Batman Year 100 and Other Tales Deluxe Edition

By Paul Pope, with José Villarrubia, Ted McKeever, James Jean & others (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5807-8 (HB)

Paul Pope is one of the most individualistic comics creators in the business, both in his writing and the superbly moody drawing which usually resembles a blend of manga and European modern realism.

He was born in 1970 and straddles a lot of seemingly disparate arenas. The multi award-winning raconteur began making waves in 1995 with self-published Sci-Fi caper THB, simultaneously working for Japan’s Kodansha on the serial feature Supertrouble.

Pope is dedicated to innovation and inquiry: taking fresh looks at accepted genres with works such as One-Trick Ripoff, 100%, Escapo, Heavy Liquid, Sin Titulo or his Young Adult OGN franchise Battling Boy. He’s worked on a few DC projects over the years but none quite as high-profile or well-received as his 2006 prestige mini-series Batman: Year 100.

This collection – available in hardback and digital formats – gathers the entire saga whilst also representing a few other pertinent titbits for your delectation and delight…

In Gotham City 2039AD there’s a conspiracy brewing. It’s a dystopian, authoritarian world where the Federal Government is oppressive, ruthless and corrupt, but from out of the shadows a long-vanished threat to that iron-fisted control has resurfaced. In spite of all odds and technologies of the ultimate surveillance society, a masked vigilante is once again taking the law into his own hands…

Eschewing our contemporary obsession with spoon-fed explanations and origin stories, Pope leaps head-first into the action for this dark political thriller. We don’t need a backstory. There’s a ‘Bat-Man of Gotham’ dispensing justice with grim effectiveness. There’s a good but world-wearied cop named Gordon, helpless but undaunted in the face of a bloated and happily red-handed bureaucracy. There’s a plot to frame this mysterious vigilante for the murder of a federal agent. Ready, steady, Go!

Fast paced, gripping, eerie and passionate, this stripped-down version of the iconic Batman concept taps into the primal energy of the character seldom seen since those early days of Bob Kane, Bill Finger & Jerry Robinson. Once more, a special man who – at the end – is only human fights for good against all obstacles, and uncaring of any objections… especially the police.

For me, Guys with Suits and a Plan have always been scarier than nutters in spandex and it’s clear I’m not alone in that anxiety, as Pope’s smug, officious civil servant antagonists callously and continually cut a swathe of destruction through the city and populace they’re apparently protecting. Like so many previous Administrations in US history, the objectives seem to have obscured the intentions in Gotham 2039. With such sound-bite gems as “To save the village, we had to destroy the village” echoing in your head, follow the projected Caped Crusader and his dedicated band of associates as they clean house in the dirtiest city in a dirty world.

Following that clarion call to liberty are a small selection of graphic gems beginning with Pope’s first ever Bat tale from 1997. Accompanied by a commentary, ‘Berlin Batman’ (originally published in The Batman Chronicles #11) sees Pope and colourist Ted McKeever relate the career of a German Jewish costumed avenger plaguing the ascendant Third Reich in the dark days of 1939.

Winning the 2006 Eisner Award for Best Short Story, ‘Teenage Sidekick’, from Solo #3, sees first Robin Dick Graysonescape a chilling fate and learn a chilling lesson at the hands of both his masked mentor and the Joker, before Batman: Gotham Knights #3 (May 2000) provides a black & white memory as a neophyte Dark Knight ponders the repercussions of his first ever ‘Broken Nose’ and takes a rather petty revenge on the perpetrator…

Also included here are ancillary text pages to supplement the main story, delivered as ‘Batman: Year 100 News Archives’and as plus notes, design sketches and unused artwork

All science fiction is commentary on the present, not prognostication of tomorrows. The Heroic Ideal is about wish-fulfilment as much as aspiration and escapism. Batman: Year 100 is a moody yet gloriously madcap story honouring the history and conventions of the primal Batman by speaking to modern audiences in the same terms as the 1939 prototype did. This is a book for the generations.
© 1998, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Harley Quinn and the Gotham Girls

By Paul D. Storrie, Jennifer Graves & J. Bone with Brad Rader, Rick Burchett & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9971-2 (TPB)

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

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

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

Harley was initially the Clown Prince of Crime’s slavishly adoring, extreme abuse-enduring assistant, as seen in Joker’s Favor (airing on September 11th 1992). She instantly captured the hearts and minds of millions of viewers and began popping up in the incredibly successful licensed comic book. Always stealing the show, she soon graduated into mainstream DC continuity. Along the circuitous way, Harley – AKA Dr. Harleen Quinzel – developed a support network of sorts in living bioweapon Poison Ivy and a bizarre love/hate relationship with some of Gotham’s other female felons…

After a brief period bopping around the DCU, she was re-imagined as part of the company’s vast post-Flashpoint major makeover: subsequently appearing all over comics as cornerstone of a new iteration of the Suicide Squad, in movies and her own adult-oriented animation series. At heart, however, she’s always been a cartoon glamour-puss, with big, bold, primal emotions and only the merest acknowledgement of how reality works…

Amongst the plethora of comic books generated by the original cartoon show was a smartly sassy romp featuring those aforementioned crime cuties as well as brace of mismatched and openly antithetical law enforcers. Crafted by Paul D. Storrie, Jennifer Graves & J. Bone, 5-issue miniseries Gotham Girls was released between October 2002 and February 2003: opening with ‘Cat’s Paw’ as super-thief Selena Kyle undertakes a commission to steal something nasty from agricultural conglomerate Zehn Chemicals.

She’s still determined to open a lion sanctuary with her fee and doesn’t appreciate when the supposedly simple caper is interrupted by juvenile do-gooder Batgirl. However, as they trade kicks, punches and quips, overworked, under-appreciated and overlooked GCPD detective Renee Montoya is taking a closer look at the supposed victims and sees something dirty…

Then, as Bat and Cat ferociously but inconclusively throw down all over town, the masterminds behind the theft make their move, and it becomes clear that there’s a lot going on that needs to be properly unearthed…

‘Ivy League’ exposes murderous eco-terrorist Pamela Lillian Isley as bankroller of the heist, claiming benevolent motives to reclaim her own property from unscrupulous, world-endangering corporate creeps. However, because her bestest pal Harley is as erratic and excitable as ever, a potential Bat/Cat/Plant-girl/Dingbat alliance is thwarted by mutual mistrust and excessive, utterly unnecessary violence.

Montoya, meanwhile, is diligently following clues, interviewing greedy biologists and uncovering something at rival agri-company Kayle Corporation…

The fast-moving melee ends in leafy Robinson Park, with Batgirl holding the stolen chemicals, until ‘Harlequinade’ sees manic, attention-starved Quinn pull a martial masterstroke, delivering the bio-booty to her disturbingly abusive gal-pal and a heavy defeat to Catwoman and Batgirl. Naturally, that’s just when solid police practice explosively brings Montoya to their secret lair for ‘I Carry a Badge!’

Brilliant deduction and a standard-issue firearm aren’t much use against super-villains and giant carnivorous vines though, so it’s a good thing Batgirl and Catwoman have both independently tracked Harley and Ivy. With action amped to maximum, good girls and bad girls clash yet again, and sides are finally drawn for the climactic conclusion, with frustrated cop and masked vigilante hero united at last and resolved to end the chaos in ‘Bat Attitude’.

Of course, that means not just Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are going to jail…

A superbly riotous rollercoaster ride for kids of all ages, each chapter also deftly explores the interior life, history and motivations of successive stars – offering canny character building and definition most mature-reading tales would be proud to deliver.

Coloured by Patricia Mulvihill, lettered by Phil Felix and with additional layouts by Rick Burchett and Brad Rader, this classy, classically cops ‘n’ robbers riot plays very much like a 1940s movie chapter-play – albeit with outrageous gags, biting dialogue and a blend of black humour and bombastic action. A frantic, frenetic hoot, this is an absolute delight, well worth the price of admission and an irresistible treasure to be enjoyed over and over again.
© 2002, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Tales of the Demon

By Dennis O’Neil, Neal Adams, Bob Brown, Irv Novick, Dick Giordano, Michael Golden, Don Newton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401299439 (HB)

After three seasons the overwhelmingly successful Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. Clocking up 120 episodes plus a theatrical-release movie since its premiere on January 12, 1966 it had triggered a global furore of “Batmania” fomenting hysteria for all things costumed, zany and mystery-mannish.

