Team-Ups of the Brave and the Bold

By J. Michael Straczynski, Jesús Saíz, Chad Hardin, Justiniano, Cliff Chiang & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2793-7 (HB)                :978-1-4012-2809-5 (TPB)

The Brave and the Bold premiered in 1955; an anthology adventure comic featuring short complete tales starring a variety of period heroes and a format mirroring and cashing in on that era’s filmic fascination with historical dramas.

Devised and written by Robert Kanigher, issue #1 led with Roman epic Golden Gladiator, medieval mystery-man The Silent Knight and Joe Kubert’s now legendary Viking Prince. Soon the Gladiator was replaced by National Periodicals/DC Comic’s iteration of Robin Hood, but the high adventure theme carried the title until the end of the decade when the burgeoning superhero revival saw B&B transform into a try-out vehicle like the astounding successful Showcase.

Used to launch enterprising concepts and characters such as Task Force X: The Suicide Squad, Cave Carson, Strange Sports Stories, Hawkman and the epochal Justice League of America, the title then evolved to create a whole sub-genre – although barely anybody noticed at the time…

That was Superhero Team-Ups.

For almost a decade DC had enjoyed great success pairing Superman with Batman and Robin in World’s Finest Comics and in 1963 sought to create another top-selling combo from their growing pantheon of masked mystery men. It didn’t hurt that the timing also allowed extra exposure for characters imminently graduating to their own starring vehicles after years as back-up features…

This was during a period when almost no costumed heroes acknowledged the jurisdiction or (usually) existence of other costumed champions. When B&B offered this succession of team-ups, they were laying the foundations for DC’s future close-knit comics continuity. Now there’s something wrong with any superstar who doesn’t regularly join every other cape or mask on-planet every five minutes or so…

That short-lived experiment eventually calcified as “Batman and…” but for a while readers were treated to some truly inspired pairings such as Metal Men and Metamorpho, Flash and The Spectre or Supergirl and Wonder Woman.

The editors even achieved their aim after Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad remained together after their initial foray and expanded into the Teen Titans

That theme of heroes united together for a specific time and purpose was revived in 2007 for the third volume of The Brave and the Bold, resulting in many exceedingly fine modern Fights ‘n’ Tights classics, and this compilation – available in hardcover, trade paperback and digital editions – collects issues #27-33 (November 2009 – June 2010): the first seven issues scripted by TV and comics star scribe J. Michael Straczynski.

The run of easily accessible, stand-alone tales delved into some of the strangest nooks and crannies of the DCU and opens here with ‘Death of a Hero’, illustrated by Jesús Saíz wherein teenager Robby Reed visits Gotham City and soon decides to help out a Batman sorely pressed by the machinations of The Joker

The child prodigy had his own series in the 1960s as a kid who found a strange rotary device dotted with alien hieroglyphics that could temporarily transform him into a veritable army of super-beings when he dialled the English equivalents of H, E, R and O…

Here, however, after the lad dials up futuristic clairvoyant Mental Man, the visions he experiences force him to quit immediately and take to his bed…

He even forgets the Dial when he leaves, but it is soon picked up by down-&-out Travers Milton who also falls under its influence and is soon saving lives and battling beside the Dark Knight as The Star

What follows is a meteoric and tragic tale of a rise and fall…

Again limned by Saíz, B&B #28 takes us a wild trip to the ‘Firing Line’ as the Flash (Barry Allen) falls foul of a scientific experiment and winds up stranded in the middle of World War II. Injured and unable to properly use his powers, the diminished speedster is taken under the wing of legendary paramilitary aviator squadron The Blackhawks, but finds himself torn when his scruples against taking life crash into the hellish cauldron of the Battle of Bastogne and his martial love for his new comrades in arms…

Brother Power, The Geek was short-lived experimental title developed by the legendary Joe Simon at the height of the hippy-dippy 1960s (of just last week if you’re a baby booming duffer like me). He was a tailor’s mannequin mysteriously brought to life through extraordinary circumstances, just seeking his place in the world: a bizarre commentator and ultimate outsider philosophising on a world he could not understand.

That cerebral angst is tapped in ‘Lost Stories of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’ as the elemental outcast crawls out of wreckage in Gotham City and clashes with Batman as they both strive to save homeless people from authoritarian brutality and greedy arsonists. Like the times it references, this story is one you have to experience rather than read about…

Straczynski & Saíz then play fast and loose with time travel in ‘The Green and the Gold’ as mystic Lord of Order Doctor Fate is helped through an emotional rough patch by Green Lantern Hal Jordan. As a result of that unnecessary kindness the mage gets to return the favour long after his own demise at the moment the Emerald Warrior most needs a helping hand…

Illustrated by Chad Hardin & Walden Wong and Justiniano, The Brave and the Bold #31 describes the ‘Small Problems’ encountered by The Atom after Ray Palmer is asked to shrink into the synapse-disrupted brain of The Joker and perform life-saving surgery. Despite his better judgement the physicist eventually agrees, but nobody could have predicted that he would be assimilated into the maniac’s memories and be forced to relive the Killer Clown’s life…

Straczynski & Saíz reunite as sea king Aquaman and hellish warrior Etrigan the Demon combine forces in a long-standing pact to thwart a revolting Cthonic invasion of ‘Night Gods’ from a hole in bottom of the ocean before this mesmerising tome concludes with a bittersweet ‘Ladies Night’ from times recently passed, illustrated by Cliff Chiang.

When sorceress Zatanna experiences a shocking dream, she contacts Wonder Woman and Batgirl Barbara Gordon, and insists that they should join her on an evening of hedonistic excess and sisterly sharing. Only Babs is left out of one moment of revelation: what Zatanna foresaw would inescapably occur to her the next day at the hands of the Joker…

Smart, moving and potently engaging, these heroic alliances are a true treat for fans of more sophisticated costumed capers, and skilfully prepared in such a way that no great knowledge of backstory is required. Team-ups are all about finding new readers and this terrific tome is a splendid example of the trick done right…
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons

By Bob Haney & Dick Dillin, Dennis O’Neil, John Calnan, Ernie Chan, Rich Buckler, Kieron Dwyer & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6968-5

Are you old enough to yearn for simpler times?

The brilliant expediency of the 52 Parallel Earths concept lends the daftest tale from DC’s back catalogue credibility and contemporary resonance since there’s now a chance that even the hippest and most happening of the modern pantheon can visit/interact with the most outrageous world or concept in DC’s long history. It doesn’t hurt either that following DC’s Rebirth reboot the actual sons of the Dark Knight and Man of Tomorrow are now part of the established – and “real” – DC Universe.

Thus, this collection (available in trade paperback and eBook editions) of well-told “imaginary” tales from the 1970s (January 1972-December 1976), supplemented by a few episodes from more self-conscious times, can be re-released with a clear continuity-conscience without even the most strident fan complaining.

Written by Bob Haney and drawn by Dick Dillin, the Super-Sons appeared with no preamble fanfare in World’s Finest Comics #215, 1972; a bad time for superhero comics, but a great era for teen rebels. Those free-wheeling, easy-rider, end of the flower-power days saw a huge focus on “teen consciousness” and the “Generation Gap” was a phrase on many lips.

The editors clearly saw a way to make arch-establishment characters instantly pertinent and relevant and – being mercifully oblivious to the constraints of continuity (and some would say logic) – simply generated tales of the maverick sons of the World’s Finest heroes out of whole cloth.

