Batman: Hong Kong


By Doug Moench, & Tony Wong (DC Comics)
ISBN 978-1-4012-0057-2 (HB)                     978-1-4012-0101-2 (TPB)

This Batman outreach project is a surprisingly engaging piece of Hong Kong cinema in comic form by veteran scribe Doug Moench and the anonymous horde of illustrators used by Comics Supremo Tony Wong to churn out literally thousands of lavishly executed Kung Fu comics that have earned him the title “the Stan Lee of Hong Kong”.

The story itself is fairly unsurprising tosh. A serial killer who webcasts his murders as real-time snuff movies leads Batman to the former British colony and a civil war between a Triad leader and his brother: a cop determined to bring him to book.

Add to the mix a dashing young nephew who loves his family but thirsts for justice and you have all the elements for the next Johnny To, Kazuya Shiraishi or Park Hoon-jung blockbuster nerve-jangler.

Although a touch stiff in places and a little disorienting if you’re unused to the rapid art-style transitions of Hong Kong comics (artists and even forms of representation – paint, black line wash, crayon etc. can vary from panel to panel) this has a lot of pace and fairly rattles along. In this anniversary year, Batman: Hong Kong is still loads better and more accessible than many outings for the caped crusader of recent years and well worth the time and effort of any diehard Dark Knight aficionado in sech of a rarer flavour.
© 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Harvest Breed


By George Pratt & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-692-7 (HC)        978-1-84023-701-6 (Titan Books UK edition HC)

Sometimes even the best of intentions and greatest of artisans don’t quite produce the best result. Master illustrator George Pratt returned tangentially to the Vietnam War for the backstory of this memorable supernatural thriller starring the Dark Knight, but the overall results fall short of his superb par, as established with the landmark Enemy Ace: War Idyll. Even so…

Bruce Wayne is tortured by bloody nightmares of devils and sacrifices as a mysterious killer seeks to re-enact a murder-ritual based on the points of a cross.

Such ritual has been attempted many times throughout history, but on this particular occasion the stakes seem much higher – and far more personal.

Only a girl named Luci Boudreaux, escapee and survivor of the Hell on Earth that was Viet Nam seems to have any answers to the dilemma…

Although painted with astounding passion and skill, and frequently offering unforgettable imagery, the story seems to have been sadly neglected and is – quite frankly – a bit of a mess, with war veterans, voodoo priests, faith-healers, demons and an uncomfortable misunderstanding of the relationship between Batman and Police Commissioner Jim Gordon muddying a rather tired old plot.

Even so, there are plenty of movie blockbusters that have got away with far less to great acclaim and for richer rewards.

If you love bleak and moody style over content, or can always find room for the blackest crannies infested by the darkest of knights, you might want to hunt this down and give it a shot.

So, even if you’re not a Bat-completist, in this anniversary year, there’s still a reason to step out of the light into forgotten realms with the world’s most popular superhero.
© 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman/Deadman: Death and Glory


By James Robinson & John Estes (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-213-4 (HB)                    978-1-56389-228-8 (TPB)

Everybody thinks they know Batman but to only a select few are the secrets of assassinated trapeze artist Boston Brand also revealed. An ordinary man in a brutal, cynical world, Brand was a soul in balance until killed as part of a pointless initiation for a trainee assassin.

When the unlucky aerialist died, instead of going to whatever reward awaited him, Rama Kushna, spirit of the universe, offered him the chance to solve his own murder. That opportunity evolved into an unending mission to balance the scales between good and evil in the world. The ghost is intangible and invisible to all mortals, but has the ability to “walk into” living beings, possessing and controlling them.

Gotham City: Batman gradually regains consciousness, realising he is facing a squad of armed, trigger-happy police and holding a knife to the throat of a hostage. The scene is a nightclub-turned-charnel house and all evidence before the hero’s widened eyes indicates that he is the murderous culprit…

Suddenly clear-headed and rational, he drops his victim and escapes the SWAT teams, determined to find out what has happened since he lost consciousness. Stepping broadly out of character, Batman uses magical items taken from villainous sorcerer Felix Faust to perform an eldritch rite and snags his prime suspect, Boston Brand. Unfortunately, old comrade Deadman is not the guilty party, but does reveal that a rich man who has sold his soul to the devil is responsible for all the Dark Knight’s woes.

Meanwhile, Albert Yeats, terminally ill and imminently dying, is running for what’s left of his life, hunted by things he doesn’t know and can’t understand…

Determined to renege, Frederick Chaplin has offered another’s soul in exchange for his hellbound one, and the devil has accepted. Yeats had been chosen by the universe to reincarnate as the Messiah in his extremely imminent next life, but that can’t happen if he’s paying Chaplin’s tab in the Inferno.