Once the series foundered and crashed, global fascination with “camp” superheroes burst as quickly as it had boomed, and the Caped Crusader was left to a hard core of dedicated fans and followers who hoped they might now have “their” hero back.

For comic book editor Julius Schwartz – who had tried to keep the most ludicrous excesses of the show off his pages whilst still cashing in on his global popularity – the solution was simple: ditch the tired shtick, gimmicks and gaudy paraphernalia and bring Batman back to basics, solving baffling mysteries and facing life-threatening perils.

That also meant phasing out the boy sidekick. Although the college freshman Teen Wonder would pop back for the occasional guest-shot yarn, this monument to comics ingenuity and narrative brilliance features him only sporadically. Robin had finally spread his wings and flown the nest for a solo back-up slot in Detective Comics, alternating with TV-derived newcomer Batgirl.

This themed collection re-presents some of the key clashes between the Gotham Guardian and immortal mastermind eco-activist Ra’s al Ghul – a contemporary and more acceptable visual embodiment of the classic inscrutable foreign devil as typified in a less forgiving age as the Yellow Peril or Dr. Fu Manchu. This kind of alien archetype permeates fiction as an overwhelmingly powerful villain symbol, although the character’s Arabic origins, neutral at the time, seem to embody a different kind of ethnic bogeyman in today’s post 9/11 world. These legendary tales and supplementary material come from Batman #232, 235, 240, 242-244; DC Special Series #15; Detective Comics #411, 485, 489-490; Limited Collector’s Edition C-51; and Saga of Ra’s al Ghul #1-4.

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. I wonder how the latest crop of youthful would-be planet-savers feel about him?

Background and more is discussed in screenwriter Sam Hamm’s recycled 1991 Introduction to that year’s landmark graphic novel compilation of this saga, before the timeless contest of indomitable wills begins with a seminal story from Detective Comics #411. ‘Into the Den of the Death-Dealers’ was written by Denny O’Neil, illustrated by the great Bob Brown, and inked by Dick Giordano, featuring the sinister League of Assassins and introducing exotic mystery woman Talia.

Neal Adams & Dick Giordano joined O’Neil for Batman #232’s ‘Daughter of the Demon’: a signature high-point of the entire Batman canon. It details an exotic chase and mystery yarn drawing an increasingly Dark Knight from Gotham’s concrete canyons to the Himalayas in search of hostages Robin and Talia. If you’re one of the few who hasn’t read this much reprinted tale, I’m not going to spoil the joy that awaits you…

Batman #235 sees penciller Irv Novick join regulars O’Neil & Giordano for ‘Swamp Sinister’, a tale of bio-hazard and double cross affording some early insights into the true character of Talia and her ruthless sire. The same creative team sets the scene for the groundbreaking “series-within-a-series” soon to follow when ‘Vengeance for a Dead Man’ (Batman #240) has Batman uncover one of Ra’s Al Ghul’s less worthy and more grisly projects. As a result, open war begins between Batman and the Demon…

Batman #242-244 and an epilogue from #245 (still-infuriatingly absent from this supposedly definitive collection) formed an extended saga and was taken out of normal DC continuity. It promised what was to be the final confrontation between two opposing ideals. Novick pencilled first episode ‘Bruce Wayne – Rest in Peace!’ wherein Batman gathers a small team of allies – including still-active-today underworld insider Matches Malone – to destroy the Demon forever. Adams returned with second chapter ‘The Lazarus Pit’, which offered titanic action, rollercoaster drama and what seemed to we consumers of the day to be a brilliant conclusion to the epic. But with the last three pages the rug was pulled out from under us and the saga continued!

How sad for modern fans with so many sources of information today: the chances of creators genuinely surprising devoted readers are almost non-existent, but in the faraway 1970s we had no idea what to expect from #244 when ‘The Demon Lives Again!’ hit shops and newsstands.

In a classic confrontation, Batman ultimately triumphs and Ra’s Al Ghul disappeared for years. He was considered by DC as a special villain and not one to be diluted through overuse. How times change…

By 1978 the company was experimenting with formats and genres in a time of poor comic sales. Part of that drive was an irregular anthology entitled DC Special Series and from the all-Batman #15 comes an oddly enticing gem scripted by O’Neil and drawn by a talented young newcomer called Michael Golden, with inks from the ubiquitous Dick Giordano.

‘I Now Pronounce you Batman and Wife’ is a stylish, pacy thriller that anticipates the 1980s sea-change in comics storytelling, but its most interesting aspect is the plot maguffin which later inspired a trilogy of graphic novels in the 1990s and today’s Damien Wayne/Robin.

September 1979 brought another key multi-part epic, represented here by Detective Comics #485, 489 and 490. Although picky me still wishes that all parts were included, the truncated version here suffers no significant loss of narrative flow as Batman is dragged into a civil war for leadership of the Al Ghul organization between the Demon and the aged oriental super-assassin the Sensei – whom older fans will know as the villain behind the murder of aerialist Boston Brand and birth of Deadman.

O’Neil, Don Newton & Dan Adkins open proceedings in ‘The Vengeance Vow!’ as a long-standing member of the Batman Family is murdered, drawing Batman into battle with deadly mind-controlled martial artist Bronze Tiger. After thwarting the Sensei’s schemes for months, the saga cataclysmically concludes in ‘Where Strike the Assassins!’ and ‘Requiem for a Martyr!’

Whilst perhaps not as powerful as the O’Neil/Novick/Adams/Giordano run, this serial is a stirring thriller with a satisfactory denouement, elevated to dizzying heights by the magnificent artwork of Don & Adkins. Newton’s Batman could well have become the definitive 1980s look, but the artist’s tragically early death in 1984 cut short what should have been a superlative and stellar career.

In recent years, Ra’s Al Ghul has become Just Another Bat-Foe: familiarity indeed breeding mediocrity, if not contempt. But these unique tales from a unique era are comics at their very best in this definitive archival landmark.

Adding lustre to proceedings is a gallery of pertinent covers taken from early trade paperback collections. Brian Stelfreeze produced a brace of stunners with 1991’s Batman: Tales of the Demon TPB in editions for DC Comics and Warner Books; Adams created the potent image used on this very edition in a wraparound treat gracing Limited Collector’s Edition C-51 (August 1977) whilst Jerry Bingham & Dick Giordano and Adams & Rudy Nebres delivered a quartet of covers for Saga of Ra’s al Ghul #1-4 (January-April 1988). Also included here are an Afterword by Denny O’Neil and John Wells’ ‘The Saga of the Demon’s Head’ detailing the later schemes of the eternal thorn in humanity’s skin…

With the game-changing classics in this volume, Batman finally returned to the commercial and critical top flight he had deserved and 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, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1988, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

World’s Finest: Guardians of Earth

By Denny O’Neil, Mike Friedrich, Steve Skeates, Len Wein, Elliot S! Maggin, Dick Dillin, Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0178-3 (HB)

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest team”. The affable stalwarts were best buddies as well as mutually respectful colleagues, and their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could happily cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships. This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in the early 1940s, whilst 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 gaudy hubbub…

Of course, they had shared covers on World’s Finest Comics from the outset, but never crossed paths inside; sticking firmly to their specified solo adventures within. In fact, they never shared an official comic book case. However, once that Rubicon was crossed in Superman #76 (May 1952), the partnership solidified thanks to spiralling costs and dwindling page-counts. As 52-page titles dwindled to the 32, WFC permanently sealed the new deal and the industry never looked back…

The Cape and Cowl Crusaders were partners and allies from #71 onwards (July 1954), working together until the title was cancelled in the build-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986. All that is, except for a brief period when the Man of Steel was paired with other stars of DC’s firmament.