And well-constructed, well told tales they are. In debut outing ‘Saga of the Super Sons!’ (inked by Henry Scarpelli) the young warriors run away from home – on the inevitable motorcycle, natch! – and encounter a scurrilous gang-lord.

But worry not, the paternalistic parents are keeping a wary eye on the lads! Speaking as someone who was the target market for this experiment, I can admit that the parental overview grated then and still does, but as there were so many sequels somebody must have liked it.

‘Little Town with a Big Secret!’ appeared in the very next issue: another low key human interest tale, but with a science-fiction twist and the superb inking of Murphy Anderson complimenting Haney & Dillin’s murder-mystery yarn.

Crafted by the same team, WF # 221 featured ‘Cry Not for My Forsaken Son!’ which showed a troubled runaway boy the difference between merit and worth, and the value of a father as opposed to a biological parent, whilst in #222 ‘Evil in Paradise’ (inked by Vince Colletta) the young heroes voyaged to an undiscovered Eden to resolve the ancient question of whether Man is intrinsically Good or Evil.

‘The Shocking Switch of the Super-Sons’ (WF #224, and also inked by Colletta) carried teen rebellion to its most logical conclusion as a psychologist convinces the boys to temporarily trade fathers whereas ‘Crown for a New Batman!’ provides a radical change of pace as Bruce Wayne Jr. inherits the Mantle and the Mission after his father is murdered!

Never fear, all is not as it seems, fans! This thriller – guest starring Robin – first appeared in WF #228, and was inked by Tex Blaisdell, who then inked Curt Swan, on the more traditional Lost Civilisation yarn ‘The Girl Whom Time Forgot’ in WF#230.

The Relevancy Era was well over by the time Haney, Dillin & Blaisdell crafted ‘Hero is a Dirty Name’ (WF #231), wherein the Sons are forced to question the motivation for heroism, in a thriller also featuring Green Arrow and The Flash.

In #233’s ‘World Without Men ‘(inked by John Calnan) the ever-questioning rambling Super-Sons tackle sexual equality issues and unravel a crazy plot to supplant human males, after which ‘The Angel with a Dirty Name’ (by the same team in WF #238) offers a super-villains ‘n’ monsters slug-fest indistinguishable from any other super tale, before the original series ends with WF #242’s ‘Town of the Timeless Killers’ – illustrated by Ernie Chua (nee Chan) & Calnan – wherein the kids are trapped in a haunted ghost town and stalked by immortal gunslingers; an ignominious close to a bold experiment.

Four years later the boys popped back for a momentary revival in ‘Final Secret of the Super-Sons’ (Denny O’Neil, Rich Buckler & Dick Giordano in WF #263, 1980) where it was shockingly revealed that they were no more than a simulation running on Superman’s giant Computer. In a grim indication of how much of a chokehold shared continuity had grown into, they then escaped into “reality” anyway to wreak havoc in a manner the Matrix movies would be proud of…

The collection concludes with a short tale by Haney & Kieron Dwyer that appeared in Elseworlds 80-Page Giant in 1999. ‘Superman Jr. is No More!’ is a charming and fitting conclusion to this odd, charming and idiosyncratic mini-saga, embracing the original conceit as it posits what wold happen if the Man of Steel died and his boy was forced to take over too soon…

Supplemented with a full cover gallery by Nick Cardy, Chan, Calnan, Dick Giordano, Ross Andru & Ty Templeton, these classic adventures are packed with potency and wit. If you’ve an open mind and refined sense of fun, why not take a look at a few gems (and one or two duds) from an era where everybody read comics and nobody took them too seriously?
© 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1999, 2017 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Superman: The Man of Steel

By John Byrne & Dick Giordano (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-93028-928-7

In 1985 when DC Comics decided to rationalise, reconstruct and reinvigorate their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths they used the event to simultaneously regenerate their key properties at the same time.

The biggest gun they had was Superman and it’s hard to argue that the change was not before time.

The big guy was in a bit of a slump, but he’d weathered those before. So how could a root and branch retooling be anything but a pathetic marketing ploy that would alienate the real fans for a few fly-by-night Johnny-come-latelies who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced? This new Superman was going to suck…

He didn’t.

The public furore began with all DC’s Superman titles being “cancelled” (actually suspended) for three months, and yes, that did make the real-world media sit-up and take notice of the character everybody thought they knew for the first time in decades. However, there was method in this seeming corporate madness.

The missing mainstays were replaced by a 6-part miniseries running from October to December 1986. Entitled Man of Steel it was written and drawn by Marvel’s mainstream superstar John Byrne and inked by venerated veteran Dick Giordano.

The bold manoeuvre was a huge and instant success. So much so that when it was first collected as a stand-alone compilation album in the 1980s (currently redesigned and available in trade paperback and digital editions as volume 1 of an ongoing series of far too occasional reprint editions), it became one of comics’ premiere ‘break-out’ hits in a new format that would eventually become the industry standard for reaching mass readerships. Nowadays very few people buy the periodical pamphlets but almost everybody has read a graphic novel…

From that overwhelming start the Action Ace seamlessly returned to his suspended comicbook homes with the addition of a third monthly title premiering that same month.

Superman, Adventures of Superman, and Action Comics (which acted as a fan-pleasing team-up book guest-starring other favourites of the DC Universe, in the manner of the cancelled DC Comics Presents) were instant best-sellers.

So successful was the relaunch that by the early 1990’s Superman would be carrying four monthly titles as well as Specials, Annuals, guest shots and his regular appearances in titles such as Justice League.

Quite a turnaround from the earlier heydays of the Man of Steel when editors were frantic about never overexposing their meal-ticket.

In Superman’s 80th year of more-or-less consecutive and continuous publication, this collection offers six self-contained stories from key points in Superman’s career, newly readjusted for contemporary consumption in the wake of that aforementioned worlds-shattering Crisis.

Starting with a startling new and bleakly dystopian view of Krypton, ‘From Out of the Green Dawn’ follows the child’s voyage in a self-propelled birthing matrix to a primitive world.

Discovered by childless couple Jonathan and Martha Kent, the alien foundling spends his years growing secretly in Smallville, indistinguishable from other earthlings until strange abilities begin to gradually manifest.

Eighteen years after his arrival the boy learns of his extraterrestrial origins and leaves home to wander the world. Clark Kent eventually settles in Metropolis and we get a rapid re-education of what is and isn’t canonical as he performs his first public super-exploit, meets with Lois Lane, joins the Daily Planet and gets an identity-obscuring costume…

Lois takes centre-stage for the second issue, scheming and manipulating to secure the first in-depth interview with the new hero before losing out to neophyte colleague Kent whose first big scoop becomes ‘The Story of the Century!’

The third chapter recounts the Metropolis Marvel’s first meeting with Batman as ‘One Night in Gotham City’ reveals a fractious and reluctant team-up to capture murdering thief Magpie. The unsatisfactory encounter sees the heroes part warily, not knowing if they will become friends or foes…

‘Enemy Mine…’ in MoS #4 expands and redefines the new Lex Luthor: a genius, multi-billionaire industrialist who was the most powerful man in Metropolis until the Caped Crime-buster appears. When the tycoon overreaches himself in trying to suborn the hero, he is publicly humiliated and swears vengeance and eternal enmity…

By ‘The Mirror, Crack’d’ in issue #5 Luthor is Superman’s greatest foe – albeit one who scrupulously maintains a veneer of respectability and plausible deniability. Here, Luthor’s clandestine attempt to clone his own Man of Tomorrow results in a monstrous flawed duplicate dubbed Bizarro and introduces Lois’ sister Lucy to play hapless victim in a moving tale of triumph and tragedy.

