Showcase Presents: Batman Volume 6 by Dennis O’Neil, Neal Adams and, Frank Robbins (graphic novel review).
I read an interview with Denny O’Neil a while back in which he was asked how his famous pairing with Neal Adams that resulted in so many classic stories came about. He said it was just random chance. When he handed in a script he had no idea which artist would be drawing it. Just so happens that Adams got many of them. He also seems to have got the best ones but it might look that way because of what he made of them.
Of course, Neal Adams is the star draw here – pun intended – but as many stories are pencilled by Irv Novick and Bob Brown who also deserve kudos. Irv Novick’s art reminds me a lot of Gene Colan’s work of a certain period and while Bob Brown never got to star status, he is a competent professional who turned in a good job. Similarly, O’Neil wrote the most memorable stories but Frank Robbins did some solid detective yarns, too. The collection is not bought down by the other contributors, just made better value with the O’Neil/Adams classics.
The varied pencils are given a certain delightful unity by the classy inks of Dick Giordano who really does deserve a lot of respect for this period of ‘Batman’. The greatest pencils can be ruined by a duff embellisher but Giordano – au contraire – makes a solid pro like Bob Brown look good, a significant talent like Irv Novick look great and a class act like Neal Adams look magnificent. I have a book by Giordano, ‘The DC Comics Guide To Inking Comics’ which demonstrates how much thought and effort he put into his work. Alas, it’s probably out of date now when much art is done on computers. I think the latest version is by Klaus Janson, who’s also great.
This generous volume features stories from Batman # 229-244 and Detective Comics # 408-426. As there were back-up strips in the original comics featuring Robin or Batgirl, I think, most of these solo Batman tales run to a mere fifteen pages. That’s a good thing in one sense because the plots are tight and nary a word is wasted. On the other hand, it means they tend to blur into one another somewhat. However, certain yarns definitely stand out.
‘A Vow From The Grave’ in Detective Comics # 410 has Batman chasing a criminal into the wilderness and encountering a family of misfits. ‘Daughter Of The Demon’ in Batman # 232 is a lush 22 page story in which Batman has to rescue Robin and Ras Al Ghûl’s daughter, Talia. ‘Half An Evil’ has a glorious opening panel and a good gag on page three as Batman frightens a blustering public servant. Two-Face is the villain. ‘Night Of The Reaper’ from Batman # 237 is another classic though I’m not sure it made sense psychologically. It’s set in the Rutland, Vermont Halloween Parade and I’ve a notion a number of the hip 70s comic guys met there and all did stories based on their stay. The book concludes with ‘Bruce Wayne – Rest In Peace’ Batman # 242,‘The Lazarus Pit’, Batman # 243 and ‘The Demon Lives Again’ Batman # 244. This multi-part story is Bats vs. Ras Al Ghül and opens with our hero faking Wayne’s death as Ras knows his secret identity and doesn’t want to be targeted that way.
These issues are interrupted by ‘Detective Comics’ stories, presumably because they put them here in strict chronological order but they’re obviously best read in sequence.
Yes, all of the above bar one are O’Neil/Adams. There easy to pick out because of the distinctive art. Frank Robbins turns in some good scripts, too. I liked ‘Challenge Of The Consumer Crusader’ in Detective Comics # 415 and he does a great Manbat story in Detective Comics # 416 which he also draws. Perhaps he should have let Neal Adams draw it. Frank Robbins is a pretty good scripter but, while I can see the sort of effects he’s trying to get with his art and can appreciate the work he put into it, I don’t find it pleasing to the eye. The storytelling aspect is excellent but the figures are odd-looking and the blacks a bit overwhelming. These things are a matter of taste but I don’t think Robbins ever gained popularity as an artist. ‘Blind Justice, Blind Fear’ is a good prison break tale which Robbins also draws. This is when comics were getting ‘relevant’ and it’s about racism and corruption. These stories were published in the early 70s when US society was undergoing a severe re-assessment of itself and disillusionment was rife. In that way, certain comics of the time are interesting as social history. Simultaneously with the cosmic stuff, there were street super-heroes tackling the issues of the day.
By this phase in the continuing story of Bob Kane’s creation, Batman had become The Batman and the stories were getting more serious but had not yet become especially dark. I gave up watching ‘Gotham’ the television series last week because I was sick of watching people being tied to chairs and tortured. All this sadism in the name of drama, it shows up in ‘Green Arrow’ and ‘Daredevil’ TV shows as well, is corrupting the sweet innocent memory of my childhood pleasures. God knows what it’s doing to children who watch it. They’d be far better off reading DC Showcase Batman Vol. # 6 and getting a solid grounding in real heroic morals.
This book contains several classics interspersed with fill-in material that ranges from good to very good. The black and white reproduction is possibly the best way to appreciate the Adams/Brown/Novick/Giordano art and there are over 500 pages of it. That’s a lot of good reading very cheap. Kids pocket money prices, really. How can you refuse? This may be the best ‘DC Showcase’ yet.
(pub: DC Comics. 584 page softcover. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-40125-153-6)
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