Showcase Presents Batgirl volume 1

By Gardner Fox, Cary Bates, Mike Friedrich, Robert Kanigher, Frank Robbins, Denny O’Neil, Elliot S. Maggin,Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan, Frank Springer, Mike Sekowsky, Bob Brown, Neal Adams, Gil Kane, Win Mortimer, Irv Novick, Don Heck & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1367-1 (TPB)

Today comics readers are pretty used to the vast battalion of Bat-shaped champions infesting Gotham City and its troubled environs, but for the longest time it was just Bruce, Dick, Alfred – and occasionally their borrowed dog Ace – keeping crime on the run. However, in Detective Comics #233 (July 1956 and three months before the debut of the Flashofficially ushered in the Silver Age of American comicbooks) the editorial powers-that-be introduced heiress Kathy Kane, who sporadically suited-up in chiropteran red-&-yellow for the next eight years.

In Batman #139 (April 1961) her niece Betty started dressing up and acting out as her assistant Batgirl, but when Editor Julie Schwartz took over the Bat-titles in 1964 both ladies unceremoniously disappeared in his root-and-branch overhaul.

In 1966 the Batman TV series took over the planet, but its second season was far less popular and the producers soon saw the commercial sense of adding a glamorous female fighter in the fresh, new tradition of Emma Peel, Honey West and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., especially when clad in a cute cape, shiny skin-tight body-stocking and go-go boots…

Of course, she had to join the comics cast too, and this Showcase edition re-presents her varied appearances as both guest-star and headliner in her own series, beginning with her four-colour premiere. Hopefully, with the Batwoman TV show now inspiring a new generation of screen-based fans, it won’t be long before the material in this tantalising monochrome tome will be rereleased in in new – full-colour – print and digital editions…

In ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl’ (Detective Comics #359, January 1967) writer Gardner Fox and art team supreme o Carmine Infantino & Sid Greene introduced young Barbara Gordon, mousy librarian and daughter of the Police Commissioner, so by the time the third season began on September 14, 1967, she was well-established.

In her small screen premiere she pummelled the Penguin, but Batgirl’s comic book origin featured the no-less-ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever, fast-paced yarn involving blackmail and murder that still stands up today and which opens in fine style this massive compilation of the early years of one of the most successful distaff spin-offs in the business.

Her appearances came thick and fast after that initial tale: ‘The True-False Face of Batman’ (Detective #363, by Fox, Infantino & Greene) was a full co-starring vehicle as she was challenged to deduce Batman’s secret identity whilst tracking down enigmatic criminal genius Mr. Brains. Next, BG teamed-up with the Girl of Steel in World’s Finest Comics #169 (September 1967) wherein the independent lasses seemingly worked to replace Batman and Superman in ‘The Supergirl-Batgirl Plot’: a whimsical fantasy feast from Cary Bates, Curt Swan & George Klein.

Detective #369 (Infantino and Greene) somewhat reinforced boyhood prejudices about icky girls in classy thriller ‘Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo’ which segued directly into a classic confrontation in Batman #197 as ‘Catwoman sets Her Claws for Batman!’ (Fox, Frank Springer & Greene). This frankly daft tale is most fondly remembered for a classic cover of Batgirl and whip-wielding Catwoman squaring off over Batman’s prone body – proving that comic fans have a psychopathology uniquely their very own…

Gil Kane made his debut on the Dominoed Daredoll (did they really call her that? – yes they did, from page 2 onwards!) in Detective #371’s ‘Batgirl’s Costumed Cut-ups’: a masterpiece of comic-art dynamism that inker Sid Greene could be proud of, but which proffered some rather uncomfortable assertions about female vanity that Gardner Fox probably preferred to forget – and just check out the cover of this book if you think I’m kidding.

Batgirl next surfaced in Justice League of America #60 (February 1968), wherein the team barely survive a return match with alien invader Queen Bee and are temporarily transformed into ‘Winged Warriors of the Immortal Queen!’ (Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Greene), after which in the June-July The Brave and the Bold (#78) Bob Brown stepped in to draw her for Bob Haney’s eccentric crime-thriller ‘In the Coils of the Copperhead’ wherein Wonder Woman vied with the fresh young thing for Batman’s affections. Of course, it was all a cunning plan… at first…

That same month another team-up with Supergirl heralded a sea-change in DC’s tone, style and content as the girls were dragged into ‘The Superman-Batman Split!’ (World’s Finest Comics #176) with Bates providing a far darker mystery for the girls and boys (including Robin and Jimmy Olsen) to solve. With this yarn artists Neal Adams & Dick Giordano began revolutionising how comics looked with their moody, exciting hyper-realistic renderings…

Although Barbara Gordon continued to crop up in the background of occasional Batman adventures, that was the last time the masked heroine was seen until Detective Comics #384, (February 1969) when Batgirl was finally awarded her own solo feature. Written by Mike Friedrich and illustrated by the phenomenal team of Gil Kane & Murphy Anderson, ‘Tall, Dark. Handsome …and Missing!’ began an engaging run of human-scaled crime dramas with what all the (male) scripters clearly believed was a strong female slant, as seen in this yarn wherein librarian Babs develops a crush on a frequent borrower just before he inexplicably vanishes.

Batgirl investigates and runs into a pack of brutal thugs before solving the mystery in the second chapter ‘Hunt for the Helpless Hostage!’ (Detective #385), after which the lead story from that issue rather inexplicably follows here.

‘Die Small… Die Big!’ by Robert Kanigher, Bob Brown & Joe Giella is one of the best Batman adventures of the period, with a nameless nonentity sacrificing everything for a man he’s never met, but Babs is only in three panels and never as Batgirl…

Adventure Comics #381 (June 1969) made far better use of her as she goes undercover and is largely at odds with the Maid of Steel whilst exposing ‘The Supergirl Gang’ in a tense thriller by Bates & Win Mortimer. Batgirl shared alternating adventures in Detective back-up slot with Robin, so she next appeared in#388 which also welcomed newspaper strip star Frank Robbins to script ‘Surprise! This’ll Kill You!’: a sophisticated bait-and-switch caper which sees Batgirl impersonate herself and almost pay with her life for another girl’s crimes. Spectacularly illustrated by Kane & Anderson, the strip expanded from eight to ten pages, but that still wasn’t enough and the breathtaking thrills spill over into a dramatic conclusion in ‘Batgirl’s Bag of Tricks!

Although tone and times were changing, there was still potential to be daft and parochial too, as seen in ‘Batman’s Marriage Trap!’ (Batman #214, by Robbins, Irv Novick & Giella) wherein a wicked Femme Fatale sets the unfulfilled spinsters of America on the trail of Gotham’s Most Eligible Bat-chelor (see what I did there? I’ve done it before too and you can’t stop me…).

Not even a singular guest-shot by positive role-model Batgirl can redeem this peculiar throwback – although the art rather does…

From Detective #392, October 1969 and by Robbins, Kane & Anderson, ‘A Clue… Seven-Foot Tall!’ is another savvy contemporary crime-saga which introduces a new Bat cast-member in the form of disabled Vietnam veteran and neophyte private eye Jason Bard (who would eventually inherit Batgirl’s spot in Detective Comics). Here and in the concluding ‘Downfall of a Goliath’ Babs and Bard spar before joining forces to solve a brutal murder in the world of professional basketball.

Issues #396 & 397 (February and March 1970) see Batgirl face the very modern menace of what we’d now call a psychosexual serial killer in chilling, enthralling mystery ‘The Orchid-Crusher’ and ‘The Hollow Man’: a clear proof of the second-string character’s true and still untapped potential…

The anniversary Detective #400 (June 1970) finally teamed her with Robin in ‘A Burial For Batgirl!’(Denny O’Neil, Kane & Vince Colletta) a college-based murder mystery referencing political and social unrest then plaguing US campuses, but which still finds space to be smart and action-packed as well as topical before its chillingly satisfactory conclusion ‘Midnight is the Dying Hour!’ (Detective #401).

