Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection volume 3 1966-1967: Spider-Man No More

By Stan Lee, John Romita, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Marie Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1023-5 (TPB)

Outcast, geeky high school kid Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and, after attempting to cash-in on the astonishing abilities he’d developed, suffered an irreconcilable personal tragedy. Due to the teenager’s arrogant neglect, his beloved guardian Uncle Ben was murdered and the traumatised boy determined henceforward to always use his powers to help those in dire need.

For years the brilliant young hero suffered privation and travail in his domestic situation, whilst his heroic alter ego endured public condemnation and mistrust as he valiantly battled all manner of threat and foe…

Spanning August 1966 to September 1967, this fulsome, titanic, full-colour Epic Collection (available as massive paperback or ephemeral eBook) gathers the gems from Amazing Spider-Man #39-52 plus Annuals #3-4 and a deliciously daft snippet from spoof mag Not Brand Echh #2, heralding the start of a brand new era for the Astonishing Arachnid with Peter and his ever-expanding cast of cohorts well on the way to being household names as well as the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia.

By 1966 Stan Lee and Steve Ditko could no longer work together on their greatest creation. After increasingly fraught months the artist simply resigned, leaving Spider-Man without an illustrator.

In the coincidental meantime John Romita had been lured away from DC’s romance line and given odd assignments before assuming the artistic reins of Daredevil, the Man Without Fear. Before long, he was co-piloting the company’s biggest property and expected to run with it.

After a period where old-fashioned crime and gangsterism predominated, science fiction themes and costumed crazies began to predominate as the world went gaga for superheroes and creators experimented with longer storylines and protracted subplots…

When Ditko abruptly left, the company feared a drastic loss in quality and sales but it didn’t happen. John Romita (senior) considered himself a mere “safe pair of hands” keeping the momentum going until a better artist could be found but instead blossomed into a major talent in his own right. The wallcrawler continued his unstoppable rise at an accelerated pace…

When Amazing Spider-Man #39 appeared with the first of a 2-part adventure declaiming the ultimate victory of the hero’s greatest foe, no reader knew what had happened – and no one told them…

‘How Green Was My Goblin!’ and ‘Spidey Saves the Day! (“Featuring the End of the Green Goblin!”)’ calamitously changed everything whilst describing how the arch-foes learned each other’s true identities before the Goblin “perished” in a climactic showdown. It would have been memorable even if the tale didn’t feature the debut of a new artist & a whole new manner of story-telling…

The issues were a turning point in many ways, and – inked by old DC colleague Mike Esposito (under the pseudonym Mickey Demeo) – they still stand as one of the greatest Spider-Man yarns of all time, heralding a run of classic tales from the Lee/Romita team that saw sales rise and rise, even without the seemingly irreplaceable Ditko.

With #41 and ‘The Horns of the Rhino!’, Romita began inking his own pencils and although the debuting super-strong criminal spy proved a mere diversion, his intended target, J. Jonah Jameson’s astronaut son, was a far harder proposition in the next issue.

Amazing Spider-Man #42 heralded ‘The Birth of a Super-Hero!’, wherein John Jameson is mutated by space-spores and goes on a Manhattan rampage: a solid, entertaining yarn that is only really remembered for the last panel of the final page.

Mary Jane Watson had been a running gag in the series for years: a prospective blind-date arranged by Aunt May who Peter had avoided – and Ditko skilfully not depicted – for the duration of time that our hero had been involved with Betty Brant, Liz Allen, and latterly Gwen Stacy.

Now, in that last frame the gobsmacked young man finally realises that for two years he’s been ducking the hottest chick in New York!

‘Rhino on the Rampage!’ gave the villain one more crack at Jameson and Spidey, but the emphasis was solidly on foreshadowing future foes and building Pete and MJ’s relationship. Next comes Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 3 and ‘…To Become an Avenger!’ as the World’s Mightiest Heroes offer the webspinner membership if he can capture the Hulk. As usual, all is not as it seems but the action-drenched epic, courtesy of Lee, Romita (on layouts), Don Heck, & Esposito is the kind of guest-heavy power-punching package that made these summer specials a child’s delight.

The monthly Marvel merriment resumes with the return of a tragedy-drenched old foe as Lee & Romita reintroduce biologist Curt Conners in #44’s ‘Where Crawls the Lizard!’ The deadly reptilian marauder threatens Humanity itself and it takes all of the wallcrawler’s resourcefulness to stop him in the concluding ‘Spidey Smashes Out!’