Deadman has been watching over Yeats until he safely passes, but when Batman is first possessed and subsequently distracts the Ghostly Guardian with his spell, Yeats is left alone and unprotected…

Now the kid is in the wind and the heroes must find and shield him long enough to die safely: a task complicated by an entire city hunting what they still think is a murderous Bat-Maniac, whilst the real possession-killer – a phantom, satanic counterpart to Deadman called the Clown who has spread terror and death for 70 years – is loose to spread his own unholy kind of havoc…

Intriguing and pretty, but lacking much of the emotional punch of earlier Batman/Deadman pairings, Death and Glory looks great even if it feels rather dispirited and glib in its attempts to blend urban horror, all-out chase action, cod-religion and hidden histories with a millennial feel-good factor. The result is a top-rate outing for Boston Brand but a rather forced and unlikely performance from the Dark Knight.

Nevertheless, fans of both heroes will find lots to love here and Estes’ painted illustration will win the approval of most comic art lovers. This book is still available through physical and online outlets, in both paperback and hardcover editions but not yet as digital delight…
© 1996 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Detective #27


By Michael Uslan & Peter Snejbjerg with Lee Loughridge (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401201852 (HB)                        978-1401201074 (TPB)

Oooh! Ooh! More Batman!! …Ish.

Not so long ago and for a brief while, DC’s experimental Elseworlds imprint, where familiar characters and continuity were radically or subtly re-imagined, was a regular hive of productivity and generated some wonderful – and quite a few ridiculous – stories.

Moreover, by using what the readers thought they knew as a springboard, the result, usually constricted into a disciplined single story, had a solid and resolute immediacy that was too often diluted in regular, periodical publications where the illusion of change always trumps actual innovation in long-running characters.

A fine example is this intriguing pulp mystery and generational drama blending the lineage of the Wayne family of Gotham City with covert societies and the secret history of the United States of America.

April 1865, Washington DC: President Lincoln overrides the objections of Allan Pinkerton (who had created the Secret Service to protect him) and goes to see Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre. His assassination prompts the infuriated security genius to create a dedicated clandestine force beyond the reach of everything but their mission and their own consciences…

April 1929, Gotham City: a doctor, his wife and their young son exit a movie theatre where they have thrilled to the exploits of Douglas Fairbanks as Zorro. Suddenly, sneak thieves confront them and in the struggle Thomas and Martha Wayne are gunned down, leaving a grieving boy kneeling over their bloody corpses. Family butler Alfred packs the coldly resolute boy off on a decade-long world tour to study with masters of criminology around the globe…

Lincoln’s murder was planned by a cabal of Confederate plotters named the Knights of the Golden Circle. Their leader, an early eugenics-inspired geneticist named Josiah Carr, outlines a Doomsday vengeance plot that will take decades to complete…

January 1st 1939: Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham ready to begin his life’s mission, but is diverted when crusading newspaperman Lee Travis reveals the existence of the Secret Society of Detectives and invites the young man to become their 27th operative since Pinkerton…

Charming and relentlessly compelling, this superbly pacy thriller follows two time-lines as the founding Detective hunts the Golden Circle through the years, enlisting the covert aid of many historical figures such as Kate Warne (America’s first female detective), journalist and President-to-be Teddy Roosevelt and biologist/monk Gregor Mendel whilst Wayne closes in on the climax of the Doomsday plot with the aid of Babe Ruth and Sigmund Freud. He even confronts customised versions of such classic Bat-foes as Catwoman, Scarecrow, Hugo Strange and the Joker.

Best of all there’s a deliciously wry cameo from the Golden Age Superman as well as a magnificent surprise ending to this two-fisted tribute to the “Thud-and-Blunder” era of the 1930s pulps…

This is a conspiracy thriller stuffed to overflowing with in-jokes, referential asides, pop culture clues and universal icons that make The Da Vinci Code and its legion of even more tedious knock-offs look like a bunch of dry words on dusty paper. The only flaw is that writer Uslan and artists Snejbjerg & Loughridge were never able to create a sequel…

And just in case you’re wondering…Detective Comics #27 (May 1939) featured the very first appearance of a certain Dark Knight…
© 2003 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Nine Lives


By Dean Motter, Michael Lark & Matt Hollingsworth (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-853-2 (HC)                    978-1-84023-358-2 (Titan Books HC edition)

This March sees the 80th anniversary of the Bat-Man’s debut and gosh-by-golly I’m getting pretty stoked with all the anticipation. I trust there to be some fuss about the event. I’m also getting my Nerd on by indulging myself in a few fond looks back. Here’s another taste of the amazing influence the Dark Knight has exerted over the decades, and one more tome just begging for a new edition and some digital exposure…

The depictions and narrative signatures of the post-war genre “Film Noir” are powerful and evocative, celebrating a certain weary worldliness as much as stark lighting and visual moodiness ever did. That said, this murky world seems a natural milieu for Batman tales, but there are precious few that make the effort, and so very few of those successfully carry it off.

