Showcase Presents Batman volume 3


By Gardner F. Fox, John Broome, Mike Friedrich, Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Moldoff, Gil Kane, Frank Springer, Chic Stone, Sid Greene, Joe Giella & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1719-8 (TPB)

After 3 seasons (perhaps 2½ would be closer) the Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. It had clocked up 120 episodes since its US premiere on January 12th 1966. The era ended but the series had left undeniable effect on the world, the comics industry and most importantly on the characters and history of its four-colour inspiration. Most notable was a whole new superstar who became an integral part of the DC universe.

This astoundingly economical black & white compendium (another collection long in need of modern revival …and some colour too, please) gathers all the Batman and Robin yarns from #189-201 of the eponymous title as well as the Gotham stuff from Detective Comics #359-375 (the back-up slot therein being delightfully filled at this time by the globetrotting, whimsically wonderful Elongated Man feature). The 33 stories here – written and illustrated by the cream of editor Julie Schwartz’s elite stable of creators – gradually evolved over the 17 months covered from an even mix of crime, science fiction, mystery, human interest and supervillain vehicles to a much narrower concentration of plot engines. As with TV’s version, costumes became king, and then became unwelcome….

It all begins with the comic book premiere of that aforementioned new character. In ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl’ (Detective Comics #359, cover-dated January 1967) writer Gardner Fox and art team supreme Carmine Infantino & Sid Greene introduced Barbara Gordon: “mousy librarian” and daughter of the Police Commissioner into the superhero limelight. So by the time TV’s third season began on September 14th 1967, she was fully established.

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

Whereas Babs fought The Penguin on the small screen, her paper origin features no less ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever yarn that still stands up today. An old foe unseen since the 1940s was revived for Batman #189 (February 1967). Demented psychology lecturer Jonathan Crane was obsessed by the emotion of fear and turned his expertise to criminal endeavours (initially in World’s Finest Comics #3 and Detective #73) before fading into obscurity. With ‘Fright of the Scarecrow’ he was back for (no) good, courtesy of Fox, Sheldon Moldoff & Joe Giella, as this tense psychodrama elevated him to the top rank of Bat-rogues. ‘The Case of the Abbreviated Batman’ (Detective #360) by the same team follows: an old-fashioned crime-caper with mobster Gunshy Barton pitting wits against Gotham’s Guardians whilst the March Batman’s full-length ‘The Penguin Takes a Flyer… Into the Future!’ – scripted by John Broome – mixed super-villainy and faux science fiction motifs for an enjoyable if predictable fist-fest.

Editor Schwartz preferred to stick with mysteries and conundrums in Detective Comics and #361’s ‘The Dynamic Duo’s Double-Deathtrap!’ was one of Fox’s best examples, especially as drawn by the incredibly over-stretched Infantino & Greene. The plot involves Cold War spies and a maker of theatrical paraphernalia. I shall reveal no more to keep you guessing when you read it. The next issue, by Fox, Moldoff & Giella, featured another eccentric scheme by The Riddler on ‘The Night Batman Destroyed Gotham City!’ Batman #191 featured two tales by Broome, Moldoff & Giella starting on ‘The Day Batman Sold Out!’: a “Hero Quits” teaser with a Babs Gordon cameo, whilst the faithful retainer took centre stage in charming parable ‘Alfred’s Mystery Menu’.

‘The True-False Face of Batman’ (Detective #363, by Fox Infantino &Greene) was a full co-starring vehicle as the new girl is challenged to deduce Batman’s secret identity whilst tracking down the enigmatic Mr. Brains. Fox scripted both ‘The Crystal Ball that Betrayed Batman!’ – which featured an old enemy in a new guise – and Robin solo-story ‘Dick Grayson’s Secret Guardian!’ in Batman #192, for Moldoff & Giella. They also handled his mystery-yarn ‘The Curious Case of the Crime-less Clues!’ in Detective #364, wherein Riddler and a host of Bat-baddies again test the brains and patience of the Dynamic Duo – or do they?

Issue #365 featured Broome, Moldoff & Giella’s ‘The House The Joker Built!’ which was nobody’s finest hour, whereas Fox-scripted ‘The Blockbuster goes Bat-Mad!’ in Batman #196 is compensatory sheer delight, especially since it’s accompanied by a “fair-play” whodunnit starring The Mystery Analysts of Gotham City. ‘The Problem of the Proxy Paintings!’ is the kind of Batman tale I miss most these days: witty and urbane, a genuinely engaging puzzle without benefit of angst or histrionics.

There’s plenty of the latter in ‘The Round Robin Death Threats’ (Fox, Infantino & Greene): a tense thriller spanning two issues of Detective (#366 – 367 and an almost unheard of event in those reader-friendly days). The diabolical murder-plot threatens to systematically eradicate Gotham’s worthiest citizens with the drama ending in high style in ‘Where There’s a Will… There’s a Slay!’: a chilling conclusion almost ruined by that awful title.

Batman #195 introduced radioactive villain Bag o’Bones in ‘The Spark-Spangled See-Through Man!’ – a desperate attempt to return to story-driven tales, though the ‘7 Wonder Crimes of Gotham City!’ (Detective #368 by Fox, Moldoff & Giella) was a far more enjoyable taste of bygone times. The next issue led with clever puzzler ‘The Psychic Super-Sleuth!’ and finished well with another challenging mystery in ‘The Purloined Parchment Puzzle!’ (both by Fox, Moldoff & Giella) before Detective #369, illustrated by Infantino & Greene, rather reinforced boyhood prejudices about icky girls in classy thriller ‘Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo’ before segueing into a classic confrontation as Batman #197 reveals how ‘Catwoman Sets Her Claws for Batman!’ (Fox, Frank Springer & Greene). This frankly daft tale is most fondly remembered for the classic cover of Batgirl and Catwoman (with her Whip!!!) squaring off over Batman’s prone body – comic fans have a unique psychopathology absolutely all their very own…

Detective Comics #370 was by Broome, Moldoff & Giella, relating a superb thriller with roots in Bruce Wayne’s troubled youth. ‘The Nemesis from Batman’s Boyhood!’ is in many ways a precursor of later tales with an excellent psychologically potent premise and a soundly satisfying conclusion proving the demands of the TV shows were not exclusive or paramount. Gil Kane made his debut on the “Dominoed Daredoll” (did they really call her that? Yes. Yes they did, from page 2 onwards) in #371’s ‘Batgirl’s Costumed Cut-ups’, a masterpiece of comic dynamism that Sid Greene could be proud of but which Gardner Fox probably preferred to forget.

Batman #199’s ‘Peril of the Poison Rings’ and ‘Seven Steps to Save Face’ are far better examples of the clever plotting, memorable maguffins and rapid pace Fox was capable of, ably interpreted here by Moldoff & Giella, whilst Broome’s ‘The Fearsome Foot-Fighters!’ weak title masks a classy burglary-yarn and the regular art team’s beginning to amplify mood via heavy shadow in all their endeavours. This issue (Detective #370) was the first Bat-cover legend-in-waiting Neal Adams pencilled and inked – an awesome taste of things to come…

Batman #200 (cover-dated March 1968 and on ale mid-January) was written by wunderkind Mike Friedrich for Moldoff & Giella. ‘The Man Who Radiated Fear!’ featured a revitalised Scarecrow, and with the TV influence fading, a pre-emptive rehabilitation of the Caped Crusader began right here in a solid thriller with few laughs and plenty of guest-stars. Fox returned to top form in Detective #373, with Chic Stone & Greene illustrating Mr. Freeze’s Chilling Deathtrap!’, a tale favouring drama over showbiz shtick, after which Gil Kane returned to ramp up tension in brutal vengeance fable ‘Hunt for a Robin-Killer!’ (Detective #374) whilst Stone & Giella coped well with the extended cast of villains in Batman #201’s ‘Batman’s Gangland Guardians!’: a cunning action-packed enigma wherein his greatest foes become bodyguards to a hero…

This volume ends with Detective #374 and Fox, Stone & Greene’s ‘The Frigid Finger of Fate’ and a chilling race to catch a precognitive sniper, which – more than any other story – signalled the end of the Camp-Craze Caped Crimebuster and heralded the imminent return of a Darker Knight. With this third collection from “the TV years” of Batman – all done with by Spring of 1968 – the global Bat-craze and larger popular fascination with super-heroes – and indeed the whole “Camp” trend – was dying. In comics, that resulted in a resurgence of other genres, particularly Westerns and supernatural tales. For Batman it signalled a renaissance of passion, terror and a life of shadows. Stay tuned: the best is yet to come…
© 1967, 1968, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents World’s Finest volume 3


By Edmond Hamilton, Cary Bates, Jim Shooter, Leo Dorfman, Bill Finger, Curt Swan, George Klein, Sheldon Moldoff, Al Plastino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-585-2 (TPB)

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest” team. Friends as well as colleagues, their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships. This third magnificent monochrome compendium gathers their cataclysmic collaborations from the glory days of the mid-1960’s: specifically World’s Finest Comics #146-173 – with the exception of reprint 80-Page Giant issues #161 &170 – and cumulatively covering cover-dates December 1964 through February 1968). This was a time when the entire Free World went superhero gaga in response to Batman’s live action and Superman’s animated TV shows…

A new era had begun in World’s Finest Comics #141 when author Edmond Hamilton and artists Curt Swan & George Klein (who illustrate the bulk of tales in this collection) ushered in a more dramatic, realistic and far less whimsical tone. That titanic creative trio continue their rationalist run in this volume starting with #146’s Batman, Son of Krypton!’ wherein uncovered evidence from the Bottle City of Kandor and bizarre recovered memories seemed to indicate the Caped Crusader is in fact an amnesiac, de-powered, Kryptonian. Moreover, as our heroes dig deeper, Superman thinks he’s found the Earthman responsible for Krypton’s destruction and becomes crazed with a hunger for vengeance…

WFC #147’s saw the sidekicks step up in a stirring blend of science fiction thriller and crime caper, all masquerading as an engaging drama of youth-in-revolt when ‘The New Terrific Team!’ (February 1965 Hamilton, Swan & Klein) saw Jimmy Olsen and Robin quit their underappreciated assistant roles to strike out on their disgruntled own. Naturally there was a perfectly rational, if incredible, reason. In #148 ‘Superman and Batman – Outlaws!’ (with Sheldon Moldoff temporarily replacing Klein) saw the Cape & Cowl Crimebusters sent to another dimension where arch-villains Lex Luthor and Clayface were heroes and the Dark Knight and Action Ace ruthless hunted criminals, after which World’s Finest Comics #149 (May 1965 and also inked by Moldoff) dealt out ‘The Game of Secret Identities!’ with Superman locked into an increasingly obsessive battle of wits with Batman that seemed likely to break up the partnership and even lead to violent disaster…

‘The Super-Gamble with Doom!’ (#150) introduced manipulative aliens Rokk and Sorban, whose addictive and staggeringly spectacular wagering almost gets Batman killed and Earth destroyed, before ‘The Infinite Evolutions of Batman and Superman!’ in #151 introduces junior writer Cary Bates, pairing with Hamilton to produce a beguiling sci fi thriller as the Gotham Guardian transforms into a callous future-man and the Metropolis Marvel is reduced to a brutish Neanderthal…

Hamilton solo-scripted #152’s ‘The Colossal Kids!’ wherein a brace of incomprehensibly super-powered brats outmatch, outdo but never outwit Batman or Superman (and of course there are old antagonists behind the challenging campaign of humiliation) after which Bates rejoins his writing mentor for a taut and dramatic “Imaginary Story” in #153.