Issue #46 introduced an all-new menace in the form of seismic super-thief ‘The Sinister Shocker!’ whilst ‘In the Hands of the Hunter!’ brought back a fighting-mad Kraven the Hunter to menace the family of Parker’s pal Harry Osborn. Apparently, the obsessive big-game hunter had entered into a contract with Harry’s father (Green Goblin, until a psychotic break turned him into a traumatised amnesiac). Now, though, the hunter wants paying off…

Luckily, Spider-Man is on hand to dissuade him, but it’s interesting to note that at this time the student life and soap-opera sub-plots became increasingly important to the mix, with glamour girls Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy (both superbly delineated by the masterful Romita) as well as former bully Flash Thompson and the Osborns getting as much – or more – “page-time” as Aunt May or the Daily Bugle staff, who had previously monopolised the non-costumed portions of the ongoing saga.

Amazing Spider-Man #48 launched Blackie Drago; a ruthless thug who shared a prison cell with one of the wall-crawler’s oldest foes. At death’s door, the ailing and elderly super-villain reveals his technological secrets, enabling Drago to escape and master ‘The Wings of the Vulture!’

Younger, faster, tougher, the new Vulture defeats Spider-Man and in #49’s ‘From the Depths of Defeat!’ battles Kraven until a reinvigorated arachnid can step in to thrash them both.

Issue #50 featured the debut of one of Marvel’s greatest villains in the first of a 3-part yarn that saw the beginnings of romance between Parker and Gwen. It also contained the death of a cast regular, re-established Spidey’s war on cheap thugs and common criminals (a key component of the hero’s appeal was that no criminal was too small for him to bother with) and saw a crisis of conscience force him to quit in ‘Spider-Man No More!’.

Life being what it is, Peter’s sense of responsibility forces his return before he is trapped ‘In the Clutches of… the Kingpin!’ until he ultimately and tragically triumphs in ‘To Die a Hero!’ This gang-busting triptych saw Romita relinquish the inking of his art to Esposito.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4 follows as Lee – with his brother Larry Lieber & Esposito handling the art chores – crafts an epic battle-saga wherein Spidey and the Human Torch are tricked into appearing in a movie.

Sadly ‘The Web and the Flame!’ is just a deviously diabolical scheme to kill them, devilishly orchestrated by old enemies The Wizard and Mysterio, but the titanic teens are up to the task of trashing their attackers…

From the same issue – and all courtesy of Lieber – come pictorial fact-features ‘The Coffee Bean Barn!’ – face-checking the then-current Spider-Man regulars – while sartorial secrets exposed in ‘What the Well-Dressed Spider-Man Will Wear’ and superpowers are scrutinised in ‘Spidey’s Greatest Talent’.

Also included are big pin-ups of our hero testing his strength against Marvel’s mightiest good guys, a double-page spread ‘Say Hello to Spidey’s Favorite Foes!’ plus another 2-page treat as we enjoy ‘A Visit to Peter’s Pad!’

With the action over there’s still time for a hearty ha ha as Not Brand Echh #2 shares an outrageous comedy caper from Lee, Marie Severin & Frank Giacoia starring the Aging Spidey-Man! Here ‘Peter Pooper vs. Gnatman and Rotten’ reveals how rival comics icons duke it out for the hearts and minds of fandom in a wry jab at the madness of the era’s Batmania craze.

Also on view are gems of original art – including unused pages – and Romita’s first sketch of Mary Jane, plus a painted cover repro from Romita & Dean White.

After a shaky start The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages. Before long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera was the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.

This book is Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. You really should read it.
© 1966, 1967, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Batman/Deadman: Death and Glory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nova Classic volume 1

By Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Ross Andru, Carmine Infantino Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6028-1 (TPB)

By 1975 the first wave of fans-turned-writers were well ensconced at all the major American comic-book companies. Two fanzine graduates, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, had achieved stellar successes early on, and then risen to the ranks of writer/editors at Marvel, a company in trouble both creatively and in terms of sales.

After a meteoric rise and a virtual root-&-branch overhaul of the industry in the 1960s, the House of Ideas – and every other comics publisher except Archie – were suffering from a mass desertion of fans who had simply found other uses for their mad-money.

Whereas Charlton and Gold Key dwindled and eventually died and DC vigorously explored new genres to bolster their flagging sales, Marvel chose to exploit their record with superheroes: fostering new titles within a universe it was increasingly impossible to buy only a portion of…

As seen in this no-nonsense compilation collecting the first dozen issues plus a crossover with Amazing Spider-Man #171 (September 1976-August 1977), The Man Called Nova was in fact a boy named Richard Rider. The new kid was a working-class teen nebbish in the tradition of Peter Parker – except he was good at sports and bad at learning – who attended Harry S. Truman High School, where his strict dad was the principal.