This mighty compelling compendium re-presents those cataclysmic collaborations from the turbulent 1970’s (World’s Finest Comics #198-214, spanning November 1970 to October- November 1972), as radical shifts in America’s tastes and cultural landscape fostered a hunger for more mature, socially relevant stories. That drive even affected the Dark Knight and Action Ace – so much so, in fact, that their partnership was temporarily suspended: paused so Superman could guest-star with other DC icons.

After three years, another bold experiment reunited them as parents of The Super-Sons before the regular relationship was revitalised and renewed. With the World’s Finest Heroes fully restored, their bizarrely apt pre-eminence endured another lengthy run until the title’s demise.

Without preamble the action kicks off here by returning to a thorny topic which had bedevilled fans for years…

The comic book experience is littered with eternal, unanswerable questions. The most common and most passionately asked always begin “who would win if…” or “who’s strongest/smartest/fastest…”

Here, crafted by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, ‘Race to Save the Universe!’ and the concluding ‘Race to Save Time’ (WFC #198-199; November and December 1970) upped the stakes on two previous competitions as the high-speed heroes are conscripted by the Guardians of the Universe to circumnavigate the entire cosmos at their greatest velocities to reverse the rampage of the mysterious Anachronids: faster-than-light creatures whose pell-mell course throughout the galaxies is actually unwinding time itself and unravelling the fabric of creation. Little does anybody suspect that Superman’s oldest enemies were behind the entire appalling scheme…

Anniversary issue #200 was crafted by regular Robin, the Teen Wonder scripter Mike Friedrich, with Dillin & Giella doing the drawing – as they did for this entire book. ‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ (February 1971) focusses on college-student brothers on opposite sides of the Vietnam War debate abducted along with youth icon Robin and “Mr. Establishment” Superman to a distant planet where undying vampiric aliens wage eternal war on each other.

Green Lantern pops in for #201, contesting ‘A Prize of Peril!’ (O’Neil, Dillin & Giella) which would grant either Emerald Gladiator or Man of Steel sole jurisdiction of Earth’s skies. Sadly, all is not as it seems…

Batman returned for a limited engagement in #202 as the O’Neil-penned ‘Vengeance of the Tomb-Thing!’ sees archaeologists unearth something horrific in Egypt, just before Superman seemingly goes mad and attacks his greatest friends and allies. A superb ecological scare-story, this tale changed the Man of Tomorrow’s life for decades to come…

Current Aquaman writer Steve Skeates waded in for #203 as ‘Who’s Minding the Earth?’ pits Metropolis Marvel and King of Atlantis against parthenogenetic mutant dolphins attempting to terraform the polluted world into something more welcoming to their kind…

More ecological terror underpins O’Neil’s bleak warning in #204 as ‘Journey to the End of Hope!’ finds powerless former Wonder Woman Diana Prince and Superman summoned to a barren lifeless Earth. Here a dying computer warns that a butterfly effect will inevitably lead to this future unless they prevent a certain person dying in a college campus riot. Only time will tell if they succeed as the clash does indeed cost a life despite all their efforts…

Racism, sexism and the oppression of reactionary conservative values then get a well-deserved pasting in #205’s ‘The Computer that Captured a Town!’

Here Skeates deviously layers a Teen Titans tale with a wealth of eye-opening commentary after the team are locked into a mid-Victorian parochial paradise enforced by a dead man and alien tech, until the Man of Tomorrow wades in to set things straight…

WFC #206 (October-November 1971) was an all-reprint giant, represented here by its rousing Dick Giordano cover, after which #207 again reunites the true World’s Finest team as Batman returns to solve a murder mystery in the making and save the Man of Tomorrow in ‘A Matter of Light and Death!’, after which Earth-2 sorcerer hero Doctor Fate aids the Action Ace in thwarting the extraterrestrial ‘Peril of the Planet-Smashers!’ – both courtesy of Len Wein, Dillin & Giella.

Supernatural menaces were increasingly popular as a global horror boom reshaped readers’ tastes, informing (#209) Friedrich’s ‘Meet the Tempter – and Die!’ wherein Hawkman and Superman are seduced into evil by an eternal demon, whilst Elliot S! Maggin’s ‘World of Faceless Slaves!’ in #210 catapults the Caped Kryptonian and Green Arrow into a primordial magic kingdom to liberate the vassals of diabolical sorcerer supreme Effron

The Darknight Detective returns again in #211, as O’Neil, Dillin & Giella devise a global manhunt for a ‘Fugitive from the Stars!’ Their target is a political refugee whose arrest is demanded by warriors who are a physical match for Superman, but happily, not Batman’s intellectual equals…

‘…And So My World Begins!’ in #212 is O’Neil’s thematic sequel to Justice League of America #71, which saw Mars devasted by race war and its survivors flee to the stars in search of a new homeworld. Here, Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz seeks Superman’s aid to rescue the last survivors from life-leeching mechanoids, unaware that a traitor has sold them all out to predatory aliens…

Maggin drills deep into super science for #213 as ‘Peril in a Very Small Place!’ finds the greater universe endangered by a microscopic and insatiable Genesis molecule, demanding a fantastic voyage into the Microverse inside a phone line for the Atom and Superman before this compilation concludes with wild west weirdness from by Skeates, O’Neil, Dillin & Giella. Here Golden Age troubleshooter The Vigilante delivers the silver bullet necessary to save Superman when ‘A Beast Stalks the Badlands!’

With covers by Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Nick Cardy and Curt Swan & Murphy Anderson, this book is a gloriously uncomplicated treasure trove of adventures which still have the power and punch to enthral even today’s jaded seen it-all audiences.

The contents of this titanic team-up tome are a veritable feast of witty, pretty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have. Utterly entrancing adventure for fans of all ages!
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batgirl volume 1: Silent Knight

By Scott Peterson, Kelley Puckett, Chuck Dixon, Damion Scott, Mike Deodato Jr., Pablo Raimondi & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6627-1 (TPB)

Way back when, after Gotham City was devastated in a massive earthquake (see Batman: Cataclysm and Batman: No Man’s Land in 2000) it was written off and abandoned by the US government in a spookily prescient foretaste of what would happen to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. Amidst the rubble, a number of heroes struggled to protect the innocent. One of these was a brand-new incarnation of Batgirl.

As the crisis ended and a semblance of normality returned to the battered metropolis, the new heroine got her own series and a mentor in the form of Babs Gordon, the wheelchair-bound crime-fighter called Oracle, who was also the first Batgirl.

The new operative is an enigmatic problem. Raised in utter isolation as an experiment by martial arts super-assassin David Cain, she cannot communicate. Part of the process creating Cassandra Cain was depriving and overriding her language centres in an effort to make combat her only communication tool. An apparent runaway, she was briefly adopted by the Batman as another weapon in his never-ending battle, before the more humane Oracle becomes her guardian and teacher.

In this first paperback/digital volume – spanning April 2000-March 2001 by collecting #1-12 of the monthly series and first Annual – the new Batgirl is trying to find her way, bereft even of the ability to learn, whilst revelling in the role of defender of the helpless, but her development as a human being threatens to diminish her capacity as a weapon, and the mystery of her past would indicate that she is possibly a two-edged sword in Batman’s arsenal…

In a bold experiment, initiating writers Scott Peterson and Kelly Puckett eschewed the standard format of individually titled stories to craft a continuous string of high action, deeply moving episodes which saw the neophyte street warrior battle the dregs of Gotham City while attempting to adapt to a life where not every person was her enemy.

Fast, furious, frenetic, visually expressive incidents (illustrated by Damion Scott with inkers Robert Campanella & Coy Turnbull) are interspersed with flashbacks to her lethal and cruel formative years with Cain pitting her against assassins and worse, while keeping a stunning secret of her natal origins all for himself…

In contemporary moments, Cassandra prowls the streets determined to honour her saviour Batman and sole friend Babs, battling thieves, thugs, rapists and all the worst human predators the city can throw at her.

All too soon, her first failure – to preserve an innocent life – leaves her emotionally wounded and susceptible to metahuman attack, even as Batman discovers his new operative may have blood on her own hands. Complicating the crisis, a telepath Cassandra rescues boosts her ability to speak, but inadvertently destroys her gift to read body language leaving her helpless against ordinarily easy opposition.