When Editor Mort Weisinger was expanding Superman continuity and building the legend, he knew that each new tale was an event adding to a nigh-sacred canon and that what was written and drawn mattered to readers. But as an ideas man he wasn’t going to let that aggregated “consensus 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 covers depicting scenes that couldn’t possibly be true… even if it was only a comic book.

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. Illustrated by as ever by Swan & Klein, ‘The Clash of Cape and Cowl!’ posited a situation where brilliant young Bruce Wayne grew up believing Superboy had murdered his father, thereafter dedicating his life to crushing all criminals as a Bat Man awaiting the day when he could expose Superman as a killer and sanctimonious fraud…

WFC #154’s ‘The Sons of Superman and Batman’ (by Hamilton) opened doors to a far less tragic Imaginary world: one where the crime fighters finally found time to marry Lois Lane and Kathy Kane and have kids. Unfortunately, their lads proved to be both a trial and initially a huge disappointment…

‘Exit Batman – Enter Nightman!’ is a canny psychological thriller with the World’s Finest Team on the cusp of their 1,000th successful shared case when a new costumed crusader threatens to break up the partnership and replace burned out Batman, after which ‘The Federation of Bizarro Idiots!’ in #156 sees well-meaning but imbecilic imperfect duplicates of Superman and Batman set up shop on Earth. They end up as pawns of the duplicitous Joker, and it does not end well…

In #157’s ‘The Abominable Brats’ – drawn with inevitable brilliance by Swan and inked by both Klein & Moldoff – featured an Imaginary Story sequel as the wayward sons of heroes return to cause even more mischief, although once more there are other insidious influences in play…

‘The Invulnerable Super-Enemy!’ (#158 by Hamilton, Swan & Klein), has the Olsen-Robin Team stumble upon three Bottled Cities and inadvertently draw their mentors into a terrifying odyssey of evil. At first it appears to be the work of Brainiac but is in fact far from it, and is followed by ‘The Cape and Cowl Crooks!’ (WFC #159), dealing with foes possessing far mightier powers than our heroes – apparently a major concern for readers of those times.

To this day whenever fans gather a cry soon echoes out, “Who’s the strongest/fastest/better dressed…?” but this canny conundrum took the theme to superbly suspenseful heights as Anti-Superman and Anti-Batman continually outwit and outmanoeuvre the heroes, seemingly possessed of impossible knowledge of their antagonists…

Leo Dorfman debuted as scripter in#160 as the heroes struggled to discredit ‘The Fatal Forecasts of Dr. Zodiac’, a scurrilous Swami who appears to control fate itself. World’s Finest Comics #161 was an 80-Page Giant reprinting past tales and not included in this collection, so we jump to #162’s ‘Pawns of the Jousting Master!’: by another fresh scripting face. Teenager Jim Shooter produced an engaging time travel romp wherein Superman and Batman are defeated in combat and compelled to travel back to Camelot in a beguiling tale of King Arthur, super-powered knights and invading aliens…

‘The Duel of the Super-Duo!’ (#163, by Shooter, Swan & Klein) pits Superman against a brainwashed Batman on a world where his mighty powers are negated and other heroes of the galaxy are imprisoned by a master manipulator, after which Dorfman delivers an engaging thriller wherein a girl who is more powerful than Superman and smarter than Batman proves to be ‘Brainiac’s Super Brain-Child!’ Bill Finger & Al Plastino step in to craft WFC #165’s ‘The Crown of Crime’ (March 1967), depicting the last days of dying mega-gangster King Wolff. His plan to go out with a bang sets the underworld ablaze and almost stymies both heroes, after which Shooter, Swan & Klein depict ‘The Danger of the Deadly Duo!’ in which the 20th generation of Batman and Superman unite to battle The Joker of 2967 and his uncanny ally Muto: a superb flight of fantasy that was sequel to a brief series of stories starring Superman’s heroic descendent in a fantastic far future world.

WFC #167 saw Bates solo script ‘The New Superman and Batman Team!’: an Imaginary Story wherein boy scientist Lex Luthor gives himself super-powers and a Kal-El who had landed on Earth without Kryptonian abilities trains himself to become an avenging Batman after his foster-father Jonathan Kent was murdered. The Smallville Stalwarts briefly united in a crime-fighting partnership, but destiny has other plans for the fore-doomed friends…

In World’s Finest #142 a lowly, embittered janitor suddenly gained all the powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes and attacked Caped Crusader and Action Ace out of frustration and jealousy. Revived by Bates for #168’s ‘The Return of the Composite Superman!’ he is actually the pawn of a truly evil villain but gloriously triumphs over his own venal nature, after which #169 hosts ‘The Supergirl-Batgirl Plot’: a whimsical fantasy feast from Bates, Swan & Klein wherein the uppity lasses apparently toil tirelessly to supplant and replace Batman and Superman before it’s revealed that the Dynamic Damsels are mere pawns of an extremely duplicitous team of female felons and a brace of old WF antagonists are actually behind the Byzantine scheme…

Issue #170 is another unincluded mammoth reprint edition, after which #171 reveals ‘The Executioner’s List!’ (script by Dorfman): an intriguing, tense murder-mystery with a mysterious sniper seemingly targeting friends of Superman and Batman, before stirring, hard-hitting Imaginary Story ‘Superman and Batman… Brothers!’ (#172, December 1967) posits a grim scenario wherein orphaned Bruce Wayne is adopted by the Kents, but cannot escape a destiny of tragedy and darkness. Written by Shooter and brilliantly interpreted by Swan & Klein, this moody thriller in many ways signalled the end of angst-free days and beginning of a darker, edgier and more cohesive DC universe for a less casual readership, thereby surrendering the mythology to an increasingly devout fan-based audience.

This stunning compendium closes with World’s Finest Comics #173 and ‘The Jekyll-Hyde Heroes!’ (Shooter, Swan & Klein) as a criminal scientist devises a way to literally transform the Cape & Cowl Crusaders into their own worst enemies…

These are gloriously clever yet uncomplicated tales whose timeless style has returned to inform if not dictate the form for much of DC’s modern television animation. The stories here are a veritable feast of witty, gritty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have: unmissable adventure for fans of all ages!
© 1964-1968, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Batman volume 2


By John Broome, Gardner F. Fox, Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Moldoff, Joe Giella, Sid Greene, Chic Stone, Murphy Anderson and with covers from Gil Kane and Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN 978-1-84576-661-0 (TPB)

This volume from the wonderfully cheap & cheerful, crushingly much-missed Showcase Presents… line serves up in sharp, crisp monochrome 36 more Bat-stories from September 1965 to December 1966 as originally seen in Batman #175-188 and Detective Comics #343-358. Other than covers it excludes Batman #176, 182, 185 & 187, which were all-reprint 80-Page Giants.

These tales were produced in the months leading up to the launch of and throughout year one of the blockbuster Batman television show (premiering January 12th 1966 and running 3 seasons of 120 episodes in total). The show aired twice weekly in its first two seasons, resulting in vast amounts of Bat-awareness, no end of spin-offs and merchandise, a movie and the overkill phenomenon of “Batmania”. No matter how much we might squeal and foam about it, to a huge portion of this planet’s population Batman will always be that “Zap! Biff! Pow!” buffoonish costumed Boy Scout…

Regrettably this means the comic stories published during that period have been similarly excoriated and maligned by many ever since. It is true some tales were crafted with overtones of the “camp” comedy fad – presumably to accommodate newer readers seduced by the arch silliness and coy irony of the show – but no editor of Julius Schwartz’s calibre would ever deviate far from characterisation that had sustained Batman for nearly three decades, or the then-recent relaunch which had revitalised the character sufficiently for television to take an interest at all.

Nor would such brilliant writers as John Broome, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox or Bob Kanigher ever produce work which didn’t resonate on all the Batman’s complex levels just for a quick laugh and cheap thrill. The artists tasked with sustaining the visual intensity included such greats as Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Moldoff, Chic Stone, Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene, with covers from Gil Kane and Joe Kubert supplementing the stunning and trend-setting, fine-line Infantino masterpieces.

Most stories in this compendium reflect those gentler times and an editorial policy to focus on Batman’s reputation as “The World’s Greatest Detective”, so colourfully costumed, psychotic veteran supervillains are in a minority, but there are first appearances for a number of exotic foes who would become regular menaces for the Dynamic Duo in later years.