His mom worked as a police dispatcher and he had a younger brother, Robert, who was a bit of a genius. Other superficial differences to the Spider-Man canon included girlfriend Ginger and best friends Bernie and Caps, but he did have his own school bully, Mike Burley

An earlier version, “Black Nova” had apparently appeared in the Wolfman/Wein fan mag Super Adventures in 1966, but with a few revisions and an artistic make-over by the legendary John Romita (Senior), the “Human Rocket” was launched into the Marvel Universe in his own title, beginning in September 1976, ably supported by the illustration A-Team of John Buscema & Joe Sinnott.

‘Nova’ – which borrowed as heavily from Green Lantern as the wallcrawler’s origin – was structured like a classic four-chapter Lee/Kirby early Fantastic Four tale, and rapidly introduced its large cast before quickly zipping to the life-changing moment in Rider’s life when a colossal star-ship with a dying alien aboard transfers to the lad all the mighty powers of an extraterrestrial peacekeeper and warrior.

Centurion Rhomann Dey was tracking a deadly marauder to Earth. Zorr had already destroyed the warior’s idyllic homeworld Xandar, but the severely wounded, vengeance-seeking Nova Prime was too near death and could not avenge the genocide.

Trusting to fate, Dey beams his powers and abilities towards the planet below where Rich is struck by an energy bolt and plunged into a coma. On awakening, the boy realises he has gained awesome powers… and the responsibilities of the last Nova Centurion.

The tale is standard origin fare beautifully rendered by Buscema & Sinnott, but the story really begins – after text feature Nova Newsline! – with #2’s ‘The First Night of… The Condor!’ as Wolfman, playing to his own strengths, introduces an extended storyline featuring a host of new villains whilst concentrating on filling out the lives of the supporting cast.

There’s still plenty of action as the neophyte hero learns to use his new powers (one thing the energy transfer didn’t provide was an instruction manual) but battles against winged criminal mastermind Condor and his enigmatic, reluctant pawn Powerhouse only lead the green hero into a trap…

Nova #3 debuts another brutal super-thug in ‘…The Deadly Diamondhead is Ready to Strike!’ (illustrated by new art-team Sal Buscema & Tom Palmer), but the battles are clearly not as important as laying plot-threads for a big event to come. The next issue

features the first of many guest-star appearances – and the first of three covers by the inimitable Jack Kirby.

‘Nova Against the Mighty Thor’ introduces The Corruptor: a bestial being who transforms the Thunder God – with one magic touch – into a raging berserker whom only the new kid on the block can stop, before ‘Evil is the Earth-Shaker!’ pits the lad against subterranean despot Tyrannus and his latest engine of destruction, although a slick sub-plot concerning the Human Rocket’s attempt to become a comicbook star still delivers some tongue-in-cheek chuckles to this day…

Issue #6 saw those long-laid evil mastermind plans begin to mature as Condor, Diamondhead and Powerhouse return to capture Nova, whilst their hidden foe is revealed in the Frank Giacoia inked ‘And So… The Sphinx!’

The Egyptian-themed bad guy is another world-class, immortal impatiently awaiting his turn to conquer the world…

Meanwhile, young Caps has been abducted by another new nasty who would eventually make big waves for the Human Rocket….

‘War in Space!’ sees Nova a brainwashed ally of his former foes in an invasion of Rhomann Dey’s still orbiting star-ship. The awesome craft will be an invaluable weapon in the encroaching war with the Sphinx, but the boarding raid results in Nova being marooned in deep space once his mind clears.

On narrowly escaping, Rider finds himself initially outmatched and outfought by Caps’ kidnapper in ‘When Megaman Comes Calling… Don’t Answer!’: a tumultuous, time-bending epic that concludes in #9’s ‘Fear in the Funhouse!’

Nova #10 began the final (yeah, right) battle in ‘Four Against the Sphinx!’ with Condor, Diamondhead and Powerhouse in all-out battle against the immortal mage whilst the hapless Human Rocket is caught in the crossfire, after which ‘Nova No More’ focuses on the hero’s short-term memories being removed to take him out of the game. The tactic only partially works since he’s back for the next issue’s classy crossover with the Spectacular Spider-Man.

Closing out this collection ‘Who is the Man Called Photon?’ is by Wolfman, Sal Buscema & Giacoia: teaming the neophyte hero with the much more experienced webslinger in a fair-play murder mystery, after Rich Rider’s uncle is killed by a costumed thief.

However, there are ploys within ploys occurring and after the mandatory hero head-butting session, the kids join forces and the mystery is dramatically resolved in Amazing Spider-Man #171’s ‘Photon is Another Name For…?’ courtesy of Len Wein, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.

