Tales of the Batman: Steve Englehart


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice League of America: A Celebration of 60 Years


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just in time for Christmas 1959, ads began running…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Man chases Woman until She catches Him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showcase Presents Robin the Boy Wonder


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showcase Presents Enemy Ace


By Robert Kanigher, Joe Kubert, Dennis O’Neil, John Severin, Howard Chaykin, Frank Thorne, Ed Davis, Russ Heath, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1721-1 (TPB)

Same old story here. Brilliant, groundbreaking, unmissable, not available in any modern format or digitally. We never learn…

Enemy Ace first appeared as a back-up in DC’s flagship war comic Our Army at War: home of the instantly legendary Sergeant Rock. The tales, loosely based on “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen, were a magnificent and thought-provoking examination of and tribute to the profession of soldiering, whilst simultaneously condemning the madness of war. They were produced by the dream team of Robert Kanigher & Joe Kubert during a period when the ongoing Vietnam conflict was beginning to tear American society apart.

An immediate if seminal hit, the series told bitter tales of valour and honour from the point of view of German WWI fighter pilot Hans von Hammer: a hidebound but noble warrior fighting for his country in a conflict that was swiftly excising all trace of such outmoded concepts from the business of government sanctioned mass-killing.

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature war comics, as well as in horror stories, westerns and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Batman plus other genres too numerous to cover here. A restlessly creative writer, he frequently used his uncanny but formulaic adventure arenas as a testing ground for future series concepts. Among the many epochal war features he created were Sgt. Rock, The War that Time Forgot, The Haunted Tank, The Losers and the controversial star of this stupendously compelling war-journal.

He sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel.

In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and many sexily memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and Rose and the Thorn. This last turbulent temptress he redesigned during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting vigilante who haunted the back of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, which Kanigher also scripted.

When the taste for mystery-men had faded at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved seamlessly into adventure yarns, westerns and war: becoming in 1952 writer/editor of the company’s combat titles.

As well as scripting for All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Army at War, he created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 before adding G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956. This was whilst still working on Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Viking Prince and a host of others.

In 1956 he scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allenas the new Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the world. Drawn by Carmine Infantino, the risky experiment included multi-talented veteran Joe Kubert as inker for the crucially important debut issue…

Kubert was born in 1926 in rural Southeast Poland (which became Ukraine and might be Outer Russia by the time you read this). At age two his parents took him to America and he grew up in Brooklyn.

His folks encouraged Joe to draw from an early age and the precocious kid began a glittering career at the start of the Golden Age, before he was even a teenager. Working and learning at the Chesler comics packaging “Shop”, MLJ, Holyoke and assorted other outfits, he began his close association with National/DC in 1943, whilst still dividing his time and energies between Fiction House, Avon, Harvey and All-American Comics, where he particularly distinguished himself on The Flash and Hawkman.

In the early 1950s he and old school chum Norman Maurer were the creative force behind publishers St. Johns: creating evergreen caveman Tor and launching the 3D comics craze with Three Dimension Comics.

Joe never stopped freelancing, appearing in EC’s Two-Fisted Tales, Avon’s Strange Worlds, Lev Gleason Publications & Atlas Comics until in 1955 when, with the industry imploding, he took a permanent position at DC, only slightly diluted whilst he illustrated the contentious and controversial newspaper strip Tales of the Green Berets from 1965 to 1968.

An elder statesman of the industry, he was creating new works and passing on knowledge and experience through his world-famous Joe Kubert School until his death in August 2012.

This terrific monochrome tome re-presents the blockbusting exploits of Von Hammer from Our Army at War #151, 153, 155, Showcase #57-58, Star Spangled War Stories #138 -145, 147-150, 152, 158, 181-183, 200, Men of War #1-3, 8-10, 12-14, 19-20, The Unknown Soldier #251-253, 260-261, 265-267 plus an intriguing tribute from Detective Comics#404: a period spanning February 1965 to August 1982. The canon encompasses a period during which superheroes were supplanted by horror stories before bouncing right back again, whereas the genre of combat chronicles soldiered on regardless and largely unbothered by vagaries of reader fashion.

To be brutally frank, the stories are variations on the same theme and, despite being illustrated by many of the greatest artists of two generations, might feel a little samey. If so, just stop every now and then to cogitate a little. This isn’t a book to blaze through; it’s one to savour in sensible portions…

It all kicked off in the back of Our Army at War #151 (cover-dated February 1965), introducing the ‘Enemy Ace’ in a short, sharp shocker set in 1918 wherein celebrated aerial warrior Rittmeister von Hammer was hospitalised after downing a succession of Allied aircraft. The reserved stoic hero was simultaneously admired by comrades and nurses whilst being shunned and feared by them: they all inevitably came to characterise Germany’s greatest hero as cold and a “human killing machine”…

Von Hammer took recuperative solace in hunting the wilds of the Schwartzwald, where he met a solitary black wolf who seemed to understand and share his lonely life of death and honour…

When his wounds were fully healed the dark knight returned to prowl once more “the Killer Skies”…