This superb alternative adventure published under DC’s Elseworlds imprint (wherein the company’s key characters are translated out-of-continuity for adventures that don’t really count) is a magnificent exception, combining hard-boiled detective yarning with the icons of gangster movies.

1946: Selina Kyle was a woman everybody wanted, and who exploited that fact fully. When The Batman finds her ravaged corpse in the sewers, there’s no shortage of suspects. Was she murdered by a high-society big-shot like Oliver Queen, Harvey Dent or Bruce Wayne, desperate to keep her quiet, or was one of her more sinister consorts-du-crime to blame?

Gangsters like jilted embezzler Eddie Nigma, mob-boss ‘Clayface’ Hagen, The Poker Joker, The Penguin or even the stone-cold hit-man Mr Freeze might have snuffed her in an instant if expedient, and seedy gumshoe Dick Grayson knows that he’ll be just as expendable if he digs too deep into the private affairs of the Highest and Lowest denizens of Gotham. But somehow, he just can’t let go…

Reconfiguring key figures of the venerable mythos as such recognisable archetypes – although perhaps obvious – is still a wonderfully effective way to revitalize them. The plot is as engrossing as any movie masterpiece and the human analogues of the bizarre and baroque Bat-cast are just as menacing even without outlandish powers and costumes. And through it all lurks a bizarre vigilante dressed as a bat, once again a mad element of relentless chaos that he can no longer be in his regular mainstream comic outings…

Although a pastiche derived from many sources, Nine Lives is a brilliant and engrossing read, seamlessly and stylishly blending mystery, crime-caper and sophisticated suspense thriller with moody visuals and a cynical tone that will show any hold-out naysayer that comics have as much to offer as any other creative medium.

Hunt this down and make it yours or pray that it’s due for a fresh release ASAP.
© 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman/Tarzan: Claws of the Catwoman


By Ron Marz, Igor Kordey & various (Dark Horse Books/DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-5697-1466-9 (US TPB)            978-1-84023-235-6 (Titan Books edition)

I’m never particularly comfortable with the passion for cross-pollination that seems to obsess comics publishers. I admit that occasionally something greater than the sum of the originals does result, but usually the only outcome of jamming two different concepts into the same package is an uncomfortable, ill-fitting mess. So this tale – originally a 4-issue inter-company miniseries from the turn of the century – is a welcome example of success, and I’ll even offer a possible explanation for why…

This March sees the 80th anniversary of the Bat-Man’s debut. I expect there to be some fuss about the event and maybe even the re-release of a few lost treasures from his vast canon. I hope this is one of them…

Although primarily a literary and filmic phenomenon, Tarzan of the Apes has certainly won his spurs in graphic narrative. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel was published in 1912, with movies cropping up from 1917 onwards. The first pictorial adventures came on January 7th 1929: a newspaper daily strip by Hal Foster augmented by a full-page Sunday serial by Rex Maxon from March 15th 1931. It’s still running. In 1947, Lord Greystoke conquered the comicbook arena, beginning in Dell’s Four Color Comics #134 and 161 before hurtling into his own long-lived title in January 1948.

So what’s on offer here?

When Great White Hunter Finnegan Dent returns to Gotham City with artefacts from a lost city he has discovered in Africa, his sponsor and backer is delighted. But Bruce Wayne has reason to change his mind when he meets John Clayton, a charismatic English Lord known alternatively as Greystoke or Tarzan of the Apes…

The two quickly discover they have a lots in common: both orphans due to crime, extraordinary men shaped by wealth, privilege and mutual interest in Justice, albeit in very different and particular jungles…

When the feline Princess Khefretari tries to steal back the looted treasures of her very-much-thriving civilisation, she catapults the heroes into a frantic chase and dire battle against a ruthless monomaniac.

This classical pulp-informed tale invokes all the basic drives of both characters without ever getting bogged down in continuity or trivia. It is first and foremost an action adventure, full of emotional punches delivered with relentless rapidity. There are good guys and bad guys, no extraneous fripperies and plenty of cliffhanger moments before virtue triumphs and evil is punished.

In Claws of the Catwoman you need only have the most meagre grounding in either character to enjoy this simple thriller – and you will, so let’s hope it’s on someone’s schedule for republishing…
Text and illustrations © 1999, 2000 Dark Horse Comics, Inc., DC Comics, Inc. & Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Batman Beyond


By Hilary J. Bader, Rich Burchett, Joe Staton & Terry Beatty (DC comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-604-0

This March sees the 80th anniversary of the Bat-Man’s debut. I expect there to be some fuss about the event. I shall certainly be indulging myself in a few fond looks back. Here’s a taste of the amazing influence the Caped Crusader has exerted over the decades, and a book long overdue for a new edition and some digital exposure…

The Batman Animated TV series masterminded by Bruce Timm & Paul Dini in the 1990s revolutionised the Dark Knight and also led to some of the absolute best comicbook adventures in his entire publishing history with the tie-in monthly printed series.

