Showcase Presents Batman TP Volume 05 Paperback by Mike Friedrich, Frank Robbins and Dennis O’Neil (graphic novel review)

June 26, 2015 | By | Reply More

At last, the DC Showcase volumes have reached the point where Batman is getting good. I recently looked up the old Alley Awards on-line and the ‘Batman’ titles twice won the same award: strip most in need of improvement, even in 1962 when regular penciller Carmine Infantino scooped the best artist award. ‘Showcase Batman Volumes 1-4’ are interesting historical documents but reading them does not give great pleasure, though looking at the art gives some.

BatmanGNv-5

It does here, too. This fifth volume features a few issues pencilled by Neal Adams and a lot of covers by him. As Adams aficionados abound, I will do you the favour of listing which issues he drew so you can decide if the quantity warrants purchasing this book. It does. Adams pencilled: Detective Comics # 395 (16 pages); Batman # 219 (8 pages); Detective Comics # 397 (15 pages); Detective Comics # 400 (16 pages); Detective Comics # 402 (16 pages); Detective Comics # 404 (15 pages); Detective Comics # 407 (15 pages). The Man-Bat features in three of these. All of them are inked by Dick Giordano and look great. Adams also did most of the covers shown in this volume.

In paying proper respect to that maestro, I do not wish to belittle the art contributions of his colleagues. Irv Novick turned in very clean, elegant pencils with interesting layouts and dynamic figures. His work was also graced with Giordano’s inks, the quality of which are especially visible in these black and white reprints. While the pencils of Bob Brown, inked by Joe Giella and Frank Giacoia, are not quite as pleasing to the eye as those of his fellows he still did a competent, professional job.

The stories are mostly by Frank Robbins with a few by Dennis O’Neil and Mike Friedrich. Robbins does fairly decent detective yarns. DC Comics improved in the seventies but did not follow Stan Lee down the soap opera route. Variety being the spice of life, this was a good thing. Frank Robbins writer is the same Frank Robbins artist who did some work for Marvel later on ‘Captain America’. I’m not a big fan of his art but as a writer he’s pretty good and apparently played a key part making the character more serious and restoring the creature of the night scenario. I was always under the impression that Dennis O’Neil led the way in that.

There are still some hangovers from the more childish age of DC Comics so Batman will wear a rubber mask, pretending to be someone else and get away with it, as do some of his opponents. Rubber masks look like rubber masks in real life. Ridiculously, he carries a bat-dummy of himself under his cape in ‘This Murder Has Been Pre-Recorded’ in Batman # 220, so that the misleading cover can show him being blown up in a phone booth. Again, this is not realistic.

Alas, DC still had a bit of a thing for misleading covers. Robin going off to university is milked for two: Detective Comics # 393 shows a tearful Boy Wonders saying, ‘The case is over, the team-up is finished! This is goodbye for Batman and Robin!Batman # 393 shows Batman storming off saying, ‘Take a last look Alfred then seal up the Batcave forever!’ In fact, these events ushered in a solo Batman fighting crime without bat-gadgets and led to the Dark Knight image he still has today. It was a conscious decision by the editors to strip the strip back to its roots. The television series was finished by this time and to keep that image would have been…well, batty.

Some of the stories by Dennis O’Neill are quite sophisticated. ‘Ghost Of The Killer Skies’ (Detective Comics # 404) is a biplane battle classic while ‘The Secret Of The Waiting Graves’ (Detective Comics # 395) and ‘Paint A Picture Of Peril’ (Detective Comics # 397) have dark romantic themes unusual for comics of the period. These three were drawn by Adams. The team of O’Neill and Adams was the talk of the town at the time and also revolutionised ‘Green Lantern’.

Probably the most notable thing about this collection is that it gets better and better as you read your way through it. These stories mark the turnaround from strip most in need of improvement to strip destined to be taken up by Hollywood and turned into a series of blockbuster movies, albeit some years later. Great stuff and soon to be released – July 2015 – is ‘DC Showcase Presents Batman Volume 6’ which will be even better if Ra’s al Ghul has anything to do with it and I think he does.

Eamonn Murphy

June 2015

(pub: DC Comics, 2011. 512 page black and white graphic novel softcover. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-40123-236-8

check out website: www.dccomics.com

Category: Comics

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Eamonn Murphy is a science fiction and fantasy writer and reviewer who lives in the south west of England. If you want to know more visit his website: https://eamonnmurphyblog.com/

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