The mayhem and mystery begin with book-length epic ‘The Secret War of the Phantom General!’ from Detective Comics #343 (September 1965). Written by John Broome and limned by Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, it incorporates back up star Elongated Man: a costumed sleuth blending the charm of Nick “The Thin Man” Charles with the outré hero antics of Plastic Man

This tense thriller pits hard-pressed heroes against a hidden army of gangsters and Nazi war criminals, before #344 introduces intellectual bandit Johnny Witts, ‘The Crime-Boss Who Was Always One Step Ahead of Batman!’ in a sharp duel of mentalities from Gardner Fox, Sheldon Moldoff & Giella. The same creative team produced epic shocker ‘The Decline and Fall of Batman’ in the 175th issue of his own titular magazine, wherein fringe scientist Eddie Repp almost ends the Caped Crusaders’ careers by assaulting them with electronic ghosts, after which Detective #345 debuts a terrifying and tragic new villain in ‘The Blockbuster Invasion of Gotham City!’ (Fox, Infantino & Giella), as a monstrous giant with the mind of a child and raw, physical power of a tank is constantly driven to madness at sight of Batman and only placated by the sight of Bruce Wayne

Batman #177 opens with Bill Finger, Moldoff & Giella’s puzzler, ‘Two Batmen Too Many’ complete with a brace of superhero guest-stars, after which ‘The Art Gallery of Rogues!’ (Broome, Moldoff & Sid Greene) combines good-natured matchmaking with murderous burglary before ‘Batman’s Inescapable Doom-Trap!’ (Detective #346, Broome, Moldoff & Giella) highlights the Gotham Gangbuster’s escapology skills when a magician-turned-thief alpha-tests his latest stunt on the unwilling, unwitting hero.

Fox, Infantino & Giella reveal ‘The Strange Death of Batman!’ in Detective # 347, launching habitual B-list villain The Bouncer in a bizarre experimental yarn which must be seen to be believed, whereas it’s all-action business as usual in Batman #178 when the ‘Raid of the Rocketeers!’ (Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella) set the Caped Champions on the trail of jet-packed super-thugs after which Broome, Moldoff & Greene start referencing the TV series’ tone in light-hearted caper ‘The Loan Shark’s Hidden Horde!’

Whilst ‘The Birdmaster of Bedlam!’ (Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella) who hatched his first sinister scheme in Detective #349 proves ultimately incapable of containing the heroes, Batman #179 provides more of a challenge with ‘Clay Pigeon for a Killer!’ Kanigher, Moldoff & Greene (erroneously credited as Giella here) see Batman using television’s “Most Wanted” show to trap a murderer beyond reach of the law whilst ‘The Riddle-less Robberies of The Riddler!’ (Broome Moldoff & Giella), fully reinvents the Prince of Puzzlers as the felon discovers he cannot escape or defy an obsessive psychological compulsion preventing him from committing crimes unless he sends clues to Batman first! Sadly, even when Eddie Nigma cheats, the Masked Manhunter keeps solving the clues…

The microcephalic man-brute who hates Batman returns as ‘The Blockbuster Breaks Loose!’ in a blistering, action-fuelled thriller by Fox, Infantino & Giella (Detective #349) which also hints at the return of a long-forgotten foe, whilst ‘The Monarch of Menace!’ (#350 by Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella) introduces the greatest criminal in the world, who starts well but inevitably falls to the Gotham Guardian’s indomitable persistence.

Illustrated by Moldoff & Giella, Batman #180 debuts the uncanny Death-Man in ‘Death Knocks Three Times!’ – Kanigher’s best tale of this era and an early indication of the Caped Crusader’s eerie potential, after which Detective #351 premieres game-show host turned felonious impresario Arthur Brown in ‘The Cluemaster’s Topsy-Turvy Crimes!’ courtesy of Fox, Infantino & Greene.

‘Beware of… Poison Ivy!’ in Batman #181 introduces the deadly damsel to the Caped Crusader’s Rogues Gallery, but in this tale she’s only a criminal boss using sex as her weapon to split up the Dynamic Duo and defeat rival villainesses in a sly tale from Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella. Following an iconic pin-up courtesy of Infantino & Murphy Anderson comes a superb Mystery Analysts of Gotham City shocker. Fox, Moldoff & Greene detail ‘The Perfect Crime… Slightly Imperfect!’, before Detective #352 sees Broome, Moldoff & Giella explore ‘Batman’s Crime Hunt A-Go-Go!’ wherein Batman hits an incredible hot-streak, repeatedly catching criminals in the act with incredible hunches. Of course, it’s no such thing and sinister stage mentalist Mr. Esper is manipulating the crime campaign for his own sinister ends…

After another stunning Infantino & Anderson Bat pin-up, narrative action resumes with ‘The Weather Wizard’s Triple-Treasure Thefts!’ (Fox, Infantino & Giella) in #353, pitting the Dynamic Duo in spectacular opposition to The Flash’s archenemy: one of the first times a DC villain moved out of his usual stamping grounds. Batman #183 opens with ‘A Touch of Poison Ivy!’ (Kanigher, Moldoff & Giella) as the seductive siren tries again to turn the Caped Crusader’s head before excellent “fair-play” mystery ‘Batman’s Baffling Turnabout!’ sees Gardner Fox challenge readers to deduce what turns the hero against a baffled Boy Wonder…

‘No Exit for Batman’ (Detective #354, by Broome Moldoff & Giella) introduces bloodthirsty oriental fiend Dr. Tzin-Tzin and gives me another excellent opportunity to remind you just how far we’ve all come in confronting all those pernicious stereotypes that underpinned so much popular fiction…

The tale itself is a bruising all-action battle with the hero targeted by a Chinese ganglord seeking to break him down by fighting an army of foes, followed by Fox’s ‘Mystery of the Missing Manhunters!’ which generated one of the most memorable covers of the decade for Batman #184 and a back-up Robin solo tale: ‘The Boy Wonder’s Boo-Boo Patrol!’ (Fox, Chic Stone & Greene) showing the kid’s potential in a smart tale of thespian skulduggery and clever conundrum solving.

Detective #355 again highlights our hero’s physical prowess and deductive capabilities in blistering yarn ‘Hate of the Hooded Hangman!’ (Broome, Infantino & Giella), after which an extended duel with a mutated mastermind culminates in ‘The Inside story of the Outsider!’ and the miraculous resurrection of faithful retainer Alfred in a landmark, game-changing, classic confrontation by Fox, Moldoff & Giella from Detective Comics #356.

Batman #186 sees the Clown Prince of Crime in possibly his most innocuous exploit ‘The Joker’s Original Robberies’ as Broome, Moldoff & Giella sought to out-Camp the TV show, whereas ‘Commissioner Gordon’s Death-Threat!’ (written by Fox) put the artists’ talents to far better use in a terse and compelling kidnap thriller. Broome redeems himself in Detective #357 with sharp secret identity saving puzzler Bruce Wayne Unmasks Batman!’ (limned by Infantino & Giella).

Batman #188 featured ‘The Eraser Who Tried to Rub Out Batman!’ (Broome, Moldoff & Giella) and Fox, Moldoff & Greene’s decidedly sharper and less silly murder-mystery ‘The Ten Best-Dressed Corpses in Gotham City!’ after which this collection concludes on a note of psychological intrigue as Broome, Moldoff & Giella use Detective #358 to outline ‘The Circle of Terror’, wherein the Masked Manhunter is progressively driven to the edge of madness by Op Art maestro The Spellbinder.

With covers by Infantino, Gil Kane, Murphy Anderson and Joe Kubert, pin-up extras, frequent reprint compendiums and lots of cross-pollination with the TV series, DC were pulling out all the stops to capitalise on the screen exposure and ensure the comic buying public got their 12¢ worth, but the most effective tool in the arsenal was always the sheer scope and variety of the stories. The bulk of the yarns reprinted here are thefts, capers and sinister schemes by heist men, murderers, would-be world-conquerors or mad scientists and I must say it’s a joy to see such once-common staples of comic books in play again. Call me radical or reactionary but I say you can have too much psycho-killing, and just how many alien races really and truly can be bothered with our poxy planet – or our women?

…And yes, there are one or two utterly daft escapades included here, but overall this book is a magical window onto a simpler time but not burdened by simpler fare. These Batman adventures are tense, thrilling, engrossing, engaging and even amusing and I’d have no qualms giving them to my niece or my granny. It’s such a shame DC seems to disagree but at least by seeking this out you can Tune In and become a proper Bat-Fan.
© 1965, 1966, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Batman Adventures volume 2


By Kelley Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5463-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

As conceived and delivered by Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm & latterly Paul Dini, Batman: The Animated Series began airing in the US on September 5th 1992, running to September 15th 1995 before being rebooted for a second bite at the cherry. The shows – ostensibly for kids – revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and happily fed back into a print iteration, introducing characters like Harley Quinn to the comics canon and leading to some of the absolute best comic book tales in the hero’s 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, re-honed the grim avenger, his team, allies and enemies into gleefully accessible, thematically memorable forms that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding dark shades of exuberance and panache only most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to.

The comic book iteration was prime material for collection in an emergent trade paperback market, but only the first year was released, plus miniseries such as Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures: the Lost Years.

This second compendium gathers issues #11-20 of The Batman Adventures (originally published from August 1993 to May 1994) in a scintillating, no-nonsense frenzy of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy from Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett.

Puckett is a writer who truly grasps the visual nature of the medium and his stories are always fast-paced, action-packed and stripped down to the barest of essential dialogue. That gift has never been better exploited than by Parobeck who was at that time a rising star, especially when graced by Burchett’s slick, clean inking.

Although his professional comics career was tragically short (1989-1996 when he died, aged 31, from complications of Type 1 Diabetes) Mike Parobeck’s gracefully fluid, exuberantly kinetic, fun-fuelled animation-inspired drawing style revolutionised superhero depiction and sparked a renaissance in kid-friendly comics – and merchandise – at DC and everywhere else.

Like the show, each story is treated as a 3-act play, and kicking off events here is moodily magnificent thriller ‘The Beast Within!’ as obsessed scientist Kirk Langstrom agonises. He believes he is somehow uncontrollably transforming into the monstrous Man-Bat whenever ‘The Sleeper Awakens!’ The truth is far more sinister, but incarcerated in ‘G.C.P.D.H.Q!’ neither the troubled chemist nor his beloved wife Francine can discern ‘The Awful Truth!’ Happily, ever-watchful Batman plays by his own rules…

Following in with a stunning shift of focus, young Barbara Gordon makes a superhero costume for a party on ‘Batgirl: Day One!’ and subsequently stumbles into a larcenous ‘Ladies Night’ when the High Society bash is crashed by rejected Joker groupie Harley Quinn and plant-based plunderer Poison Ivy. With no professional help on hand, Babs must act as ‘If the Suit Fits!’ and tackle the bad girls herself… and then Catwoman shows up for frantic ferocious finale ‘Out of the Frying Pan!’