That 15-page yarn perfectly defined everything that could be said about the character, but the public could not get enough, so Von Hammer returned in #153 as ‘Flaming Bait!’ Dialled back to 1917 now (scripter Kanigher was never slavishly tied to tight or formal continuity), the cautionary tale featured the superstitious Rittmeister’s attempts to offset a wave of deaths which occurred each time a photographer took a pilot’s picture…

Our Army at War #155 (June 1965) featured ‘Fokker Fury!’, wherein the fanatically fair and scrupulous air ace accidentally shoots down an unarmed British fighter. After some excoriating self-castigation, Von Hammer reclaims his honour in a valiant display of mad bravado…

Mere months later, he starred in a brace of full-length thrillers for prestigious try-out vehicle Showcase. Issue #57 (July/August 1965) offered ‘Killer of the Skies!’: recapitulating all that had gone before whilst introducing a potential equal in the form of Canadian ace “The Hunter”.

A new wrinkle had also been added to the mix as Von Hammer now perpetually agonised and bemoaned his inability to save the human conveyor belt of naive, foolish replacement pilots to his Jagdstaffel from killing themselves through enthusiasm, bravado and youthful stupidity…

The following issue (#58, September/October) explored ‘The Hunters – and the Hunted!’, detailing how, after a blazing succession of kills, Von Hammer takes a recreational trip to his beloved Black Forest and renews acquaintance with his lupine companion. Here he has a brief encounter with a beautiful lady whose passion for the celebrity hero dies as she soon as apprehends his cold, seemingly emotionless executioner’s nature…

With all forms of human warmth clearly denied him, the Hammer of Hell reluctantly returns to the aerial killing fields…

Things went quiet after that as Enemy Ace clearly didn’t sell highly enough to garner its own continuing feature. Time passed and anti-war sentiment increasingly gripped the nation. In 1968 bimonthly war-mag Star Spangled War Stories – a title with a reputation for and history of offbeat material (Mlle. Marie, War that Time Forgot) – revived Von Hammer for a spectacular run of mesmerising tales which conclusively proved, time after time, that every War is Hell…

It began in #138 (April/May) with visually intoxicating epic ‘The Slayers and the Slain!’, debuting a French counterpart to the Teutonic Terror in the forbidding form of the masked and hooded, eerily anonymous Hangman.

This sombre sky-warrior flew a sinister coal-black Spad, throwing German pilots into a paralysing psychological funk, yet a conclusive duel with Von Hammer is postponed until the German recovers from yet another bout of wounds won in the Killer Skies…

With room to explore their timeless theme of a good man forced into wicked actions, SSWS #139 flashed back to the boyhood of the Air Ace in ‘Death Whispers… Death Screams!’ Here the austere life of a noble warrior is exposed; the manly pursuits of a Junker in training drummed into young Hans by his severe but loving father.

That grizzled old warrior, from a proud family of patriotic heroes, inculcates in the last of his line an overarching dedication to duty and honour above all other considerations: beliefs which carry him in his present endeavours though the shock of being humiliatingly shot down by the Hangman.

When they met again in the skies it is the Frenchman who crashes to earth, but he too survives to fly another day…

Also included here is a superb Kubert pictorial fact feature Battle Album: Fokker DR-1 and Spad S.13 to add to the already technically overwhelming ambiance…

In #140, the next clash of equals hideously reveals ‘The Face of the Hangman’, resulting in both men being marooned on the French side of the lines and becoming respectful intimates as Hammer heals in his rival’s chateau before the call of country and duty resulted in one final, fateful airborne showdown…

Inked by Frank Giacoia & Joe Giella, Star Spangled War Stories #141 takes a hard look at the men who fly beside Von Hammer. ‘The Bull’ is an ambitious new flier in the Jagdstaffel who endangers and even kills his own comrades in a pitiless quest for fame and glory. Before long, the Rittmeister has to take decisive and fatalistic action…

‘Vengeance is a Harpy!’ sees the impossible return of the Hangman, sowing death and terror amongst the German pilots, and forcing Von Hammer into a battle he does not want with a person he has come to admire, if not love…

In ‘The Devil’s General’ – after more time spent with the wolf in the woods – the brooding Rittmeister returns to duty, harrying ground troops and spectacularly eradicating opposition fliers. His composure is soon blighted by elderly General von Kleit, who forces his son Werner into the Squadron, expecting Von Hammer to keep the boy safe in the pitiless skies.

When the callow youth is shot down and captured, the Hammer of Hell moves Heaven and Earth to bring him back alive…

For #144, Kubert inked hot new penciller Neal Adams on ‘Death Takes No Holiday!’ as another macabre death-dealing French Ace – dressed as a skeleton – terrorises and slaughters the Jagdstaffel’s pilots, forcing the Enemy Ace into insane action to inspire his men and cure a young flier of fear-induced madness…

With Kubert back on solo art duties, SSWS #145 sees Von Hammer plagued by nightmares of his greatest opponent, as he attempts to school a trio of veteran pilots for the inevitable day when one would replace him. However, the actual ‘Return of the Hangman’ shatters those plans forever…

Another baroque opponent surfaces in #147 as an obsessive English lunatic believing himself St. George dons a suit of armour to shoot down far too many of the Rittmeister’s pilots. It’s all part of a scheme to give the infallible Hammer of Hell ‘A Grave in the Sky!’ However, this particular vendetta concludes on the ground with ancient swords drawn…

Kanigher was never above using wrenching melodrama and sheer sentimentality to his advantage. The moving saga in #148 describes how a little puppy becomes a mascot for solitary, isolated Von Hammer, but the cute little tyke’s inescapable horrific ending is just another hammer-blow of heartbreak in ‘Luck is a Puppy named Schatzi!’