With his small screen credentials firmly re-established, follow-up series began (and are still coming), even ultimately feeding back into and enriching the overarching DCU continuity.

Following those award-winning episodes, in 1999 came a new incarnation set a generation into the future, featuring Bruce Wayne in the twilight of his life while a new teenaged hero picked up the eerily-scalloped mantle. In Britain the series was uninspirationally re-titled Batman of the Future but for most of the extremely-impressed-despite-themselves cognoscenti and awe-struck kids everywhere it was Batman Beyond!

Once again, the show was augmented by a cool kids’ comicbook and this collection collects the first 6-issue miniseries in a hip and trendy, immensely entertaining package suitable for fans and aficionados of all ages. Although not necessary to the reader’s enjoyment, a passing familiarity with the TV episodes will enhance the overall experience…

All stories are written by Hilary J. Bader and the book opens with a 2-art adaptation of the pilot episode, illustrated by Rick Burchett & Terry Beatty. ‘Not on My Watch!’ offers brief glimpses of the last days of Batman’s crusade against crime before age, infirmity and injury slow him down to the point of compromising his principles and endangering the citizens he’s sworn to protect…

Years later, Gotham City in the mid-21st century (notionally accepted as 2039 CE – 100 years after the comicbook debut of Batman in Detective Comics #27) is a dystopian urban jungle where angry, rebellious school-kid Terry McGinnis strikes a blow against pernicious street-punks The Jokerz and is chased out of the metropolis to the gates of a ramshackle mansion.

Meanwhile, his research-scientist father has discovered a little too much about the company he works for…

Wayne-Powers used to be a decent place to work before old man Wayne became a recluse. Now Derek Powers runs the show and is ruthless enough to do anything to increase his profits…

Outside town, Terry is saved from a potentially fatal encounter with the Jokerz by a burly old man who then collapses. Helping the aged Bruce Wayne inside the mansion, Terry discovers the long-neglected Batcave before being chased away by the surly Wayne. He really doesn’t care… until he gets home to find his father has been murdered.

A storm of mixed emotions, McGinnis returns to Wayne Manor…

Concluding chapter ‘I Am Batman’ sees him attempt to force Wayne to act before giving up in frustration and simply stealing the hero’s greatest weapon; a cybernetic bat-suit that enhances strength, speed, durability and perception. Alone, untrained and unaided, the new Batman sets to exact justice and take revenge…

In the ensuing clash with Powers, the unscrupulous entrepreneur is mutated into a radioactive monster named Blight before Wayne and Terry reach a tenuous truce and working understanding. For the moment, Terry will continue to clean up the Dark Knight’s city as a probationary, apprentice hero…

With issue #3 Bader, Burchett & Beatty crafted original stories in the newly established future Gotham, commencing with ‘Never Mix, Never Worry’ wherein Blight returns to steal a selection of man-made radioactive elements which can only be used to cause harm… or can they?

Joe Staton assumed the pencilling role with #4 as a schoolboy nerd frees a devil from limbo and old man Wayne introduces cocksure Terry to parapsychologist Jason Blood and his eldritch alter ego Etrigan the Demon in spooky shocker ‘Magic Is Everywhere’: a sentiment repeated when a school-trip to the museum unleashes ancient lovers who feed on life energy in the delightfully comical tragedy of ‘Mummy, Oh! and Juliet’

This captivating compendium of action and adventure ends with another compelling and edgy thriller as Terry stumbles into a return bout with a shape-shifting super-thief in ‘Permanent Inque Stains’, only to find that there are far worse crimes and far more evil villains haunting his city…

Fun, thrilling and surprisingly moving, these tales remain magnificent examples of thrilling comics that appeal to young and old alike. Stick ‘em on the same shelf as Tintin, Asterix and Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge tales and you can’t go wrong…

In 2000 Titan Books released a British edition re-titled Batman of the Future (to comply with the renamed UK TV series) and this version is a little easier to locate by those eager to enjoy the stories rather than own an artefact.
© 1999 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Robin volume 1: Reborn


By Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle, Tom Lyle & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5857-3

Norman Keith Breyfogle was born in Iowa City, Iowa on February 27th 1960. Another artistic prodigy, in high school he was commissioned by Michigan Technological University to create promotional comic Tech-Team. In 1977 he submitted to DC a new costume design for Robin. It was published in Batman Family #13.