The troubled relationship of Batman and Talia, Daughter of The Demon was tackled with surprising sophistication in ‘Last Tango in Paris’ with the sometime-lovers teaming up to recover a statue stolen from her diabolical eco-terrorist dad Ra’s Al Ghul.

‘Act 1: Old Flame’ sees them stumble into a trap set by one of The Demon’s rivals, but turn the tables in ‘Act 2: Paris is Burning’ before each of the trysting couple’s true motivations are exposed in heartbreaking ‘Act 3: Where there’s Smoke’

Despite being a series to be read one glorious tale at a time, the creators had laid groundwork for an epic sequence to come, but whilst Bruce is occupied in Europe, the spotlight shifts to Dick Grayson as the Teen Wonder worries about how to break to his mentor news of a game-changing decision, even as ‘Public Enemy’ sees the latest incomprehensible rampage of  deranged bandit by The Ventriloquist

‘Act 1: Greakout!’ finds the cunningly carved crook and his silently screaming stooge escaping clink to orchestrate a massive heist in ‘Act 2: The Grinks Jog’, only to ultimately have the limelight stolen by Robin in ‘Act 3: The Gig Glock!’

Police Commissioner Jim Gordon teams with Batman in ‘Badge of Honor’, united to save a undercover cop held hostage by Boss Rupert Thorne in ‘Act 1: Officer Down!’ before ‘Act 2: Cop Killer!’ tracks the seemingly unstoppable duo hunting down the fallen hero only to face their greatest obstacle in ‘Act 3: Code Dead!’ That’s when slick operator Thorne finally himself gets his hands dirty…

In ‘The Killing Book’ the Harlequin of Hate takes offence at his “unflattering” portrayal in comics with ‘Act 1: Seduction of the Innocent!’ seeing The Joker kidnap the publisher’s latest overnight sensation in order to show in ‘Act 2: How to Draw Comics the Joker Way!’ Naturally ‘Act 3: Comics and Sequential Death!’ only prove Batman is not a guy to tolerate funnybooks or artistic upstarts.

The seeds planted in Paris flourish and bloom in ‘The Tangled Web’ as The Demon’s latest act of genocide begins with ‘Act 1: Into the Shadows!’ However ‘Act 2: New World Order’ proves yet again Ra’s has critically underestimated his enemy, as a different masked stranger saves Earth from catastrophe in ‘Act 3: What Doth it Profit a Man?’

Following that epic victory Robin meets the baffling and mysterious Batgirl for the first time on ‘Decision Day’ when conflicted Barbara Gordon again succumbs to the addictive lure of costumed crimefighting. Thwarting a bomb plot in ‘Act 1: Eyewitness!’ the feisty but untutored firebrand opts to catch the culprit herself in ‘Act 2: Smoking Gun’, even if she does grudgingly accept a little assistance from the Teen Wonder in ‘Act 3: No Justice, No Peace!’

Gotham’s Master of Terror turns up inside Batman’s head sparking ‘Troubled Dreams’ as the Dark Knight becomes just one of many sufferers of ‘Act 1: Nightmare over Gotham!’ Just for once, however, there’s another instigator of panic in the mix, enquiring in ‘Act 2: Who Scares The Scarecrow?’ until the Caped Crusader catches the real dream-invader in ‘Act 3: Beneath the Mask’…

The fabulous foray into classic four-colour fun concludes with another spectacular yet hilarious outing for a Terrible Trio of criminals who bear a remarkable resemblance to DC editors Dennis O’Neil, Mike Carlin and Archie Goodwin. ‘Smells Like Black Sunday’ opens with ‘Act 1: And a Perfesser Shall Lead Them!’ as the Triumvirate of Terror bust out of the big house, hotly pursued by the Gotham Gangbuster in ‘Act 2: Flying Blind with Mastermind’.

Sadly their scheme to become a 3-man nuclear power falters as ‘Act 3: Legend of the Dark Nice’ finds the evil geniuses underestimating the sheer cuteness of guard dogs and their cataclysmic comrade’s innately gentle disposition…

Breathtakingly written and iconically illustrated, these stripped-down rollercoaster-romps are impeccable Bat-magic and this is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.
© 1993, 1994, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents World’s Finest volume 2


By Jerry Coleman, Bill Finger, Edmond Hamilton, Ed Herron, Dave Wood, Curt Swan, Jim Mooney, Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff, Stan Kaye, John Forte, George Klein & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-053-6 (TPB)

For decades Superman and Batman were the quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest” team. They were friends as well as colleagues and the pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships. This most inevitable of Paladin Pairings first occurred on the Superman radio show in 1945, whilst in comics the pair briefly met whilst on a Justice Society of America adventure (in All-Star Comics #36, August/September 1947) and perhaps even there they missed each other in the gaudy hubbub…

They heroic headliners had shared the covers of World’s Finest Comics from the outset, but never crossed paths inside, sticking firmly to solo adventures within. Once that Rubicon was crossed due to spiralling costs and dwindling page-counts, the industry never looked back…

This blockbusting monochrome chronicle gathers their cataclysmic collaborations from WFC #112-145, spanning September 1960 to November 1964, just prior to the entire planet going superhero crazy and Batman mad. Jerry Coleman, Dick Sprang & Sheldon Moldoff  crafted #112, featuring a unique and tragic warning in ‘The Menace of Superman’s Pet’, as a phenomenally cute teddy bear from space proved to be an unbelievably dangerous menace and unforgettable true friend. Bring tissues, you big baby…

In an era when disturbing menace was frowned upon, many tales featured intellectual dilemmas and unavoidable pests. Both Gotham Guardian and Man of Steel had their own magical 5th dimensional gadflies and it was therefore only a matter of time until ‘Bat-Mite Meets Mr. Mxyzptlk’ in a madcap duel to see whose hero was best with America caught in the metamorphic middle. WFC #114 saw Superman, Batman & Robin shanghaied to distant planet Zoron as ‘Captives of the Space Globes’ where their abilities were reversed but justice was still served in the end, after which ‘The Curse that Doomed Superman’ saw the Action Ace consistently outfoxed by a scurrilous Swami with Batman helpless to assist him. Curt Swan & Stan Kaye illustrated #116’s thrilling monster mash ‘The Creature From Beyond’ as a criminal alien out-powers Superman whilst concealing an incredible secret, and all the formula bases were covered as Lex Luthor used ‘Super-Batwoman and the Super-Creature’ to execute his most sinister scheme against the heroes.

For #118 Sprang & Moldoff illustrated ‘The Creature That was Exchanged for Superman’ as the Action Ace is hijacked to another world so a transplanted monster can undertake a sinister search with the Dynamic Duo fighting a desperate holding action, after which ‘The Secret of Tigerman’ (#119 and inked by Stan Kaye) reveals a dashing new hero in charge as the valiant trio attempt to outwit a sinister criminal mastermind. Veteran artist Jim Mooney began illustrating Coleman’s scripts in #120, starting with ‘The Challenge of the Faceless Creatures’ as amorphous monsters repeatedly siphon off Superman’s powers for nefarious purposes before the Gotham Gangbuster is eerily transformed into a destructive horror in trans-dimensional thriller ‘The Mirror Batman’ and #122 (Kaye inks) sees an alien lawman cause a seeming betrayal by the Dark Knight, leading to ‘The Capture of Superman’

Zany frustration and magical pranks were the order of the day in #123 as ‘The Incredible Team of Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk’ (Sprang & Moldoff) returned to again determine whose hero was greatest, whilst ‘The Mystery of the Alien Super-Boy’ (#124, art by Swan & Moldoff) pits our heroes against a titanic teenager with awesome powers and a hidden agenda whilst ‘The Hostages of the Island of Doom’ (Mooney & John Forte) has Batman & Robin used as pawns to force Superman’s assistance in a fantastic criminal’s play for power.

Luthor’s eternal vendetta inadvertently created an immensely destructive threat in ‘The Negative Superman’ (#126, by Ed Herron, Mooney & Moldoff) stretching Batman and Robin’s ingenuity to the limit, after which ‘The Sorcerer From the Stars’ (Coleman) challenges the heroes to stop his plundering of Earth’s mystic secrets and ‘The Power that Transformed Batman’ (#128, Coleman & Mooney) briefly makes the hero a deadly menace.

Dave Wood, Mooney & Moldoff pitted the World’s Finest team against their greatest enemies in #129’s ‘Joker-Luthor, Incorporated!’ whilst Coleman & Mooney posed an intergalactic puzzle with devastating consequences for the heroes in ‘Riddle of the Four Planets!’ and Bill Finger, Sprang & Moldoff present a stirring action thriller when the team inexplicably add a surplus and incompetent fourth hero to the partnership in #131’s ‘The Mystery of the Crimson Avenger’.

With Finger as regular scripter, tense mysteries played a stronger part, such as when Superman was forced to travel back in time to rescue ‘Batman and Robin, Medieval Bandits’ (art by Mooney) and clear their names of historical ignominy, whilst #133 sees ‘The Beasts of the Supernatural’ (Mooney & Moldoff) leeching the Man of Steel’s power. The Gotham Guardian is hard-pressed to fool the mastermind behind those attacks after which the heroes battle for their lives against an alien dictator and ‘The Band of Super-Villains’ (Mooney)…

World’s Finest Comics #135 (August 1963, inked by Moldoff) was Sprang’s last pencil job on the series and a superb swansong as ‘Menace of the Future Man’ has the heroes valiantly and vainly battling a time-tossed foe who knows their every tactic and secret, after which ‘The Batman Nobody Remembered’ (Mooney & Moldoff) pitches a paranoid nightmare wherein the Dark Detective faces a hostile world which thinks him mad, before ‘Superman’s Secret Master!’ (#137, Finger & Mooney) seemingly turns the Action Ace into a servant of crime… until Batman deduces the true state of affairs.