Despite immense critical acclaim, the series dwindled in popularity. Star Spangled War Stories 149 (February/March 1970) saw the Viking Prince join the eclectic comic’s line up with Enemy Ace reduced to 15 pages. ‘Reach for the Heavens’ – inked by Sid Greene – finds Von Hammer again meeting hated flying school rival Heinrich Müller: a complex sadistic killer who redeems himself after committing war crimes in a tale tinged with supernatural overtones…

The run truly ended with #150 and ‘3 Graves to Home!’, as the Enemy Ace is shot down over rural France and must fight his way back to his own lines. He encounters a succession of civilians all putting a human face on the war he usually fought so far above them, but his time in the sun was almost over…

With Star Spangled War Stories #151(June/July 1970), a new feature took over the lead spot, running until the magazine changed its name with the 204th (February 1977) issue to reflect the newcomer’s popularity. As The Unknown Soldier, it continued for a further 64 episodes until it too died with #268 (October 1982).

Star Spangled War Stories #152, however, offered one more uncompromising mission from which only the Hammer of Hell returned. ‘Rain Above… Mud Below!’, illustrated by Russ Heath, was supplemented by another informative Kubert Battle Album starring the Lafayette Escadrille

Although gone, the iconic German warrior was far from forgotten. SSWS #158 featured a stunning Kubert ‘Special Pin-up: Enemy Ace – the Hammer of Hell’ whilst issue #181-183 held a compelling 3-part back-up serial by Kanigher & Frank Thorne which pitted the noble intellectual against maverick American Ace Steve Savage – “The Balloon Buster” in ‘Hell’s Angels Part One: The Hammer of Hell!’, ‘Hell’s Angels Part Two: The Maverick Ace!’ and the savage but inconclusive finale ‘Hell’s Angels Part Three: To End in Flames!’(June/July to November/December 1974)…

Von Hammer resurfaced in the anniversary Star Spangled War Stories #200 (June/July 1976). ‘Shooting Star’ was written and drawn by Kubert, as a German innovation in rocket-propelled aircraft catastrophically proves to be an invention whose time had not yet come…

A new anthology comic book debuted in August 1977. Men of War starred Gravedigger, a black American GI in WWII, but had alternating back-ups. Enemy Ace copped the first slot in issues #1-3 (by Kanigher, Ed Davis & Juan Ortiz) as ‘Death is a Wild Beast!’ saw Von Hammer down a devil-themed British pilot who accomplished a miraculous ‘Return from Hell!’ before exhibiting ‘The Three Faces of Death’ in the final instalment. As ever, the real meat of the macabre missions was the toll on the minds and bodies of the merely mortal fliers that died whilst Von Hammer lived on…

Another triptych featured in #8-10. ‘Silent Sky… Screaming Death!!’ – illustrated by Larry Hama & Bob Smith – began a trenchant tale of a family at war before Howard Chaykin took over the illustration with a duel in the sky resulting in an attack by vengeful siblings and the return of Von Hammer’s father in ‘Brother Killers!’, before ending in a fateful ‘Duel at Dawn!’

Men of War #12-14 offered more of the same as ‘Banner of Blood!’ saw the troubled Rittmeister strive to retrieve the Von Hammer family flag from a cunning French air ace who was an ancestral foe of ‘The Last Baron!’ The centuries-long vendetta with the Comtes de Burgundy finally ended in one last honourable ‘Duel!’

Issues #19-20 (August and September 1979) finished another run with one more tale of idiotic honour and wasted young lives as Von Hammer made ‘A Promise to the Dying’ and sought to return a contentious souvenir to its rightful owner in ‘Death Must Wait!’

In the May 1981 Unknown Soldier – #251 – Enemy Ace began an occasional series of adventures illustrated by the phenomenal John Severin.

First was ‘Hell in the Heavens Part One: I, the Executioner’ wherein Von Hammer’s whirlwind romance with Fraulein Ingrid Thiesse hit a bump after he told of the British boy pilot who died in his arms. Having sworn to find his valiant foe’s sister and return an heirloom, Hans soon found himself under attack in #252’s ‘Hell in the Heavens Part Two: The Midnight Spy’, before shocking answers were manifest in the concluding ‘Hell in the Heavens Part Three: Midnight and Murder’…

A far more imaginative yarn unfolded in #260 (February 1982) with ‘I Am My Own Executioner Part One: Stolen Face – Stolen Ace!’ when the German High Command brings in a doppelganger to replace national hero Von Hammer as he recovers from wounds. Sadly, the impostor was not only a sadistic butcher but crazy as a loon and the real deal had to defy his doctors and military superiors before shooting the maniac out of the skies – for the sake of the country and his own besmirched good name – in #261’s ‘I Am My Own Executioner Part Two: Death of a Double!’