Enthusiastic and action packed, this tome offers lots of competent, solid entertainment and beautiful superhero art and Nova has proved his intrinsic value by returning again and again. If simple, uncomplicated Fights ‘n’ Tights fiction is what you want, look no further.
© 1976, 1977, 2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Crisis on Multiple Earths volume 1

By Gardner Fox, Mike Sekowsky, Bernard Sachs & Sid Greene (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-895-2

As I’ve frequently mentioned before, I was one of the “Baby Boomer” crowd which grew up with Julie Schwartz, Gardner Fox and John Broome’s tantalisingly slow reintroduction of Golden Age superheroes during the halcyon, eternally summery days of the early 1960s. To me those fascinating counterpart crusaders from Earth-Two weren’t vague and distant memories rubber-stamped by parents or older brothers – they were cool, fascinating and enigmatically new.

…And for some reason the “proper” heroes of Earth-One held them in high regard and treated them with obvious deference…

The transcendent wonderment began, naturally enough, in The Flash; pioneering trendsetter of the Silver Age Revolution. After successfully ushering in the triumphant return of the superhero concept, the Scarlet Speedster – with Fox & Broome at the writing reins – set an unbelievably high standard for costumed adventure in sharp, witty tales of science and imagination, always illustrated with captivating style and clean simplicity by Carmine Infantino.

The epochal epic that literally changed the scope of American comics forever was Fox’s ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ (Flash #123 September 1961, and reprinted in loads of places, but not here): introducing the concept of alternate Earths to the continuity and by extension the multiversal structure of the future DCU as well as all the succeeding cosmos-shaking yearly “Crisis” sagas that grew from it.

Moreover, where DC led, others followed…

Received with tumultuous acclaim, the concept was revisited months later in Flash #129 which also teasingly reintroduced evergreen stalwarts – Wonder Woman, the Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Doctor Mid-Nite and Black Canary: venerable members of the fabled Justice Society of America. Clearly Editor Schwartz had something in mind…

That tale directly led into the veteran team’s first meeting with the Justice League of America and the start of an annual tradition. When ‘Flash of Two Worlds’ brought us the notion of Infinite Earths and multiple iterations of costumed crusaders, public pressure had begun almost instantly to agitate for the return of the Greats of the “Golden Age”. The Editorial powers-that-be were hesitant, fearing too many heroes would be silly and unmanageable, or worse yet, put readers off. If they could see us now…

These innovative adventures generated an avalanche of popular and critical approval (big sales figures, too) so inevitably the trans-dimensional tests led to the ultimate team-up in the summer of 1963.

This gloriously enthralling volume – available in trade paperback and digital incarnations – is the first of a glorious sequence of collections celebrating Infinite Diversity in Infinite Costumes (extra fanboy kudos if you get where I filched that from!) and re-presents the first four JLA/JSA convocations: stunning superhero wonderments which never fail to astound and delight. It also comes with context-conveying Introduction ‘1 & 2 = Crisis’ from wonder-scribe Mark Waid detailing even more cool facts behind the phenomenon…

The comic book catharsis commences with the landmark ‘Crisis on Earth-One’ and ‘Crisis on Earth-Two’ (from Justice League of America #21-22, August & September 1963) combining to form one of the most important stories in DC history and arguably one of the most crucial tales in American literature: at least the stuff with pictures in it.

Written by Fox and compellingly illustrated by Mike Sekowsky & Bernard Sachs, the yarn finds a coalition of assorted villains from each Earth plundering at will, meeting and defeating the mighty Justice League before insufferably imprisoning them in their own secret mountain HQ…

Temporarily helpless, “our” heroes contrive a desperate plan to combine forces with the champions of another Earth to save the world – both of it – and the result is pure Fights ‘n’ Tights majesty.

It’s impossible for me to be totally objective about this saga. I was a drooling kid in short trousers when I first read it and the thrills haven’t diminished with this umpty-first re-reading.

This is what superhero comics are all about!

The buying public clearly agreed and one year later ‘Crisis on Earth-Three’ and ‘The Most Dangerous Earth of All!’ (Justice League of America #29-30) reprised the team-up of the Justice League and Justice Society, when the super-beings of a third alternate Earth discover the secret of trans-universal travel.

Unfortunately, Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick and Power Ring are villains on a world without heroes who see the costumed crime-busters of the JLA/JSA as living practise dummies to sharpen their evil skills upon.

With this cracking thriller the annual summer get-together became solidly entrenched in heroic lore, giving fans endless entertainment for years to come and making the approaching end of school holidays less gloomy than they could have been.

(A little note: although the comic cover-date in America was the month by which unsold copies had to be returned – the “off-sale” deadline – export copies to Britain travelled as ballast in freighters. Thus, they usually went on to those cool, spinning comic-racks in the actual month printed on the front. You can unglaze your eyes and return to the review proper now, and thank you for your patient indulgence of an old and misty-eyed man…)

The third annual event was a touch different; a largely forgotten and rather experimental tale wherein the educationally-challenged and extremely larcenous Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 wrests control of the genie-like Thunderbolt from his otherworld counterpart: employing its magical powers to change the events which created of all Earth-1’s superheroes.