He studied painting and illustration at North Michigan University while working as a professional illustrator and in 1980 created Bunyan: Lore’s Loggin’ Hero for Book Concern. Moving to California in 1982, he worked as a technical draughtsman for NASA’s space shuttle programme and two years later began his serious attempts to get into proper comics.

Work for DC’s New Talent Showcase led him to American Flagg, Tales of Terror, Marvel Fanfare and others before, in 1986 he illustrated Whisper for a year. He then became regular artist on Detective Comics (1987-1990) where, with Alan Grant & John Wagner, he added to the Dark Knight’s gruesome gallery of foes by co-creating Scarface and the Ventriloquist, Ratcatcher, Jeremiah Arkham, Victor Zsasz and antihero Anarky.

Very much the key artist, he then transferred to Batman (1990-1992) and visually dictated the transformation of Tim Drake into the third Boy Wonder Robin before helming new title Batman: Shadow of the Bat until 1993.

Along the way he also illustrated Elseworlds yarn Batman: Holy Terror and painted Batman: Birth of the Demon, and other DC landmarks such as Flashpoint and The Spectre. For other companies he drew Prime, Black Tide, Hellcat, Bloodshot, Archie comics and many others as well as creating comics, children’s book material and poetry.

In December 2014 he suffered a massive stroke which left him paralysed, and he died on September 24 this year from heart failure.

Despite his massive and wide-ranging contribution to comics. Breyfogle will always be most well-known for his Batman tenure so it’s fitting that we remember him here with the biggest storyline of his career and its aftermath…

No matter how hard creators try to avoid it or escape it, Batman and Robin are an inevitable pairing. The first one graduated, the second died (sort of, more or less, leave it, don’t go there) and the third, Tim Drake, volunteered, applying pester-power until he got the job…

Spanning July 1990 to May 1991 and gathering Detective Comics #618-621, Batman #455-457 and the first Robin miniseries (#1-5), this volume reveals how a plucky young computer whiz convinces the Gotham Guardian to let him assume the potentially-fatal role of junior partner in a cracking adventure yarn that has as much impact today as when it first appeared decades ago.

It all begins with 4-part story arc ‘Rite of Passage’ from Detective Comics. Scripted by Alan Grant with moody art from Breyfogle & Dick Giordano ‘Shadow on the Sun’ finds a very much civilian Tim vacationing with Bruce Wayne in Gotham while his affluent, philanthropic parents visit the Caribbean and fall into the greedy hands of ruthless criminal the Obeah Man.

Tim is fully aware of Wayne’s alter ego and even helps with hacking as the Dark Knight follows a convoluted money trail, but the boy’s nerve is truly tested when his own parents become victims of a ruthless maniac…

Grant Breyfogle, With Steve Mitchell inking the sordid saga continues as ‘Beyond Belief!’ shows that not just money motivates the voodoo lord. He also revels in the worship of his terrified acolytes and is keen to keep them swayed with the occasional bloody sacrifice…

However, his ransom demand soon puts Batman on his trail and as the Gotham Gangbuster heads for Haiti, Tim is forced to consider whether the role of Robin only comes at the price of personal tragedy…

That seems to be confirmed in ‘Make Me a Hero’ as Batman’s hunt takes a negative turn even as Tim’s computer trawls lead him to a pointless confrontation with troubled teen Anarky before the concluding ‘Trial by Fire’ sees young Drake’s worst fears come true…

We resume a few months later with Batman #455 (October 1990).

Identity Crisis’ by Grant, Breyfogle & Mitchell finds the newly-orphaned (or as good as: one parent is dead and the other is in a coma) Tim Drake as Bruce Wayne’s latest ward, but forbidden from participating in the life of the Batman. The kid is willing and competent, after all, he deduced Batman’s secret identity before he even met him, but the guilt-racked Dark Knight won’t allow any more children to risk their lives…

However, when an old foe lures the lone avenger into an inescapable trap Tim must disobey Batman’s express orders to save him, even if it means his own life… or even the new home he’s just beginning to love.