The last flight of the war-weary warrior came in Unknown Soldier #265-267 (July through September 1982) as the British Government puts a huge price on Von Hammer’s head in ‘A Very Private Hell Part One: The Bounty Hunters!’

The resultant furore leads to a return engagement for Yankee white trash Steve Savage in ‘A Very Private Hell Part Two: The Substitute Ace’ and the death of a brave but foolhardy fake ace before the drama ends – again inconclusively – in ‘A Very Private Hell Part Three: Debt of Blood’

Although the grim conflicts of the chivalrous cavalry of the clouds conclude here, this epic tome holds one last treat in reserve: an outré but definitively classy tribute to the Hammer of Hell which originally appeared Detective Comics #404 (October 1970). Crafted by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams & Dick Giordano, ‘Ghost of the Killer Skies!’ sees Batman attempting to solve a series of impossible murders on the set of a film about the German WWI fighter ace.

All evidence seems to prove that the killer can only be a vengeful phantom, but in the killer skies over Central Spain the Dark Detective uncovers almost incontrovertible evidence of a malign human intelligence behind the deaths.

…Almost incontrovertible…

These often bizarre, always moving and utterly unforgettable stories celebrate a true high point in the annals of combat comics: crafted by masters of the art form who never failed to ram home the point that war is not a profession for anybody who enjoys it, and that only the lucky, the mad and the already-doomed have any chance of getting out at all…
© 1965, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 2008 DC Comics All Rights Reserved.

The Joker: His Greatest Jokes


By Bill Finger, Bob Kane, David Vern, John Broome, Denny O’Neil, Gerry Conway, Doug Moench, Paul Dini, Tom Seeley, Lew Sayre Schwartz, Sheldon Moldoff, Bob Brown, Irv Novick, José Luis García-López, Don Newton, Don Kramer, Sami Basri, Otto Schmidt, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Charles Paris, Joe Giella, Dick Giordano, Dan Adkins, Alfredo Alcala, Wayne Faucher & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9441-0 (TPB)

When this year started, I expected to spend lots more time celebrating and commemorating the comics anniversaries that had rolled around. We all know how and why that didn’t happen, so with some frantic re-jigging I’ve shoehorned one of the most enduring arch-foes in fiction in to this Halloween segment.

It’s safe to assume that almost everybody knows some iteration of the Joker – probably more than one – so kudos to the editors of this curated historical compilation for unearthing some of the less well-known clown-clashes here. Therefore, sit back and ponder just why the Monarch of Malignant Mirth known got to survive 80 gory-ous years and enjoy…

However, fascinating and informative as those features are, the real literary largesse is to be found in the 19 stirring tales which comprise the bulk of this tome…

A good old-fashioned chronological compendium of the Harlequin of Hate’s ever-changing, so-mutable antics and aggressive transgressions, this trade paperback/digital treat re-presents stories from Batman #8, 67, 145, 260, 353, 366, Detective Comics #388, 833-834, The Spectre #51 and Batman: Prelude to the Wedding: Harley Quinn vs The Joker #1, and opens sans preamble with ‘The Cross Country Crimes’ (Batman #8, by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson & George Roussos; December 1941/January 1942) which sees the plundering poltroon rampage across America in a classic blend of larceny and lunacy.

A decade later, the edgy, implied violence was replaced by smart plotting and bizarre situations as David Vern, Kane, Lew Sayre Schwartz & Charles Paris’ ‘The Man Who Wrote the Joker’s Jokes’ (Batman #67, by October/November 1951) sees the Crime Clown hire literary ghosts to plot his capers before ultimately overreaching by blackmailing Batman into writing his next – and last – heist…

Finger & Sheldon Moldoff t told a tale within a tale as ‘The Son of the Joker’ (Batman #145; February 1962) sees butler Alfred penning his own brand of fanfic, detailing how the next generation of Caped Crusaders (an adult Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne’s son) clash with the inheritors of the Clown’s colours…

Detective Comics #388 (June 1969) saw John Broome make a major course correction, moving the Joker away from buffoonery back towards the insane killer we all cherish in ‘Public Luna-tic Number One!’ – a classy sci-fi thriller totally reinventing the Laughing Loon, in no small part thanks to the artistic efforts of artists Bob Brown & Joe Giella.