With Earth-1 catastrophically altered in #37’s ‘Earth – Without a Justice League’, it’s suddenly up to the JSA to save the day in a gripping battle of wits and power before Reality is re-established in #38’s concluding chapter ‘Crisis on Earth-A!’.

Veteran inker Bernard Sachs retired before the fourth team-up, leaving the amazing Sid Greene to embellish the gloriously whacky saga that closes this tome: one springing out of the global “Batmania” craze engendered by the Batman television series…

A wise-cracking campy tone was fully in play, acknowledging the changing audience profile and this time the stakes are raised to encompass the destruction of both planets in ‘Crisis Between Earth-One and Earth-Two’ and ‘The Bridge Between Earths’ (Justice League of America #46-47, August & September 1966).

Here a bold – if rash – continuum warping experiment drags the twin sidereal worlds towards an inexorable hyper-space collision. Meanwhile, making matters worse, an awesome anti-matter being uses the opportunity to break into and explore our positive-matter universe whilst the heroes of both worlds are distracted by the destructive rampages of monster-men Blockbuster and Solomon Grundy.

Peppered with wisecracks and “hip” dialogue, it’s sometimes difficult to discern what a cracking yarn this actually is, but if you’re able to forgive or swallow the dated patter, this is one of the very best plotted and illustrated stories in the entire JLA/JSA canon. Furthermore, the vastly talented Greene’s expressive subtlety, beguiling textures and whimsical humour add unheard-of depth to Sekowsky’s pencils and the light and frothy comedic scripts of Fox.

These titanic tales won’t suit everybody and I’m as aware as any that in terms of the “super-powered” genre the work here can be boiled down to two bunches of heroes formulaically getting together to deal with extra-extraordinary problems. In mature hindsight, it’s obviously also about sales and the attempted revival of more sellable super characters during a period of intense commercial competition between DC Comics and Marvel.

But I don’t have to be mature in my off-hours and for those who love costumed dramas, who crave these cunningly constructed modern mythologies and actually care, this is simply a grand parade of straightforward action, great causes and momentous victories.

…And since I wouldn’t have it any other way, why should you?
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 2002 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Detective #27

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

Oooh! Ooh! More Batman!! …Ish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHAZAM!: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

By Bill Parker, C.C. Beck, Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, Otto Binder, Denny O’Neil, Elliot S! Maggin, Roy Thomas, Joey Cavalieri, Alan Grant, Jerry Ordway, Steve Vance, Kurt Schaffenberger, Curt Swan, Gil Kane, Barry Kitson, Peter Krause, John Delaney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1674-0 (TPB)

Superhero movies season is hurtling down on us now so let’s cash in a bit…

Hard on the heels of the superb Shazam!: Monster Society of Evil collection came a most welcome addition to DC’s much missed Greatest Stories… line: an anthological review featuring some wonderful moments from the stellar, if chequered, career of the World’s Mightiest Mortal.

First seen in the February 1940 issue of Whiz Comics (#2 – there was no #1) and cashing in on the sales phenomenon of Superman, the big red riot was the brainchild of writer/editor Bill Parker and young illustrator Charles Clarence Beck.

Drawn in a style reminiscent of early Hergé, ‘Introducing Captain Marvel’ saw homeless orphan Billy Batson lured into an abandoned subway tunnel to a meeting with millennia-old wizard Shazam. At the end of a long, long life fighting evil, the white-bearded figure grants the lad the power of six gods and heroes (Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury) and urges him to carry on the good fight. In thirteen delightfully clean and simple pages Billy gets his powers, has his secret origin revealed (he’s heir to a fortune embezzled by his crooked uncle Ebenezer), gets a job as a radio reporter and defeats the mad scheme of Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana who is holding the airwaves of America hostage.

Originally dispensing the same sort of summary rough justice as his contemporaries, the character soon distanced himself from the pack – Man of Steel included – by an increasingly light, surreal and comedic touch, which made Captain Marvel the best-selling comics character in America. For a period, Captain Marvel Adventures was published twice a month, and he was the star in a number of other titles too.

(Billy’s alter ego could beat everybody but copyright lawyers; during his years of inactivity the trademarked name passed to a number of other publishers before settling at Marvel Comics and they are never, never, never letting go. You can check out their cinematic blockbuster version this summer…)

In the formative years there was actually a scramble to fill pages. From Captain Marvel Adventures #1 (1941) comes an untitled drama of alien slavers produced in a bit of a hurry by Golden Age Dream-Team Joe Simon & Jack Kirby.