With issue #404, Babs became the sole back-up star as Robbins, Kane & Frank Giacoia sampled the underground movie scene with ‘Midnight Doom-Boy’, mischievously spoofing Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory studio in another intriguing murder-plot, diverting to and culminating in another branch of Pop Art as Batgirl nearly becomes ‘The Living Statue!’

In ‘The Explosive Circle!’ (#406, with Colletta inking) the topic du jour is gentrification, as property speculation rips Gotham apart, but not as much as a gang of radical bombers, leading to the cry ‘One of Our Landmarks is Missing!’ The next issue (#408) saw the vastly underrated Don Heck take over as artist, inked here by Dick Giordano on ‘The Phantom Bullfighter!’ wherein a work-trip to Madrid embroils Batgirl in a contentious dispute between matadors old and new, leading to a murderous ‘Night of the Sharp Horns!’

Inevitably, fashion reared its stylish head in a strip with a female lead, but Robbins’ wickedly clever ‘Battle of the Three “M’s”’ (that’s Mini, Midi and Maxi to you) proved to be one of the most compelling and clever tales of the entire run as a trendsetting celebrity finds herself targeted by an unscrupulous designer, leading to a murderous deathtrap for Babs in ‘Cut… and Run!’

Clearly inspired, Robbins stayed with girlish things for ‘The Head-Splitters!’ (Detective #412) and Heck, now inking himself, rose to the occasion for a truly creepy saga about hairdressing that features one of the nastiest scams and murder methods I’ve ever seen, ending in a climactic ‘Squeeze-Play!’

Babs reunites with Jason Bard for an anniversary date only to stumble onto an ‘Invitation to Murder!’ (another celebrity homage; this time to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) – a classy fair-play mystery resolved in ‘Death Shares the Spotlight!’

When a cop-killing tears apart the city, Babs’ father Commissioner Jim Gordon takes it badly in ‘The Deadly Go-Between!’, but militant radicals aren’t the only threat as seen in concluding episode ‘A Bullet For Gordon!’: heralding a far greater role for the once-anodyne authority figure and leading to his integral role in today’s Bat-universe.

Robbins & Heck also revealed a shocking secret about the Commissioner that would build through the remaining Batgirl adventures, beginning with ‘The Kingpin is Dead!’, concerning a “motiveless” hit on an old gang-boss all cleared up in spectacular fashion with ‘Long Live the Kingpin!’ in #419.

‘Target for Mañana!’ has Babs and her dad travel to Mexico on a narcotics fact-finding mission only to fall foul of a sinister plot in ‘Up Against Three Walls!’, before the series took a landmark turn in ‘The Unmasking of Batgirl’ as a charmer breaks her heart and Babs decides to chuck it all in and run for Congress in ‘Candidate For Danger!’

Detective Comics #424 (June 1972) features ‘Batgirl’s Last Case’ as “Battlin’ Babs” overturns a corrupt political machine and shuffles off to DC, leaving Jason to manage on his own…

That wasn’t quite the end of her first run of adventures. Superman #268 (October 1973) found her battling spies in the Capitol beside the Man of Steel in ‘Wild Week-End in Washington!’, courtesy of Elliot S. Maggin, Swan & Bob Oksner before repeating the experience a year later in ‘Menace of the Energy-Blackmailers!’ (Superman #279, by Maggin, Swan & Phil Zupa.

This eclectic but highly entertaining compendium concludes with one last Supergirl team-up, this time by Maggin Swan & Colletta from Superman Family #171 (June/July 1975), wherein a distant descendent of the Empress of the Nile uses magic to become ‘Cleopatra, Queen of America’, overwhelming even Superman and the Justice League before our Cape and Cowl champs finally lower the boom…

Batgirl’s early exploits come from and indeed partially shaped an era where women in popular fiction were finally emerging from the marriage-obsessed, ankle-twisting, deferential, fainting hostage-fodder mode that had been their ignoble lot in all media for untold decades. Feminism wasn’t a dirty word or a joke then for the generation of girls who at last got some independent and effective role-models with (metaphorically, at least) balls.

Complex yet uncomplicated, the adventures of Batgirl grew beyond their crassly commercial origins to make a real difference. However, these tales are not only significant but drenched in charm and wit; drawn with a gloriously captivating style and panache that still delights and enthrals. This is no girly comic but a full-on thrill ride you can’t afford to ignore and which deserves to be revived with all the bells, whistles and respect the characters and stories rightfully command…
© 1967-1975, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Catwoman: Nine Lives of a Feline Fatale

By Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Edmond Hamilton, Leo Dorfman, Gardner Fox, Frank Robbins, Doug Moench, Ed Brubaker, Frank Springer, Lew Sayer Schwartz, Kurt Schaffenberger, Irv Novick, Tom Mandrake, Michael Avon Oeming (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0213-2 (TPB)

It feels odd to plug a book that is so obviously a quick and cheap cash-cow tie-in to a movie (and a bad movie, at that), but this Catwoman volume from 2004 has a great deal to recommend it. For a start it is quaintly cheap ‘n’ cheerful. The references to the film are kept to an absolute minimum. The selection of reprints, purporting to signify nine distinct takes on the venerable femme fatale are well considered in terms of what the reader hasn’t seen as opposed to what they have. There are also some rare and stunning art pieces selected as chapter heads, too, from the likes of George Perez, Dave Stevens, Alan Davis and Bruce Timm.

The stories themselves vary in quality by modern standards, but serve as an intriguing indicator of taste in the manner of a time capsule or introductory Primer. Track the feline fury from her first appearance as mysterious thief ‘The Cat’ (by Bill Finger, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson: Batman #1 1940), through ‘The Crimes of the Catwoman’ (Edmond Hamilton, Kane/Lew Sayer Schwartz & Charles Paris: Detective #203 1954), to the wonderfully absurdist cat fight with Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane (#70-71: 1966), as described by Leo Dorfman & Kurt Schaffenberger in ‘The Catwoman’s Black Magic’ and ‘Bad Luck for a Black Super-Cat!’

A victim of 1960’s TV “Batmania”, ‘Catwoman Sets Her Claws for Batman’ sees her battle Batgirl in a cringingly painful outing from Batman #197, by 1967 by Gardner Fox, Frank Springer & Sid Greene) but at least it can be regarded as the nadir of her decline from sexy object of pursuit to imbecilic Twinkie. From here it’s onwards and upwards again…

In the nonsensical ‘The Case of the Purr-Loined Pearl’ (Batman #210, 1969), Frank Robbins, Irv Novick & Joe Giella slowly (and oh, so terribly gradually) begin her return to major villain status, after which Doug Moench, Tom Mandrake & Jan Duursema devise ‘A Town on the Night’ (Batman #392, 1986), showing one of her innumerable romantic excursions onto the right side of the law before ‘Object Relations’ (Catwoman #54 1998), shows us a ghastly but brief “Bad-Grrrl” version of the glamorous super-thief.

Mercifully, we then get to the absolutely enthralling ‘Claws’ (Batman: Gotham Adventures #4 1998, by Ty Templeton, Rich Burchett& Terry Beatty), produced in the spin-off comic based on the television cartoon but probably the best piece of pure comic book escapism in the whole package. The volume closes with another revision of her origin ‘The Many Lives of Selina Kyle’ (Catwoman Secret Files#1 2002), by Ed Brubaker, Michael Avon Oeming & Mike Manley.