‘This One’ll Kill You, Batman!’ by Denny O’Neil, Irv Novick & Dick Giordano from Batman #260 (January/February 1975) sees the grim, po-faced Darknight Detective racing to save his own life after being poisoned by Joker Toxin that acts like an irresistible, lethal laughing gas, after which ‘Last Laugh’ (Batman #353, November 1982) sees Gerry Conway, the incomparable José Luis García-López and inker Dan Adkins detail the Mountebank of Mayhem’s latest ego boost, by attempting to immortalise his face in mountainous stone whilst getting rid of his greatest enemy forever…

Batman #366 – from December 1983 and courtesy of Doug Moench, Don Newton & Alfredo Alcala offers some contemporary unrealpolitik as the Joker brings his singular taste for chaos to war-torn Guatemala as he attempts to take over the nation. He is foiled by a unique team consisting of journalist Vicki Vale, Batman and the hero’s latest recruit… a masked kid named Jason Todd

‘A Savage Innocence’ (The Spectre #51, by John Ostrander & Tom Mandrake; March 1997) takes a peek behind the lunacy, as God’s instrument of Divine Wrath faces the Crazy Clown. After the Joker kills everyone in New York comedy club The Killing Joke, the Spectre enters the maniac’s mind and is horrifically compromised and converted…

Crafted by Paul Dini, Don Kramer & Wayne Faucher, ‘Trust’ (parts one and two, from Detective Comics #833-834; August and September 2007), ostensibly feature an encore performance for warped and homicidal stage magician Ivar Loxias, but all too soon, the chilling tale of slaughter and trickery guest-starring the bewitching Zatanna turns up a Joker in the stacked deck…

This box of exotic delights ends with a recent but thoroughly entertaining slice of catharsis from Batman: Prelude to the Wedding: Harley Quinn vs The Joker #1 (August 2018). Written by Tom Seeley, with art by Sami Basri, Otto Schmidt & Jessica Kholinne, ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ finds the Grinning Ghoul diverted from his intended disruption of Batman and Catwoman’s wedding, by old flame Harley Quinn, who feels there are unresolved issues from their own unique romantic interlude. She wants to talk it all out and she’s brought the necessary restraints and weaponry…

The Joker has spanned DC’s entire continuity, adding mirth, mayhem and madness to the shining clockwork universe. If you need to walk a bit wild and enjoy straying from the paths most taken, this intriguing confection might be just up your dark and threatening alley…
© 1941, 1951, 1962, 1969, 1974, 1982, 1983, 1997, 2007, 2018, 2019 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Joker (10th Anniversary Edition)


By Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo, with Mick Gray & Patricia Mulvihill (DC Comics Black Label)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9428-1 (HB)

I’m going to voice what is probably a minority opinion here, so please be aware that this is possibly one of those books that you’ll need to make your own mind up about – but then again, aren’t they all?

Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo have, singly and in partnership, created some of the best and most popularly received comics tales of the last decade or so: tough, uncompromising, visually memorable yarns that explore the darkest facets of human nature, yet with a deep core of sardonic wit – thoroughly readable but always-challenging.

A book dedicated to the grotesque antithesis and ultimate foe of the coldly logical Dark Knight therefore, would seem like the ideal vehicle for their talents and particular world-views…

The Joker is getting out of Arkham Asylum. Incredibly, the Clown Prince of Crime and undisputed ruler of all Gotham City’s rackets has been judged sane. He’s coming out, and he’s going to want his old position back. The mobsters that now run the city are terrified but resigned. He’s coming back, so somebody has to go fetch him…

Made Man on a downward spiral, Johnny Frost volunteers to be the guy, becoming the terrifying clown’s chauffeur and bodyguard in the process. The Joker is a murderous time-bomb everybody expects to explode at any moment, and as soon as he hits the city, he recruits Killer Croc as his enforcer, and begins working his way back to the top of the heap, using his reputation and horrifying propensity for baroque bloodletting the way a rattlesnake uses his tail.

Many of Batman’s rogues’ gallery (Penguin, Two-Face, Riddler and so on) are in paying attendance in various uncharacteristic positions of nefarious authority, and the events – narrated with growing desperation by helpless witness Frost – spiral towards an inevitable and bloody climax of madness and conflict. Clearly constructed for modern movie audiences, this is more a post-modern take on the classic gangster plot of a ruthless thug reclaiming his territory, rather than a yarn featuring the bizarre costumed crooks older fans might be more familiar and comfortable with.

No matter how beautiful or well executed (and it really is), nor how much overlap there is with most recent film franchise, for many of us emotionally wedded to the overarching continuity, this just does not work as a Joker story. Scar-Face, Blackmask, Maxie Zeus, even a real criminal like Al Capone perhaps, but the Joker shouldn’t be a “Goodfella” with a grudge and some gory peccadilloes: he’s the ultimate expression of random, bloody chaos, a bundle of “Impulse Issues” wrapped tight in a spiky ball of psychosis…

Devised as a miniseries and “promoted” to a high-profile original hardback before release, this is a taut and nasty thriller, immaculately illustrated: but there’s very little Batman in there, and no Joker at all…

Please feel free to disagree, and this certainly is a unique work that should be seen by all with the stomach for it – especially in this 80th anniversary year. The book is available in numerous iterations, but this Black Label edition rerelease (in Hardcover and digital formats) offers further enticements in the form of bonus section ‘Held for Observation’. Here be evaluations from Azzarello & Bermejo, promotional art, the original miniseries proposal, cover art for Wizard Magazine, character studies, previous edition cover art, unused covers, lots of pre-coloured story pages, and an outrageously irreverent Calvin and Hobbes spoof strip by Azzarello & Bermejo which saw print as Joker and Lex in Superman/Batman #75 (Summer 2010).