It’s probably fair to say that this rambunctious rarity is included for its name-value alone, but the third tale, ‘The Trio of Terror’ (The Marvel Family #21, 1948), is prime stuff from Beck and brilliant prolific writer Otto Binder, full of sly whimsy as three demons escape the netherworld to plague ours.

Many of the storytelling innovations we find commonplace today were invented by the creative folk at Fawcett – the original publishers of Captain Marvel. From Captain Marvel Adventures #137 (1952) comes ‘King Kull and the Seven Deadly Sins’ by Binder and Beck, wherein a beast-king from a pre-human civilisation frees the embodiments of Man’s greatest enemies to plague the planet.

These are wholesome tales for the entire family, however, so don’t worry – “Lust” has become “Injustice” and “Wrath” is “Hatred”, here.

There are two yarns from the good Captain’s final year of Golden Age publication. DC, in their original identity of National Periodical Publications, had filed suit against Fawcett for copyright infringement as soon as Whiz Comics #2 was released, and the companies had slugged it out ever since. In 1953, with sales of superhero comics decimated by changing tastes, Captain Marvel’s publishers decided to capitulate.

DC eventually acquired all rights, titles and properties to the characters. But that last year saw some of the best tales in the entire run, represented here by the wonderfully surreal ‘Captain Marvel Battles the World’ (Captain Marvel Adventures #148, September1952, by Binder and Beck) and ‘The Primate Plot’ (The Marvel Family #85, July 1953): a dramatic and very funny precursor to the movie Planet of the Apes, by Binder and Kurt Schaffenberger.

Beck returned to commercial and magazine illustration, but Binder & Schaffenberger soon joined the victorious opposition, becoming key Superman creators of the next few decades.

In 1973, DC decided to revive the Good Captain for a new generation and see if his unique charm would work another sales miracle during one of comics’ periodic downturns.

From the comicbook re-titled, for those pesky copyright reasons, Shazam!, the tale that bought him back was written by Denny O’Neil, and illustrated by the returned and resurgent Beck.

‘In the Beginning…’ and ‘The World’s Wickedest Plan’ (Shazam! #1, February 1973) retold the origin and explained that the Captain, his super-powered family and all the supporting cast (there’s a very useful seating chart-cum-biography page provided for your perusal) had been trapped in a timeless state for 20 years by the invidious Sivana Family who had subsequently been trapped in their own Suspendium device.

The sales and fan rivalry of the Man of Steel and The Big Red Cheese (Sivana’s pet name for his stout-hearted nemesis) had endured for decades, and in 1974 Julius Schwartz took full advantage by having the two finally – if notionally – meet.

Superman #276 featured ‘Make Way for Captain Thunder’ by Elliot S! Maggin, Curt Swan and Bob Oksner, a trans-dimensional tussle to delight 10-year-olds of all ages. Incidentally, Captain Thunder was one of the options considered in 1940 before Fawcett went with the Marvel name.

Beck was profoundly unhappy with the quality of stories he was given to draw and soon left the series. One of his assistants and stable-mates from the Fawcett days had been a Superman Family mainstay for nearly twenty years and smoothly fitted into the vacated lead-artist position. Kurt Schaffenberger was delighted to again be drawing one of his all-time favourite assignments again, and his shining run is represented here by #14’s ‘The Evil Return of the Monster Society’ scripted by Denny O’Neil in 1974.

Captain Marvel’s blend of charm, drama and whimsy made and remade many fans, even prompting a live action TV series, but never enough to keep the series going in such economically trying times. Despite its cancellation, however, the series persevered in back-up slots in other magazines and the character still made the occasional bombastic guest-appearance such as 1984’s DC Comics Presents Annual #3.

‘With One Magic Word’ saw Sivana appropriate the mystic lightning that empowers Billy Batson, leading to a Battle Royale with not just the Marvel Family but also the Supermen of both Earth’s 1 and 2 (this was mere months before Crisis on Infinite Earths lumped all these heroes onto one terribly beleaguered and crowded world).

This cracking 40-page romp was plotted by long-time fan Roy Thomas, written by Joey Cavalieri and illustrated by the fabulous Gil Kane.

Now fully part of the DC universe Captain Marvel popped up everywhere. He was even a long-suffering straight man in Justice League International for a while…

From L.E.G.I.O.N ‘91 #31 (1991), by Alan Grant & Barry Kitson, comes the wickedly funny slugfest ‘Where Dreams End’, as the big guy has to try and reason with a drunk and hostile Lobo, and when he once more had his own series, spinning off from the superb original graphic novel The Power of Shazam!, a new high-point of quality entertainment was achieved – and sustained – by Jerry Ordway, Peter Krause & Dick Giordano.