Catwoman is a timeless icon and one of the few female comic characters that the entire real world has actually heard of, so it’s great that the whole deal is such a light, frothy outing, as well as having some rarity appeal for dedicated fans. Go get her, Tiger!
© 1940-1955, 1956-2002, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Green Arrow

By EdFrance” Herron, Jack Miller, Dave Wood, Robert Bernstein, Jerry Coleman, Bob Haney, Gardner Fox, John Broome, George Kashdan, Bill Finger, Jack Kirby, George Papp, Lee Elias, George Roussos, Mike Sekowsky, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)

ISBN: 978-1-4012-0785-4 (TPB)

DC Comics have, over their decades of existence, published an incalculable volume of absolutely wonderful comics tales in a variety of genres and addressing a wide variety of age ranges and tastes.

Sadly, unlike their rival Marvel, these days they seem content to let most of it languish beyond the reach of fans – both devout and vintage or fresh potential new adherents. As a new decade – possibly or last – unfolds I’ll be continuing my one-person campaign to remind them and inform you that – like The Truth – the Fiction is also Out There… even if only still available in older collections…

Green Arrow is one of DC’s Golden All-Stars: a fixture of the company’s landscape (in many instances for no discernible reason) more or less continually since his debut in 1941. He was originally created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp for More Fun Comics # 73 as an attempt to expand the company’s superhero portfolio, and in the early years proved quite successful. The bowman and boy partner Speedy were two of the few costumed heroes to survive the end of the Golden Age.

His blatantly opportunistic recombination of Batman and Robin Hood seemed to have very little going for itself but the Emerald Archer has somehow always managed to keep himself in vogue. He and sidekick Speedy were part of the 1940s Seven Soldiers of Victory, carried on adventuring in the back of other heroes’ comicbooks and joined the Justice League of America at the peak of their fame before evolving into the spokes-hero of the anti-establishment generation during the 1960’s “Relevancy Comics” trend, courtesy of Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams.

Under Mike Grell’s stewardship and thanks to breakthrough miniseries Green Arrow: the Longbow Hunters (DC’s second Prestige Format Limited Series after the groundbreaking success of Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), the battling bowman at last became a headliner: an urban predator dealing with corporate thugs and serial killers rather than costumed goof-balls.

After his long career and a few venue changes, by the late1950s and Julie Schwartz’s revivification of the Superhero genre, the Emerald Archer was a solid second feature in both Adventure and World’s Finest Comics. As part of the wave of retcons, reworkings and spruce-ups the company administered to all their remaining costumed old soldiers, he enjoyed a fresh start beginning in the summer of 1958…

This splendidly eclectic collection of the peripatetic champion’s perennial second-string exploits gathers pertinent material from Adventure Comics #250-269, World’s Finest Comics #95-140, Justice League of America #4 and his guest-shots in Brave and the Bold #50, 71 and 85; covering the period July 1958 to September 1969.

Part of that revival happily coincided with the first return to National Comics of Jack Kirby after the collapse of Mainline: the comics company he and partner Joe Simon had created as part of the Crestwood/Prize publishing combine (which foundered when the industry was hit by the Comics Code censorship controversy and a sales downturn that hit many creators very, very hard)…

Delivered in stark and  stunning monochrome, the on-target tales start with ‘The Green Arrows of the World’ (by scripter Dave Wood and Jack, with wife Roz Kirby inking) wherein heroic masked archers from many nations attended a conference in Star City, unaware that a fugitive criminal is lurking within their midst, whilst that same month George Papp illustrated the anonymously scripted ‘Green Arrow vs Red Dart’ in World’s Finest Comics #95: a dashing tale of the Ace Archer’s potential criminal counterpart and his inevitable downfall.

Adventure #251 took a welcome turn to fantastic science fiction as Ed Herron & the Kirbys resolved ‘The Case of the Super-Arrows’ wherein GA and Speedy take possession of high-tech trick shafts from 3000AD, whilst WFC #96 (writer unknown) reveals ‘Five Clues to Danger’ – a classic kidnap mystery made even more impressive by Kirby’s lean, raw illustration.

A rare continued case spanned Adventure’s #252 and 253 as Wood, Jack & Roz expose ‘The Mystery of the Giant Arrows’, before the Amazing Archers temporarily become ‘Prisoners of Dimension Zero’ – a spectacular riot of giant aliens and incredible exotic otherworlds. Back to Earth, it’s followed in WF #97 with a grand old-school crime-caper in Herron’s ‘The Mystery of the Mechanical Octopus’.

Kirby was going from strength to strength and Adventure #254’s ‘The Green Arrow’s Last Stand’, written by Wood, is a particularly fine example as the Bold Bowmen crash into a hidden valley where Sioux braves thrive unchanged since the time of Custer, before the next issue sees them battle a battalion of Japanese soldiers who refused to surrender their island bunker in ‘The War That Never Ended’ (also scripted by Wood).

World’s Finest #98 almost ended the heroes’ careers in Herron’s ‘The Unmasked Archers’, wherein a practical joke causes the pair to expose themselves to public scrutiny and deadly danger…

In those heady days, origins weren’t as important as imaginative situations, storytelling and just plain getting on with it, so co-creators Weisinger & Papp never bothered to provide one, leaving later workmen Herron, Jack & Roz (in Kirby’s penultimate tale before devoting all his energies to his fabulous but doomed newspaper strip Sky Masters) to fill in the blanks with ‘The Green Arrow’s First Case’ just as the Silver Age superhero revival hit its stride in Adventure Comics#256 (January 1959).

Here we learned how wealthy wastrel Oliver Queen was cast away on a deserted island and learned to use a hand-made bow simply to survive. When a band of scurvy mutineers fetched up on his desolate shores Queen used his newfound skills to defeat them and returned to civilisation with a new career and secret purpose…

Adventure #257’s ‘The Arrows That Failed’ finds a criminal mastermind tampering with the archer’s equipment in a low-key but intriguing yarn by an unknown scripter, most memorable for being the first artistic outing for Golden Age great Lee Elias. He would become the character’s sole illustrator until its demise following Kirby’s spectacular swan-song in WF #99. ‘Crimes Under Glass’ was written by Robert Bernstein and found GA and Speedy battling cunning criminals with a canny clutch of optical armaments.

Adventure Comics #258 (March 1959) offered a rare cover appearance for the Emerald Archer since he guest-starred in lead feature ‘Superboy Meets the Young Green Arrow’ (by Jerry Coleman & Papp), after which inspiring boyhood on-the-job training the mature bowman then schooled a lost patrol of soldiers in toxophily (that’s posh talk for archery, folks), desert survival and crime-busting in ‘The Arrow Platoon’: another anonymously scripted yarn limned by Elias.

The same month in WF #100 the Emerald Avenger faced light-hearted lampoonery and sinister larcenists in ‘The Case of the Green Error Clown’ by Herron and the now-firmly entrenched Elias, whilst Adventure #259 showed that ‘The Green Arrow’s Mystery Pupil’ had ulterior and sinister motives for his studies whilst #260 revealed ‘Green Arrow’s New Partner’ to be only a passing worry for Speedy in a clever drama by Bernstein.

World’s Finest #101 introduced a crook who bought or stole outlandish ideas for malevolent purposes in ‘The Battle of the Useless Inventions’ (Herron), whereas Adventure #261 and the uncredited fable ‘The Curse of the Wizard’s Arrow!’employs bad luck and spurious sorcery to test the Archers’ ingenuity.

WF #102 provided Herron’s snazzy crime-caper ‘The Case of the Camouflage King!’ whilst in Adventure #262 ‘The World’s Worst Archer!’ (Bernstein) finally gives Boy Bowman Speedy an origin of his own; detailing just how close part-Native American boy Roy Harper came to not being adopted by Oliver Queen. Next month #263 boasted ‘Have Arrow – Will Travel’ (Bernstein) showing the independent lad selling his skills to buy a boat… a solid lesson in enterprise, thrift and good parenting, if not reference-checking….

World’s Finest #103 offered Bob Haney mystery-thriller ‘Challenge of the Phantom Bandit’ after which an anonymous scripter finally bows to the obvious and dispatches the Emerald Archer to feudal Sherwood Forest in ‘The Green Arrow Robin Hood’ (Adventure #264, September 1959) before WF #104 sees GA undercover on a modern Native American Reservation in Herron & Elias’ ‘Alias Chief Magic Bow’.

