[Guest reviewer Greg Elias writes for Speed Force]
DC Comics continues rolling out handsome hardcover collections of notable artistic runs with Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers. Featuring the balance of Rogers' work on the Dark Knight, including his classic Detective Comics run from 1977 to 1978, the book presents a full view of an artist considered to be one of the all-time Batman visionaries, though the collection is hampered somewhat by production issues.
The late Rogers is perhaps best known for his Batman work with writer Steve Englehart. Rogers penciled and colored six issues of Englehart's ten-issue Detective Comics arc, with inks by Terry Austin. Rogers' rendering of the Gotham Cityscape was the foundation for his elegant designs and layouts, reflecting his education in architectural studies.
The collection also includes, among other stories, "Siege," originally published in the Legends of the Dark Knight series. It concludes with Rogers and Englehart's 2005 mini-series Dark Detective, the "sequel" to their 1970s run. Each chapter has its merits, but the early work with Englehart is the main attraction (as well as scripts by Bob Rozakis, Dennis O'Neil, Roy Thomas, and Len Wein).
The material featured in the first half of the book is stone-cold classic. The Englehart stories were a major influence on the portrayal of Batman and Gotham in all media, and Rogers' design work updating villains like Deadshot became definitive. That his brief Detective Comics run is held in such high regard is a testament to the rich quality and relentless innovation. Batman and Robin explode across the page in rooftop and fight sequences that recall both Neal Adams and Adam West, with endless flowing capes and sound-effects worthy of Will Eisner. The stone and steel of Gotham rise up around the hero, seemingly at his command, in an endless grid of windows and stories
A prose story by Dennis O'Neil showcases purely the experimental side of Rogers. Used in his sequential work as punctuation, the use of shadow, zoom, and pattern dominate these pages and give focus to the mind's eye. Jumping ahead to the twenty-first century, the "Siege" storyline written by the legendary Archie Goodwin is an underrated gem featuring two legendary creators. Rogers' linework changed with age, but the extreme attention to detail and inventive layouts remain. His return to Batman elevates this tale of a brutal mercenary, with ties to the Wayne family, attacking Gotham and the Caped Crusader on personal and "professional" fronts. The story itself is tightly plotted and pitch-perfect, even if it lacks the explosiveness of the Englehart run.
Dark Detective, on the other hand, is a bizarre, uncompromising reunion of the mythic Englehart/Rogers/Austin team. By the time this story was published, "Siege" had added somewhat to the lore of Silver St. Cloud, one of the great Batman love interests and an Englehart creation. Ignoring "Siege" and even his own previous characterizations of the Dark Knight, Englehart gives us an ugly look at Bruce Wayne as "the other man" and the near-unrecognizable face of a Batman with an open heart. It almost serves as a "What If? . . . " for the Wayne/St. Cloud relationship. Terry Austin's return yields no different results than Bob Wiacek's always-faithful ink renderings in "Siege." Readers expecting the tone of the original Detective Comics issues may be puzzled, but should instead enjoy the time-lapse view of the talent involved and the freedom with which they work together.
Previously, reprints of Rogers' work with Englehart was only available in the out-of-print Strange Apparitions TPB and the Shadow of the Batman Baxter-format mini-series. The latter was a gorgeous re-master of the Englehart Detective issues, with some bonus Rogers stories included (i.e. Canterbury Cricket backups). In fact, the quality of the Shadow reprints could be considered the arch-enemy of this new collection. The fidelity of the first and best half of this book varies wildly from page to page. By the time you reach the Clayface issues, the reproduction is, at times, extremely distorted. Pages and pages of classic work, including the opening splash of "The Joker Fish," are marred. Tight patterns and other Rogers hallmarks, from the towering Gotham architecture to Silver St. Cloud's wallpaper, lose their impact when the framing effect is spoiled.
Bottom line: a better reprint of the main attraction exists. "Siege" is even due to be published again in an upcoming Archie Goodwin edition of these Batman collections. Plus, this volume is ultimately incomplete considering its exclusion of the gorgeous wraparound covers Rogers' created for the Shadow of the Batman reprints. This, along with three missing Batman Family stories by Rogers, would have been excusable as split hairs were it not for the unfortunate reproduction issues.
Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers is, at times, a low-fidelity presentation of a definitive artist's best-known work. If you're looking for nearly everything Batman by Rogers in one place and don't mind some distortion, this is a solid purchase in the absence of another affordable, in-print edition of the 1970s stories. The devil is in the presentation.