‘Yeah – This is a Face Only a Mother Could Love…’ (from The Power of Shazam! #33, 1997) is a powerful, poignant treatment of intolerance and the collateral damage of superhero encounters where Billy tries to help a school-friend hideously scarred by his arch-foe the Arson Fiend. It’s possibly the best executed and least known story in the book.

This lovely compilation ends with a zesty delight from all-ages Adventures in the DC Universe (#15, 1998). Here Steve Vance, John Delaney & Ron Boyd create a testing time for Billy when Zeus decides to see if his modern beneficiary is actually worthy of his power in ‘Out of a Dark Cloud’.

The original Captain Marvel is a genuine icon of American comics history and a brilliantly conceived superhero for all ages. This collection, which only scratches the surface of the canon of delights produced over the years, is a perfect introduction to the world of comics and one that will appeal to readers of any age and temperament. Still available in paperback, let’s hope the modern hoopla convinces DC to rerelease it in both printed and digital editions…
© 1940, 1941, 1948, 1952, 1953, 1973, 1974, 1984, 1991, 1997, 1998, 2008, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Nine Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batman/Tarzan: Claws of the Catwoman

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

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

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

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

So what’s on offer here?

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

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

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

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

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

Fantastic Four Epic Collection volume 3: The Coming of Galactus 1964-1966

By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby with Chic Stone, Vince Colletta, Frank Giacoia, Joe Sinnott and various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1331-1 (TPB)

Concocted by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule, Fantastic Four #1 (bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961) was crude: rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement.

Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it and the raw storytelling caught a wave of change starting to build in America. It and succeeding issues changed comicbooks forever.

This full-colour compendium – also available as a digital download – collects issues 33-51 plus the third giant-sized Annual (spanning December 1964 to June 1966): astonishing tales and progressive landmarks as Stan & Jack cannily built on that early energy to consolidate the FF as the leading title and most innovative series of the era.

As seen in the ground-breaking premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancée Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak.

Here the wonderment resumes

Supplemented by a glorious Kirby & Chic Stone ‘Prince Namor Pin-up’, the wonderment begins ‘Side-by-Side with Sub-Mariner!’, bringing the aquatic anti-hero one step closer to his own series as the team lend surreptitious aid to the embattled undersea monarch against deadly barbarian Attuma who makes his debut in FF #33.

In ‘A House Divided!’, the team are nearly destroyed by Mr. Gregory Hungerford Gideon, the power-hungry “Richest Man in the World” after which (and following a wry ‘Yancy Street Pin-Up’), ‘Calamity on the Campus!’ sees the team visit Reed’s old Alma Mater in a tale designed to pander to the burgeoning college fan-base Marvel was assiduously cultivating.

Incorporating a cameo role for then prospective college student Peter Parker, the rousing yarn brings back demon alchemist Diablo whilst introducing the monstrous misunderstood homunculus Dragon Man. Fantastic Four #36 premiered the team’s theoretical nemeses ‘The Frightful Four’: a team of villains comprising The Wizard, Sandman, Trapster (he was still Paste Pot-Pete here, but not for much longer) plus enigmatic new character Madame Medusa, whose origins were to have a huge impact on the heroes in months to come…

Most notable in this auspicious, action-packed, but inconclusive, duel is the announcement after many months of Reed and Sue’s engagement – in itself a rare event in the realm of comicbooks.

Issue #37 finds the team spectacularly travelling to the homeworld of the shape-shifting Skrulls in search of justice or vengeance (for Sue and Johnny’s recently-murdered father) in ‘Behold! A Distant Star!’ They return only to be ‘Defeated by the Frightful Four!’ in #38: a sinister sneak attack and catastrophic clash of opposing forces with a startling cliff-hanger that marked Chic Stone’s departure in suitably epic manner.

Frank Giacoia – under the pseudonym Frank Ray – stepped in to ink #39’s ‘A Blind Man Shall Lead Them!’ wherein a suddenly-powerless Fantastic Four are targeted by an enraged Doctor Doom with only sightless vigilante Daredevil offering a chance to keep them alive.

The tale concludes in #40 with ‘The Battle of the Baxter Building’ as Vince Colletta assumes the inking duties for a bombastic conclusion that perfectly displays the undeniable power, overwhelming pathos and indomitable heroism of the brutish Thing.

A new era of fantastic suspense begins with the first chapter of a tense and traumatic trilogy in which the other FF brainwash the despondent and increasingly isolated Thing: turning him against his former team-mates.

It starts with ‘The Brutal Betrayal of Ben Grimm!’, continues in rip-roaring fashion as ‘To Save You, Why Must I Kill You?’ pits the monster’s baffled former comrades against their best friend and the world’s most insidious villains before concluding in bombastic glory with #44’s ‘Lo! There Shall be an Ending!’