The reimagination concludes with ‘The Haunting’ as a troubled Clark/Superman returns to Smallville. Reuniting with childhood sweetheart Lana Lang (who shares his secrets and knows as much as he of his alien origins), the strange visitor finally learns of his Kryptonian origins when the birthing matrix projects a recorded message from his long-dead parents and their hopes and plans for him…

The shock and reaction of his foster family only affirms his dedication and connection to humanity…

John Byrne was a controversial choice at the time, but he magnificently recaptured the exuberant excitement and visually compelling, socially aware innovation which informed and galvanised Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster’s inspired creation. Man of Steel granted a new generation the same kind of intoxicating four-colour fantasy that was the original Superman, and made it possible to be a fan again, no matter your age or prejudice. Superman had always been great, but Byrne had once again made him thrilling. Rivetingly so.

A saga well worth your time and your money and a genuine Must-Have for any serious collector and reader.
© 1987, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Legends – The 30th Anniversary Edition

By John Ostrander, Len Wein, John Byrne, Karl Kesel & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6316-4

With the success of Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvel’s Secret Wars in the middle of the 1980s, comicbook publishers had grand dreams of regular and spectacular sales boosts, but a section of the cantankerous buying public muttered about gimmicks to make them spend more and voiced concerns about keeping the quality high.

At DC fan-interest was still fresh and keen as so many of their major properties – and indeed the entire continuity – was open for radical change, innovation and renewal. So, how best to follow the previous year’s cosmic catastrophe? Why not a much smaller and more personal Great Disaster, spotlighting those strangers wearing familiar costumes and a bunch of beginnings rather than the deaths and endings of Crisis?

Possibly the best and certainly the most cohesive of the numerous company-wide braided mega-series, Legends was a 6-issue miniseries cover-dated November 1986 through April 1987. Like its predecessor the major narrative thread spread out into other DC series, but unlike Crisis on Infinite Earths each tie-in was consecutively numbered and every pertinent cover was suitably badged. If you got ’em all you couldn’t help but read them in the right order!

The event crossed into 22 other comics and miniseries and premiered three new series, Justice League, Flash and the superb Suicide Squad. It even led to another new treatment for Billy Batson in a follow-up Shazam! miniseries whilst offering a tantalising sneak peek at the newly re-minted Wonder Woman

The drama opens in ‘Once Upon a Time…!’ as Evil New God Darkseid of Apokolips decides to attack humanity’s spirit by destroying the very concept of heroism and individuality. To this end he sends hyper-charismatic thrall Glorious Godfrey to America to lead a common man’s crusade against extraordinary heroes, whilst initiating individual plans intended to demoralize and destroy key champions of Earth. His first scalp is naïve, youthful Captain Marvel, who is deceived into believing his powers have accidentally killed an enemy after explosively confronting monstrous menace Macro-Man

As Darkseid’s flaming minion Brimstone ravages the nation – despite the best efforts of Firestorm, time-displaced Legionnaire Cosmic Boy and Justice League Detroit – the US government activates its own covert and illegal solution to the crisis.

Conceived and devised by civil servant Amanda Waller, a new Task Force X is brought into being: comprising volunteers such as Colonel Rick Flag and martial artist Bronze Tiger riding roughshod over convicted super-criminals all offered a pardon in return for secret services rendered…

As Godfrey’s influence spreads across America, inciting riots that hospitalise Boy Wonder Robin and drive Batman, Blue Beetle and Green Lantern Guy Gardner into hiding, ‘Breach of Faith!’ sees President Ronald Reagan respond to the rampant civil unrest by outlawing costumed crime-busters…

With heroes searching their consciences, unsure whether to comply or rebel, world-wide chaos ensues and Darkseid amps up the pressure. Sentient mountain of super-heated plasma Brimstone attempts to reduce national monument Mount Rushmore into molten slag only to be destroyed by America’s latest dirty secret in ‘Send for… the Suicide Squad!’

Meanwhile heartbroken Billy Batson – the juvenile alter ego of Captain Marvel – meets hero-worshipping Lisa. When her family take him in, he gains valuable insight and perspective on the ongoing calamity…

Things go from bad to worse in ‘Cry Havoc…!’ as the embargo emboldens numerous super-villains to go wild. This prompts many costumed heroes to ignore the Presidential Edict and go after them. As the Phantom Stranger faces Darkseid on Apokolips, immortal mystic Doctor Fate begins gathering select champions for the approaching final confrontation he foresees even as on Earth Godfrey makes a power grab using human-fuelled Apokoliptian Warhounds in ‘Let Slip the Dogs of War!’

All the disparate strands weave together in ‘Finale!’ as Fate’s new Justice League – aided by an enigmatic new hero calling herself Wonder Woman – stand fast against the destructive forces of anarchy: coming together to prevent the conquest of Mankind and erasure of its most vital beliefs…

The enthralling tale re-presented here can comfortably be read without the assorted spin-offs, crossovers and tie-ins, and it still feels like a magnificent mission statement for that new DC Universe: gritty, witty, cohesive and contemporary.

John Ostrander was new to DC, lured from Chicago’s First Comics with editor Mike Gold where their work on Starslayer, Munden’s Bar and especially Grimjack had made those independent minnows some of the most readable series of the decade.

Paired with veteran scripter Len Wein, whose familiarity with the DC stable ensured the scripts would have the right company flavour, they concocted a bold and controversial tale for super-star Superman re-creator John Byrne to draw and the immensely talented Karl Kesel to ink.

This 30th Anniversary edition (available in Trade paperback and eBook editions) comes with an informative Afterword from Mike Gold and full cover-gallery – including the original trade paperback collection cover – but regrettably neglects to retain the cover reproductions of each out-rider instalment of the greater story, as seen in the first edition. Should you feel like tracking down those missing components you’ll need to play comics detective on fan sites…

Who knows, maybe for the 40th Anniversary, DC will release a humongous, all-inclusive Absolute Omnibus Edition? Until then, why not simply kick back and enjoy an awesome slice of fabulous Fights ‘n’ Tights fun and fury?
© 1986, 1987, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Batman Adventures: Mad Love Deluxe Edition

By Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, with Rick Taylor & Tim Harkins (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5512-1

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

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

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

Harley Quinn was first seen as the Clown Prince of Crime’s slavishly adoring, extreme abuse-enduring assistant in Joker’s Favor (airing on September 11th 1992) where she instantly captured the hearts and minds of millions of viewers. From there on she began popping up in the incredibly successful licensed comicbook and – always stealing the show – soon graduated into mainstream DC continuity.

After a period bopping around the DCU she was re-imagined as part of the company’s vast post-Flashpoint major makeover and appeared as part of a new gritty-but-still-crazy iteration of the Suicide Squad, but at heart she’s always been a cartoon glamour-puss, with big, bold, primal emotions and only the merest acknowledgement of how reality works…

Re-presenting the 1994 one-shot Batman Adventures: Mad Love, this slight and breezy hardcover is made up of mostly recycled material – including writer Paul Dini’s comfortably inviting Foreword and co-plotter/illustrator Bruce Timm’s effusive and candidly informative ‘Mad Love Afterword’.