‘The Amateur Arrows!’ (by Bernstein from Adventure #265) has the Battling Bowmen act as Summer Camp tutors on a perilously perfidious Dude Ranch for kids, #266 again sees their trick-shot kit malfunction in a clever conundrum with a surprise mystery guest-star in Bernstein’s ‘The Case of the Vanished Arrows!’ and WF #105 introduces deceptively deadly toy-making terror ‘The Mighty Mr. Miniature’ (Herron).

In Adventure Comics #267 the editors tried another novel experiment in closer continuity. At this time the title starred Superboy with two back-up features following. The first of these starred equally perennial B-list survivor Aquaman who in ‘The Manhunt on Land’ (not included) discovers villainous Shark Norton has traded territories with Green Arrow’s foe The Wizard. In a rare crossover, both parts of which were written by Bernstein, the heroes worked the same case with Aquaman fighting on dry land whilst the Emerald Archer pursued his enemy beneath the waves in his impressively innovative strip ‘The Underwater Archers’

‘The Crimes of the Pneumatic Man’ (Herron, WF #106) debuts a rather daft balloon-based bandit, whilst Adventure#268 covers another time-trip in ‘The Green Arrow in King Arthur’s Court!’ by Bernstein. He also scripted February 1960’s #269 wherein ‘The Comic Book Archer!’ sees the pair aid a cartoonist in need of inspiration and salvation.

That was the hero’s last appearance in Adventure. From then on the Amazing Archers’ only home was World’s Finest Comics, beginning a lengthy and enthralling run from Herron & Elias spanning #107-112 and  systematically defeating ‘The Menace of the Mole Men’ – who weren’t what they seemed – and ‘The Creature from the Crater’ – which also wasn’t – before becoming ‘Prisoners of the Giant Bubble’: a clever crime caper loaded with action.

WF #110 introduced photonic pillage ‘The Sinister Spectrum Man’ with a far more memorable menace challenging the heroes in ‘The Crimes of the Clock King’ before a lucky felon stumbles upon their hidden lair and becomes ‘The Spy in the Arrow-Cave’: a tale which starts weakly but ends on a powerfully poignant high note…

In WF #113 the painfully parochial and patronising tone of the times seeped into the saga of ‘The Amazing Miss Arrowette’ (scripted by Wood) as a hopeful, ambitious Ladies’ Archery competitor tries her very best to become Green Arrow’s main helpmeet. Moreover, in a series famed for absurd gimmick shafts, nothing ever came close to surpassing the Hair-Pin, Needle-and-Thread, Powder-Puff or Lotion Arrows in Bonnie King’s fetching and stylish little quiver…

The times were changing in other aspects however, and fantasy elements were again popular at the end of 1960, as evidenced by Herron’s teaser in WF #114. ‘Green Arrow’s Alien Ally’ neatly segued into ‘The Mighty Arrow Army’ as the Ace Archers battle a South American dictator and then encounter a sharp-shooting circus chimp in #116’s ‘The Ape Archer’.

A big jump to the majors occurred in Justice League of America #4 (April 1961) when Green Arrow is invited to join the world’s Greatest Super-Heroes just in time to save them all – and the Earth for good measure in Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs’ epic sci fi extravaganza ‘Doom of the Star Diamond’.

The Emerald Bowman returned to quirkiness and mere crime-crushing in WF #117’s‘The Cartoon Archer’ (Wood & Elias) wherein a kidnapped cartoonist uses caricature as a deadly weapon and desperate plea for help…

World’s Finest #118 featured ‘The Return of Miss Arrowette’ (Wood): far less cringeworthy than her debut but still managing to make the Bow Babe both competent and imbecilic at the same time, before Herron penned ‘The Man with the Magic Bow’ in #119, with an actual sorcerous antique falling into the greedy hands of a career criminal, after which Oliver Queen and Roy Harper become victims of ‘The Deadly Trophy Hunt’ in #120 and need a little Arrow action to save the day and their secret identities.

Master scribe John Broome provides a tautly impressive tale of despair and redemption in #121 with ‘The Cop Who Lost his Nerve’ and WF #122 sees ‘The Booby-Trap Bandits’ (Haney) almost destroy our heroes in a tense suspense thriller, whilst Wood wrote one of his very best GA yarns in #123’s ‘The Man Who Foretold Disaster’.

Herron rose to the challenge in WF #124-125 with a brace of bold and grittily terse mini-epics beginning with breathtaking gang-busting yarn ‘The Case of the Crime Specialists’; following up with tense human drama ‘The Man Who Defied Death’ as a doting dad puts his life on the line to pay his son’s medical bills…

‘Dupe of the Decoy Bandits’ by Wood in #126 is another sharp game of cops-&-robbers and George Kashdan reveals the heart-warming identity of ‘Green Arrow’s Secret Partner’ in #127 after which Wood successfully tries his hand at human-scaled melodrama with a retiring cop proving himself ‘The Too-Old Hero’ in #128.

Oddly – perhaps typically – just as the quality of Green Arrow’s adventures steadily improved, his days as a solo star were finally ending. Herron scripted all but one of the remaining year’s World’s Finest exploits, beginning with #129’s robotic renegade ‘The Iron Archer’, after which an author unknown contributed ‘The Human Sharks’ as the heroes returned to battling crime beneath the seas.

A despondent boy is boosted out of a dire depression by joining his idols in #131’s ‘A Cure for Billy Jones’ whilst ‘The Green Arrow Dummy’ is an identity-saver and unexpected crook catcher in its own right.

Subterranean thugs accidentally invade and become ‘The Thing in the Arrowcave’ in #133, before ‘The Mystery of the Missing Inventors’ sees a final appearance and decent treatment of Arrowette, but the writing was on the wall. Green Arrow became an alternating feature and didn’t work again until WF #136 and the exotic mystery of ‘The Magician Boss of the Incas’ (September 1963).

A month later Brave and the Bold #50 saw the Ace Archer team-up in a book-length romp with the Martian Manhunter. ‘Wanted – the Capsule Master!’ pits the newly-minted Green Team in a furious foray against marauding extraterrestrial menace Vulkor; a fast-paced thriller by Haney & George Roussos followed by WF #138’s ‘The Secret Face of Funny-Arrow!’ wherein a formerly positive and good natured spoof-performer takes a sudden turn into darker and nastier “jokes” whilst World’s Finest #140 (March 1964) aptly presents ‘The Land of No Return’ by Bill Finger, with the Battling Bowmen falling into a time-locked limbo where heroes from history perpetually strive against deadly beasts and monsters…

The decades-long careers ended there and they became nothing more than bit-players in JLA and Teen Titans exploits until Brave and the Bold #71 (April-May 1967, by Haney and drawn by his Golden Age co-creator George Papp), wherein Green Arrow helps Batman survive ‘The Wrath of the Thunderbird!’: crushing a criminal entrepreneur determined to take over the wealth and resources of the Kijowa Indian Nation.

This volume ends with the first cathartic and thoroughly modern re-imagining of the character, paving the way for the rebellious, riotous, passionately socially-aware avenger of modern times.

Brave and the Bold #85 is arguably the best of an incredible run of team-ups in that title’s prestigious history and certainly the best yarn in this collection. ‘The Senator’s Been Shot!’ reunites Batman and Green Arrow in a superb multi-layered thriller of politics, corruption and cast-iron integrity, wherein Bruce Wayne becomes a stand-in for a law-maker and the Emerald Archer gets a radical make-over, making him a fiery liberal gadfly champion of the relevancy generation – and every one since.