Finger bowed out in #138 with ‘Secret of the Captive Cavemen’ as an alien spy’s suicide leads the heroes back 50,000 years to foil a plot to conquer Earth, after which Dave Wood, Mooney & Moldoff provide eerie sci fi thriller ‘The Ghost of Batman’ and a classic clash of powers in #140’s ‘The Clayface Superman!’ (Mooney) as the shape-shifting bandit duplicates the Metropolis Marvel’s unstoppable abilities…

A new era dawned in World’s Finest Comics #141 (May 1964) as author Edmond Hamilton and artists Curt Swan & George Klein ushered in more realistic and less whimsical tales beginning with ‘The Olsen-Robin Team vs. “the Superman-Batman Team!”’, wherein the junior partners rebel and set up their own crime-fighting enterprise. Of course, there’s a hidden meaning to their increasingly wild escapades…

In #142 an embittered janitor suddenly gains all the powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes and attacked the heroes out of frustration and jealousy in ‘The Composite Superman!’ after which the Gotham Knight suffers a near-fatal wound and nervous breakdown in ‘The Feud Between Batman and Superman!’: a condition cured only after a deadly and disastrous recuperative trip to the Bottle City of Kandor. Super-villains were growing in popularity and #144 highlighted two of the worst when ‘The 1,000 Tricks of Clayface and Brainiac!’ almost destroy the World’s Finest Team forever before this stellar selection ends on an enthralling high note as Batman is pressganged to an alien ‘Prison For Heroes!’: not as a cellmate for Superman and other interplanetary champions, but as their sadistic jailer…

These are gloriously clever yet uncomplicated tales whose dazzling style has returned to inform if not dictate the form of DC’s modern television animation – especially Batman: the Brave and the Bold series – and the contents of this tome are a veritable feast of witty, charming thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have.
© 1960-1964, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: The Strange Deaths of Batman


By Gardner F. Fox, Cary Bates, Cary Bates, Bob Haney, David V. Reed, Gerry Conway, John Stanisci, Chuck Dixon, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, Curt Swan & Jack Abel, Jim Aparo, John Calnan & Tex Blaisdell, Rich Buckler & Frank McLaughlin, Sal Buscema, Greg Land, Drew Geraci & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2174-4 (TPB)

Compiled on the coat-tails of DC’s Batman R.I.P. publishing event (which ran May to November 2008, and with repercussions inspiring recent events in the ongoing mythology), this delightfully eccentric collection celebrates the recurrent demise of the Gotham Guardian by digging up a few oddments and some genuine valuable artifacts to amuse, enthral and amaze.

The wonderment begins with the quirkily eponymous ‘The Strange Death of Batman!’: a highly experimental mystery originating in Detective Comics #347 (January 1966) literally moments before the Dynamic Duo became household names all over the globe thanks to an incredibly popular TV show. Crafted by Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella, it features a major contender for the title of Batman’s daftest super-foe – The Bouncer – but still delivers action, drama and an intriguing conundrum to challenge the reader…

It’s followed by ‘Robin’s Revenge’ (World’s Finest Comics #184. May 1969) wherein Cary Bates and artists Curt Swan & Jack Abel recount the Imaginary Story (see DC’s Greatest Imaginary Stories for a definition if the term is somehow unknown to you) of Batman’s murder and the dark path that loss takes the Boy Wonder down. Hapless Superman acts as stand-in guardian but is helpless to forestall inevitable further tragedy…

‘The Corpse that Wouldn’t Die!’ is a superb tale guest-starring The Atom taken from team-up title The Brave and the Bold #115 (October/November 1974). Written by Bob Haney and magnificently drawn by Jim Aparo, it details how the Gotham Guardian is killed in the line of duty and how the Tiny Titan occupies his brain to reanimate his corpse and conclude the case that finished him…

Next is an extended saga from Batman #291-294 (cover dates September through December 1977) written by author David V. Reed and illustrated by John Calnan & Tex Blaisdell. Over four deviously clever issues ‘Where Were You the Night Batman Was Killed?’ sees hordes of costumed foes the Caped Crusader has crushed assemble to verify the stories of various felons claiming to have done the deed. This thematic partial inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s “Last Batman Story” kicks off with ‘The Testimony of the Catwoman’ followed by testimony from The Riddler, Lex Luthor and The Joker before satisfactorily concluding in a spectacular grand manner.

‘Buried Alive!’ by Gerry Conway, Rick Buckler & Frank McLaughlin (World’s Finest Comics #269 June/July1981) finds Superman and Robin desperately racing against time: hunting for a madman who entombed the Batman, after which ‘The Prison’ written and inked by John Stanisci, with Sal Buscema pencils, is a moody character piece featuring post-mortem reflections of Talia, Daughter of the Demon Ra’s Al Ghul as originally seen in Batman Chronicles #8, Spring 1997. This odd yet engaging tome terminates with a frilly, fluffy fantasy from Nightwing #52, (February 2001) as Catwoman imagines a morbidly mirthful ‘Modern Romance’ courtesy of Chuck Dixon, Greg Land & Drew Geraci.

Themed collections can be a rather hit-or-miss proposition, but the quality and variety of these inspired selections makes for a highly enjoyable read and the only regret I can express is that room couldn’t be found to include the various covers that fronted these tales. Include those in a new expanded edition and you’d have a book to die for…
© 1966, 1969, 1974, 1977, 1981, 1997, 2001, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Teen Titans volume 2


By Mike Friedrich, Bob Haney, Neal Adams, Marv Wolfman, Robert Kanigher, Steve Skeates, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Nick Cardy, Sal Amendola, George Tuska, Carmine Infantino, Dick Dillin, Joe Giella, Jim Aparo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-677-1 (TPB)

Hey, Super Kids! Happy 60th Anniversary!

It’s perhaps hard to grasp these days that once kid heroes were a rarity and at the beginning of the Silver Age, often considered a liability. Now the massive Teen Titans brand – with numerous comic book iterations, assorted TV shows, movies and even an award-winning early reading version (Aw, Yeaah! Tiny Titans!) their continuance as assured as anything in our biz. Nevertheless, during the tumultuous 1960s the series – never a top seller – courted controversy and actual teenage readers by confronting controversial issues head on.

I must have been just lucky, because these stories of lost youth searching for great truths and meaning were released just as I turned Teen. They resonated especially because they were talking directly to me. It didn’t hurt that they were brilliantly written, fantastically illustrated and staggeringly fresh and contemporary. I’m delighted to declare that age hasn’t diminished their quality or impact either, merely cemented their worth and importance.

The concept of underage hero-teams was not a new one when the Batman TV show fuelled DC’s move to entrust big heroes’ assorted sidekicks with their own regular comic as a hip and groovy ensemble as dedicated to helping kids as they were to stamping out insidious evil.

The biggest difference between wartime groups like The Young Allies, Boy Commandos or Newsboy Legion and such 1950s holdovers as The Little Wise Guys or Boys Ranch and the DC’s new team was quite simply the burgeoning phenomena of “The Teenager” as a discrete social and commercial power bloc. These were kids who could be allowed to do things themselves (within reason) without constant adult aid or supervision. As early as spring 1964, Brave and the Bold #54 had tested the waters in a gripping tale by Bob Haney & Bruno Premiani in which Kid Flash, Aqualad and Robin foiled a modern-day Pied Piper.

What had been a straight team-up was formalised a year later when the heroes reunited and included Wonder Girl in a proper super-group with a team-name: Teen Titans. With the stories in this second merely monochrome print-only relic of a collected volume of those early exploits the series had hit a creative peak, with spectacular, groundbreaking artwork and fresh, different stories that increasingly showed youngsters had opinions and attitudes of their own – and often that they could be at odds with those of their mystery-men mentors…

Spanning cover-dated January 1969 to December 1971 and collecting Teen Titans #19-36, and team-up appearances from Brave and the Bold #83 & 94 and World’s Finest Comics #205, these tales cover the most significant period of social and political unrest in American history and do it from the perspective of the underdogs, the seekers, the rebels…

The wonderment begins with a beautifully realised comedy-thriller as boy bowman Speedy enlists. ‘Teen Titans: Stepping Stones for a Giant Killer!’ (#19, January/February 1969), by Mike Friedrich, Gil Kane & Wally Wood, pitted the team against youthful evil mastermind Punch who planned to kill the Justice League of America and thought a trial run against the junior division a smart idea…

Brave and the Bold # 83 (April/May 1969) took a radical turn as the Titans (sans Aqualad, who was dropped from the squad to appear in Aquaman and because there just ain’t that much sub-sea skulduggery) tried to save Bruce Wayne’s latest foster-son from his own inner demons in a tense thriller about trust and betrayal in the Haney & Neal Adams epic ‘Punish Not my Evil Son!’. TT #20 took a long running plot-thread about extra-dimensional invaders and gave it a counterculture twist in ‘Titans Fit the Battle of Jericho’, a rollicking romp written by Neal Adams, pencilled by him & Sal Amendola and inked by brush-maestro Nick Cardy – one of the all-out prettiest illustration jobs of that decade.

Exemplars of the era/symbolic super-teens Hawk and Dove join proceedings for #21’s ‘Citadel of Fear’ (Adams & Cardy): chasing smugglers, finding aliens and ramping up the surly teen rebellion quotient whilst moving the invaders story-arc towards its stunning conclusion. ‘Halfway to Holocaust’ is only half of #22, the abduction of Kid Flash & Robin leading to a cross-planar climax as Wonder Girl, Speedy and a radical new ally quash the invasion threat forever, but still leaving enough room for a long overdue makeover in ‘The Origin of Wonder Girl’ by Marv Wolfman, Kane & Cardy. For years the series – and DC editors in general – had fudged the fact the younger Amazon Princess was not actually human, a sidekick, or even a person, but rather an incarnation of Wonder Woman as a child. As continuity backwriting strengthened its stranglehold on the industry, it was finally felt that the team’s distaff member needed a fuller background of her own.