However, a truly unmissable bonus treat for art-lovers and all those seeking technical insight (perhaps with a view to making comics or animation their day job) is the illustrator’s full monochrome ‘Original Layouts for The Batman Adventures: Mad Love’; displaying how the story materialised page by page; previous and variant covers to earlier editions and unused painted back cover art plus highly detailed, fully-annotated colour guides for the complete story offering a perfect “How To…” lesson for aspiring creators…

All that being said though, what we want most is a great story, and the magnificently madcap mayhem commences here as Police Commissioner James Gordon heads to the dentist. When Batman easily foils the Joker’s latest manic murder attempt, the mountebank of Mirth pettishly realises he’s lost his inspirational spark.

He’s therefore in no mood for lasciviously whining lapdog Harley’s words of comfort or flirtatious pep talks…

As the Dark Knight reviews his files on the Joker’s girlfriend and ponders on how Harleen Frances Quinzel breezed through college and came away with a psychology degree that got her a position at Arkham Asylum, the larcenous lady in question has gone too far in the Joker’s lair. The trigger was comforting sympathy and telling her “precious pudden” how his baroque murder schemes could be improved…

Kicked out and almost killed (again), Harleen harks back to her first meeting with the devilishly desirable crazy clown and how they instantly clicked. She fondly recalls how her original plan to psychoanalyse the Joker and write a profitable tell-all book was forgotten the moment she fell under his malign spell to become his adoring, willing and despised slave…

She also realises that Batman quickly scotched their budding eternal love by capturing the grinning psycho-killer she secretly aided and abetted, both before and after she created her own costumed alter ego…

In fact, Batman always spoils her dreams and brutalises her adored “Mistah J”! It’s long past time she took care of him forever…

Driven by desperation and fuelled by passion, Harley Quinn swipes one of the Joker’s abortive schemes and tweaks it, and before long the Gotham Gangbuster is duped, doped, bound and destined for certain doom.

Sadly, the triumphant Little Woman hasn’t reckoned on how her barmy beloved will react when he learns she has done in mere hours what he’s failed to accomplish over many bitter years…

Coloured by Rick Taylor and lettered by Tim Harkins, the classy and classically staged main feature plays very much like a 1940s noir blend of morbid melodrama and cunning crime caper – albeit with outrageous over-the-top gags, sharply biting lines of dialogue and a blend of black humour and bombastic action – and easily qualifies as one of the top five bat-tales of all time.

A frantic, laugh-packed hoot that manages to be daring and demure by turns, Mad Love is an absolute delight, well worth the price of admission and an irresistible treasure to be enjoyed over and over again.
© 1994, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

DC’s Greatest Imaginary Stories

By Otto Binder, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, John Broome, Leo Dorfman, Edmond Hamilton, Jim Shooter, C.C. Beck, Dick Sprang, Kurt Schaffenberger, Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Bob Kane & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0534-8

Alan Moore’s infamous epigram notwithstanding, not all comics tales are “Imaginary Stories.”

When DC Editor Mort Weisinger was expanding the Superman continuity and building the legend, he realised that each new tale was an event that added to a nigh-sacred canon: that what was written and drawn mattered to the readers. But as a big concept guy he wasn’t going to let that aggregated “history” stifle a good idea, nor would he allow his eager yet sophisticated audience to endure clichéd deus ex machina cop-outs to mar the sheer enjoyment of a captivating concept.

The mantra known to every baby-boomer fan was “Not a Dream! Not a Hoax! Not a Robot!” boldly emblazoned on covers depicting scenes that couldn’t possibly be true… even if it was only a comicbook.

Imaginary Stories were conceived as a way of exploring non-continuity plots and scenarios devised at a time when editors believed entertainment trumped consistency and knew that every comic read was somebody’s first …or potentially last.

This jolly little compilation celebrates that period when whimsy and imagination were king and stretches the point by leading with a fanciful tale of the World’s Mightiest Mortal as ‘Captain Marvel and the Atomic War’ (Captain Marvel Adventures #66, October 1946) actually hoaxes the public with a demonstration of how the world could end in the new era of Nuclear Proliferation, courtesy of Otto Binder & CC Beck.

‘The Second Life of Batman’ (Batman #127 October 1959) by Bill Finger, Dick Sprang & Charles Paris doesn’t really fit the strict definition either, but the tale of a device that predicts how Bruce Wayne’s life would have run if his parents had not been killed is superb and engaging all the same.

‘Mr. and Mrs. Clark (Superman) Kent!’ by Binder and the brilliant Kurt Schaffenberger, was the first tale of an occasional series that began in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #9 (August 1960); depicting the laughter and tears that might result if the plucky news-hen secretly married the Man of Steel. From an era uncomfortably parochial and patronizing to women, there’s actually plenty of genuine heart and understanding in this tale and a minimum of snide sniping about “silly, empty-headed girls”…

Eventually the concepts became so bold that Imaginary Stories could command book-length status. ‘Lex Luthor, Hero!’ (Superman #149, November 1961) by Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan & Sheldon Moldoff details the mad scientist’s greatest master-plan and ultimate victory in a tale as powerful now as it ever was. In many ways this is what the whole concept was made for…

No prizes for guessing what ‘Jimmy Olsen Marries Supergirl!’ (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, #57, December 1961) is about, but the story is truly a charming delight, beautifully realized by Siegel, Swan & Stan Kaye.

Once more stretching the point ‘The Origin of Flash’s Masked Identity!’ (The Flash# 128, May 1962) by John Broome, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, although highly entertaining, is more an enthusiastic day-dream than alternate reality, and, I suspect, added to bring variety to the mix – as is the intriguing ‘Batman’s New Secret Identity’ (Batman #151, November 1961, by Finger, Bob Kane & Paris).

‘The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue!’ (Superman #162, July 1963) is possibly the most influential tale of this entire sub-genre. Written by Leo Dorfman, with art from Swan & George Klein, this startling utopian classic was so well-received that decades later it influenced and flavoured the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman continuity for years. The plot involves the Action Ace being divided into two equal wonder men who promptly solve all universal problems and even the love rivalry between Lois Lane and Lana Lang!

The writer of ‘The Three Wives of Superman!’ is currently unknown to us but the ever-excellent Schaffenberger can at least be congratulated for this enchanting tragedy of missed chances that originally saw print in Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #51, from August 1964.

‘The Fantastic Story of Superman’s Sons’ (Superman #166, November 1964) by Edmond Hamilton, Swan & Klein is a solid thriller built on a tragic premise (what if only one of Superman’s children inherited his powers?), and this bright and breezy book closes with the stirring and hard-hitting ‘Superman and Batman… Brothers!’, wherein orphaned Bruce Wayne is adopted by the Kents, but cannot escape a destiny of tragedy and darkness.

Written by Jim Shooter, with art from Swan & Klein for World’s Finest Comics # 172 (cover-dated December 1967) this moody thriller in many ways signalled the end of the carefree days and the beginning of a grittier, more cohesive DC universe for a less whimsical, fan-based audience.

This collection is a glorious slice of fancy, augmented by an informative introduction from columnist Craig Shutt, and bolstered with mini-cover reproductions of many tales that tragically never made it into the collection, but I do have one minor quibble: No other type of tale was more dependent on an eye-catching, conceptually intriguing cover, so why couldn’t those belonging to these collected classics have been included here, too?