After that Colletta signed off by inking the most crowded Marvel story yet conceived: Fantastic Four Annual #3. Cover-dated November 1965, it famously features every hero, most of the villains and lots of ancillary characters in the company pantheon (such as teen-romance stars Patsy Walker & Hedy Wolf and even Stan & Jack themselves).

‘Bedlam at the Baxter Building!’ spectacularly celebrates the Richards-Storm nuptials, despite a massed attack by an army of baddies mesmerised by the diabolical Doctor Doom. In its classical simplicity it signalled the end of one era and the start of another…

FF #44 was also landmark in so many ways. Firstly, it saw the arrival of Joe Sinnott as regular inker: a skilled brush-man with a deft line and a superb grasp of anatomy and facial expression, and an artist prepared to match Kirby’s greatest efforts with his own. Some inkers had problems with just how much detail the King would pencil in; Sinnott relished it and the effort showed. What was wonderful now became incomparable…

‘The Gentleman’s Name is Gorgon!’ introduces a mysterious powerhouse with ponderous metal hooves instead of feet, a hunter implacably stalking Medusa. She then entangles the Human Torch – and thus the whole team – in her frantic bid to escape, and that’s before the monstrous android Dragon Man shows up to complicate matters.

All this is merely prelude, however: with the next issue we meet a hidden race of super-beings secretly sharing Earth with us for millennia. ‘Among us Hide… the Inhumans’ reveals Medusa to be part of the Royal Family of Attilan, a race of paranormal aristocrats on the run ever since a coup deposed the true king.

Black Bolt, Triton, Karnak and the rest would quickly become mainstays of the expanding Marvel Universe, but their bewitching young cousin Crystal and her giant teleporting dog Lockjaw (“who’s a Goo-hood Boh-oy?”) were the real stars here. For young Johnny it is love at first sight, and Crystal’s eventual fate would greatly mature his character, giving him a hint of angst-ridden tragedy that resonated greatly with the generation of young readers who were growing up with the comic…

Those Who Would Destroy Us!’ and ‘Beware the Hidden Land!’ (FF#46 – 47) see the team join the Inhumans as Black Bolt struggles to take back the throne from his bonkers brother Maximus the Mad, only to stumble into the usurper’s plan to wipe “inferior” humanity from the Earth.

Ideas just seem to explode from Kirby at this time. Despite being halfway through one storyline, FF #48 trumpeted ‘The Coming of Galactus!’ so the Inhumans saga is swiftly wrapped up by page 6, with the entire clandestine race sealed behind an impenetrable dome called the Negative Zone (later retitled the Negative Barrier to avoid confusion with the gateway to sub-space that Reed worked on for years).

Meanwhile, a cosmic entity approaches Earth, preceded by a gleaming herald on a surfboard of pure cosmic energy…

I suspect this experimental – and vaguely uncomfortable – approach to narrative mechanics was calculated and deliberate, mirroring the way TV soap operas were increasingly delivering their interwoven storylines, and used as a means to keep readers glued to the series.

They needn’t have bothered. The stories and concepts were enough…

‘If this be Doomsday!’ sees planet-eating Galactus setting up shop over the Baxter Building despite the team’s best efforts, whilst his cold and shining herald has his humanity accidentally rekindled by simply conversing with the Thing’s blind girlfriend Alicia Masters.

Issue #50’s ‘The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer!’ then concludes the epic in grand style as the reawakened ethical core of the Surfer and heroism of the FF buy enough time for Richards to literally save the world with a boldly-borrowed Deus ex Machina gadget…

Once again, the tale ends in the middle of the issue, and the remaining half concentrating on the team getting back to “normal”. To that extent, Johnny finally enrols at Metro College, desperate to forget lost love Crystal and his unnerving jaunts to the ends of the universe.

On his first day, the lad meets imposing and enigmatic Native American Wyatt Wingfoot, destined to become his greatest friend…

That would be a great place to stop but there’s one last titanic story treat: one many fans consider the greatest single FF story ever. Illustrated by Kirby and inked by Sinnott, ‘This Man… This Monster!’ finds Ben’s grotesque body usurped and stolen by a vengeful, petty-minded scientist with a grudge against Reed Richards. The anonymous boffin subsequently discovers the true measure of his unsuspecting intellectual rival and pays a fateful price for his envy…

Topped off with a swathe of enticing house ads, pages of original art (including Kirby’s astounding collage pieces), contemporary apparel art designs and painted Kirby/Dean White covers to previous compilations, this tome teems with tales of unmatched imagination and innovation that cemented Marvel’s dominance and confirmed that they were crafting a comics empire.

The verve, conceptual scope and sheer enthusiasm shines through on every page and the wonder is there for you to share. If you’ve never thrilled to these spectacular sagas then this book of marvels is the perfect key to another – far brighter – world and time.
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Batman Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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