Review: Legends of the Dark Knight: Alan Davis Vol. 1 hardcover (DC Comics)

Monday, December 23, 2013

[Review by Michael Updyke, who blogs at Mr. MGU's Certain Point of View]

Unlike most of DC’s other hardcover volumes focusing on a single artist’s Batman work, Legends of the Dark Knight: Alan Davis Vol. 1 actually includes a continuous run of Detective Comics stories (#569-575) with the same creative team, as writer Mike W. Barr and inker Paul Neary join penciller Davis for most of the book.

Barr and Davis’s stories are an entertaining throwback to the “superhero” Batman in the months just preceding (and then briefly concurrent with) the constant Miller-angst that reigns till this day. Batman smiles, cracks jokes, and frequently calls Robin “chum.” Alan Davis’s art is crisp, clean, almost but not quite veering into cartoony. He homages the giant prop Sprang era quite a bit, but he can do grim as well, as seen in one panel where Batman backhands the Joker in a burst of anger.

The first few stories feature Catwoman (in her purple dress with green cape outfit) and the Joker. Next up is a Scarecrow story that seems to have been the inspiration for one of the later Bruce Timm animated episodes featuring the villain, in which he removes people’s fears rather than creating or exploiting them. An over-confident, grinning Batman is as unnerving as the grim look you normally see, especially when he plays chicken with a couple of trucks.

The highlight of the volume is the anniversary issue of Detective Comics #572, reprinted in its entirety even though it includes non-Davis art, where Batman teams with fellow detectives Slam Bradley, Elongated Man, and even Sherlock Holmes (featuring guest art by Carmine Infantino, Terry Beatty and ER Cruz) in a story that focuses on a century-spanning mystery book.

Following that is a Mad Hatter story with a tragic ending that leads directly into the next issue. This issue “. . . My Beginning and My Probable End” is billed as “the new origin of the Batman” which signals the changes in Batman’s history, as his origin is retold with echoes of Year One and the upcoming Year Two, the first chapter of which is also reprinted here (subsequent chapters are penciled by Todd McFarlane and are not included in the volume), and ends Davis’ Detective run. I believe this is also the first appearance of Dr. Leslie Thompkins and her clinic, vs. the pre-Crisis version of her as an elderly lady still living in Crime Alley.

That leads to another observation about the uniqueness of this volume -- that is, its place in Batman’s history, as it straddles the time period between pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Earth 1 Batman and post-Crisis/Year One Batman. This is most evidenced here by the prominent inclusion of circus acrobat Jason Todd, as established back in 1983. By the end of the run, there is allusion to the new Jason Todd origin that was established in the “Batman: The New Adventures” era that followed Batman: Year One in the Batman title, but that’s inconsistent with how Jason is portrayed throughout the book. This version of Jason would less likely have been voted to be killed by readers, as he actually seemed like a genuine kid who was thrilled to be at Batman’s side and eager to be a worthy partner.

The collection concludes with the Year Two sequel, Full Circle, originally a standalone graphic novel, and a short story from the Batman: Gotham Knights black and white back-ups that features characters from the original Barr/Davis run.

All told, Legends of the Dark Knight: Alan Davis Vol. 1 is one of the more satisfying, straightforward volumes of artist-centric Batman volumes. It takes place during a transitory period in Batman history, but that makes it no less enjoyable for fans of old-fashioned superhero Batman fun that combines the tongue-in-cheek sensibilities of the '60s with the burgeoning seriousness of the '80s, with beautiful art to carry the reader along. The art reproduction is also consistent throughout the volume. (Not sure why this is called Vol. 1 though, as I believe this includes all of Davis’ Batman work.) Highly recommended.
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  1. maybe are there plans to include the batman and the outsiders issues drawn by alan davis? One can hope

    1. I thought about that possibility, but calling it "Legends of the Dark Knight: Alan Davis vol. 2" would be a bit misleading because he pencilled those Batman and the Outsiders issues before his stint on Detective Comics, not after.

  2. Hopefully we'll someday see color reprints of Batman and the Outsiders, both the Aparo and Davis-drawn issues..

  3. After "Year One," these are hands-down my favorite Batman stories. Read these as a 13-year-old when they were originally published in 1986 and have been waiting decades for them to be collected and reprinted. Love this collection.

  4. If they published a Batman and the Outsiders Showcase Presents Volume Two, that would get all of those stories in print.

  5. I know these are creator-focused collections, but I don't like incomplete storylines in the collected editions I purchase. That's what's kept me from buying these "Legends of the Dark Knight" books.

    In my opinion, 60-70 more pages are not a big deal, and I don't think any collector would be mad for the inclusion of two or three issues illustrated by other artists.

    Anyone agree?

  6. That comment about Jason Todd makes me wince. If you've actually read any of his post-crisis comics, you'd see that he's pretty dang similar to Barr/Davis's version of him. Please don't buy into this weird retroactive myth that Jason was a terrible, disliked character. The votes were nearly equal, rigged by a repeat caller, and a paid service, meaning that the vast majority of callers were middle aged men missing Dick Grayson.