest Detective to unravel the deadly mire of duplicity and prevent his own infallibly predicted demise…

‘The Man Who Could Change Fingerprints!’ (Batman #82, March 1954 by David Vern Reed, Sprang & Paris) is another clever scheme by brilliant killers who think to outwit the Caped Crusaders, before this initial volume closes with a thrilling suspense shocker in ‘The Testing of Batman!’ (Batman #83, April 1954) by Hamilton, Sprang & Paris.

Here a scientist’s exercise research is usurped by thugs who wanted to have fun killing the enemies of crime. At least that’s what they told the captive Gotham Gangbusters…

 

Six months later a second volume was released.

Batman vs. The Penguin followed the same beguiling format but, with flamboyant arch-foes predominating on the silver screen, the emphasis had shifted. As the title clearly shows, this compilation concentrated on cases featuring the Felonious Fowl and Bird of Ill Omen, but it also harboured a secret surprise…

The all-ages action and excitement kicked off with ‘The Parasols of Plunder’ (Batman #70 April/May 1952 by Bill Woolfolk, Kane, Sayre Schwartz & Paris) and details how, after being released from prison, The Penguin gives up his obsession with birds and starts selling umbrellas. But, oh… what deadly umbrellas…

He returned to ornithology for ‘The Golden Eggs!’ in Batman #99 (April 1956, Finger, Moldoff & Paris), as whilst on the run his hobby inspired a deadly retaliatory crime wave before Batman scrambled all his plans, whilst in ‘The Penguin’s Fabulous Fowls’ the Umbrella King turns crypto-biologist, capturing mythical avian monsters and turning them loose to devastate Gotham in a sharp suspense shocker from Batman #76 (April/May 1953 by Hamilton, Kane, Sayre Schwartz & Paris)…

His last appearance was in ‘The Return of the Penguin’ (Finger, Moldoff & Paris from Batman #155 May 1963) which sees the Bird Bandit coming out of retirement to match wits with Batman again. If only the Pompous Peacock had ignored the teasing of the other crooks when they called him a “has-been”…

This tome wraps up with a classic Catwoman yarn, as the Feline Temptress puts all the contestants of Gotham City’s “Queen for a Day” gala into catatonic trances. Moreover, suspiciously still-awake competitor Selina Kyle claims complete innocence and insists some other Catwoman was responsible for creating the ‘The Sleeping Beauties of Gotham City!’ in a taut mystery by Reed, Moldoff & Stan Kaye from Batman #84 (June 1954)…

 

Batman vs. The Joker followed a month later with a full quintet of comicbook curios starring Batman’s ultimate nemesis. The madcap mayhem began with ‘The Challenge of The Joker’ (Batman #136, December 1960 by Finger, Moldoff & Paris) in which the Clown Prince of Crime determines to prove to the world that modern police science is no match for cunning and the 4 ancient elements…

Then ‘The Joker’s Winning Team!’ (Batman #86, September 1954 Woolfolk, Moldoff & Kaye) reveals how the baseball-inspired brigand assembles a squad of crime specialist pinch-hitters to ensure he never loses a match against the Gotham Gangbuster, after which the gloriously engaging saga of ‘The Joker’s Millions!’ (Detective Comics #180, February, 1952 by Reed, Sprang & Paris) discloses how the villain’s crime rival takes deathbed revenge by leaving the Harlequin of Hate too rich to commit capers.

It is a double-barrelled scheme though and makes the Joker twice a fool, as the Caped Crusaders find to their great amusement…

‘The Joker’s Journal’ (Detective #193, March 1953 from Reed, Kane, Sayre Schwartz & Paris) follows the theme after the penniless Punchinello leaves prison and starts a newspaper. Everyone in Gotham knows it was only a matter of time until the Mountebank of Mirth returns to his old tricks, and this final volume concludes in the only way possible as the eternal archenemies’ minds are swapped in a scientific accident. Soon a law-abiding Joker and baffled Robin have to hunt down ‘Batman – Clown of Crime!’: a rousing romp by Reed, Moldoff & Paris from Batman #85, August 1954.

As I’ve constantly averred, the comics tales themselves are always special but somehow when they appeared in proper books it always made those fantastic adventure dreams a little more substantial; and perhaps even real…

Batman has proven to be all things to all fans over his decades of existence and, with the character undergoing almost perpetual overhaul these days, the peerless parables of wit and bravery encapsulated here are more welcome than ever: not just as memorial to what has been but also as a reminder that once upon a time everybody could read the fabulous Tales of Gotham City…

These books are probably impossible to find today – even though entirely worth the effort – but completists can achieve miracles if they put their minds to it and frankly, whatever format or collection you happen upon, in this anniversary year, such forgotten stories of the immortal Dark(ish) Knight are part of our cultural comics heritage and must always be treasured.
© 1940, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1963, 1966 National Periodical Publications. All rights reserved.