Ranging from calamitously repetitive and formulaic – but in a very good and entertaining way – to moments of sublime wonder and excitement, this is genuine mixed bag of Fights ‘n’ Tights swashbuckling with something for everyone and certainly bound to annoy as much as delight. All ages superhero action that’s unmissable. Even if you won’t love it all you’ll hate yourself for missing this spot-on selection.
© 1958-1964, 1967, 1969, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Gotham Central Book 3: On the Freak Beat

By Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, Stephen Gaudiano, Jason Alexander & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2754-8 (HB) 978-1-4012-3232-0 (TPB)

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

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

This compilation – available in hardback, soft cover and eBook editions – collects Gotham Central #23-31 (spanning November 2004-July 2005) and opens with a handy double-page feature re-introducing the hardworking stiffs of First Shift, Second Shift and the Police Support Team of the ‘Gotham City Police Department, Major Crimes Unit’ before the dramas start to unfold.

Gotham City is a bad place to be a cop – even a crooked one. If you’re a straight arrow it’s even worse because then both sides of the street want you dead. When Detectives Crispus Allen and Renee Montoya turn their attention to corrupt Crime Scene Investigator Jim Corrigan it sets them both on a path steeped in tragedy and loss… and bloody betrayal. ‘Corrigan’(originally published in issues #23-24) is by regular team Greg Rucka, Michael Lark & Stephen Gaudiano.

The same team bring us ‘Lights Out’ (issue #25) as, in the aftermath of the War Games debacle and resultant bloodbath (see Batman: War Drums; War Games: Outbreak, Tides, Endgame and War Crimes), new police commissioner Akins severs all official ties to the Batman and has the Bat-Signal removed from Police Headquarters roof.

Ed Brubaker & Jason Alexander take us ‘On the Freak Beat’ (#26-27) as Detectives Marcus Driver and (secretly psychic) Josie MacDonald investigate the murder of a televangelist. Despite all the leads and evidence pointing to Catwoman as the killer, their dedicated efforts take them into a sordid world of hypocrisy, S&M, lies and real estate chicanery before the truth comes out and the real culprit is brought to justice…

“Keystone Cops” (issues #28-31) is another superb blend of the procedural and the outlandish as beat cop Andy Kelly is horrifically mutated by a super-criminal’s booby-trap whilst rescuing kids from a fire. Montoya and Allen must cross jurisdictional boundaries and moral landmarks to obtain the assistance of deranged Flash villain Doctor Alchemy if there’s any hope of curing their comrade…

With the most chilling exploration of a super-villain’s motivation in many a year and a generous tip of the hat to The Silence of the Lambs, this is a moody masterpiece with an unsuspected kick in the tail. Rucka writes and Gaudiano graduates from inks to pencils with the embellishment falling to the capable Kano & Gary Amaro to conclude this stunning deep dive into urban atrocity in unforgettable style.
© 2004, 2005, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Knight and Squire

By Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton with Staz Johnson (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3071-5 (TPB)

British Dynamic Duo Knight and Squire first appeared in the cheerfully anodyne, all-ages 1950s – specifically in a throwaway story from Batman #62 (December 1950/January 1951) – as ‘The Batman of England!’

Earl Percy Sheldrake and his son Cyril returned a few years later as part of seminal assemblage ‘The Batmen of All Nations!’ (Detective Comics #215 January 1955): a tale retrieved from the ranks of funnybook limbo in recent times and included in Batman: Black Casebook, with sequel ‘The Club of Heroes’ appearing in World’s Finest Comics #89, July-August 1957. That one’s most recently reprinted in Batman & Superman in World’s Finest Comics: The Silver Age volume 1.

The bold Brits had languished in virtual obscurity for decades before fully entering modern continuity as part of Grant Morrison’s build-up to the Death of Batman and Batman Incorporated retro-fittings of the ever-ongoing legend of the Dark Knight dynasty…

They floated around the brave New World for a while with guest shots in places like Morrison’s JLA reboot and Battle For the Cowl before finally getting their own 6-issue miniseries (December 2010 – May 2011), courtesy of scripter Paul Cornell and artist Jimmy Broxton (with some layout assistance from Staz Johnson).

In all honesty, they rather bit the hand that fed them by producing a far-from-serious but captivating quirky and quintessentially English frolicsome fantasy masterpiece.

It all begins, as most things boldly British do, down the pub. However, The Time in a Bottle is no ordinary boozer, but in fact the favourite hostelry for the United Kingdom’s entire superhuman community: the worthy and the wicked…

Hero and villain alike can kick back here, taking a load off and enjoying a mellow moment’s peace thanks to a pre-agreed truce on utterly neutral ground, all mystically enforced by magics and wards dating back to the time of Merlin…

As the half-dozen chapters of ‘For Six’ open, it’s the regular first Thursday of the month – and that’s an in-joke for Britain’s comics creator community – and the inn is abuzz with costumed crusaders and crazies, all manically determined to have a good time.

Cyril Sheldrake, current Earl of Wordenshire and second hero to wear the helm and mantle of The Knight, sends his trusty sidekick Beryl Hutchinson – AKA The Squire – to head off a potential problem as established exotics Salt of the Earth, The Milkman, Coalface, The Professional Scotsman and the Black and White Minstrels all tease nervous newcomer The Shrike.

The aristocratic avenger would do it himself but he’s all tied up chatting with Jarvis Poker, the British Joker

The place is packed tonight in honour of visiting yank celebrity Wildcat, and a host of strange, outrageous and even deadly patrons all bustle about as Beryl natters with the formerly cocky kid who’s also getting a bit of grief because he hasn’t quite decided if he’s a hero or villain yet…

She’s giving him a potted history of the place when the customary bar fight breaks out, and things take an unconventionally dark turn as an actual attempted murder occurs. It would appear that two of these new gritty modern heroes have conspired to circumvent Merlin’s pacifying protections…

Each original issue was supplemented with a hilarious text page which here act as chapter breaks, so after ‘What You Missed If You’re A Non-Brit’ (a glossary of national terms, traits, terminology and concepts adorned with delightful faux small ads), the tale continues as Beryl and Cyril spend a little down-time in rural Wordenshire where the local civilians tackle the insidious threat of The Organ Grinder and his Monkey so as not to bother the off-duty Defenders.

However, the pair do rouse themselves to scotch the far more sinister schemes of inter-dimensional invader Major Morris and the deadly Morris Men

That’s supplemented by the far-from-serious text feature ‘What Morris Men are Like’

The saga then kicks into top gear with the third instalment as Britain’s Council for Organised Research announces its latest breakthrough. C.O.R.’s obsessively romantic Yorkist Professor Merryweather had no idea that her DNA-reclamation project would lead to a constitutional crisis after she reconstituted Richard III, but it seems history and Shakespeare hadn’t slandered the Plantagenet at all. The wicked monarch is soon fomenting rebellion, using his benefactor’s technology to resurrect equally troublesome tyrants Edward I, Charles I, William II and the ever-appalling King John… even giving them very modern superpowers…

Of course, Knight, Squire and her now besotted not-boyfriend Shrike are at the vanguard of the British (heroic) Legion mustered to fight for Queen and Country and repel the concerted criminal uprising…

Following a history lesson on ‘Cabbages and Kings’, Beryl invites the Shrike back to the Castle for tea, teasing and some secret origins, but things go typically wrong when Cyril’s high-tech armour rebels, going rogue and attacking them all.

The text piece deals with ‘Butlers and Batmen’ before it all goes very dark after lovable celebrity rogue Jarvis Poker gets some very bad news from his doctor and a terrifying follow-up visit from the real Joker.