This moving tale revealed she was in fact a human foundling rescued by Princess Diana and raised on Paradise Island where super-science gave her all the powers of a true Amazon. They even found her a name – Donna Troy – and an apartment, complete with hot roommate. All Donna had to do was sew herself a glitzy new figure-hugging costume…

Now thoroughly grounded, the team jetted south in #23’s fast-paced yarn ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Rogue’ (by Haney, Kane & Cardy), trying to rescue musical rebel Sammy Soul from his grasping family and – by extension – his lost dad from Amazonian headhunters. ‘Skis of Death!’ (#24, November/December) by the same creative crew has the quartet holidaying in the mountains and uncovering a scam to defraud Native Americans of their lands. It was a terrific old-style tale, but with the next issue the most radical change in DC’s cautious publishing history made Teen Titans a comic which had thrown out the rulebook…

For a series which spoke so directly to young people, it’s remarkable to think that ‘The Titans Kill a Saint?’ and its radical departure from traditional superhero stories was crafted by Bob Kanigher & Nick Cardy – two of the most senior creators in the business. The emotion-charged thriller set the scene for a different type of human-scaled adventures that were truly gripping and bravely innovative. For the relatively short time the experiment continued, readers had no idea what might happen next…

While on a night out in their civilian identities, Robin, Kid Flash, Speedy, Wonder Girl, Hawk and Dove meet telepathic go-go dancer Lilith who warns them of impending trouble. Cassandra-like, they ignore her warnings and a direct result a globally revered Nobel Laureate is gunned down. Coming so soon after the deaths of John F. and Robert Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, this was stunning stuff and in traumatised response all but Robin abandon their costumed personas and – with the help of mysterious millionaire philanthropist and mentor Mr. Jupiter – dedicate their unique abilities to exploring humanity’s flaws and graces: seeking fundamentally human ways to atone and make a difference in the world…

With Lilith beside them, they undertake different sorts of missions, beginning with ‘A Penny For a Black Star’ in which they attempt to live in a poverty-wracked inner city ghetto, where they find Mal Duncan, a street kid who becomes the first African-American in space…although it’s a one-way trip.

TT #27 reintroduced eerie elements of fantasy as ‘Nightmare in Space’ (Kanigher, George Tuska, Carmine Infantino & Cardy) sees the Titans en route to the Moon to rescue Mal, before encountering something far beyond the ken of mortal imagining. Meanwhile on Earth, Donna’s roommate Sharon stumbles upon an alien incursion. ‘Blindspot’ by Steve Skeates & Cardy was tangentially linked to another innovative saga then playing out in Aquaman’s comic book. You’ll need to see Aquaman: The Search For Mera and Aquaman: Deadly Waters for that extended delight. Both were edited by fresh-faced Dick Giordano, who was at this time responsible for the majority of innovative new material coming out of DC, even whilst proving himself one of the best inkers in the field.

Suffice to say that the Sea King’s foe Ocean Master had allied himself with aliens and Sharon became involved just as Aqualad returned looking for help. Unable to understand the Titan’s reluctance to get involved, Garth tries to go it alone but hits a snag only the original team can fix, which they do in Skeates & Cardy’s concluding chapter ‘Captives!’ However, once the alien threat is thwarted our heroes once more lay down their powers and costumes, but they have much to ponder after seeing what benefits their unique gifts can bring…

Teen Titans #30 featured three short tales, written by Skeates. Illustrated by Cardy, ‘Greed… Kills!’ is a cunning mystery exploring street and white-collar crime, whereas ‘Whirlwind’ is a Kid Flash prose novelette with art by Amendola before ‘Some Call it Noise’ (Infantino & Cardy) delivers an Aqualad solo tale in which his girlfriend Tula – AKA Aquagirl – takes a near-fatal wrong turn at a surface world rock concert.

Student politics took centre-stage in #31’s lead feature ‘To Order is to Destroy’ (Skeates, Tuska & Cardy) as the young heroes investigate a totally trouble-free campus where unhappy or difficult scholars are given a small brain operation to help them “concentrate”, whilst Hawk & Dove solo strip ‘From One to Twenty’ pits quarrelsome Don and Hank Hall against a band of murderous counterfeiters in a deft crime-caper from Skeates, Tuska & Cardy.

The creators then open up the fantasy element again with a time-travelling, parallel universe epic beginning in #32 with ‘A Mystical Realm, A World Gone Mad’ as Mal and Kid Flash accidentally change the past, turning Earth into a magical mad-scape. However, undoing their error results in a Neanderthal teenager being trapped in our time, presenting the group with their greatest challenge: educating a savage primitive and making him into a civilised modern man. Illustrated by Tuska & Cardy, ‘Less Than Human’ signalled the return of Bob Haney as main writer and triggered a gradual return of powers and costumes as the author picked up the pace of Jupiter’s grand experiment, restating it in terms that looked less harshly on comics’ bread & butter fights ‘n’ tights scenarios.

Brave and the Bold #94 (February-March 1971, by Haney & Cardy) offered potent counter-culture thrills as the team infiltrate an inner city commune to negate a nuclear bomb-plot in ‘Rebels in the Streets’, before the exigencies of publishing moved the series into the world of the supernatural as costumed heroes temporarily faded away in favour of tales of mystery and imagination. Haney, Tuska & Cardy’s ‘The Demon of Dog Island’ sees the team – including Robin who had quietly rejoined during the civilisation of cave-boy Gnarrk – desperately battling to prevent Wonder Girl’s possession by a gypsy ghost.

Skeates, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella crated ‘The Computer That Captured a Town’ in World’s Finest Comics #205 (September 1971), slyly examining racism and sexism as Superman finds the Titans trapped in a small town that had mysteriously re-adopted the values of the 1890s – a lot like middle America today but with culprits a lot easier to punch in the face…

Teen Titans #35 reiterated supernatural themes as the team travels to Verona in ‘Intruders of the Forbidden Crypt’ (Haney, Tuska & Cardy) wherein Lilith and the son of Mr. Jupiter’s business rival are drawn into a mesmerising web of tragedy: compelled to relive the doomed love of Romeo and Juliet despite all the rationalisations of modern science and the best efforts of the young heroes…

By the same creators, ‘A Titan is Born’ is a rite of passage for Mal as the everyman “token black guy” faces and defeats the murderous Gargoyle alone and unaided, before the reincarnation tragedy concludes with fate foiled in ‘The Tomb Be their Destiny’: the cover feature of #36. Filling out that issue and this book are two brief vignettes: Aqualad 3-page teaser ‘The Girl of the Shadows’ by Skeates & Jim Aparo and Haney & Cardy’s beguiling opening episode in the origin of Lilith ‘The Teen-Ager From Nowhere’. This showed a 10-year-old orphan’s first prescient exploit and the distrust it engendered, promising much more to come: a perfect place to end this second monochrome masterpiece of graphic literature.

Although perhaps dated in delivery now, these tales were a liberating experience for kids when first released. They truly betokened new empathy with independent youth and tried to address problems that were more relevant to and generated by that specific audience. That they are so captivating in execution is a wonderful bonus. This is absolute escapism and absolutely delightful and demand a fresh edition as soon as possible.
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Batman volume 1


By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Ed Herron, Bill Finger, Carmine Infantino, Bob Kane, Sheldon Moldoff, Joe Giella, Sid Greene & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1086-1 (TPB)

Although cover-dated May 1939, Detective Comics #27 was on sale from March 30th. Happy Anniversary, Dark Knight! Because we like being us, let’s look at a perennial comics incarnation too long overdue for re-evaluation and re-inclusion in the greater Batty-verse…

I’m assuming everybody here loves comics and that we’ve all had the same trying experience of attempting to justify that passion to somebody not genned up or tuned in. Excluding your partner (who is actually right – the living room floor is not the place to leave your D*&$£! funnybooks), many people STILL have an entrenched and erroneous view of narrative strip art, resulting in a frustrating and futile time as you seek to dissuade them from that opinion.

If so, this collection might be the book you want next time that confrontation occurs. Collected here in stark and stunning monochrome are tales which reshaped the Dynamic Duo and set them up for global Stardom – and subsequent fearful castigation from fans – as the template for the Batman TV show of the 1960s. It must be noted, however, that the canny producers and researchers of that landmark derived their creative impetus from stories and especially movie serials of the era preceding the “New Look Batman”, as well as the prevailing tone of those socially changeable times…

So what’s going on here?

By the end of 1963, editor Julius Schwartz had revived much of DC’s science fiction and fantasy line – and the entire industry – with his deft reinterpretation and modernization of the Superhero. He was then asked to work his magic with the creatively stalled, nigh-moribund Caped Crusader franchise of titles. Bringing his usual team of top-notch creators with him, Schwartz stripped down the core-concept, downplaying aliens, outlandish villains and daft transformation tales, to bring a cool modern take to the pursuit and capture of criminals, and even overseeing a streamlining rationalisation of the art style itself.

The most apparent change readers was a yellow circle around the Bat-symbol on his chest, but far more importantly, the stories also changed. A subtle aura of genuine menace re-entered the comfortable, absurdly abstract world of Gotham City….

This initial Showcase Presents Batman compendium collects all the Bat-Sagas (STILL the only place to find them reprinted in full and in chronological order) as seen in Detective Comics #327-342 and Batman #164-174: 38 stunning stories that reshaped a legend and spanning cover-dates May 1964 to September 1965. The revolution began with the lead yarn in Detective #327, written by John Broome and illustrated by Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella at the very peak of their creative powers and collaborative partnership, before the Big Change was fully formalised with two tales from Batman #164.

‘The Mystery of the Menacing Mask! was a cunning “Howdunnit?” long on action and peril, as hints of a criminal “underground railroad” led the Dynamic Duo to a common thug seemingly able to control the heroes with his thoughts. The venerable title was clearly refocusing on its descriptive, evocative title for the foreseeable future, and to ram the point home, a new back-up feature was introduced – “Stretchable Sleuth” The Elongated Man. This comic book was to be a suspenseful brain-teaser from now on…

In the eponymous Batman title, action and adventure became paramount. Two-Way Gem Caper!’ pitted Batman & Robin against slick criminal Dabblo, but the thief wasn’t the true star of this tale. Almost as an aside, a new Batcave and refashioned Wayne Manor were introduced, plus a sleek, compact new Batmobile – more sports-car than super-tank. This story was written by Ed “France” Herron and drawn by “Bob Kane”. Veteran inker Giella was tasked with finishing the contents of both Bat-books in a bid to generate uniformity in all stories. The inker would ultimately perform the same role when the Batman syndicated newspaper strip was revived, beginning on May 29th 1966…

A new semi-regular feature debuted in that issue. “The Mystery Analysts of Gotham City” was a private club of detectives, criminologists and crime-writers who met to discuss their cases. Somehow the meetings always resulted in an adventure such as ‘Batman’s Great Face-Saving Feat!’ (Herron & Kane), wherein eager applicant Hugh Rankin applied his Private Eye talents to discovering the Gotham Gangbuster’s true identity in an effort to win a seat at the sleuths’ table. Suffice it to say, he had to reapply…

‘Gotham Gang Line-Up!’ completed the transformation of Batman. Written by original co-creator Bill Finger and pencilled by Kane, this rather mediocre crime-caper from Detective #328 is most remarkable for the plot-twist wherein long-serving butler Alfred sacrificed his life to save the heroes, prompting Dick Grayson’s Aunt Harriet to move into Wayne Manor.