As Batman hunts and confronts Cain to clear Batgirl’s reputation, the embattled, dauntless wild child continues to risk her life in Gotham: going rogue and defying the Dark Knight to patrol the streets until she is targeted by Lady Shiva Woosan.

The world’s deadliest assassin has personal reasons for testing herself against Cassandra, and provides a cure for her lost battle assessment sense, but only to further her own insane agenda…

As Batman further unravels the convoluted mystery of Cassandra’s origins, Batgirl returns to duty, but again confronts failure at metahuman hands. Barely recovered, she finally faces her father and helps save Commissioner Gordon (in ‘Mute Witness’ from Batgirl #12 by Chuck Dixon, Dale Eaglesham & Andrew Hennessy). Her never-ending battle pauses for now after Batgirl Annual #1 takes her to Madras, India for ‘Introducing: Aruna’ by Peterson, Mike Deodato Jr. & John Stanisci.

Joining her mentor Batman and shapeshifting local hero Aruna, Cassandra explosively confronts millennia-old prejudice and ingrained racism whilst hunting for an abducted Bollywood child star exposed as a member of the “untouchables” caste. The shocking tragedy is supplemented by an origin for the shapeshifter, courtesy of Peterson, Pablo Raimondi & Walden Wong

Spellbinding, overwhelmingly fast-paced and terse to the point of bombastic brevity, this is a breakneck, supercharged thrill-ride of non-stop action that still manages to be heavily plot-based with genuine empathy and emotional impact. Truly superb comic storytelling which should be on every fan’s wish-list or bookshelf.
© 2000, 2001, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Tales of the Batman: Steve Englehart

By Steve Englehart, Sal Amendola, Walt Simonson, Marshall Rogers, Irv Novick, Dusty Abell, Javier Pulido, Trevor Von Eeden & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9554-7 (HB)

Steve Englehart was born on April 22, 1947 and, after studying psychology and earning a Batchelor of Arts from Wesleyan University in 1969, began a multi-pronged creative career incorporating novels, games and comics. He began as an art assistant to Neal Adams: one of the inking all-stars dubbed the “Crusty Bunkers” but the early 1970s, had switched to scripting. He was one of the most popular and innovative writers of superheroes in the field on titles such as Captain America, Hulk, Captain Marvel and others. In 1973 he and collaborator Jim Starlin brought martial arts to comics with Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. In his near 50-year career he has created and scripted countless comics wonders, but will probably be best regarded foe his astounding efforts on Batman.

Although his contributions to the Dark Knight’s canon are relatively few, they are all of exceptional quality as proved by this commemorative hardback and digital tome, reprinting his stories from Batman #311, Batman: Dark Detective #1-6, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #109-111, Detective Comics #439, 469-476, Legends of the DC Universe #26-27 and The Batman Chronicles #19, cumulatively spanning March 1974 to September 2005.

Kicking off the tense drama and flamboyant action is stand-alone saga ‘Night of the Stalker’ (from Detective #439, 1974), illustrated by Vin and Sal Amendola, with Dick Giordano inking one of most powerful intense and stories in the canon, hinting at the psychological traumas driving Batman, and a precursor of many future tales. Here, the Dark Knight is helpless to prevent another young boy from losing his parents to crime and becomes a remorseless, relentless avenger until justice is done…

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

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

Here the Caped Crimebuster is first politically isolated and then outlawed in his own city. The art team also limned sequel ‘The Master Plan of Dr. Phosphorus!’, debuting another landmark character: captivating and competent Modern Woman Silver St. Cloud.

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, you’ve probably already read it. But if you haven’t… what a treat you have awaiting you! Manic and murderous, the Harlequin of Hate goes on a murder spree after mutating fish. As seafood with the Joker’s horrific smile turn up in catches all over the Eastern Seaboard, the Clown Prince attempts to trademark them. When patent officials foolishly tell him it can’t be done, they start dying… publicly, impossibly and incredibly painfully…

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

Having said all he wanted to say, Englehart left Batman and soon after quit comics for a few years.

He was enticed back for Batman #311 (May 1979, rendered by Irv Novick & Frank McLaughlin) as Batgirl joins the embattled hero to spoil a mad vengeance plot in Doctor Phosphorus is Back!’

Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths – which wiped multiple universes in exchange for a new unified, rationalised DCU – Legends of the Dark Knight was a Batman title employing star guest creators to reimagine the hero’s history and past cases for modern audiences. Englehart and illustrators Dusty Abell & Drew Graci contributed a sharp brain-twisting turn in issues #109-111 (August-October 2000) as ‘Primal Riddle’ – broken down into ‘Nasty, Brutish and Short!’, ‘Perhaps the Only Riddle That We Shrink From Giving Up!’ and ‘A Dumpster of Chèrées’, traces Batman’s recovery from a life-altering injury even as the manic Prince of Puzzlers offers his greatest and weirdest challenge yet…

For The Batman Chronicles #19 (Winter 2000) the writer skipped back to the earliest moments of Batman’s career, with artist Javier Pulido as ‘Got a Date with an Angel’ sees the neophyte avenger forced to choose between love and duty for the first time…

Legends of the DC Universe was an attempt by the publishers to bring updated classic stories to a fresh-eyed reading public. With #26-27 (March & April 2000), Englehart, Trevor Von Eeden & Joe Rubenstein present the flip side to the Joker-Fish sage as ‘The Fishy Laugh’ finds the Harlequin of Hate in Atlantis vying with Aquaman to be king of fish. The cod crisis only escalates until Batman finally swims in to end the ‘Reign of the Joker!’

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

Although not quite as bad as that, miniseries Batman: Dark Detective #1-6 (running from July to September 2005) suffers from an excess of trying too hard as the titanic trio reunited to recount what happened after the major players reassembled on ‘Some Enchanted Evening’.

It begins as Silver St. Cloud returns to Gotham to help her new fiancé Senator Evan Gregory secure nomination as a Gubernatorial candidate. That means looking for donations from her old lover Bruce Wayne, and events are further complicated when the Joker announces his own run for the role. His tactics can be best described by his own slogan “Vote for Me …Or I’ll Kill You”. I think I’m seeing another parallel to modern real-world politics here…

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

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

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

These tales are just as fresh and welcoming today, their themes and scenes just as compelling now as then and this vision of Batman remains a unique and iconic one. This is a Bat-book everybody can enjoy: a lavish treat any Batfan or comics aficionado will always treasure.
© 1974, 1977-1979, 1998, 2000, 2005, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Justice League of America: A Celebration of 60 Years

By Gardner Fox, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Brad Meltzer, Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder, Mike Sekowsky, Dick Dillin, George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Chuck Patton, Kevin Maguire, Howard Porter, Ed Benes, Jim Lee, Jim Cheung & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9951-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comic Perfection and the ideal Stocking Stuffer… 10/10

A keystone of the DC Universe, the Justice League of America is the reason we have comics industry today. This stunning compilation – part of a series reintroducing and exploiting the comics pedigree of veteran DC icons and concepts – is available in hardback and digital formats and offers a too-brief but astoundingly enticing sequence of snapshots detailing how the World’s Greatest Superheroes came to be, and be and be again…

Collecting material from The Brave and the Bold #28; Justice League of America #29, 30, 77, 140, 144, 200; Justice League of America Annual #2, Justice League #1, 43 and Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (covering July 1960- August 2018), the landmarks selected are all preceded by a brief critical analysis of the significant stages in their development, beginning with Part I – 1960-1964: The Happy Harbor Years

After the actual invention of the comicbook superhero – by which we mean the launch of Superman in June 1938 – the most significant event in the industry’s progress was the combination of individual sales-points into a group. Thus, what seems blindingly obvious to everyone with the benefit of four-colour hindsight was irrefutably proven – a number of popular characters could multiply readership by combining forces. Plus of course, a whole bunch of superheroes is a lot cooler than just one – or even one and a sidekick…

The Justice Society of America is rightly revered as a true landmark in the development of comic books, and – when Julius Schwartz began reviving and revitalising the nigh-defunct superhero genre in 1956 – the true key moment came a few years later with the inevitable teaming of his freshly reconfigured mystery men…

When wedded to the relatively unchanged big guns who had weathered the first fall of the Superhero at the beginning of the 1950s, the result was a new, modern, Space-Age version of the JSA and the birth of a new mythology.

