Good evening, reader. Welcome once again, to the weekly Haul. It’s been a cold, dark week, and the nights are long and starless. But that hasn’t stopped Mr. Jackson and I from reading comics. If you don’t mind a deep dive into 70’s Batman comics, let’s see what’s in the stash this week…
In these lean winter months, the haul is apt to be modest, heating the halls of the mansion isn’t cheap, and my cat companion Mr. Jackson has a costly drinking problem. In that fashion, the only new book we picked up this week was Black Widow #11. This book continues to be amazing and have the most visually arresting and inventive action sequences. Artist Chris Samnee plays with space and page layouts that serve the action so fluidly it would be easy to mistakenly characterize it as cinematic. But the beautiful fact of the matter is that it’s so uniquely comic booky, it tells the story in a way that could never be replicated exactly on screen. Your eye moves around still images on a vertical page without breaking trance. Also, it’s just an excellent spy comic.
Reaching into the vault this week, Mr. Jackson and I have been reading again from Showcase Presents: Batman Vol. 6. This is a 583 page collection of black and white reprints from Batman and Detective from 1971-72 that was published around this time last year. This collection has been a singular joy to Mr. Jackson and myself, and I enjoy taking it out once in a while to read a few stories at a time. Batman is an unchallenged favorite of mine, and this is a time where that’s oddly fashionable. Part of the charm of Batman comics is the variety of storytelling flavors of the character, from the pulpy 40’s, to the four color absurdity distilled in the Adam West show of the 60’s, the industrial gothic fairy tail of the 89 movie, to the nuclear winter gotterdamerung of The Dark Knight Returns. If you’re a real fan, it’s all Batman. I don’t have as sharp prejudices when it comes to a “definitive” version of Batman as many a trollish nerd I have met, but I will say my personal favorite era of Batman comics is the late sixties through the seventies transitional period that is crystalized in this collection.
Batman comics had gone somewhat insane during the 50’s, with a lot of stories involving space aliens, time travel, and costume-oriented gimmickry. None of this is bad, it’s pretty great when you’re in the mood for it, but it was rambling pretty far from the initial conceit of the book. In 1965 Julius Schwartz took over editing and writing the book, and pared it back down to a more palatable Detective-based narrative with less side characters. Carmine Infantino redefined the look of the title with sleek, polished ease, and a relative realism compared to the cartoonish Dick Sprang era. The stories were still slightly goofy, but this is period never gets the credit it deserves for truly setting the table for the redefining of Batman in 1968 by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Frank Robbins, Irv Novick, and Len Wein .
For my money, you can do no better. It’s an amazing transitional phase from the gleeful silver age stories to the modern grim ones. Robin went to college, popping back in occasionally. Bruce Wayne spent a lot of time away from the mansion and moved to a penthouse in the city, and traded in the TV show era Batmobile for what looked suspiciously like a Lamborghini with a bat painted on the hood. Batman wasn’t deputized anymore, The Joker stopped building giant props and resumed murdering people, and the immortal Ra’s Al Ghul emerged from the shadows with a plan to save the world by decimating the population. And yet, the stories are still fun and comic booky. The caped crusader isn’t as brooding and maudlin as he became in the 80’s, rather, to date Talia Al Ghul, daughter of a global super villain, he must have been pretty damn optimistic.
He solved a lot more mysteries, and traveled the world a lot more. Outside Gotham, Batman got in a lot more James Bond-style train fights, searched for more pirate gold, fought more ninjas and gorillas, and solved more than one murder for a restless ghost. He was also not the unbeatable BatGod yet, he was a master martial-artist detective, but the stakes were still high when he went up against a dude with a crowbar. In Batman #237 (Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams) Batman goes up against a masked killer who may be a concentration camp survivor dressed as death, who is murdering Nazi war criminals dressed as pirates, during a Halloween parade in Vermont. And if that doesn’t exemplify the amazing tonal juggling act that is bronze age Batman comics, then nothing does.
Perhaps on some slow evening, I’ll write up an even more long-winded article on this era of Batman. After all, we haven’t even talked about Man-Bat yet. Suffice it to say, Showcase Presents Batman Vol. 6 is a beloved favorite of Mr. Jackson’s and mine, and if you’re interested in bronze age Batman at all, it’s the perfect place to start. It’s black and white, (which looks fantastic with this art anyway) but the trade off is the 20$ cover price and the just shy of 600 page count. Trust this old comic reading swamp Ghoul, it’s a deal. Now if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to draw this shamefully over-long edition of the weekly haul to an end. Mr. Jackson and I have some drinking to do, and some comics to read. Bolt your doors, children, it’s Wendigo season. Good night, and pleasant screams.