Trust me, this joke you should get…
© 2008, 2013 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age volume 6


By Bill Finger, Don Cameron, Jack Schiff, Mort Weisinger, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Samachson, Joseph Greene, Edmond Hamilton, Bob Kane, Dick Sprang, Jack Burnley, Jerry Robinson & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9416-8 (TPB)

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 #82-92, Batman #21-25 as well as contemporary companion tales from World’s Finest Comics #12-14, this book covers groundbreaking escapades from April/May 1943 to December 1943 to October 1944: with the Dynamic Duo continually developing and storming ahead of all competition even as the war and its themes began to fade away from the collective comics consciousness.

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. These Golden Age greats are some of the finest tales in Batman’s decades-long canon, as lead writers Bill Finger and Don Cameron, supplemented by Joe Samachson, Jack Schiff, Alvin Schwartz, Joe Greene and Mort Weisinger, pushed the boundaries of the adventure medium whilst graphic genius Dick Sprang slowly superseded and surpassed Bob Kane and Jack Burnley, making the feature uniquely his own and keeping the Peerless Pair at the forefront of a vast army of superhero successes. Moreover, with the end of WWII in sight, the escapades became upbeat and more wide-ranging…

These tales were crafted just as triumph was turning in the air 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, Charles Paris and Stan Kaye…

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.

We start here with Detective Comics #82 as Cameron, Kane & George Roussos explore the dark side of American Football through the rise and explosive downfall of the ‘Quarterback of Crime!’ after which premiere anthology World’s Finest Comics #12 reveals how ‘Alfred Gets His Man!’ (Finger & Sprang), as Batman’s faithful new retainer revives his own boyhood dreams of being a successful detective with hilarious and action-packed results…

Portly butler Alfred’s diet regime thereafter led the Gotham Guardians to a murderous mesmerising medic and criminal insurance scam in ‘Accidentally on Purpose!’, courtesy of Cameron, Kane & Roussos (Detective #83), after which Batman #21 caters an all-Sprang art extravaganza.

The drama opened with slick Schiff-scripted tale ‘The Streamlined Rustlers’, following the Gotham Gangbusters way out west to solve a devilish mystery and crush a gang of beef-stealing black market black hats, after which Cameron describes the antics of murderous big city mobster Chopper Gant who cons a military historian into planning his capers and briefly stymies Batman and Robin with his warlike ‘Blitzkrieg Bandits!’

Alvin Schwartz penned delightfully convoluted romp ‘His Lordship’s Double’ which sees newly dapper, slimline manservant Alfred asked to impersonate a purportedly crowd-shy aristocratic inventor… only to become the victim in a nasty scheme to secure the true toff’s latest invention…

It all culminates with ‘The Three Eccentrics’ by Joe Greene, which detailing the wily Penguin’s schemes to empty the coffers of a trio of Gotham’s wealthiest misfits…

Over in Detective Comics #84, Mort Weisinger & Sprang (with layouts by Ed Kressy)

pit the Partners in Peril against an incredible Underworld University churning out ‘Artists in Villainy’ before #85 – written by Bill Finger – glories in Sprang’s first brush with the Clown Prince of Crime. In one of the most madcap moments in the entire annals of adventure, Batman and his arch-foe almost unite to hunt for the daring desperado who stole the Harlequin of Hate’s shtick and glory as ‘The Joker’s Double’

World’s Finest Comics #13 featured ‘The Curse of Isis!’ (Finger & Jack Burnley, inked by brother Ray & Roussos): a maritime mystery of superstition, smugglers and sabotage after which Batman #22 offers another quicksilver quartet of classics beginning with ‘The Duped Domestics!’ by Schwartz, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson, wherein a select number of Gotham’s butlers are targeted by a sultry seductress looking for easy inroads to swanky houses. Despite being an old enemy of Batman’s, “Belinda” more than meets her match when Alfred becomes her next patsy…

When the little rich boy secretly takes a menial job, his generous guardian is rightly baffled but after ‘Dick Grayson, Telegraph Boy!’ (Finger, Burney & Robinson) exposes a criminal enterprise centred around Gotham Observatory, the method of his madness soon becomes clear.

A new solo series debuted as Mort Weisinger & Robinson launched ‘The Adventures of Alfred’ with ‘Conversational Clue!’, wherein Batman’s batman misapprehends an overheard word at the library and stumbles into a safecracking gang. The issue concludes with ‘The Cavalier Rides Again!’ (Finger, Burnley & Charles Paris) as the Dashing Desperado mystifyingly begins bagging cheap imitations rather than authentic booty in his ongoing campaign to best the Batman…

In Detective #86, Cameron & Sprang recount how a sleuthing contest between Bruce, Dick and Alfred leads to a spectacular battle against sinister smugglers in ‘Danger Strikes Three!’ and further dramas unfold in #87’s ‘The Man of a Thousand Umbrellas’ written by Joseph Greene.