That moment that changed everything for us baby-boomers came with issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold, a classical adventure title that had recently become a try-out magazine like Showcase.

Just in time for Christmas 1959, ads began running…

“Just Imagine! The mightiest heroes of our time… have banded together as the Justice League of America to stamp out the forces of evil wherever and whenever they appear!”

When the Justice League of America was launched in issue #28 of The Brave and the Bold (March 1960) it cemented the growth and validity of the genre, triggering an explosion of new characters at every company producing comics in America and even spread to the rest of the world as the 1960s progressed.

Crafted by Gardner Fox & Mike Sekowsky with inking from Bernard Sachs, Joe Giella & Murphy Anderson, ‘Starro the Conqueror!’ saw Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and J’onn J’onzz – Manhunter from Mars unite to defeat a marauding alien starfish whilst Superman and Batman stood by (in those naive days editors feared that their top characters could be “over-exposed” and consequently lose popularity). The team also picked up an average American kid as a mascot. “Typical teenager” Snapper Carr would prove a focus of fan controversy for decades to come…

The series went from strength to strength and triumph to triumph, peaking early with a classic revival as the team met the Justice Society of America, now sensibly relegated to an alternate Earth rather callously designated Earth-2.

From issues #29-30, ‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ reprise the first groundbreaking team-up of the JLA and JSA, after the metahuman marvels of yet another alternate Earth discover the secret of multiversal travel. Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are ruthless villains from a world without heroes who see the costumed crusaders of the JLA and JSA as living practice-dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon…

With this cracking 2-part thriller a tradition of annual summer team-ups was solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless joys for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

Although a monster hit riding a global wave of popularity for all things masked and caped, the JLA suffered like all superhero features when tastes changed as the decade closed. Like all the survivors, the team adapted and changed…

A potted history of that interregnum, emphasising the contributions of iconoclastic scripters Denny O’Neil and Steve Englehart follows in Part II – 1969-1977: The Satellite Years after which groundbreaking issue #77 exposes a new kind of America.

America was a bubbling cauldron of social turmoil and experimentation at this time, with established beliefs constantly challenged and many previously cosy comics features were using their pages to confront issues of race, equality, and ecological decline. O’Neil and his young colleagues began to utterly redefine superhero strips with their relevancy-driven stories; transforming complacent establishment masked boy-scouts into uncertain, questioning champions and strident explorers of the revolution.

Here, the team’s mascot suddenly grows up and demands to be taken seriously. The drama commences with the heroes’ collective confidence and worldview shattered as enigmatic political populist Joe Dough suborns and compromises their beloved teen sidekick in ‘Snapper Carr… Super-Traitor!’ Crafted by O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella, the coming-of age-yarn changed the comfy, cosy superhero game forever…

By March 1977, the team was back in traditional territory but still shaking up the readership. Issue #140, by Steve Englehart, Dick Dillin & Frank McLaughlin questioned heroism itself in ‘No Man Escapes the Manhunter!’ as the venerable Guardians of the Universe and their beloved Green Lanterns are accused of planetary extinctions – until the JLA expose a hidden ancient foe determined to destroy galactic civilisation…

Sadly, all you get here is the opening chapter, but it’s worth tracking down the entire saga elsewhere…

Closely following is issue #144 ‘The Origin of the Justice League – Minus One!’ (July 1977) by the same team. Here Green Arrow does a little checking and discovers the team have been lying about how and why they first got together: a smart and hugely enjoyable conspiracy thriller guest-starring every late 1950’s star in the DC firmament…

Change is a comic book constant and events described in the essay fill in crucial context before Part III: The Detroit Years 1982-1987 precis’ the first Beginning of the End for the World’s Greatest Superheroes, starting with blockbuster anniversary giant #200.

Here scripter Gerry Conway and artists George Pérez, Pat Broderick, Carmine Infantino, Jim Aparo, Dick Giordano, Gil Kane, Brian Bolland, Joe Kubert, Brett Breeding, Terry Austin & Frank Giacoia reprise, re-evaluate and relive the alien Appellax invasion that brought the heroes together in ‘A League Divided’: a blockbuster saga involving every past member…

Big changes began in Justice League of America Annual #2 1984. ‘The End of the Justice League!’ by Conway, Chuck Patton & Dave Hunt saw the team disband following a too-close-to-call alien attack, leading Aquaman to recruit a squad of full-time agents rather than part-time champions. Relocating to street level in Detroit, his old guard veterans Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna and Vixen also began training a next generation of costumed crusaders…

The biggest innovation came after a couple of publishing events recreated the universe and a new kind of team was instituted. In 1986 DC’s editorial leaders felt their 50-year continuity was stopping them winning new readers. The solution was a colossal braided-mega series to streamline, redefine and even add new characters to the mix.

The worlds-shattering, reality-altering bombast of Crisis on Infinite Earths was such a spectacular commercial success, those movers-&-shakers felt more than justified in revamping a number of their hoariest icons for their next fifty years of publishing. As well as Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman, the moribund and unhappy Justice League of Americawas earmarked for a radical revision. Editor Andy Helfer assembled plotter Keith Giffen, scripter J.M. DeMatteis and untried penciller Kevin Maguire to produce an utterly new approach to the superhero monolith: they played them for laughs…

The series launched as Justice League with a May 1987 cover-date before retitling itself as Justice League International with #7. The new team was formed from the ashes of the old on the basis of events comprising follow-up crossover-event Legends. The gathering comprised a roster of relative second-stringers as America’s newest champions – Black Canary, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel (now Shazam!), Dr. Fate, Green Lantern Guy Gardner and Mr. Miraclewith heavyweights Batman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz as nominal straight-men.

The first story introduced charismatic filthy-rich manipulator Maxwell Lord – who used wealth and influence to recreate the neophyte and rather shambolic team who started their march to glory by fighting and defeating a bunch of rather inept terrorist bombers in initial outing ‘Born Again’ (Giffen, DeMatteis Maguire & Terry Austin).

An eventful decade passed and the team were rebooted again, as described in Part IV: The Watchtower Years 1986-2003

After the Silver Age’s greatest team-book died a slow, painful, wasting death, not once but twice, DC were taking no chances with their next revival of the Justice League of America, tapping Big Ideas wünderkind Grant Morrison to reconstruct the group and the franchise.

The result was a gleaming paradigm of comic book perfection which again started magnificently before gradually losing the attention and favour of its originally rabid fan-base. Apparently, we’re a really fickle and shallow bunch, us comics fans…

That idea that really clicked? Put everybody’s favourite Big-Name superheroes back in the team.

It worked, but only because as well as name recognition and star quantity, there was a huge input of creative quality. The stories were smart, fast-paced, compelling, challengingly large-scale and drawn with effervescent vitality. With JLA you could see all the work undertaken to make it the best it could be on every page.

The drama begins in ‘Them!’ (January 1997 by Morrison, Howard Porter & John Dell) as a family of alien super-beings called the Hyperclan dramatically land on Earth and declare that they’re going to usher in a new Golden Age – at least by their standards.

Almost simultaneously the current iteration of the Justice League is attacked in their orbital satellite and only narrowly escape utter destruction. Tragically, one of their number does not survive…

Hyperclan’s very public promises to make Earth a paradise and attendant charm offensive does not impress veteran heroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman or even the latest incarnations of Flash and Green Lantern.

These legends see their methods and careers questioned and are not impressed by seeming miracles or summary executions of super-criminals in the streets. They know there’s something not right about the overbearing sanctimonious newcomers…

The hits kept coming: a strung of superb adventures that enticed the readership. One of the very best and often cited as one of the best Batman stories ever created, multi-part paean to paranoia Tower of Babel saw immortal eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul’s latest plan to winnow Earth’s human population to manageable levels well underway. Again, only the first instalment is here but you know where else to look…

Issue #43 declared ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (by Mark Waid, Porter & Drew Geraci), as a series of perfectly planned pre-emptive strikes cripple Martian Manhunter, Flash, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Plastic Man and Green Lantern whilst Batman is taken out of the game by the simple expedient of stealing his parents’ remains from their graves…

Comics stars increasingly became multi-media franchises at the beginning of this century, and Part V: The Crisis Years 2006-2011 acknowledges the change as the printed form started a constant stream of ever-escalating blockbuster scenarios to compete. A perfect example is Justice League of America volume 4 #1 (October 2006) as Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes & Sandra Hope examine ‘Life’.