Surely, it’s time for a re-issue in either print or eBook format with all those arresting covers included. Yes, it is… and don’t call me Shirley…
© 1946, 1959-1964, 1967, 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo volume 1

By Jim Aparo, Bob Haney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3375-4

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

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

At this time editors favoured regular if not permanent creative teams, feeling that a sense of visual and even narrative continuity would avoid confusion amongst younger readers and the slickly versatile Jim Aparo was a perfect match for a drawing brief that could encompass the entire DC pantheon and all of time, space and relative dimensions in any single season…

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

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

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

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

Scripted throughout by Bob Haney and reprinting B&B #98, 101-102 and 104-122 (spanning October/November 1971 through October 1975) in a sturdy hardback and/or eBook compilation, this fabulous celebration opens without preamble in debut tale ‘The Mansion of the Misbegotten!’, as the aforementioned Phantom Stranger guests in a truly sinister tale of suburban devil-worship which sees Batman thoroughly out of his depth when his godson seemingly becomes a receptacle for Satan on Earth…

Aparo returned for the anniversary 100th issue as Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary substituted for a gunshot-riddled Batman on the verge of death and trapped as ‘The Warrior in a Wheel-Chair’ and settled in for outrageous murder-mystery ‘Cold-Blood, Hot Gun’ in the next issue wherein Metamorpho, the Element Man assisted the Caped Crusader in foiling the world’s deadliest hitman.

Brave and the Bold #102 featured a true rarity. The Teen Titans featured in an angry tale of the generation gap ‘Commune of Defiance’ which began as an Aparo job, but in a bizarre turnabout Neal Adams – an artist legendary for blowing deadlines – was called in to finish the story, contributing the last nine pages of the tension-packed thriller of political hardball and civic corruption.

Jim Aparo began an unbroken run of enticing epics with B&B #104 (October/November 1972): deftly picturing a poignant story of love from beyond the grave in ‘Second Chance for a Deadman?’ after which a depowered Wonder Woman returned after a long absence in gripping revolutionary epic ‘Play Now… Die Later!’, wherein martial artist Diana Prince and Batman become pawns in a bloody South American feud exported to the streets of Gotham.

The next issue saw Green Arrow sucked into a murderous get-rich-quick con in ‘Double Your Money… and Die’, featuring a surprise star villain…

Black Canary then popped back in a clever take on the headline-grabbing – and still unsolved – D.B. Cooper hijacking of an airliner in ‘The 3-Million Dollar Sky’ from B&B #107 (June-July 1973. BTW: Inflation sucks. The man known as “Cooper” only got $200,000 when he jumped out of that Boeing 727 in November 1971, never to be see again…

A wonderfully chilling tale of obsession follows as semi-retired war hero Sgt. Rock tries once more to catch the greatest monster in history on ‘The Night Batman Sold his Soul!’

Spooky supernatural shocks were very much the tone of the times as ‘Gotham Bay Be My Grave!’ paired the Caped Crusader and Jack Kirby’s then-latest sensation Etrigan the Demon in battle against an unquiet spirit determined to avenge his own execution after nearly a century. It was followed by a canny Cold War adventure starring semi-regular Wildcat in his civilian guise as Ted Grant, retired heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

Although the veteran Justice Society hero was usually stationed on the alternate Earth 2 at this time, no explanation was ever given for his presence on “our” planet. Haney always chose great plots and stories over choking details and canonical quibbles. It used to drive continuity-conscious fans utterly nuts…

Issue #111 boasted “the strangest team-up in history” as Batman joined forces with his greatest enemy, the Joker, for a brilliantly complex tale of cross and double cross in ‘Death has the Last Laugh!’ – which possibly led to the Harlequin of Hate’s own short-run series a year later.

With the next bimonthly issue B&B became a 100-Page Super Spectacular title: a much missed high-value experiment which offered an expanded page count of new material supplemented by classic reprints that turned many contemporary purchasers into avid fans of “the good old days”.

First to co-star in this new format was Kirby’s super escape artist Mister Miracle who joins the Gotham Guardian (himself regarded as the world’s greatest escapologist until the introduction of Jolly Jack’s Fourth World) in a tale of aliens and ancient Egyptians entitled ‘The Impossible Escape!’ whilst #113 sees the return of robotic misfits the Metal Men in a tense siege situation as the heroes must rescue the population of a hostage skyscraper in ‘The 50-Story Killer!’ before Aquaman helps save Gotham City from atomic annihilation in the gripping terrorist saga ‘Last Jet to Gotham’ in #114.

‘The Corpse that wouldn’t Die!’ is a decidedly different kind of drama as Batman is declared brain-dead after an assault, with size-shifting superhero the Atom compelled to occupy his brain to complete the Caped Crusader’s “last case”.

Needless to say, the Gotham Gangbuster recovers in time for another continuity-crunching supernatural team-up with the Spectre in #116’s ‘Grasp of the Killer Cult’ before embarking on a ‘Nightmare Without End’: a brilliant espionage thriller guest-starring aging World War II legend Sgt. Rock and the survivors of Easy Company, and a fitting end to the 100-page experiment.

The Brave and the Bold#118 returned to standard comic book format, if not content, as both Wildcat and the Joker join Batman in the rugged fight-game drama ‘May the Best Man Die!’. Sometime-villain Man-Bat also had his own short-lived series at his time and he impressively guests in #119’s exotic tale of despots and bounty-hunters ‘Bring Back Killer Krag’.

Possibly the most remarkable, if not uncomfortable, pairing in this volume comes from B&B #120.

Jack Kirby’s biggest hit at DC in the 1970s was Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth. Set in a post-disaster world where animals talk and hunt dumb human brutes, it proved the perfect vehicle for the King’s uncanny imagination, and ‘This Earth is Mine!’ uncomfortably finds Batman mystically sucked into that bestial dystopia to save a band of still-sentient human shamans in a tale more akin to the filmic “Planet of the Apes” franchise than anything found in funnybooks.

The Metal Men bounced back in #121’s heist-on-rails thriller ‘The Doomsday Express’, an early and moving advocacy of Native American rights with as much mayhem as message to it, before this first volume concludes with awesome spectacle as ‘The Hour of the Beast’ depicts Swamp Thing’s return to Gotham City to save it from a monstrous vegetable infestation.

By taking his cues from news headlines, popular films and proven genre-sources, Bob Haney continually produced gripping adventures that thrilled and enticed with no need for more than a cursory nod to an ever-more onerous continuity. Anybody could pick up an issue and be sucked into a world of wonder, and no matter what his scripts demanded Aparo staged and depicted it with veracity, verve and unassailable potency.

Consequently, these tales are just as fresh and welcoming today, their themes and premises are just as immediate now as then and Jim Aparo’s magnificent art is still as compelling and engrossing as it always was. This is a Bat-book literally everybody can enjoy.

