Last year, DC Comics kicked off their artist-centric series of Batman hardcover collections with Tales of the Batman: Gene Colan, Vol. 1. Featuring the early portion of his 1980s run on both Batman and Detective Comics, this volume is an extremely enjoyable and fan-friendly opening salvo to a series that caters to comic art lovers first.
The late Colan is best known for his work at Marvel Comics, including legendary runs on Daredevil and Tomb of Dracula. His time at DC in the 1980s produced the amazing Phantom Zone miniseries and a lengthy run on Batman’s twin titles. The majority of the stories in this first Tales of the Batman volume are written by Gerry Conway, with the last two scripted by Doug Moench. Since this book has a Colan-first focus, there are peripheral plot threads that are resolved in issues not collected in this book.
This applies most to the final story, which even includes a “Continued in Batman #363” note for the reader in the Table of Contents. Despite the story gaps, the main plotlines resolve nicely and any missing closure is more than acceptable given the book’s mission, to spotlight primarily Colan's art.
Colan’s shadowy style and horror background were a perfect fit for the Dark Knight. In a stroke of obvious genius, Conway incorporates supernatural elements and even Colan’s signature “vampiri” into the urban landscape of the Caped Crusader. Moench follows suit with the introduction of the villain Night-Slayer in the final issue.
The high point most certainly comes with “The Monster in the Mirror” from Batman #517, documenting Batman’s descent into vampirism. It is horrifyingly effective to see Batman truly scared, denying the existence of the mystic element as he succumbs. Colan brings a twisted, dark reality that is definitive Batman and has been reproduced countless times since. In addition to the vampire arc, Tales of the Batman also features some great done-in-one police stories and a brawl with Solomon Grundy.
Klaus Janson handles inks on half of the book, tying it visually to Batman collections such as Gothic, Death and the Maidens and, of course, The Dark Knight Returns. His inimitable style is a good fit for Colan, who is also joined here by Phantom Zone inker and frequent collaborator Tony DeZuniga. However, as with much of Janson’s work, the inking style overtakes some of the elements of the original pencils.
The reproduction is fantastic from start to finish. The non-Colan covers are present for the issues that are included, though there is a dearth of extra material.The book is substantial at 283 pages covering fourteen issues, but looking at the remaining Colan Batman work makes you wonder why they didn’t up the page count and split his Bat-alogue down the middle. The paper stock is pretty thin so it does appear slight next to the follow-up volumes.
Tales of the Batman: Gene Colan, Vol. 1 is a well-executed debut for DC’s artist-and-character-focused line of hardcovers, which will also include Superman in 2013, with outings featuring Gil Kane and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. If you’re a fan of Bronze Age DC Comics, looking for a different flavor of Batman comics or just a fan of ageless comic book art and storytelling, this volume has an obvious place in your collection.
Includes Batman #340, 343-345 and 348-351 and Detective Comics #510, 512, 517, 528 and 529.