Thanks to the events Infinite Crisis, One Year Later and 52, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman convene as a star-chamber to reform the Justice League of America as a force for good, only to discover that events have escaped them and a new team has already congealed (I really can’t think of a better term) to defeat the imminent menace of Professor Ivo, Felix Faust and the lethal android Amazo, plus a fearsome mystery mastermind and a few classic villains as well.

The tale is told through the heartbreaking personal tragedy of the Red Tornado, who achieves his deepest desire only to have it torn from him: an enjoyable if complex drama that hides its true purpose – that of repositioning the company’s core team in an expanded DCU which encompasses all media, tacitly accepting influences from TV shows, movies and animated cartoons underpinning everything – even the Super Friends and Justice League Unlimited-inspired HQ.

In 2011, DC took a draconian leap: restarting their entire line and continuity with a “New 52”. Justice League volume 2 #1 (November) led from the front as ‘Justice League Part One’ by biggest guns Geoff Johns, Jim Lee & Scott Williams introduced a number of newly debuted heroes acrimoniously pulled together to fight an alien invader called Darkseid

This celebration concludes with Part VI: The Media Era 1986-2018 and Justice League volume 4 #1 (August 2018) wherein Scott Snyder, Jim Cheung & Mark Morales kick off a colossal, years-long company-wide event. ‘The Totality Part 1’ sees the universe fall apart, its creator escape eternal imprisonment and the JLA hard-pressed to prevent the final triumph of Evil as represented by Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom

Adding immeasurably to the wonderment is a superb gallery of covers by Sekowsky, Anderson, Rich Buckler, Dillin & McLaughlin, Pérez, Patton & Giordano, Maguire & Austin, Porter, Dell & Geraci, Ed & Mariah Benes, Lee & Williams and Jim Cheung.

The Justice League of America has a long, proud history of shaking things up and providing dynamic provocative, drama delivered with quality artwork. This compelling assortment is staggeringly entertaining and a monolithic testament to the inestimable value of a strong core concept matured over decades of innovation.
© 1960, 1964, 1969, 1977, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1997, 2000, 2006, 2005, 2011, 2018, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Bat and the Cat – 80 Years of Romance

By Bill Finger & Bob Kane, Jack Schiff, Len Wein, Alan Brennert, Darwyn Cooke, Jeph Loeb, Ed Brubaker, Tom King, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Irv Novick, Joe Staton, Tim Sale, Jim Lee, Sean Phillips, David Finch, Mikel Janín, Joëlle Jones & many and various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9585-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Romance for All Seasons… 8/10

There’s a hideously misogynistic adage from my ancient childhood that I can’t get out of my head after reading this compilation of tales celebrating the second longest love story in comic books…

“Man chases Woman until She catches Him.”

Once you’ve stopped scowling/screaming/vomiting, I ask you to consider whether, in this one specific instance, there might be kernel of truth to be gleaned here.

A sultry, sneaky, powerful thief has been alternately vamping and thumping a stiff-necked, doctrinaire, high-minded myrmidon for eight decades now and that relationship is still going strong: perpetually running hot and cold and generating plenty of sparks and engrossing entertainment for all of us voyeuristic fans.

As much promoting the Batman/Catwoman wedding publishing event as celebrating 80 years of tantalising sexual tension and masked roleplay, this carefully curated hardcover and/or digital compilation gathers material from Batman (volume 1) #1, 3, 15, 324, 392, 615; The Brave and the Bold #197; Solo #1; Catwoman #32; Batman (volume 3) #24, 44, 50 – as well as offering a gallery of breathtaking covers – and opens sans preamble or editorial comment with ‘The Cat’ by Bill Finger, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson from the Dark Knight’s first solo-starring issue, released in  Spring 1940.

Third story in that landmark was ‘The Cat’ – who later added the suffix ‘Woman’ to her name to avoid any possible doubt or confusion – who plied her felonious trade of jewel theft aboard the wrong cruise-liner, rapidly falling foul for the first time to the dashing Dynamic Duo. Even then she tried to escape the consequences of her actions by vamping the big boy scout… with no appreciable result…

The larcenous lady returned in the Fall for #3 in Finger, Kane, Robinson & George Roussos’ ‘The Batman vs. the Cat-Woman’: clad in cape and costume but once again in well over her masked head by stealing for – and from – all the wrong people…

She graduated to full villain status in Batman #15 (February/March 1943, by Jack Schiff, Kane & Robinson) as ‘Your Face is your Fortune!’ exposed the Feline Fury taking on a job at a swanky Beauty Parlour to gain intel for her crimes, but inadvertently falling for Society Batchelor Bruce Wayne

There were decades of stories before Batman #324 (June 1980) but Len Wein, Irv Novick & Bob Smith’s ‘The Cat Who Would be King’ is significant as it reveals a growing intimacy leading to something more as the Dark Knight remorselessly battles Catman for a mystical remedy to the disease inexorably killing Selina Kyle

Next up is an alternate universe yarn, where The Brave and the Bold #197 (April 1983) sees Alan Brennert, Joe Staton & George Freeman reveal how in 1955 the Earth-2 Batman and Catwoman clashed with the Scarecrow before finally sheathing their claws and getting married in ‘The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne!’

Doug Moench, Tom Mandrake & Jan Duursema then detail ‘A Town on the Night’ (Batman #392, February 1986) as a newly-reformed Feline Avenger futilely seeks to get her masked man to take her on a date in Gotham City, after which Solo #1 (December 2004) expands on the theme for ‘Date Knight’ by Darwyn Cooke & Tim Sale. Of course, Selina is back to her wild, wandering, pilfering ways now, which she thinks adds a slice of spice to the affair…

Extracted from extended epic Hush (chapter 8 from July 2003, if you’re counting), Batman # 615 – ‘The Dead’ by Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee & Scott Williams – is pretty incomprehensible on its own, but is significant for one single interaction between the Cat and the Bat…

Catwoman #32 from August 2004 by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips & Stefano Gaudiano and reveals how the on-again, off-again relationship gets very serious indeed in ‘Only Takes a Night’ before we jump to August 2017 and Batman volume 3, wherein issues #24, 44 and 50 give us the highlights of the whirlwind romance that declares ‘Every Epilogue is a Prelude’ (Tom King, David Finch Clay & Seth Mann) and enquires ‘Bride or Burglar’ (King, Mikel Janín & Joëlle Jones) before finally presenting ‘The Wedding of Batman & Catwoman’ (by King, Janín and an army of guest creators.

Also included is a gallery of classic covers for tales which didn’t make the final cut here, and some wedding dress designs, to tantalise and keep all the romantics on edge for the next 80 years…

Fun and thoughtful, whilst reviving a few lesser-known yarns, this is a solid serving of froth and cake to delight fans of Costumed Dramas. And who doesn’t love a wedding, right?
© 1940, 1980, 1983, 1986, 2003, 2004, 2018, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Robin the Boy Wonder

By E. Nelson Bridwell, Ed Hamilton, John Broome, Leo Dorfman, Gardner Fox, Cary Bates, Mike Friedrich, Frank Robbins, Denny O’Neil, Bob Haney, Elliot Maggin, Bob Rozakis, Ross Andru, Curt Swan, Sheldon Moldoff, Pete Costanza, Chic Stone, Gil Kane, Irv Novick, Murphy Anderson, Dick Dillin, Rich Buckler, Bob Brown, MikeGrell, A. Martinez, Al Milgrom & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1676-4 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Classic Crimebusting Capers with Certified Kid Appeal… 9/10

As previously mentioned, there are a lot of comics anniversaries occurring in this otherwise dreadful year. The ultimate and original sidekick is probably the most significant of DC’s representatives, and indeed there have been a few intriguing collections released to celebrate the occasion. This one, however, is probably the best but remains criminally out of print, if not utterly unavailable…

Robin the Boy Wonder debuted in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940). Created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger & Jerry Robinson, he was a juvenile circus acrobat whose parents were murdered by a mob boss. The story of how Batman took the orphaned Dick Grayson under his scalloped wing and trained him to fight crime has been told, retold and revised many times over the decades and still regularly undergoes tweaking to this day.