These are some of the best and most entertainingly varied yarns from a period of magnificent creativity in the American comics industry. Aimed at a general readership, gloriously free of heavy, cloying continuity baggage and brought to stirring action-packed life by one of the greatest artists in the business, this is a Batman for all seasons and reasons with the added bonus of some of the most fabulous and engaging co-stars a fan could imagine. How could anybody resist? Seriously: can you…?
©1972,1973, 1974, 1975, 2012, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman Adventures volume 4

By Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Kelley Puckett, Alan Grant, Dan Raspler, Ty Templeton, Ronnie Del Carmen, Mike Parobeck, Rick Burchett, Dev Madan, Glen Murakami, Dan Riba, Kevin Altieri, Butch Lukic & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6061-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An Ideal Gift for Young, Old and Especially Yourself… 10/10

The brainchild of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. The TV cartoon – ostensibly for kids – revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and inevitably fed back into the printed iterations, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all eras of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, re-honed the grim avenger and his team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form.

It entranced young fans whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only the most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to.

A faithful comicbook translation was prime material for collection in the newly-emergent trade paperback market but only the first year was ever released, plus miniseries such as Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures: The Lost Years. Nowadays, however, we’re much more evolved and reprint collections have established a solid niche amongst the cognoscenti and younger readers…

This fourth, final and Seasonally sensitive compendium gathers issues #28-36 of The Batman Adventures (originally published from January-October 1995) plus The Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1 and The Batman Adventures Annual #2: a scintillating, no-nonsense frenzy of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy that celebrates traditional values such as gift-giving, crime-crushing, mistletoe-related smooching, world conquest, forgiveness, and all out action in uncanny and outlandish places…

The merriment and mayhem open with the varied contents of The Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1: and a moody ‘Intro’ from Dini & Dan Riba before grossly uncivilised cop Harvey Bullock and his so very long-suffering partner Renee Montoya go undercover as Department Store Santa and Elf in ‘Jolly Old St. Nicholas’ (Dini & Timm).

The apparently invisible thief plundering the store was expecting cops – but not Batgirl – but the assembled embarrassed heroes never contemplated having to battle a seriously-slumming super-villain exposed by the police action…

Next shiny bauble is ‘The Harley and the Ivy’ wherein Dini & Ronnie Del Carmen depict the larcenous ladies going on an illicit shopping spree after kidnapping Bruce Wayne, thanks to a dose of Ivy’s mind-warping kisses…

Slightly darker and far colder, ‘White Christmas’ by Dini & Glen Murakami then pits Batman against the increasing bereft and deranged Mr. Freeze who tries to turn Gotham City into a vast snow-globe as a tribute to his dead wife before The Joker enquires ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’ (Dini & Timm, Kevin Altieri & Butch Lukic) whilst attempting to kill every reveller in Gotham Square at the stroke of midnight…

Having saved the city yet again old comrades Batman and Jim Gordon then get together for a spot of breakfast and moment of quiet contemplation in ‘Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot’ (Dini & Riba) to wrap up this potent parcel of Christmas cheer.

Like the show, most Batman Adventures stories were crafted as 3-act plays and the conceit resumes here with issue #28 (January 1995) as Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett celebrate the holidays with ‘Twelve Days of Madness’ It opens with ‘What Child is This?’ as escaped loon Harley Quinn misses her Mistah J and drops him a note in Arkham Asylum.

As a strange outbreak of lunacy suddenly grips the city, ‘God Rest Ye Psycho Councilmen’ finds esteemed psychologist Dr. Heimlich visit the institution and recommending making the Joker direct a little Christmas theatre for the inmates…

Happily, the Dark Knight is on hand to expose shocking charlatanry and handle the ‘Asylum Fideles’ threatening to upset he mental applecart…

Batman Adventures #29 finds Bruce Wayne again hunting Ra’s Al Ghul as ‘Demonseed’ (Dev Madan & Burchett), opens with ‘Secret Hopes, Secret Fears’ and the in-mufti manhunter trailing a deadly Tesla Device aLl over the world, with former beloved Talia trying to kill him at every opportunity.

‘Wayne: Bruce Wayne’ sees the ex-lovers reunited to stop a third party purloining the menacing mechanism before facing inevitable and ultimate betrayal in ‘Till Death Do You Part’

It’s a spotlight on bad guys as Puckett, Burchett & Murakami reveal the story of a ‘Natural Born Loser’ in #30.

In-joke Triumvirate of Terror Mastermind, Mr. Nice and The Perfesser (who bear litigiously remarkable resemblances to DC editors Mike Carlin, Archie Goodwin and Dennis O’Neil) return in a tryptic of origin tales beginning with ‘Waiting for the Dough’ as yet another criminal mastermind breaks into their prison in search of a treasure map.

Sadly, those individual confrontations – continued in ‘The Dark Nice Returns’ and concluding with ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Pearl’ – only prove that the top dog in Gotham is actually the Bat…

Alan Grant scripts #31 for Madan & Burchett to illustrate as youthful ideologue ‘Anarky’ convenes ‘The People’s Court’ to judge rich businessmen such as Bruce Wayne for their money-grubbing acts. With his mentor captured, teen wonder Robin becomes the key ‘Witness for the Defense’ and combines ‘The Gentle Art of Philosophy’ with his usual derring-do to win the argument and save the day

Dan Raspler, Parobeck & Burchett reveal ‘A Soldier’s Story’ in #32 as ‘Into the Valley of Death’ sees criminals wage war in Gotham dressed as rival armies from history. Crazed rival millionaires playing games from their childhood have sponsored this chaotic ‘War and Remembrance’ but it’s Batman who wins ‘The Last Battle’

Batman Adventures #33 covers ‘Just Another Night’ (Ty Templeton, Madan & Burchett) as a movie night with single mum Veronica Thomas and her son Justin spirals into terror when they are mugged by a gunman on the way home. Paralysed by traumatic ‘Deja Vu’, Bruce goes on a maddened rampage of childish revenge leading to a justice and a ‘Dark Victory’ of sorts, but ‘At What Cost…’?

The first volume of the series wraps up with a 3-issue epic starring one of the Dark Knight’s most insidious enemies. It begins with ‘In Memoriam’ (#34 by Puckett, Parobeck & Burchett) as deranged psychologist Hugo Strange pays ‘Charons Fee’ to exact his vengeful schemes. Later, as Batman pursues super-thief Catwoman, he realises some of his memories have been erased. However, by deductively ‘Filling in the Gaps’ the Caped Crimebuster only allows Strange ‘Total Recall’ to Bruce Wayne’s past…

In #35 ‘The Book of Memory’ (Puckett, Templeton, Parobeck & Burchett) heralds ‘Strange Days’ as Catwoman turns a mindwiped Batman into her perfect acrobatic accomplice. With Gotham’s guardian missing Robin consults Commissioner Gordon and soon ‘The Trap is Set…’.

Elsewhere, as Hugo Strange spirals into breakdown, ‘Uptown, Saturday Night’ reveals how Batman is captured and cured. Or so it seems…

‘The Last Batman Adventure’ appears in #36 as Templeton, Parobeck & Burchett depict Robin and his junior partner, ‘Batman, The Boy Wonder’, still searching for Bruce’s purloined past. Afflicted with the mentality of a child, the hero convinces Catwoman to help him ensure ‘Batman, The Dark Knight Returns’, but they are almost too late to prevent ‘The Unusual Fate of Hugo Strange’ after the tragic madman goes after the true author of all his woes…

This spectacular softcover selection (also available as an eBook) concludes with a high-octane occult romp by Dini, Murakami & Timm first published in The Batman Adventures Annual #2.