The Penguin had a bizarre appeal and the Wicked Old Bird has his own cover banner whenever he resurfaced, as in this beguiling crime-spree highlighting his uncanny arsenal of weaponised parasols, brollies and bumbershoots…

The Harlequin of Hate led in Batman #23, with Finger, Sprang & Gene McDonald’s eccentric thriller ‘The Upside Down Crimes!’, wherein the Joker turns the town topsy-turvy in his latest series of looting larcenies after which smitten Dick’s bold endeavours save classmate and ‘Damsel in Distress!’ (Cameron & Sprang) Marjory Davenport and her dad from gangster kidnappers. Unfortunately for him, she soon has her head turned by flamboyant Robin and the Boy Wonder becomes his own rival…

Anonymously scripted but again rendered by Jerry Robinson, ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Borrowed Butler!’ finds the domestic detective loaned out by Bruce Wayne to a snooty neighbour and accidentally uncovering an insider’s scheme to burgle the place.

Wrapping up this issue is another fact-packed “Police Division Story” with Batman and Robin joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to stop a vicious ring of fur bandits who have decided to forego robbing big city stores. Instead, the ‘Pelt Plunderers!’ (by Joe Samachson & Sprang) head due north to steal directly from the trappers…

As World War II staggered to a close and Home Front tensions subsided, spies gradually gave way to more domestic threats and menaces. Detective #88 offered a nasty glimpse at true villainy when ‘The Merchants of Misery’ – by Greene – pits the Dynamic Duo against merciless and murderous loan sharks preying on poverty-stricken families, whilst ‘Laboratory Loot!’, by Don Cameron in #89, sees the return of flamboyant crime enthusiast The Cavalier, who is ignominiously forced to join temporarily forces with Batman to thwart petty gangsters stealing loot he’d earmarked as his own…

World’s Finest Comics #14 again highlighted maritime menace as ‘Salvage Scavengers!’ (Finger Robinson & Roussos) plundered Gotham Harbor before Batman #24 adds a smidgen of science fiction flair and a dash of sheer whimsy to the regular mix. ‘It Happened in Rome’ (Samachson & Sprang) introduces Professor Carter Nichols who devises a method of time-travel dependant on deep hypnosis. His first subjects are old friend Bruce Wayne and his ward, who both wing back metaphysically back centuries for a sightseeing trip and end up saving a charioteer from race-fixers as Batmanus and Robin

Bruce also plays a pivotal role in ‘Convict Cargo!’ (Cameron & Sprang), masquerading as an embezzler to expose a ring of thugs offering perfect getaways to Gotham’s white-collar criminals. Happily, when the villain vacations turn out to be one-way trips, Gotham’s Guardians are on hand to mop up the pirates responsible.

Cameron & Robinson then describe how ‘The Adventures of Alfred: Police Line-Up!’ leads the bewildered butler into trailing the wrong crook but still nabbing a mob of bad eggs before portly purveyors of peril Tweedledum and Tweedledee(soon to be major motion picture stars!) connive their way into the position of ‘The Mayors of Yonville!’

Their flagrant abuse of civic power dumps the Dynamic Duo into jail but still isn’t enough to keep their goldmine scam from coming to light once the heroes bust out…

Detective Comics #90 exposes ‘Crime Between the Acts!’ (Greene & Kane) as the Caped Crusaders followed a Mississippi Riverboat full of crooked carnival performers from one plundered town to another, before Edmond Hamilton scripts a terrifically twisty tale in ‘The Case of the Practical Joker’, wherein some crazy and wisely anonymous prankster starts pulling stunts and having fun at the Crime Clown’s expense.

Batman #25 opens with lauded classic ‘Knights of Knavery’ (Cameron, Burnley& Robinson) which sees arch rivals Penguin and Joker join forces to steal the world’s biggest emerald and outwit all opposition, before falling foul of their own mistrust and arrogance once the Dark Knight puts his own thinking cap on.

Schwartz then leads the artists on an exotic journey as ‘The Sheik of Gotham City!’ sees an Arabian refugee working as a cab driver in Gotham abruptly restored to sovereignty over his usurped desert kingdom after our heroes foil an assassination attempt, before ‘The Adventures of Alfred: The Mesmerised Manhunter!’ (Cameron & Robinson) finds the off-duty domestic a plaything of a stage magician whilst simultaneously foiling a box office heist…

The action and suspense wrap up in spectacular style as Finger, Burnley & Robinson detail a saga of sabotage and redemption when the Dynamic Duo join the rough-and-ready electrical engineers known as ‘The Kilowatt Cowboys!’

As if the job of bringing the nation’s newest hydroelectric dam on line is not dangerous enough and a plague of thefts by murderous copper thieves isn’t cutting into productivity, most of Batman’s time is spent stopping rival wire men Jack and Alec from killing each other…

Greene and Sprang bring this marvel of nostalgic adventure to a close with ‘Crime’s Manhunt’ in Detective #92, with a particularly nasty band of bandits resorting to bounty hunting and turning in all their friends and associates for hefty rewards. Once they run out of pals to betray, they simply organise jailbreaks to provide more crooks to catch: a measure the Dark Knight takes extreme umbrage with…

The history of the American comicbook industry in almost every major aspect stem 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, 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…
© 1943, 1944, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Outsiders by Judd Winick volume 1: The Darker Side of Justice


By Judd Winick, Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez, Tom Raney, ChrisCross, Alé Garcia, Carlo Barberi, Ivan Reis, & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8851-8 (TPB)