The Camp Criminal is desperately concerned about his national legacy but Gotham City’s Harlequin of Hate is just keen on increasing his ghastly – and frankly already astronomical – body-count. First on the list is that annoying Shrike kid, but the American psycho-killer has big, bold, bizarre plans to make the UK a completely good-guy-free zone…

Broken up with a two-part ‘The Knight and Squire Character List’, it all culminates and climaxes with a spectacular and breathtaking showdown after the malevolent Mountebank of Mirth goes on a horrendously imaginative hero-killing spree that decimates the Costumed Champions of Albion: a campaign so shocking that even Britain’s bad-guys end up helping to catch the crazed culprit…

Rewarding us all for putting up with decades of “Gor, blimey guv’nor” nonsense in American comics whilst simultaneously paying the Yanks back for all those badly researched foggy, cobbled-rooftops-of-London five minutes from Stonehenge stories which littered every aspect of our image in the USA, this witty, self-deprecating, action-packed and deucedly dashing outing perfectly encapsulates all the truly daft things we noble Scions of Empire Commonwealth love and cherish about ourselves.

Stuffed with surreal, outrageous humour, double entendres, quirky characters, catchphrases and the comedy accents beloved by us Brits – Oh, I say, Innit Blud? – and rife with astonishingly cheeky pokes at our frankly indefensible cultural quirks and foibles, this is the perfect book for anyone who loves grand adventure in the inimitable manner of Benny Hill, Monty Python, Carry On Films and the Beano.

Also included are covers and variants from Yanick Paquette & Michel Lacombe and Billy Tucci & HiFi, plus a wealth of working art, character designs and sketches by Jimmy Broxton and an unpublished spoof cover in tribute to the immortal Jarvis Poker…

Whether you opt for the paperback or digital edition, Buy This Book. It’s really rather good. Oh, go on, do: you know you want to…
© 2011, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Detective Comics: 80 years of Batman Deluxe edition

By Bob Kane & Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster, Jim Chambers, Mort Weisinger, Jack Kirby & Joe Simon, Don Cameron, Joe Samachson, Edmond Hamilton, John Broome, Gardner Fox, Frank Robbins, Archie Goodwin, Denny O’Neil, Steve Englehart, Bob Rozakis, Alan Brennert, Harlan Ellison, Greg Rucka, Paul Levitz, Brad Meltzer, Scott Snyder, Neil Gaiman, Lee Harris, Dick Sprang, Carmine Infantino, Ruben Moreira, Joe Certa, Sheldon Moldoff, Neal Adams, Walter Simonson, Dick Giordano, Marshall Rogers, Michael Golden, Gene Colan, Shawn Martinbrough, Denys Cowan, Bryan Hitch, Sean Murphy, Mark Chiarello plus many & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8538-8 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Wholly Dark Knight, Batman!… 9/10

Although he’s frequently played second fiddle to his pioneering predecessor Superman (who debuted in Action Comics #1, June 1938), the Dark Knight has, over his eighty years, grown to become the planet’s most popular superhero. He does have some bragging rights to longevity however, as he debuted in the company’s most prestigious – and arguably premiere – comics title.

Detective Comics #1 had a March 1937 cover-date and was the third and last anthology title devised by luckless pioneer Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. In 1935, the entrepreneur had seen the potential in Max Gaines’ new invention – the comic book – and quickly conceived and released packages of all-new material entitled New Fun: The Big Comic Magazine and follow-up New Fun/New Adventure (which ultimately became Adventure Comics) under the banner of National Allied Publications.

These broke away from the tentative prototype comics magazines which simply reprinted edited collations of established newspaper strips. They were though as varied and undirected in content as much as any funnies page. Detective Comics was different, specialising only in tales of crime and crimebusters. The initial roster included amongst many others adventurer Speed Saunders, Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise, Gumshoe Gus and two series by a couple of kids from Cleveland named Siegel & Shuster: Bart Regan: Spy and two-fisted shamus Slam Bradley

Within two years Wheeler-Nicholson had been forced out by his business partners, and eventually his company grew into monolithic DC – for Detective Comics – Comics.

Instrumental in that meteoric rise and monumental success was the hero initially called “The Bat-Man” when he debuted in the 27th issue, dated May 1939…

This bold compilation celebrates the magic of that title and it’s reaching the magic number 1000, not just with the now-traditional re-runs of classic Batman tales, but through informative articles and fascinating glimpses at some of the other characters who shared those (mostly) monthly pages with him.

Available as a bonanza hardback and in various digital formats, this epic album curates material from Detective Comics#20, 27, 38, 60, 64, 66, 140, 151, 225, 233, 267, 298, 327, 359, 400, 437, 443, 457, 474, 482, 500, 567, 742 plus Detective Comics volume 2 #27, and opens with an Introduction by Dan Didio, a mission-statement Batman pin-up from Jim Lee, an historically erudite Editor’s Note by Paul Levitz, and a fond Foreword from US Senator Patrick Leahy, before the parade of comic tales and eye-catching covers kicks off.

Most early episodes were untitled, but for everyone’s convenience have here been given descriptive appellations by the editors. Thus, after its iconic cover by Leo O’Mealia, a groundbreaking treat from Detective Comics #20 (October 1939) reveals the title’s original prototypical costumed crusader as The Crimson Avenger (at this time a knock-off of pulp paragons such as The Shadow, Spider or Green Hornet) tackles a corrupt attorney and his gang in ‘Block Buster’; a rousing romp by Jim Chambers.

The scene was set: the sheriffs, P.I.s, government operatives and gentleman daredevils now moved over a bit to welcome a new kind of white knight: the masked mystery man…

That literary landscape is examined in Anthony Tollin’s essay Batman Foreshadowed, after which Detective Comics #27 (with cover by Bob Kane) provides ‘The Case of the Chemical Syndicate’ by Bill Finger & Kane: a spartan, understated yarn introducing dilettante playboy criminologist Bruce Wayne, craftily inserting himself into a straightforward crime-caper wherein a cabal of industrialists are successively murdered. The killings stop only after an eerie figure dubbed “The Bat-Man” intrudes on Police Commissioner Gordon’s stalled investigation, pitilessly exposing and dealing with the hidden killer.

Also taken from that landmark issue, ‘The Murderer on Vacation’ by Jerry Seigel & Joe Shuster reveals how hardboiled private investigator Slam Bradley and sidekick Shorty Morgan track an escaped convict to snowy Switzerland to ensure the killer’s appointment with the electric chair is met…

Following another iconic cover by Kane & Jerry Robinson, #38 (April 1940 by Finger, Kane & Robinson) changes the freshly emerging landscape of comic books forever with ‘Robin, The Boy Wonder’: child trapeze artist Dick Graysonwhose performer parents are murdered before his eyes and who thereafter joins Batman in a lifelong quest for justice, beginning with bringing down mobster mad dog Boss Zucco

With a pattern of high-flying action and savvy crime-crushing established, the Dynamic Duo went from strength to strength, but they were not the only masked marvels on show. Amateur radio technician and District Attorney’s clerk Larry Jordan used super-science and brilliant invention to battle crime as Air Wave for six years. Behind a Robinson/Fred Ray Batman cover, #60’s ‘The Case of the Missing Evidence’ (February 1942 by Mort Weisinger, Lee Harris/Harris Levy & Charles Paris) debuts the Microphonic Manhunter who methodically sets about dismantling the murderous Scalotti gang…

As WWII gripped America’s servicemen and Home Front masses, comic book dream team Joe Simon & Jack Kirby quit Timely Comics after publisher Martin Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations. They jumped ship to National/DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a big chequebook.

Initially an unhappy fit, bursting with brash, bold ideas the company were uncomfortable with, the pair were handed two failing strips to play with until they found their creative feet. After proving their worth with The Sandman and Manhunter, they were left to their own devices and promptly perfected comic books’ “Kid Gang” genre with a unique junior Foreign Legion entitled The Boy Commandos. These kids were soon sharing the spotlight with Batman in flagship Detective Comics and in a solo title which was frequently amongst the company’s top three sellers.

A Robinson Dynamic Duo cover for #64 (June 1942) foreshadows a new kind of comics experience as ‘The Commandos are Coming’ cleverly follows the path of a French Nazi collaborator who finds the courage to fight against his country’s conquerors after meeting the bombastic military unit.