From this point, the process fell into a pattern of top-of-the-line tales punctuated by utterly exceptional occasional epics of drama, mystery and action. These would continue until the infamous TV show’s success became so great it actually began to inform – or taint – the style of story in the comics. And while I’m into editorial asides: whenever the credits read “Bob Kane” the artist usually doing the drawing was unsung hero Sheldon Moldoff.

Written by Broome and pencilled by Infantino, Detective #329’s ‘Castle with Wall-To-Wall Danger!’ was a captivating international thriller seeing the heroes braving deadly death-traps in Swinging England whilst pursuing a dastardly thief, before eerie science fiction saga ‘Man Who Quit the Human Race!’ (Gardner Fox, Kane & Giella) led in Batman #165 finding fantastic fantasy still had a place in the Gotham Guardian’s new world. A potential new love-interest debuted in back-up tale ‘The Dilemma of the Detective’s Daughter!’, courtesy of Herron & Kane, as student policewoman Patricia Powell left cop-college for the mean streets of the city.

Over in Detective #330, Broome & Kane detailed a new kind of crime in ‘The Fallen Idol of Gotham City!’, wherein a mysterious phenomenon turned ordinary citizens into blood-hungry mobs on command. In Batman #166, ‘Two-Way Deathtrap!’ sees a pair of petty thugs set up the perfect ambush after finding a pipeline into the Batcave whilst, ‘A Rendezvous with Robbery!’ pictured a return engagement for Pat Powell during a frantic crime caper with both tales by Herron & Kane. A rare full-length story in Detective #331 guest-starred Elongated Man as the ‘Museum of Mixed-Up Men’ (Broome & Infantino) united costumed sleuths against a super-scientific felon, after which a Rogues Gallery super-villain finally appeared in #332’s ‘The Joker’s Last Laugh’ (Broome & Kane), set on switching places with the Caped Crimebusters in his own manic manner…

In Batman #167 Finger & Kane declared ‘Zero Hour for Earth!’ as international espionage pulled the Titanic Team from Gotham into a global manhunt for secret society Hydra prior to Detective #333 pitting the heroes against a faux goddess and real telepaths in the ‘Hunters of the Elephants’ Graveyard!’, courtesy of Fox & Infantino. Then ‘The Fight That Jolted Gotham City!’ opened Batman #168 with a blockbusting battle between the Masked Manhunter and temporarily deranged circus strongman Mr. Muscles after which the Mystery Analysts resurfaced to close the book, explaining ‘How to Solve the Perfect Crime… in Reverse!’ (both tales by Herron & Moldoff).

The opening shot in an extended war against an incredible new foe dubbed The Outsider came with Detective #334 and the introduction of Grasshopper‘The Man Who Stole from Batman!’ (Fox & Moldoff), whilst Fox & Infantino’s ‘Trail of the Talking Mask!’ in #335 gave the Caped Crimebusters opportunity to reinforce their sci-fi credentials in a classy high-tech thriller guest starring PI Hugh Rankin.

Wily, bird-themed badman The Penguin popped up in Batman#169 (Herron & Moldoff), making the heroes his unwilling ‘Partners in Plunder!’, after which inker Sid Greene made his debut delineating ‘A Bad Day for Batman!’, wherein he overcomes many vicissitudes of cruel coincidence to nab a determined thief. Detective #336 (Fox, Moldoff & Giella) featured ‘Batman’s Bewitched Nightmare’ as a broom-riding crone attacks the Dynamic Duo at the Outsider’s behest. In later months the witch was revealed to be sultry sorceress Zatanna, but most comics cognoscenti agree this was not the original plan, but rather cannily back-written during the frantic months of “Batmania” that followed the debut of the TV show (for a fuller explanation see JLA: Zatanna’s Search).

An intriguing new foe made his modest mark in Batman #170 with highly professional thief Roy Reynolds running rings around the Gotham Gangbusters – at least initially – as the ‘Genius of the Getaway Gimmicks!’ (Fox & Moldoff) with Finger providing a captivating, human-scaled drama in ‘The Puzzle of the Perilous Prizes!’ enabling Giella to show off his pencilling as well as inking skills. ‘The Deep-Freeze Menace!’ (Detective #337, Fox & Infantino) focuses on captivating fantasy, pitting Batman against a super-powered caveman encased in ice for 50,000 years, before the caped crimebuster gains his own uncanny advantage in #338 as a chemical accident renders ‘Batman’s Power-Packed Punch!’ too dangerous to be near…

After an absence of decades, ‘Remarkable Ruse of The Riddler!’ reintroduced the Prince of Puzzlers in Batman # 171: a clever book-length mystery from Fox & Moldoff which did much to catapult the previously forgotten villain to the first rank of Bat-Baddies, after which DC’s inexplicable (but deeply cool) long-running love-affair with gorillas resulted in a cracking doom-fable as ‘Batman Battles the Living Beast-Bomb!’ (Fox & Infantino in Detective #339) highlighting the hero’s physical prowess in a duel of wits and muscles against a sinister super-intelligent simian. Broome came back to script the eerie conundrum drawn by Moldoff which opened Batman #172. ‘Attack of the Invisible Knights!’ proved to be wicked science not ancient magic, whilst Batman’s own technological advances played a major role part in backup ‘Robin’s Unassisted Triple Play!’ (Fox, Moldoff & Greene), giving the Boy Wonder plenty of scope to show his own skills against a gang of murderous bandits.

Detective #340 saw the war against Batman escalate when ‘The Outsider Strikes Again!’ (Fox & Moldoff), offering further clues to the hidden foe’s incredible abilities by animating everyday objects – and the Batmobile – to attack the Caped Champions, before Broome & Infantino detailed a cinema-inspired catastrophic campaign in #341’s ‘The Joker’s Comedy Capers!’ Criminal mastermind/blackmailer Mr. Incognito then offered ‘Secret Identities For Sale’ in Batman #173’s lead tale and Broome, Moldoff and inker Sid Greene depicted ‘Walk Batman – To Your Doom!’: a sinister psychological murder-plot years ahead of its time.

Broome & Moldoff’s ‘The Midnight Raid of the Robin Gang!’ (Detective #342) hinted at the burgeoning generational unrest of the 1960s as the faithful Boy Wonder seemingly sabotaged his mentor before signing up with costumed juvenile delinquents, before this collection of Caped Crusader Chronicles concludes with Fox & Moldoff’s Batman #174: a brace of blockbusters comprising a brutal story of street-fighting as the Gotham Guardian is ambushed and becomes The Human Punching Bag!’ before the Mystery Analysts find themselves the intended victims of a “Ten Little Indians” murder-scheme in ‘The Off-Again, On-Again Lightbulbs!’ (inked by Greene).

No matter how much we might squeal and foam about it, to a large portion of the world Batman will always be the “Zap! Biff! Pow!”, affably lovable, caped buffoon of that 1960s television show. It really was that popular. Whether you tend towards the anodyne light-heartedness of then, commercially acceptable psychopathy of the current day or actually just like the comic book character in all eras, if you sit down, shut up and actually read these wonderful adventures for all (reasonable) ages, you will find the old adage “Quality will out” still holds true. And if you’re actually a fan who hasn’t read this classic stuff, you have an absolute treat in store…
© 1964, 1965, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Supergirl: The Silver Age volume 1


By Otto Binder, Al Plastino, Jerry Seigel, Jim Mooney & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7292-0 (TPB/Digital edition)

Superhero comics seldom do sweet or charming anymore. Narrative focus nowadays concentrates on turmoil, angst and spectacle and – although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that – sometimes the palate just craves a different flavour.

Such was not always the case as this superb compendium of the early career of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El of Argo City – gathering material from Action Comics #252-284 and spanning May 1959-January 1962 – joyously proves. Also included to kick off proceedings is the delightful DC House Ad advertising the imminent arrival of a new “Girl of Steel”. Sadly missing, however, is the try-out story ‘The Three Magic Wishes’ – written by Otto Binder and illustrated by Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye from Superman #123, August 1958 – which told how a mystic totem briefly conjured up a young girl with super powers as one of three wishes made by Jimmy Olsen. Such was the reaction to the plucky distaff hero that within a year a new version was introduced to the Superman Family…

Here, then, the drama commences with ‘The Supergirl from Krypton!’, the third story from Action Comics #252 introducing Superman’s cousin Kara, who had been born on a city-sized fragment of Krypton, which was somehow hurled intact into space when the planet exploded. Eventually Argo City turned to Kryptonite like the rest of the giant world’s debris, and Kara’s dying parents, having observed Earth through their scanners and scopes, sent their daughter to safety as they perished.

Crashing on Earth, she is met by Superman who creates the cover-identity of Linda Lee whilst hiding her in an orphanage in small town Midvale allowing her to learn about her new world and powers in secrecy and safety. This groundbreaking tale was also written by Binder and drawn by the hugely talented Al Plastino.

Once the formula was established Supergirl became a regular feature in Action Comics (starting with #253), a residency that lasted until 1969 when she graduated to the lead spot in Adventure Comics. In ‘The Secret of the Super-Orphan!’, at her new orphanage home she makes the acquaintance of fellow orphan Dick Wilson (eventually Malverne) who would become her personal gadfly (much as the early Lois Lane was to Superman), a recurring romantic entanglement who suspects she has a secret. As a young girl in far less egalitarian times, romance featured heavily in our neophyte star’s thoughts and she frequently met other potential boyfriends: including alien heroes and even a Merboy from Atlantis.

Many early tales involved keeping her presence concealed, even whilst performing super-feats. Jim Mooney became regular artist as Binder remained chief scripter for the early run. In Action #254’s ‘Supergirl’s Foster-Parents!’ sees an unscrupulous couple of con-artists easily foiled, after which Linda meets a mystery DC hero when ‘Supergirl Visits the 21st Century!’ in #255. Her secret is nearly exposed in ‘The Great Supergirl Mirage!’ before she grants ‘The Three Magic Wishes!’ to despondent youngsters and teaches a mean bully a much-needed lesson.