Drake and stalwart retainer Alfred know Batman is off his game but can do nothing to shake his resolve in #456 as, ‘Without Fear of Consequence…’, the hero stalks a resurgent and lethally inspired Scarecrow across a Gotham City experiencing yet another Christmas terror spree…

Concluding instalment ‘Master of Fear’ sees the boy surrender every chance to become Batman’s partner: breaking his promise stay safe and saving the exhausted and overwhelmed Dark Knight from death despite the consequences…

It all works out in the end, as, following on the heels of that landmark saga, Robin got a new costume and a try-out series. …

Eliot R. Brown then provides schematics and diagrams detailing ‘Secrets of the New Robin Costume’ before writer Chuck Dixon and artists Tom Lyle & Bob Smith launch the new sidekick in his first solo starring miniseries. The apprentice hero’s path begins with a program of accelerated training intended to mimic that taken by teenaged Bruce Wayne years previously. In ‘Big Bad World’, Tim journeys to Paris, ostensibly to train in secret, but his underground martial arts dojo is a hotbed of intrigue and before long the kid is involved with Chinese street gangs…

Tracking the ambitious Lynx, Tim falls into a full-on war between disgraced DEA agent Clyde Rawlins, and a mysterious schemer. Thankfully ‘The Shepardess’ is there to give him a crash course in survival…

Sadly ‘The Destroying Angel’ has secrets of her own and the business devolves into a helter-skelter race-against-time, as she is revealed to be murderous martial artist Lady Shiva, coldly leading the lad into ‘Strange Company’ whilst executing her war against the Ghost Dragon Triad and Hong-Kong crime-lord King Snake for possession of a Nazi terror weapon…

There’s a breakneck pace and tremendous vivacity to this uncomplicated thriller that would rouse a corpse as the neophyte paladin heads to Hong Kong for the final showdown and a brush with existential horror in ‘The Dark’

Wrapping up this groundbreaking celebration of the making of a hero are a wealth of art extras beginning with ‘Unused Robin Costume Designs’ by Neal Adams, Breyfogle, George Pérez & Lyle, before Graham Nolan, Adams & Lyle & confirm the ‘Final Batman and Robin Costume Design’, Adams provides a dynamic ‘Robin Poster’ and Brian Bolland pitches in with the original cover to the Robin: A Hero Reborn trade paperback collection.

This book is a lovely slice of sheer escapist entertainment and a genuine Bat-classic. If you don’t own this you really should.
© 1990, 1991, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Noël


By Lee Bermejo, with Barbara Ciardo & Todd Klein (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3213-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Fresh, Twisted Spin on a Seasonal Favourite… 9/10

Beginning with 1941’s Batman #9, the Dark Knight and festively-hued sidekick celebrated Christmas with specially crafted, tinsel-tinted topical tales (part warm spirituality, part Dickens homage, part O. Henry bittersweet irony, part redemption story), all perfectly encapsulating everything the festival ought to mean.

Although many his contemporaries – especially Superman – did likewise, the Batman Yule yarns somehow always got the balance between sentiment and drama just right. It led to the common comics fan assumption that Batman Owned Christmas. Given the evidence, it’s hard to dispute…

In 2011 writer-artist Lee Bermejo (Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, Joker, Before Watchmen: Rorschach) took his avowed love of Charles Dickens’ novels and the gritty, painterly heroic style he’d perfected and crafted a Times Best-Selling stand-alone Batman Original Graphic Novel. His creative partners in crime were colour-artist Barbara Ciardo award-winning letterer Todd Klein.

Available in deluxe hardback, Trade Paperback and eBook editions, Batman: Noël is a smart and imaginative reworking of Dicken’s redemptive masterpiece told from the point of view of Bob, a cheap hood with a guilty conscience and a sick kid. Bob’s got himself in a spot of bother with both his boss – The Joker – and the meanest bastard in Gotham, who’s selfishly using him to get to the killer clown…

Someone needs to have his views challenged and his path reset. Surely the Season will provide a miracle…

Featuring a big cast of star guests, this dark festive fable adds a bleak spin to the immortal events that will amaze and delight jaded readers, and also offers an Introduction by Jim Lee and many pages of production art and Author Commentary from Bermejo.

Batman Noël is a decidedly different take on one of the most fundamental cornerstones of the modern Christmas experience, and, while we’re recommending seasonal stuff, Dickens wrote four follow-ups to A Christmas Carol plus 22 other Christmas-themed or situated stories. They’re all in print – physically and digitally – so you should treat yourself to those too…
© 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 5


By Bill Finger, Don Cameron, Ruth “Bunny” Lyon Kaufman, Horace L. Gold, Joseph Greene, Joe Samachson, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley, Ray Burnley, Fred Ray, Norman Fallon & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8461-9 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timely and Evergreen Family Adventure… 10/10

Debuting a year after Superman, “The Bat-Man” (and latterly Robin, the Boy Wonder) confirmed DC/National Comics as the market frontrunner and conceptual leader of the burgeoning comicbook industry.

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

Batman: The Golden Age is a series of paperback feasts (there are also weightier, pricier, more capacious hardback Omnibus editions available, and digital iterations too) re-presenting the Dark Knight’s earliest exploits.

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

Re-presenting a glorious and astounding treasure-trove of cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #75-81, Batman #16-20 plus contemporary companion tales from World’s Finest Comics #10-11: this book covers groundbreaking escapades from April/May 1943 to December/January 1944: as the Dynamic Duo continually develop and storm ahead of all competition.