We never learn how or why American Captain Rip Carter commands a British Commando unit nor why he’s allowed to bring a quartet of war-orphans with him on a succession of deadly sorties into “Festung Europa”, North Africa, the Pacific or Indo-Chinese theatres of war. All we must accept is that cockney urchin Alfy Twidgett, French garcon Pierre (later unobtrusively renamed Andre) Chavard, little Dutch boy Jan Haasen and rough, tough lout Brooklyn are fighting the battles we would if we only had the chance…

‘The Crimes of Two-Face!’ begin in #66 (August 1942 and sporting a Robinson/George Roussos cover): detailing the debut of a true classic villain courtesy of Finger, Kane & Robinson. A sophisticate classical tragedy in crime-caper form, here Gotham DA Harvey Kent (whose name was later changed by editorial diktat to Dent) is disfigured in court and goes mad – becoming a conflicted thief and insanely unpredictable killer who remains one of the Caped Crusader’s greatest foes.

As seen on the Win Mortimer cover, ‘The Riddler!’ first challenged Batman and Robin in #140 (October 1948 by Finger, Dick Sprang, Charles Paris) as carnival con-man and inveterate cheat Edward Nigma takes his obsession with puzzles to a perilous extreme: becoming a costumed criminal and matching wits with the brilliant Batman in a contest that threatens to turn the entire city upside down.

‘The Origin of Pow-Wow Smith!’ in #151 (September 1949) awaits behind a Batman cover by Jim Mooney, but addresses the growing popularity of western tales as Don Cameron, Carmine Infantino & George Klein explore the life of a college-educated Indian Lawman who becomes a modern-day sheriff.

As super heroes lost their appeal in the 1950s, Detective Comics shed its costumed cohort for more rationalistic reasoners and grounded champions. One of the most offbeat was Roy Raymond, a TV personality who hosted hit series Impossible… But True.

Illustrated by Ruben Moreira, it launched in #153 (November 1949 and proudly displaying a Sprang Bat-cover) with ‘The Land of Lost Years!’ The first tale set the pattern: researchers or members of the public would present weird or “supernatural” items or mysteries that the arch-debunker would inevitably expose as misunderstanding, mistake or, as in this case of this reverse fountain of youth, criminal fraud…

Dale Cendali then presents A Peek Behind the Pages, sharing pages from Lew Sayre Schwartz’s Sketchbook circa his illustration of the lead story in Detective Comics #200, after which issue #225 (November 1955) manifests the first new superhero of the Silver Age, courtesy of Joe Samachson Joe Certa.

At the height of US Flying Saucer fever and following a bat-cover from Win Mortimer, John Jones, Manhunter from Mars debuted in ‘The Strange Experiment of Dr. Erdel’: describing how a reclusive genius builds a robot-brain to access Time, Space and the Fourth Dimension, accidentally plucking an alien scientist from his home on Mars. After a brief conversation with his unfortunate guest, Erdel succumbs to a heart attack whilst attempting to return the incredible J’onn J’onzz to his point of origin.

Marooned on Earth, the Martian realises his new home is riddled with the primitive cancer of Crime and determines to use his natural abilities (which include telepathy, mind-over-matter psychokinesis, shape-shifting, invisibility, intangibility, super-strength, speed, flight, vision, invulnerability and many others) to eradicate the evil, working clandestinely disguised as a human policeman. His only safety concern is the commonplace chemical reaction of fire which saps Martians of all their mighty powers. With his name Americanised to John Jones he enlists as a Police Detective and begins an auspicious career…

Today fans are used to a vast battalion of bat-themed and leather-winged champions haunting Gotham City and its troubled environs, but for the longest time it was just Bruce and Dick, occasionally with their borrowed dog Ace, keeping crime on the run. However, in Detective Comics #233 (July 1956, three months before the debut of The Flash officially ushered in the Silver Age) the editorial powers-that-be unleashed bold heiress Kathy Kane, who incessantly suited-up in chiropteran red-&-yellow for the next eight years.

‘The Bat-Woman’ by Edmond Hamilton, Moldoff & Paris premiered with the former circus acrobat bursting into Batman’s life, challenging him to discover her secret identity at the risk of exposing his own…

Trauma by Glen David Gold pauses the comics action to discuss the role and symbolism of orphans before a return to incipient family-friendly silliness as ‘Batman Meets Bat-Mite!’ #267 (May 1959 by Finger, Moldoff & Paris) takes us to a new level. The introduction of the Gotham Guardian’s most controversial “partner” – a pestiferous, prank-playing extra-dimensional elf who adored the Dynamic Duo and used his magic to extend or amp up the perils he enjoyed observing – was, for many readers, an all-time low but the strange scamp had his fans too…

In an era overburdened by gangsters and bank heists, new super villains were rare but not unknown. From #298 (December 1961) Finger, Moldoff & Paris’ ‘The Challenge of Clay-Face’ saw our heroes battle shapeshifting thief Matt Hagen who would return many times before Batman underwent a big change and media apotheosis…

By the end of 1963, Julius Schwartz had revived much of DC’s superhero line – and the entire industry – with his modernization of masked champions and costumed characters, and was asked to work his magic with the Caped Crusader. Bringing his usual team of creators with him, he stripped down the trappings and returned to the core-concept, bringing a modern take to the capture of criminals, whilst downplaying all the Aliens, outlandish villains and daft transformation tales. He even oversaw a streamlining and rationalisation of the art style itself.

The most apparent change to us kids was a yellow circle around the Bat-symbol, but more fundamentally the stories themselves changed. Subtle menace had re-entered the comfortable and abstract world of Gotham City. The revolution began with Detective Comics #327 (cover-dated May 1964) as ‘The Mystery of the Menacing Mask!’ – written by John Broome and illustrated by Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella presented a baffling “Howdunnit?” steeped in action and suspense.

Tracking an underground pipeline of missing crooks and encountering a wise guy who was literally untouchable underlined the renewed intention to emphasise the “Detective” part of the title for the foreseeable future. This comic was to be a brain-teaser from now on…

The advent of the Batman TV show soon followed and the world went Bat-manic…

The series inevitably influenced the comics and, as well as a lightening of tone, threw up new characters.

In ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!’ (Detective Comics, #359, cover-dated January 1967) writer Gardner Fox and art team supreme Carmine Infantino & Sid Greene introduce Barbara Gordon, mousy librarian and daughter of the venerable Police Commissioner into the superhero limelight. By the time the third TV season began on September 14, 1967, she was well-established.

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

Whereas she fought the Penguin on the small screen, her paper origin features the no less ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever yarn that still stands up today. The Lethal Lepidopteran was about to kidnap Bruce Wayne until Babs stumbles in and busts up his scheme…

After San Diego’s former top cop Shelley Zimmerman discusses the value of ‘Inspiration’ we jump to a darker decade for ‘Challenge of the Man-Bat’ (Detective Comics #400, June 1970) wherein Frank Robbins, Neal Adams & Dick Giordano use the big anniversary to launch a dark counterpoint to the Gotham Gangbuster when driven scientist Kirk Langstromcreates a serum to make himself superior to Batman… and pays a heavy price for his hubris.

One of the most celebrated superhero series in comics history, Manhunter catapulted young Walter Simonson to the front ranks of creators, revolutionised the way dramatic adventures were told and still remains the most lauded back-up strip ever produced.

Concocted and scripted by genial genius and then-neophyte editor Archie Goodwin as a back-up strip for Detective (running for just a year from #437-443, October/November 1973 to October/November 1974), the seven episodes – a mere 68 pages – won six Academy of Comic Book Arts Awards during its far too brief run.