Once upon a time, superheroes sat around their assorted lairs or went about their civilian pursuits until the call of duty summoned them like firemen – or Thunderbirds – to deal with a breaking emergency. In the grim and gritty world after Crisis on Infinite Earths, the concept changed with a number of costumed adventurers evolving into pre-emptive strikers – as best exemplified by covert penal battalion and cinema darlings The Suicide Squad. Soon the philosophy had spread far and wide…

Following the break-up of Young Justice and the – of course, temporary – death of founding Teen Titan Donna Troy, a number of her grief-stricken comrades also changed from First Responders to dedicated – if morally contentious – hunters tracking down threats and menaces before they attacked… or indeed committed crimes at all…

This volume collects the initial storyline which introduced Judd Winick’s aggressive new take on edgy team-concept the Outsiders, compiling material from Teen Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day, Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003 and issues #1-7 of the compelling and much-missed monthly comicbook that sprang from the first two…

Winick, Alé Garcia and inkers Trevor Scott, Marlo Alquiza & Lary Stucker subdivided the tale into ‘Invocation’, ‘Commencement’ and ‘Graduation Day’ as a really sexy robot arrives from the future just as juvenile superhero team Young Justice are getting on each other’s nerves and breaking up.

Her confused actions inadvertently release a deadly android stored at S.T.A.R. Labs, which neither the child heroes nor the Teen Titans can stop. In a cataclysmic battle both Omen and Donna Troy are killed. These tragedies lead to the dissolution of Young Justice, the formation of the covert and pre-emptive Outsiders and the reformation of a new Titans group dedicated to better training the heroes of tomorrow.

Even though a frightfully contrived ploy to launch some new titles, this tale is still a punchy and effective thriller from writer Winick, penciller Alé Garcia & inkers Trevor Scott, Larry Stucker and Marlo Alquiza.

In the aftermath of the deadly debacle, the surviving champions reformed the Teen Titans as a group dedicated to better training the heroes of tomorrow. However, CIA trained ex-Green Arrow sidekick Arsenal felt that it was not enough and convinced the heartbroken Nightwing to help devise a covert and pre-emptive pack of professionals to take out perceived threats before innocent lives were endangered. Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files 2003 contributed a brace of tales setting the scene, beginning with ‘A Day After…’ by Winick, Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Mark Campos which peeks into the private lives of all involved whilst ‘Who was Donna Troy’ – written and drawn by Phil Jimenez, with inks by Andy Lanning – is a short, moving eulogy for the character set at her funeral with friends and guest-stars discussing her life and career.

The series proper begins with the 3-parter ‘Roll Call’, illustrated by Tom Raney & Scott Hanna. ‘Opening Offers’introduces new characters Thunder (daughter of original Outsider Black Lightning) and enigmatic super girl Grace, established player Jade, recently resurrected and amnesiac Rex Mason AKA Metamorpho the Element Man and, in a not particularly welcome, wise or team-building move, the futuristic fem-bot who had started the whole mess.

With her memory-banks scrubbed clean and desperately keen to redeem herself, Indigo adds eagerness and innocence to an embittered, but highly motivated and very determined team…

Their first mission catches them off-guard after a cruise ship is hijacked and an army of talking gorillas invades New York under the command of super-ape Grodd. However, the devastating actions of ‘Lawyers, Guns and Monkeys’ is quickly revealed to be no more than a sinister diversion as the Joker uses the chaos to abduct new American President Lex Luthor, leaving the team with the unwelcome task of rescuing one of the people they would most like to take out in ‘Joke’s on You’

ChrisCross & Sean Parsons depict the Outsiders’ first true hunting party in ‘Brothers in Blood’: part 1 ‘Small Potatoes’ as, after a series of small-time busts (acting on information from a mysterious and secret source), the squad uncover a diabolical scheme by religious maniac Brother Blood to steal one million babies…

The cult leader activates hypnotised deep-cover agents in ‘Finders Sleepers’ and almost murders Arsenal, but even as the hero is undergoing life-saving surgery, the Outsiders – assisted by two vengeful generations of Green Arrow – rocket to Antarctica where Blood is attempting to free and recruit 1,600 metahuman villains incarcerated in maximum security super-prison the Slab.

As the battle rages and casualties mount, Nightwing is forced to choose between saving the infants or allowing Blood and an army of criminals to escape in concluding chapter ‘Pandora’s Box’

This first collection ends on a powerfully poignant and personal note as Metamorpho at last discovers the shocking reason for his lack of memories and faces ultimate dissolution in the superbly downbeat and disturbing ‘Oedipus Rex’ (by Raney & Hanna)…

Adding extra lustre and clarity, information pages on Thunder, Arsenal, Nightwing, Jade, Grace, Indigo & Metamorpho by Winick, Jason Pearson, Garcia. Raney & Mike McKone, reveal all you need to know about the secret strike force…

Fast-paced, action-packed, cynically sharp and edgily effective, Outsiders was one of the very best series pursuing the “take-‘em out first” concept and resulted in some of the very best Fights ‘n’ Tights action of the last ten years. Still punchy, evocative and highly effective, these thrillers will delight older fans of the genre.
© 2003, 2004, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.