I’m certain it’s no coincidence that many of these Golden Age treasures are also some of the best and most reprinted tales in the Batman canon. With chief writers Bill Finger and Don Cameron at a peak of creativity and production, everybody on the Home Front was keen to do their bit – even if that was simply making kids of all ages forget their troubles for a brief while. These tales were crafted just as the dark tide was turning and an odour of hopeful optimism was creeping into the escapist, crime-busting yarns – and especially the stunning covers – seen here in the work of Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Bob Kane Jack Burnley, Dick Sprang, Fred Ray and Stan Kaye…

The supplemental writers all pushed the boundaries of the adventure medium whilst graphic genius Sprang began to slowly supersede Kane and Burnley: making the feature uniquely his own while keeping the Dynamic Duo at the forefront of the vast army of superhero successes.

War always stimulates creativity and advancement and these sublime adventures of Batman and Robin more than prove that axiom as the growing band of creators responsible for producing myriad adventures of the Dark Knight hit an artistic peak which only stellar stable-mate Superman and Fawcett’s Captain Marvel were able to equal or even approach.

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The compelling dramas open with the landmark Batman #16 (cover-dated April/May 1943) and one of three tales by Cameron. ‘The Joker Reforms!’ (Kane, Robinson & Roussos art) sees the Clown Prince suffer a blow to the head and enjoy a complete personality shift… but not for long…, after which Ruth “Bunny Lyons” Kaufman scripted a bold and fascinating Black Market milk caper in ‘The Grade A Crimes!’ for Ray & Jack Burney to dynamically delineate.

‘The Adventure of the Branded Tree’ (Cameron and the Burnleys) has the Gotham Gangbusters heading to lumberjack country for a vacation to become embroiled in big city banditry before the issue wraps up with hilarious thriller-comedy ‘Here Comes Alfred!’ (Cameron, Kane, Robinson & Roussos) which foists a rotund, unwelcome and staggeringly faux-English manservant upon the Masked Manhunters to finally complete the classic core cast of the series in a brilliantly fast-paced spy-drama with loads of laughs and buckets of tension…

Detective Comics #75 (May 1943) introduces a new aristocrat of crime in pompous popinjay ‘The Robber Baron!’ (Cameron, Jack Burnley & Roussos) before the Joker resurfaces in #76 to ‘Slay ‘em With Flowers’: a graphic chiller by Horace L. Gold, Robinson & Roussos.

Next up is Batman #17 which opens with the gloriously human story of B. Boswell Brown: a lonely, self-important old man who claims to be ‘The Batman’s Biographer!’ Unfortunately, ruthless robber The Conjurer gives the claim far more credence than most in a tense thriller by Cameron, Kane, Robinson & Roussos…

Counterbalancing the dark whimsy is ‘The Penguin Goes A-Hunting’ (Cameron, Jack & Ray Burnley): a wild romp wherein the Perfidious Popinjay undertakes a hubris-fuelled crime-spree after being left off a “Batman’s Most Dangerous Foes” list.

The same creative team concocted ‘Rogues Pageant!’ wherein murderous thieves in Western city Santo Pablo inexplicably disrupt the towns historical Anniversary celebrations after which Joe Greene, Kane & Robinson detail the Dynamic Duo’s brutal battle with a deadly gang of maritime marauders in the appealing ‘Adventure of the Vitamin Vandals!’

The creation of Superman propelled National Comics to the forefront of their fledgling industry and in 1939 the company was licensed to produce a commemorative comicbook celebrating the start of the New York World’s Fair, with the Man of Tomorrow prominently featured among the four-colour stars of the appropriately titled New York World’s Fair Comics.

A year later, following the birth of Batman and Robin, National combined Dark Knight, Boy Wonder and Action Ace on the cover of the follow-up New York World’s Fair 1940.The spectacular 96-page anthology was a tremendous success and the oversized bonanza format was established, becoming Spring 1941’s World’s Best Comics#1, before finally settling on the now-legendary title World’s Finest Comics from the second issue, beginning a stellar 45-year run which only ended as part of the massive clear-out and de-cluttering exercise that was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Until 1954 and the swingeing axe-blows of rising print costs, the only place Superman and Batman ever met was on the stunning covers by the likes of Burnley, Fred Ray and others. Between those sturdy card covers, the heroes maintained a strict non-collaboration policy.