‘Demons’ sees Ra’s Al Ghul blow up parts of Gotham to secure a long-lost mystic tablet and win a rare victory over the late-arriving Dark Knight. Overpowered and outgunned, Batman contacts consultant supernatural specialist Jason Blood and discovers the demonologist and the “Demon’s Head” are ancient adversaries…

Surviving drug-induced magical dreams, Batman realises that Al Ghul plans to invoke a demonic entity Haahk in his city and scourge humanity from the Earth. Nevertheless, he heads for a showdown he knows he cannot win, but Blood has one more secret to reveal: his longevity is caused by a demon imprisoned in his body…

Etrigan dwells inside Jason, lives to fight and is ferociously eager to settle score with Ra’s and Haahk…

Epic and electrifying, this rocket-paced tribute to Jack Kirby crackles with kinetic energy and moody menace: a perfect point to end on and one that promises more and greater thrills to come…

Breathtakingly written and iconically illustrated, these stripped-down rollercoaster-romps are pure, irresistible Bat-magic and this is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.
© 1995, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 2

By Neal Adams with Dennis O’Neil, Frank Robbins, Robert Kanigher, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Dick Giordano, Bob Haney, Leo Dorfman, Cary Bates & various (DDC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0041-1 (HC) 978-1-4012-3537-6 (PB)
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Dark and Stormy Knight… 9/10

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

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

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

This particular package revisits the frontages and pertinent contents of Batman #217, 220-222, 224-227, 229-231, Brave and the Bold #86, 88-90, 93, 95, Detective Comics #394-403, 405-411 and World’s Finest Comics #199, 200 and 202; cumulatively embracing October 1968 through May 1971.

Following Adam’s Foreword ‘In the Thick of It’ – describing his work process and how he worked to get a conceptual as well as visual grip on the Batman – his most celebrated inker Dick Giordano provides the history of his move from Charlton Comics and traces his own career of glittering prizes in his Introduction ‘It Was the Best of Times’ before the comics gold begins.

One of Adams’ earliest illustrated triumphs was The Brave and the Bold #79 (August-September 1968 and in the previous collected volume), pairing the Gotham Gangbuster with justice-obsessed ghost Deadman AKA murdered trapeze artist Boston Brand who was hunting his own killer.

Brand returns in the first full tale here as Batman learns ‘You Can’t Hide from a Deadman!’ (B&B #86; October/November 1969) written & drawn by Adams. Inked by Giordano it is a captivating epic of death, redemption and resurrection that became a cornerstone of Bat-mythology for the next three decades, as a mentally compromised Deadman attacks his old ally, drawing him into a showdown with the deadly Sensei in mystic enclave Nanda Parbat

Throughout this period Adams was producing a stunning succession of mesmerising covers on most Bat-related titles. The next chronological examples are Batman #217 (November 1968) and Detective Comics #394 (December) which lead to another milestone…

Dennis O’Neil’s script for Detective #395’s ‘The Secret of the Waiting Graves’ (January 1970, and inked by Giordano) instituted a far more mature and sinister – almost gothic – take on the Caped Crusader as he confronted the psychotic and nigh-immortal lovers named Muerto whose passion for each other was fuelled by deadly drugs and sustained by a century of murder…

Adams’ captivating dynamic hyperrealism was just the final cog in the reconstruction of the epic Batman edifice but it was also an irresistibly compelling one…

Covers for Detective #396 and Batman #219 (February 1970) follow, as does a short but unforgettable novella that reinstated a grand 1940s institution.

In the 1940s the yuletide season brought forth specially crafted seasonal tales (part warm spirituality, part Dickens, part O. Henry, part redemption story) that perfectly encapsulated everything the festival ought to mean.

They led to the idea that Batman Owned Christmas, but the wealth of fresh miracle tales that began with the astounding Holidays vignette ‘The Silent Night of the Batman’ (written by Mike Friedrich) is just as crucial to the still-potent comicbook tradition.

Instantly deemed a revered classic with its eerily gentle, moving modern interpretation of the Season of Miracles, it remains one of the best Batman stories of all time…

After March dated covers for B&B #88 and Batman #220, O’Neil, Adams & Giordano are reunited for Detective #397 and another otherworldly mystery thriller wherein obsessive millionaire art collector Orson Payne resorts to theft and worse in his quest for an unobtainable love in ‘Paint a Picture of Peril!’, after which covers for Detective #398, B&B #89, Batman #221, Detective #399 and Batman #222 bring us to a big anniversary moment with June 1969’s Detective Comics #400.

Scripted by Frank Robbins, this epic introduced a dark counterpoint to the Gotham Gangbuster as driven scientist Kirk Langstrom devises a serum to make himself superior to Batman and pays a heavy price in ‘Challenge of the Man-Bat!’

More covers come next – B&B #90, Detective #401 and Batman #224 – after which Detective #402 (August) reveals how the Dark Knight captures the out-of-control thing that was once Kirk Langstrom and ponders if he has the right to kill or cure the beast in Robbins, Adams & Giordano’s ‘Man or Bat?’

Eye-grabbing covers from Batman #225 and Detective Comics #403 segue into yet another full-on classic as #404 delivers the magnificent ‘Ghost of the Killer Skies!’ (scripted by O’Neil), which finds the Masked Manhunter attempting to solve a series of impossible murders on the set of a film about German WWI fighter ace Hans von Hammer.

All evidence seemed to prove that the killer could only be a vengeful phantom but the astonished hero proved otherwise… or thought he did…

Covers for Batman #226, Detective #405, Batman #227, World’s Finest Comics #199 and Detective #406 (spanning November and December) bring us to the final chapter in the triptych of tales featuring tragic Kirk Langstrom.

‘Marriage: Impossible!’ (Detective #406 Robbins, Adams, Giordano), completes the ambitious scientist’s fall from grace when he infects his fiancée Francine Lee with his own accursed mutation, forcing the Dark Knight into an horrific choice…

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

Scripted by Denny O’Neil. The Brave and the Bold #93’s ‘Red Water, Crimson Death’ is a chilling ghost story with the added advantage of having the Batman’s sombre shtick deftly counterbalanced by the musings of sardonic, laconic Cain, ethereal and ultra-hip caretaker of that haunted habitat…

By this time Batman had – for comics fans at least – shed the more ludicrous trappings of the Camp 1960s TV show. One huge factor aiding the transition was the fact that the publishers now acknowledged that a large proportion of their faithful readership were discerning teens or even adults, not just kids looking for a quick, disposable entertainment fix.

Working through other contemporary tropes – most notably a renewed global fascination with all things supernatural and gothic – the creative staff deftly reshaped the Gotham Guardian into a hero capable of actually working within the new “big themes” in comics: realism, organised crime, social issues, suspense and even horror…

During this period the long road to our modern obsessive, scarily dark Dark Knight gradually revealed a harder-edged, grimly serious caped crusader, whilst carefully expanding the milieu and scope of Batman’s universe; especially his fearsome foes, who all ceased being harmless buffoons and inexorably metamorphosed back into the macabre Grand Guignol murder-fiends typifying villains of the early 1940s.