Following a rousing Jim Aparo cover for #437, opening episode ‘The Himalayan Incident’ sees Interpol agent Christine St. Clair tracking a seeming super-assassin who acts like no true criminal. Although not included here the pursuit leads her to the story of dead hero Paul Kirk (during the Golden Age he was the Manhunter briefly crafted by Simon & Kirby): a big game hunter and part-time costumed mystery man.

Becoming a dirty jobs specialist for the Allies in WWII, he lost all love of life and died in a hunting accident in 1946. Decades later he seemingly resurfaced, and came to the attention of St. Clair. Thinking him no more than an identity thief she soon uncovered an incredible plot by a cadre of the World’s greatest scientists who had formed an organisation to assume control of the planet.

The Council had infiltrated all corridors of power, making huge technological advances (such as stealing the hero’s individuality by cloning him into an army of superior soldiers), slowly achieving their goals with no-one the wiser, until the returned Paul Kirk upset their plans and resolved to thwart their ultimate goals…

Kirk’s entire tragic quest to regain his humanity and dignity culminated in a terse team-up after Batman stumbles into the plot, almost inadvertently handing the Council ultimate victory. ‘Götterdämmerung’ (#443 by Goodwin & Simonson) fully lived up to its title and perfectly wrapped up the saga.

With cover and illustration by Dick Giordano, ‘There is No Hope in Crime Alley!’ (#457, March 1976, scripted by Denny O’Neil, with inks by Terry Austin) is a powerful and genuinely moving tale introducing pacifist Leslie Thompkins: the woman who first cared for the boy Bruce Wayne on the night his parents were murdered, after which O’Neil uses his prose Time Machine to deliver a telling history lesson about publishing and storytelling.

Next up is a rousing tale from a trend-setting run by Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers & Austin. Detective # 474 (December 1977) uses ‘The Deadshot Ricochet’ to update an old loser. The second-ever appearance of a murderous high society dilettante sniper (after his initial outing in Batman #59, 1950) sees frustrated killer Floyd Lawton escape jail and go in search of simple, honest revenge. 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, a couple of eponymous miniseries and on both silver and small screens.

Devised by Bob Rozakis, Michael Golden & Bob Smith, ‘Bat-Mite’s New York Adventure!’ was a short feature in giant-sized Detective Comics #482 (February/March 1979, sporting a cover by Rich Buckler & Giordano) that begat an unlikely revival for the impetuous imp. A hilarious, fourth-wall busting romp, it sees the geeky trans-dimensional sprite invading the offices of DC comics to deliver a personal protest at his seeming sidelining in recent years…

Author, journalist and activist Cory Doctorow examines cultural content and impact in Occupy Gotham before major anniversary issue Detective #500 (March 1981) celebrates by bringing Batman and Robin to another Earth to prevent the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne in the beguiling altered vision ‘To Kill a Legend’ by Alan Brennert & Giordano, supplemented by a jam cover courtesy of Aparo, Giordano, Infantino, Simonson & Joe Kubert.

As the DCU underwent a radical reboot during Crisis on Infinite Earths, a run of experimental stories resulted in Harlan Ellison, Gene Colan & Bob Smith detailing a city crime patrol where nothing goes right on ‘The Night of Thanks, But No Thanks!’ (#567 October 1986).

‘The Honored Dead’ (#742 March 2000) by Greg Rucka, Shawn Martinbrough & Steve Mitchell foucuses on a character as old and resilient as Batman himself as recently bereaved Police Commissioner Jim Gordon returns to duty in only to lose more colleagues and descend into a vengeful, suicidal spiral. Good thing he still has a few unconventional friends to pull him through…

Closing this immense commemorative tome comes Lost Stories offering a glimpse at commissioned works which for a variety of reasons never saw print: in this case excerpts from aborted 2012 miniseries ‘Batman: Mortality’ by Paul Levitz, Denys Cowan & John Floyd, represented here by pages of script and original art, before an all-star selection from rebooted Detective Comics volume 2 #27 (March 2014) reimagines ‘The Case of the Chemical Syndicate’ via Brad Meltzer & Bryan Hitch, whilst Scott Snyder & Sean Murphy takes us into the far future to see the evolution of the Dark Knight in ‘Twenty-Seven’.

Illustrated by Mark Chiarello, ‘Watching from the Shadows’ is Neil Gaiman’s fond appreciation of the hero and his universe, after which ‘Cover Highlights’ brings a selection of stunning examples from the Golden, Silver, Bronze andDark ages of Gotham Guardian, as well as the very best of Detective Comics ‘Now’.

Should you be of a scholarly or just plain reverential mood you can then study the copious ‘Biographies’ section so you know who to thank…

Exciting, epochal and unmissable, this is book for all fans of superhero stories.
© 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1955, 1956, 1959, 1961, 1964, 1967, 1970, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1986, 2000, 2014, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This second selection of unalloyed Batman pairings with other luminaries of the DC universe reprints B&B #92-109 (spanning October/November 1970 to October/November 1973) featuring the last vestiges of a continuity-reduced DC where individual story needs were seldom submerged into a cohesive overarching scenario, and where lead writer Bob Haney crafted stories that were meant to be read in isolation, drawn by a profusion of artists with only one goal: entertainment. At this time editors favoured regular if not permanent creative teams, feeling that a sense of visual and even narrative continuity would avoid confusion amongst younger readers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Teen Titans again featured in an angry tale of the generation gap but ‘Commune of Defiance’ began as an Aparo job, but in a bizarre turnabout Neal Adams – an artist legendary for blowing deadlines – was called in to finish the story, contributing the last nine pages of the tension-packed political thriller, after which Brown and Frank McLaughlin illustrated ‘A Traitor Lurks Inside Earth!’: a doomsday saga of military computers gone awry featuring the multipurpose Metal Men.

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

Newly penniless social reformer Green Arrow is then sucked into a murderous get-rich-quick con in #106’s ‘Double Your Money… and Die’, featuring a surprise star villain, before Black Canary co-stars in a clever take on the headline-grabbing – and still unsolved – D.B. Cooper hijacking of an airliner in ‘The 3-Million Dollar Sky’ from B&B #107 (June-July 1973). Inflation sucks: “Cooper” only got $200,000 when he jumped out of that Boeing 727 in November 1971, never to be see again…

A wonderfully chilling tale of obsession and old soldiers never dying follows as Sgt. Rock tries once more to catch the greatest monster in history on ‘The Night Batman Sold his Soul!’ before this bronze bonanza concludes with superb supernatural thriller ‘Gotham Bay, Be My Grave!’ wherein the Caped Crusader and Jack Kirby’s then newest sensation Etrigan the Demon battle an unquiet spirit determined to avenge his own execution after nearly a century…

These are some of the best and most entertainingly varied yarns from a period of magnificent creativity in the American comics industry. Aimed at a general readership, gloriously free of heavy, cloying continuity baggage and brought to stirring, action-packed life by some of the greatest artists in the business, this is a Batman for all seasons and reasons with the added bonus of some of the most fabulous and engaging co-stars a fan could imagine. How could anybody resist? Can you…?

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

Batman: The War Years 1939-1945

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Batman #8 (newly-promoted to bi-monthly just as the nation began paper-rationing), cover-dated December 1941-January 1942, comes a then-rare foray into science fiction as a scientist abused by money-grubbing financial backers turns himself into a deadly radioactive marauder in ‘The Strange Case of Professor Radium.’ This tale was later radically revised and recycled by Finger & Kane as a sequence of the Batman daily newspaper strip…

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

As the heroes’ influence expanded, new talent joined the stable of creators. Jerry Robinson had already worked with writer Bill Finger and penciller Bob Kane, and during this period more scripters gradually joined the ever-expanding team to detail morale-boosting adventures during the darkest days of World War II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The history of the American comic book industry – in almost every major aspect – stems from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of DC’s twin icons: Superman and Batman. These wartime tales cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin, bringing welcome surcease to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate – and there ain’t many who thinks otherwise! – the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your hamster to Buy This Book…
™ & © 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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