Here World’s Finest Comics #10 (Summer 1943) features Finger, Robinson & Roussos’ ‘The Man with the Camera Eyes’: a gripping battle of wits between the Gotham Guardians and a crafty crook with an eidetic memory, 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…

Issue #78 (August 1943) pushes the patriotic agenda with ‘The Bond Wagon’ (Joseph Greene, Burnley & Roussos) as Robin’s efforts to raise war funds through a parade of historical look-alikes is targeted by Nazi spies and sympathisers, after which Batman #18 starts with a spectacular, visually stunning crime-caper wherein the Gotham Gangbusters clash again with rascally rotund rogues Tweedledum and Tweedledee whilst solving ‘The Secret of Hunter’s Inn!’ (Samachson & Robinson).

‘Robin Studies his Lessons!’ (Samachson, Kane & Robinson) sees the Boy Wonder grounded from all crime-busting duties until his school work improves – even if it means Batman dying for want of his astounding assistance!

Bill Finger and the Burnley bros craft ‘The Good Samaritan Cops’: another brilliantly absorbing human interest drama focused on the tense but unglamorous work of the Police Emergency Squad before the action culminates in a shocking and powerful final engagement for manic physician and felonious mastermind Matthew Thorne. ‘The Crime Surgeon!’ (Finger, Kane & Robinson) here tries his deft and devilish hand at masterminding other crooks’ capers…

Over in Detective Comics #79 ‘Destiny’s Auction’ – Cameron & Robinson – offers another sterling moving melodrama as a fortune teller’s prognostications lead to fame, fortune and deadly danger for a failed actress, has-been actor and superstitious gangster…

World’s Finest Comics #11’s Batman episode reveals ‘A Thief in Time!’ (Finger & Robinson inked by Fred Ray), pitting our heroes against future-felon Rob Callender, who falls through a time-warp and thinks he’s found the perfect way to get rich.

Detective #80 sees the turbulent tragedy of deranged, double-edged threat Harvey Kent, finally resolved after a typically terrific tussle with ‘The End of Two-Face!’ (Finger, Kane, Robinson & Roussos), after which Batman #19 unleashes another quartet of compelling crime-busting cases.

There’s no mistaking the magnificent artwork of rising star Dick Sprang who pencilled every tale in this astounding issue, beginning with Cameron’s ‘Batman Makes a Deadline!’ as the Dark Knight investigates skulduggery and attempted murder at the City’s biggest newspaper. He also scripted breathtaking fantasy masterpiece ‘Atlantis Goes to War!’ with the Dynamic Duo rescuing that fabled submerged city from overwhelming Nazi assault.

The Joker rears his garish head again in anonymously-penned thriller ‘The Case of the Timid Lion!’ (perhaps William Woolfolk or Jack Schiff?) with the Harlequin of Hate enraged and lethal whilst tracking down an impostor committing crazy capers in his name… Samachson, Sprang and inker Norman Fallon then unmask the ‘Collector of Millionaires’ with Dick Grayson covertly investigating his wealthy mentor’s bewildering abduction and subsequent replacement by a cunning doppelganger…

‘The Cavalier of Crime!’ (Detective #81, by Cameron, Kane & Roussos) introduces another bizarre, baroque costumed crazy who tests his rapacious wits and sharp-edged weapons against the Dynamic Duo – naturally and ultimately to no avail…

The Home Front certainly seemed a lot brighter, as can be seen in Batman #20 which opens with the Joker in ‘The Centuries of Crime!’ (Cameron, Jack & Ray Burnley) with the Mountebank of Mirth claiming to have discovered a nefariously profitable method of time-travelling, whilst ‘The Trial of Titus Keyes!’ (Finger, Kane & Robinson) offers a masterful courtroom drama of injustice amended, focussing on the inefficacy of witness statements…

‘The Lawmen of the Sea!’ (Finger & the Burnley boys) finds the Dynamic Duo again working with a lesser known Police Division as they join The Harbor Patrol in their daily duties, uncovering a modern-day piracy ring, before the issue and this collection concludes on an emotional high with ‘Bruce Wayne Loses Guardianship of Dick Grayson!’ as a couple of fraudsters claiming to be the boy’s last remaining relatives petition to adopt him. A melodramatic triumph by Finger, Kane & Robinson, there’s still plenty of action, especially after the grifters try to sell Dick back to Bruce Wayne

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 comicbook industry in almost every major aspect stems from the raw, vital and still powerfully compelling tales of DC’s twin icons: Superman and Batman.

It’s only fair and fitting that both those characters are still going strong and that their earliest adventures can be relived in chronological order in a variety of formats from relatively economical newsprint paperbacks to deluxe hardcover commemorative Archive editions – and digital formats too.

These are the stories that cemented the popularity of Batman and Robin and brought welcome surcease to millions during a time of tremendous hardship and crisis. Even if these days aren’t nearly as perilous or desperate – and there ain’t many who thinks otherwise! – the power of such work to rouse and charm is still potent and just as necessary. You owe it to yourself and your family and even your hamster to Buy This Book…
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