Thus, following covers for WF #200 and Batman #229, Detective Comics #408 (February 1971) offers a short sharp shocker by neophyte scripters Len Wein & Marv Wolfman. Limned by Adams & Giordano, ‘The House That Haunted Batman’ showcased spectral apparitions, the apparent grisly death of Robin and a devilish mystery perpetrated by one of the Gotham Guardian’s most sinister enemies…

Brave & Bold #95, Batman #230 and Detective Comics #409 are represented by their covers whilst the next issue proved to be another chillingly memorable murder-mystery from the most celebrated creative team of the decade. ‘A Vow from the Grave!’ – by O’Neil, Adams & Giordano at their visually spectacular best – features an exhausted Batman hunting one ruthless killer and inadvertently stumbling into another murder in an enclave of retired circus freaks before the covers from WF #202, Batman #231 and Detective Comics #411 (May 1971) brings the vintage wonder to a close, completing a delirious run of comics masterpieces no ardent art lover or fanatical Fights ‘n’ Tights aficionado can do without.
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Golden Age Volume 3

By Bill Finger, Joseph Greene, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Schiff, Bob Kane, Jack Burnley, Fred Ray, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7130-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Thrilling and Totally Traditional… 10/10

The history of the American comicbook industry in most ways stems from the raw, vital and still compelling tales of two iconic creations published by DC/National Comics: 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 relatively cheap, and gloriously cheerful, compilations.

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

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

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

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

Re-presenting astounding cape-&-cowl classics and iconic covers from Detective Comics #57-65, Batman #8-11 and pertinent stories from World’s Finest Comics #4-6, this book covers groundbreaking escapades from November 1941 to July 1942: as the Dynamic Duo continually develop and storm ahead of all competition.

As the heroes’ influence expanded, new talent joined the stable of creators. Jerry Robinson had already worked with writer Bill Finger and penciller Bob Kane, and during this period two further scripters joined the team. Detective Comics #57 featured ‘Twenty-Four Hours to Live’, a tale of poisonings and Crimes of Passion whilst the perfidious Penguin returned in the next issue to make our heroes the victims of ‘One of the Most Perfect Frame-Ups’

A few weeks later Batman #8 (now Bi-Monthly!) came out, cover-dated December 1941-January 1942. Such a meteoric rise and expansion during a time of extreme paper shortages gives evidence to the burgeoning popularity of the characters. Behind a superbly evocative “Infinity” cover by Fred Ray & Robinson lurked four striking tales of bravura adventure.

‘Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make’ is a brooding prison drama, followed by a rare foray into science fiction as a scientist abused by money-grubbing financial backers turns himself into a deadly radioactive marauder in ‘The Strange Case of Professor Radium.’ This tale was later radically revised and recycled by Finger & Kane as a sequence of the Batman daily newspaper strip from September 23rd – November 2nd

‘The Superstition Murders’ is an enthralling example of the “ABC Murders” – style plot and the issue wraps up on a high as ‘The Cross Country Crimes’ sees the Joker rampage across America in a classic blend of larceny and lunacy.

The Batman tale from Detective Comics #59 was written by Joseph Greene and details how the Penguin turns his formidable talents to bounty-hunting his fellow criminals in ‘The King of the Jungle’, and is followed here by rip-roaring modern cowboy yarn ‘The Ghost Gang Goes West’ which first appeared in the winter issue of World’s Finest Comics (#4).

Jack Schiff, who had a long and auspicious career as an editor at DC, scripted ‘The Case of the Costume-Clad Killers’ (Detective #60): another excursion into mania starring the Joker, leaving Bill Finger free to concentrate on the four fabulous tales comprising Batman #9 (February-March 1942) – one of the greatest single issues of the Golden Age and still a cracking parcel of joy today.

Behind possibly the most reproduced cover ever crafted by the brilliant Jack Burnley are ‘The Four Fates’: a dark and moving human interest drama featuring a quartet of fore-doomed mobsters; a maritime saga based on Moby Dick entitled ‘The White Whale’; another unforgettable Joker yarn ‘The Case of the Lucky Law-Breakers’, and the birth of a venerable tradition in an untitled story called here for expediency’s sake ‘Christmas’.

Over the decades, many of the Caped Crusaders’ best and finest adventures have had a Seasonal theme (and why there’s never been a Greatest Christmas Batman Stories is a mystery I’ve pondered for years!) and this touching – even heart-warming – story of petty skulduggery and little miracles is where it all really began.

There’s not a comic fan alive who won’t dab away a tear…

Next is another much-reprinted classic (aren’t they all?) from Detective Comics #61. ‘The Three Racketeers’ is the perfect example of a vintage Batman novella as a trio of criminal big-shots swap stories of the Gotham Guardians over a quiet game of cards, and the ripping yarn even conceals a sting-in-the-tail that still hits home 75 years later.

America had entered World War II by this period and the stories – especially the patriotic covers – went all-out to capture the imagination, comfort the down-hearted and bolster the nation’s morale.

One of the very best (and don’t just take my word for it – type “World’s Finest covers” into your preferred search engine and see for yourselves – go on, I’ll wait) designed and executed by the astounding Jerry Robinson precedes ‘Crime takes a Holiday’, (WFC #5, Spring 1942, by Finger, Kane & Robinson), a canny mystery yarn revealing how and why the criminal element of Gotham City suddenly “downs tools”. Naturally it’s all part of a devious master-plan and just as naturally our heroes soon get to the bottom of it…

The same creative team also produced ‘Laugh, Town Laugh!’ (Detective #62, April 1942) wherein the diabolical Joker goes on a murder-spree to prove to the nation’s comedians and entertainers who actually is the “King of Jesters”.

Cover-dated April-May 1942, Batman #10 follows with another four mini-masterpieces. Scripted by Greene ‘The Isle That Time Forgot’ sees the Dynamic Duo trapped in a land of dinosaurs and cavemen, whilst ‘Report Card Blues’ (also Greene) scripting, has the heroes inspire a wayward kid to return to his studies by crushing the mobsters he’s ditched school for.

Robinson soloed as illustrator and Jack Schiff typed the words for the classy jewel caper (oh, for those heady days when Bats wasn’t too grim and important to stop the odd robbery or two!) ‘The Princess of Plunder’ starring everyone’s favourite Feline Femme Fatale Catwoman, before the boys headed way out west to meet ‘The Sheriff of Ghost Town!’

This extremely impressive slice of contemporary Americana came courtesy of Finger, Kane & Robinson, who then went on to produce ‘A Gentleman in Gotham’ for Detective Comics #63.

Here the Caped Crusader has to confront tuxedoed International Man of Mystery Mr Baffle, before the Crime Clown again causes malignant mirthful mayhem in ‘The Joker Walks the Last Mile’ (Detective #64. June 1942).

Obviously, he didn’t since he was cover-featured and lead story in Batman #11 (June-July 1942). Finger is writer for ‘The Joker’s Advertising Campaign’ and ‘Payment in Full’ – a touching melodrama about the District Attorney and the vicious criminal to whom he owes his life, before ‘Bandits in Toyland’ features the scripting debut of pulp Sci Fi author Edmond Hamilton who details why a gang of thugs are stealing dolls and train-sets.

Finger then returns for ‘Four Birds of a Feather!’ which finds Batman in Miami to scotch the Penguin’s dreams of a crooked gambling empire…

There’s another cracking War cover and brilliant Bat-yarn from World’s Finest Comics #6 (Summer 1942) in ‘The Secret of Bruce Wayne!’ as Greene and Robinson provide a clandestine identity exposé tale that would become a standard plot of later years, before the volume closes with one more superb patriotic cover (this one by Jack Kirby & Joe Simon for Detective Comics #65) and a gripping crime-romp as Jack Burnley & George Roussos render Greene’s poignant and powerful North Woods thriller ‘The Cop who Hated Batman!’

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