Grayson fought beside Batman until 1970 when, as an indicator of those turbulent times, he flew the nest, becoming a Teen Wonder college student. His creation as a junior hero for younger readers to identify with has inspired an incomprehensible number of costumed sidekicks and kid crusaders, and Grayson continued in similar innovative vein for the older, more worldly-wise readership of America’s increasingly rebellious youth culture.

The first Robin even had his own solo series in Star Spangled Comics from 1947 to 1952, a solo spot in the back of Detective Comics from the end of the 1960s – a position he alternated and shared with Batgirl and a starring feature in anthology comic Batman Family. During the 1980s he led the New Teen Titans, initially in his original costumed identity but eventually in the reinvented guise of Nightwing, all while re-establishing a (somewhat turbulent) working relationship with his mentor Batman.

This broad ranging monochrome compilation volume covers the period from Julie Schwartz’s captivating reinvigoration of the Dynamic Duo in 1964 until 1975 with Robin-related stories and material from Batman #184, 192, 202, 213, 227, 229-231, 234-236, 239-242, 244-246, 248-250, 252, 254 and portions of 217; Detective Comics #342, 386, 390-391, 394-395, 398-403, 445, 447, 450-251; World’s Finest Comics #141, 147, 195, 200; Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #91, 111, 130 and Justice League of America #91-92.

The wonderment begins with the lead story from Batman #213 (July-August 1969) – a 30th Anniversary reprint Giant – which featured an all-new retelling of ‘The Origin of Robin’ courtesy of E. Nelson Bridwell, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, which perfectly reinterpreted that epochal event for the Vietnam generation. After that the tales proceed in (more or less) chronological order, covering episodes where Robin took centre-stage.

First up is ‘The Olsen-Robin Team versus “the Superman-Batman Team!”’ (from World’s Finest #141, May 1964). In a stirring blend of science fiction thriller and crime caper, the underappreciated sidekicks fake their own deaths to undertake a secret mission even their adult partners must remain unaware of… for the very best of reasons of course. The sequel from WF #147 (February 1965, Hamilton, Swan & Klein) delivers an engaging drama of youth-in-revolt as ‘The New Terrific Team!’ quit their assistant roles to strike out on their disgruntled own. Naturally there’s a perfectly reasonable – if incredible – reason here, too…

Detective Comics #342 (August 1965) featured ‘The Midnight Raid of the Robin Gang!’ by John Broome, Sheldon Moldoff & Joe Giella, wherein the Boy Wonder joins a youthful gang of costumed criminals after which Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #91 (March 1966) offers ‘The Dragon Delinquent!’ (Leo Dorfman & Pete Costanza) wherein Robin and the cub reporter both, unknown to each other, infiltrate the same biker gang… with potentially fatal consequences.

‘The Boy Wonder’s Boo-Boo Patrol!’ originally appeared as a back-up in Batman #184 (September 1966 by Fox, Chic Stone & Sid Greene), showing the daring lad’s star-potential in a clever tale of thespian skulduggery and classic conundrum solving, before ‘Dick Grayson’s Secret Guardian!’ (from Batman #192, June 1967 by Fox, Moldoff & Giella) displays his physical prowess in one of comic books’ first instances of the now over-used exo-skeletal augmentation gimmick.

‘Jimmy Olsen, Boy Wonder!’ (SPJO #111, June 1968, by Cary Bates & Costanza) finds the reporter trying to prove his covert skills by convincing the Gotham Guardian that he was actually Robin, whilst that same month in Batman #203 the genuine article tackles the ‘Menace of the Motorcycle Marauders!’ (by Mike Friedrich, Stone & Giella) consequently learning a salutary lesson in the price of responsibility…

Cover-dated April 1969, Detective Comics #386 featured the Boy Wonder’s first solo back-up in what was to become his semi-regular home-spot for years. ‘The Teen-Age Gap!’ (as described by Friedrich, Andru & Esposito) depicts a High School Barn Dance which only narrowly escapes becoming a riot thanks to his diligent intervention, after which Gil Kane & Murphy Anderson assume the art-chores with #390’s ‘Countdown to Chaos!’ (August 1969), bringing the series stunningly alive. Friedrich concocted a canny tale of corruption and kidnapping leading to a paralysing city ‘Strike!’ for the Caped kid to spectacularly expose and foil in the following issue.

Batman #217 (December 1969) was a shattering landmark in the character’s long history, as Dick Grayson leaves home to attend Hudson University. Only the pertinent portion from ‘One Bullet Too Many!’ by Frank Robbins, Irv Novick & Dick Giordano is included here, closely followed by ‘Strike… Whilst the Campus is Hot’ (Detective #394 from the same month, by Robbins, Kane & Anderson) as the callow Freshman stumbles into a campus riot organised by criminals and radical activists, forcing the now Teen Wonder to ‘Drop Out… or Drop Dead!’ to stop the seditious scheme…

Detective Comics #398-399 (April & May 1970) featured a 2-part spy-thriller with Vince Colletta replacing Anderson as inker. ‘Moon-Struck’ has lunar rock samples borrowed from NASA apparently causing a plague among Hudson’s students until Robin exposes a Soviet scheme to sabotage the Space Program in ‘Panic by Moonglow’.

The 400th anniversary issue (June 1970) finally teamed the Teen Wonder with his alternating back-up star in ‘A Burial For Batgirl!’(Denny O’Neil, Kane & Colletta): a college-based murder mystery which again heavily references the political and social unrest then plaguing US campuses, but which still finds space to be smart and action-packed as well as topical, before chilling conclusion ‘Midnight is the Dying Hour!’ wraps up the saga.

Never afraid to repeat a good idea, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #130 (July 1970) sees Bob Haney & Murphy Anderson detail the exploits of ‘Olsen the Teen Wonder!’ as the boy reporter again apes Batman’s buddy – this time to infiltrate an underworld newspaper – whilst World’s Finest #195 (August 1970) finds Jimmy & Robin targeted for murder by the Mafia in ‘Dig Now, Die Later!’ by Haney, Andru & Esposito.

Simultaneously in Detective #402, ‘My Place in the Sun’ (Friedrich, Kane & Colletta), embroils Grayson and fellow Teen Titan Roy “Speedy” Harper in a crisis of social conscience, before our scarce-bearded hero wraps up his Detective run with corking crime-busting caper ‘Break-Out’ in the September issue.

Robin’s further adventures transferred to the back of Batman, beginning with #227 (December 1970) and ‘Help Me – I Think I’m Dead!’ (Friedrich, Novick & Esposito) as ecological awareness and penny-pinching Big Business catastrophically collide on the campus, beginning an extended epic seeing the Teen Thunderbolt explore communes, alternative cultures and the burgeoning spiritual New Age fads of the day.

‘Temperature Boiling… and Rising!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia from #229, February 1971) continues the politically-charged drama which is uncomfortably interrupted by a trenchant fantasy team-up with Superman sparked when the Man of Steel attempts to halt a violent campus clash between students and National Guard.

Crafted by Friedrich, Dick Dillin & Giella, ‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ (World’s Finest #200, February 1971), has brothers on the opposite side of the teen scene kidnapped with Robin and Superman to a distant planet where undying vampiric aliens wage eternal war on each other. A return to more pedestrian perils in Batman #230 (March 1971) sees ‘Danger Comes A-Looking!’ for our young hero in the form of a gang of right-wing, anti-protester jocks and a deluded friend who prefers bombs to brotherhood, courtesy of Friedrich, Novick & Dick Giordano.