The Man of Steel often came off rather poorly when dealing with women in those far less enlightened days, always under the guise of “teaching a much-needed lesson” or “testing” someone. When she ignores his secrecy decree by playing with super dog Krypto, cousin Kal-El banishes the lonely young heroine to an asteroid in ‘Supergirl’s Farewell to Earth!’ but of course there’s paternalistic method in the madness…

‘The Cave-Girl of Steel!’ sees her voyage to Earth’s ancient past and become a legend of the Stone Age before AC #260 finds her transformed by the mystical Fountain of Youth into ‘The Girl Superbaby!’ The next tale introduced feline fan-favourite Streaky the Super-Cat in ‘Supergirl’s Super Pet!’ after which ‘Supergirl’s Greatest Victory!’ supplies a salutary lesson in humility to the Girl of Steel. Binder moved on after scripting ‘Supergirl’s Darkest Day!’ in which the Maid of Might rescues an alien prince before incoming Jerry Siegel began his own tenure by scripting ‘Supergirl Gets Adopted!’: a traumatic yet sentimental tale which ends with the lonely lass back at Midvale orphanage.

I’ve restrained myself so please do likewise when I say the next adventure isn’t what you think. ‘When Supergirl Revealed Herself!’ (Siegel & Mooney, Action #265) is another story about nearly finding a family, after which Streaky returns in ‘The World’s Mightiest Cat!’ as prelude to Supergirl finding fantastic fellow super-kids in Action #267’s ‘The Three Super-Heroes!’ She narrowly fails to qualify for the Legion of Super Heroes through the cruellest quirk of fortune, but – after picking herself up – exposes ‘The Mystery Supergirl!’ prior to Siegel & Mooney introducing fish-tailed Mer-boy Jerro as ‘Supergirl’s First Romance!’

Packed with cameos like Batman & Robin, Krypto and Atlantean Lori Lemaris, ‘Supergirl’s Busiest Day!’ sees her celebrating a very special occasion, after which Streaky enjoys another bombastic appearance as the wonder child builds ‘Supergirl’s Fortress of Solitude!’ before Binder wrote ‘The Second Supergirl!’ – an alternate world tale too big for one issue. Sequel ‘The Supergirl of Two Worlds!’ appeared in Action #273 – as did a novel piece of market research. ‘Pick a New Hairstyle for Linda (Supergirl) Lee!’ involved eager readers in the actual physical appearance of their heroine and provided editors valuable input into who was actually reading the series…

Siegel & Mooney soundly demonstrated DC dictum that “history cannot be changed” in ‘Supergirl’s Three Time Trips!’ before ‘Ma and Pa Kent Adopt Supergirl!’ offered a truly nightmarish scenario: rapidly followed by a return visit to the Legion of Super Heroes in ‘Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends!’, whilst Action #277 featured an amazing animal epic in ‘The Battle of the Super-Pets!’

The next five tales form an extended saga, taking the Girl of Steel in totally new directions. On the eve of Superman announcing her existence to the world, Supergirl loses her powers and – resigned to a normal life – is adopted by the childless Fred and Edna Danvers. Sadly, it’s all a cruel and deadly plot by wicked Lesla-Lar, Kara’s identical double from the Bottle City of Kandor. This evil genius wants to replace Supergirl and conquer Earth…

This mini-epic – ‘The Unknown Supergirl!’, ‘Supergirl’s Secret Enemy!’, ‘Trapped in Kandor!’, ‘The Secret of the Time-Barrier!’ and (following the results of the Hair Style competition) ‘The Supergirl of Tomorrow!’ ran in Action #278-282: solidly repositioning the character for a more positive, effective and fully public role in the DC universe. The saga also hinted of a more dramatic, less paternalistic, parochial and even reduced-sexist future for the most powerful girl in the world, over the months to come; although the young hero is still very much a student-in-training, her existence still kept from the general public as she lives with adoptive parents who are completely unaware the orphan they have adopted is a Kryptonian super-being.

The accent on these stories generally revolves around problem-solving, identity-saving and loneliness, with both good taste and the Comics Code ensuring readers weren’t traumatised by unsavoury or excessively violent tales. Plots akin to situation comedies often pertained, as in ‘The Six Red “K” Perils of Supergirl!’ Peculiar transformations were a mainstay of Silver Age comics, and although a post-modern interpretation might discern some metaphor for puberty or girls “becoming” women, I rather suspect the true answer can be found in author Seigel’s love of comedy and an editorial belief that fighting was simply unladylike…

Red Kryptonite, a cosmically-altered isotope of the radioactive element left when Krypton exploded, caused temporary physical and sometimes mental mutations in the survivors of that doomed world. It was a godsend to writers in need of a challenging visual element when writing characters with the power to drop-kick planets. Here the wonder-stuff generates a circus of horrors, transforming Supergirl into a werewolf, shrinking her to microscopic size and making her fat. I’m not going to say a single bloody word…

The drama continues and concludes – like this initial Silver Age compilation – with ‘The Strange Bodies of Supergirl!’ wherein Linda Lee Danvers’ travails escalate after she grows a second head, gains death-ray vision (ostensibly!) and morphs into a mermaid. This daffy holdover to simpler times presaged a major change in the Girl of Steel’s status… but that’s a volume for another day.

Throughout her formative years Kara of Krypton underwent more changes than most of her confreres did in 20 years, as editors struggled to find a niche the buying public would appreciate, but for all that, these yarns remain exciting, ingenious and utterly bemusing.

Possibly the very last time a female super-character’s sexual allure wasn’t equated to sales potential and freely and gratuitously exploited, these tales are a link and window to a far less crass time, displaying one of the few truly strong and resilient female characters parents can still happily share with even their youngest children.
© 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Turning Points


By Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Chuck Dixon, Steve Lieber, Joe Giella, Dick Giordano, Bob Smith, Brent Anderson, Paul Pope, Claude St. Aubin & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1360-2 (TPB)

When Superman debuted in Action Comics #1, the only still-the-same-today supporting character was Lois Lane. When “The Bat-Man” premiered a year later in Detective Comics #27 (cover-date May 1939 but on sale from March 30th), the only other person you might recognise was Police Commissioner Gordon. Make of this what you will…

Over the 85 years of Batman’s existence, almost as important as the partnership between the Dark Knight and assorted Boy Wonders has been a bizarrely offbeat symbiotic relationship between those costumed vigilantes and Gotham City’s top cop James Gordon.

This collection – inexplicably one of very few Batman books unavailable in digital formats – compiles five individual pastiches released as 2001 miniseries Turning Points. Here, readers see significant moments in the development of that shadowy alliance produced primarily for long-term aficionados in tribute to key eras in Batman’s career by veteran artists and (then) new wave creators.

It all begins with Greg Rucka & Steve Lieber’s ‘Uneasy Allies’, set in the days – and visual style – of the mysterious vigilante’s stormy debut in Frank Miller & Dave Mazzuchelli’s exemplary Batman: Year One. Police Captain Gordon is still the only honest cop on a corrupt and brutally gung-ho force, reeling from the shock of his wife divorcing him. When bereaved, heartsick and crazed college professor Hale Corbett takes an entire wedding hostage, Gotham’s SWAT team commander is champing at the bit to storm in and rack up the body-count, whereas wanted felon The Batman offers Gordon a slim hope of ending the siege without loss of life.

All the masked nut-case wants in return is a sympathetic ear at the GCPD…

A clandestine working relationship established, …And Then There Were… Three?’ (by Ed Brubaker & Joe Giella – who drew many of 1960s stories and Batman’s newspaper strip) celebrate the era of TV’s “Batmania”. About a year after their first meeting, reports of a garishly garbed boy assistant to Batman begin filtering in. As deadly psychopath Mr. Freeze rampages through the city, Gordon demands to why the now-tolerated Caped Crusader is recklessly endangering a child.

In a rowdy romp packed with past icons like giant props and gaudy villains, a decidedly deadly outcome forces the cop to see and realise the true nature of Batman and Robin’s relationship…

Brubaker, Dick Giordano & Bob Smith set ‘Casualties of War’ in the bleak aftermath following the death of second Robin Jason Todd, the crippling of Barbara (Batgirl) Gordon and the torture of her father, at the bone-white hands of The Joker. A solitary, driven Dark Knight haunts streets and allies, ceaselessly crushing criminals with brutal callousness, whilst sinister serial killer The Garbage Man prowls unchallenged…

When wheelchair-bound Barbara fails in her attempted intervention to calm a Batman pushing himself to breaking-point, it takes a rooftop heart-to-heart with recently promoted Commissioner Gordon to finally crack the manhunter’s shell and begin the healing process…

Chuck Dixon & Brent Anderson step in years later when, as a result of a strategically systematic attack by would-be crime-lord Bane, an exhausted and broken Batman is replaced by another, darker champion. Set during the Knightfall publishing event, ‘The Ultimate Betrayal’ describes the moment Gordon realises his enigmatic ally has become a remorseless machine/exterminating angel hunting criminals with no regard to life anymore. If only third Robin Tim Drake could have told him that the man behind the cowl – and claws and razor-armour – is actually Azrael: hereditary and murderously programmed living weapon of an ancient Christian warrior-cult…

Rucka, Paul Pope & Claude St. Aubin bring the journey full circle in ‘Comrades in Arms’ wherein a mysterious stranger and his family hit Gotham on a mission to find Gordon and Batman, just as the Commissioner introduces his destined successor Michael Akins to the Major Crimes Unit. Word on the street is the Russian mob are planning a huge retaliatory strike and every cop is waiting for the hammer to fall when Hale Corbett walks back into GCPD HQ, demanding to see Gordon and the masked manhunter who changed his life many years ago…

Filtered through gritty modern sensibilities but still able to revere past glories and Batman’s softer sides, this thoroughly readable collection includes a cover gallery by artistic all-stars Javier Pulido, Ty Templeton, Joe Kubert, Howard Chaykin, Pope & Tim Sale, and offers a gripping thrill ride for newcomers and veterans alike.
© 2001, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.