‘Wiped Out!’ (#231, May 1971) offers an eye-popping end to the jock gang whilst #234 sees a clever road-trip tale in ‘Vengeance for a Cop!’, when a campus guard is gunned down forcing Robin to track the only suspect to a commune. ‘The Outcast Society’ has its own unique system of justice, but eventually the shooter is apprehended in the cataclysmic ‘Rain Fire!’ (#235 and 236 respectively).

The Collective experience blossoms into psychedelic and psionic strangeness in #239 as ‘Soul-Pit’ (illustrated by new penciller Rich Buckler) finds Grayson’s would-be girlfriend, Jesus-freaks and runaway kids all sucked into a telepathic duel between a father and son, all played out in the ‘Theatre of the Mind!’ before exposing the ‘Secret of the Psychic Siren!’ and culminating in a lethal clash with a clandestine cult in ‘Death-Point!’ in Batman #242 (June 1972).

After that eerie epic we slip back a year to peruse the Teen Wonder’s participation in one of the hallowed JLA/JSA summer team-ups, beginning in Justice League of America #91 (August 1971) and ‘Earth… the Monster-Maker!’, as the Supermen, Flashes, Green Lanterns, Atoms and a brace of Hawkmen from two separate Realities simultaneously and ineffectually battle an alien boy and his symbiotically-linked dog (sort of) on almost identical planets a universe apart. The still time to painfully patronise the Robins of both until ‘Solomon Grundy… the One and Only!’ gives everybody a brutal but ultimately life-saving lesson on acceptance, togetherness, youthful optimism and lateral thinking…

Elliot Maggin, Novick & Giordano then set ‘The Teen-Age Trap!’ (Batman#244, September 1972), which sees Grayson mentoring troubled kids – and finding plenty of troublemakers his own age – whilst ‘Who Stole the Gift from Nowhere!’ is a delightful old-fashioned change-of-pace mystery yarn.

‘How Many Ways Can a Robin Die?’ by Robbins, Novick, Dillin & Giordano (Batman #246, (December 1972) is actually a Dark Knight story with the Teen Wonder reduced to helpless hostage throughout, whereas #248 opens another run of solo stories with ‘The Immortals of Usen Castle’ (Maggin, Novick & Frank McLaughlin) wherein another deprived-kids day trip turns into an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where are You?, whilst the ‘Case of the Kidnapped Crusader!’ (pencilled by Bob Brown) put the Student Centurion on the trail of an abducted consumer advocate and ‘Return of the Flying Grayson!’ by Maggin, Novick & McLaughlin from #250 painfully reminded the hero of his Circus past after tracking down pop-art thieves.

Batman #252 (October 1973) features Maggin, Dillin & Giordano’s light-hearted pairing of Robin with a Danny Kaye pastiche for charming romp ‘The King from Canarsie!’, whilst ‘The Phenomenal Memory of Luke Graham!’ (#254 January/February 1974 and inked by Murphy Anderson) causes nothing but trouble for the hero, his college professors and a gang of robbers…

It was a year before the Teen Wonder’s solo sallies resumed with ‘The Touchdown Trap’ in Detective Comics #445 as new scripter Bob Rozakis and guest artist Mike Grell catapulted our hero into a 50-year old college football feud that refused to die, whilst ‘The Puzzle of the Pyramids’ (#447 and illustrated by A. Martinez & Mazzaroli) offers another clever crime conundrum.

This magically eclectic monochrome compendium concludes with an action-packed, chase-heavy human drama drawn by Al Milgrom & Terry Austin as ‘The Parking Lot Bandit!’ and ‘The Parking Lot Bandit Strikes Again!’ (Detective #450-451, August & September 1975), giving the titanic teen one last chance to strike a bit of terror into the hearts of evil-doers…

These stories span a turbulent and chaotic period for comic books: perfectly encapsulating and describing the vicissitudes of the superhero genre’s premier juvenile lead: complex yet uncomplicated adventures drenched in charm and wit, moody tales of rebellion and self-discovery and rollercoaster, all-fun romps. Action is always paramount and angst-free satisfaction is pretty much guaranteed. These cracking yarns are something no fan of old-fashioned Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction should miss.
© 1964-1975, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up volume 1

By Sholly Fisch, Dario Brizuela & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401249465 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: All-Ages Fun and Frolic… 8/10

It’s been bad year for everybody, but from my selfish and blinkered perspective, the graphic arts have been particularly diminished by the loss of many giants. Here’s an offhand tribute to two more…

The links between kids’ animated features and comicbooks are long established and, I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end…

Although never actual comics workers, animation titans and series writers Joe Ruby (March 30th 1933-August 26th 2020) and Ken Spears (March 12th 1938-November 6th 2020) co-originated dozens of cartoon shows which ultimately translated into multi-million comic book sales, joy and glee for generations and a subtle reshaping of the World’s cultural landscape. They also popularised the superhero concept on TV, through shows such as Superman, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show and Thundarr the Barbarian, consequently employing former funnybook creators such as Doug Wildey, Alex Toth, Steve Gerber, Jack Kirby and other comics giants. For all this, they are most renowned for devising mega-franchise Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

Over decades of screen material, Scooby-Doo and his sidekicks Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Freddy became global icons, and amidst the mountain of merchandise and derivatives generated by the franchise was a succession of comic book series from Gold Key (30 issues beginning December 1969 and ending in 1974), through Charlton (11 issues 1975-1976), Marvel (9 issues 1977-1979), Harvey (1993-1994) and Archie (21 issues, 1995-1997). The creative cast included Phil DeLara, Jack Manning, Warren Tufts, Mark Evanier, Dan Spiegle, Bill Williams, and many others.

In 1997, DC Comics acquired all the Hanna Barbera properties for its Cartoon Network imprint, which was for a very long time the last bastion of children’s comics in America. It produced some truly magical homespun material (such asTiny Titans, Batman: Brave and the Bold or Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!) as well as stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Ben 10 and vintage gems such as The Flintstones and Scooby Doo

In 2013, the mystery-solving pesky kids fully integrated with the DCU via a digital series of team ups that inevitably manifested as comics books and graphic novels. Compiling material from Scooby-Doo! Team-Up #1-6 (January-November 2014) this first fabulous trade paperback – or eBook – features a wild parade of joint ventures from writer Sholly Fisch illustrator Dario Brizuela, colourists Franco Riesco & Heroic Age and letterers Saida Temofonte & Deron Bennett.

It all begins with Mystery Inc. aiding Dynamic Duo Batman and Robin in a hunt for mutated scientist Kirk Langstrombefore being diverted by a gang of fake flyers in ‘Man-Bat and Robbin’!’ after which issue #2 asks ‘Who’s Scared?’ As the Caped Crusader and Ace, the Bat-Hound enjoy seeing the original Scooby gang admitted to the legendary Mystery Analysts of Gotham City, the terror-inducing Scarecrow strikes, and only the canine contingent can resist his latest fear chemicals…

Still visiting Gotham City, the gang discover ‘Two Mites Make It Wrong’ as impulsive imp Bat-Mite starts his reality-altering pranks again and normality is only possible through the intervention of unforeseen antithesis Scooby-Mite

Channelling a contemporary surreal TV hit, ‘Teen Titans – Ghost!’ then brings the Mystery Machine to Jump City for a spot of haunting at Titans Tower, before Daphne and Velma visit Wonder Woman on Themyscira and indulge in a Kanga rodeo whilst the boys mess about in the invisible jet before reuniting to solve a mythological monster mystery causing ‘Trouble in Paradise’

This initial outing concludes with a mass masked hero marathon when a visit to the Super Friends’ Hall of Justice leads to a ghost hunt. Mystery soon solved, the gang, Wonder Twins Zan and Jayna, the Justice League of America and Supergirl then must all battle the notorious Legion of Doom in ‘A (Super) Friend in Need’

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV kids, this fast-paced, funny and superbly inclusive parcel of thrills skilfully revisits the charm of early DC in stand-alone mini-sagas no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a terrific tome offering perfect, old fashioned delight. What more do you need to know?
© 2014, 2015 Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and all related characters and elements are ™ DC Comics. Scooby-Doo and all related characters and elements are ™ and © Hanna-Barbera.