Review: Detective Comics: 80 Years of Batman Deluxe Edition hardcover (DC Comics)

3 comments | Tags:

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

I was not as taken with Detective Comics: 80 Years of Batman as I was with last year's Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman. Title characters aside, they are very different books, seemingly due in large part to the twenty-six issues of Detective that preceded Batman's debut. There is an astounding amount of time here spent on not-Batman, and even if that perhaps better represents Detective than an all-Bat book would, the volume feels markedly disjointed at times. Equally, given what must have been the line around the block to write text pieces for this book, I found the essays here lacking as compared to Action, with much less contextualizing and less that felt very germane to Batman's history.

It's nice to spend time with some old friends here — Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Steve Englehart, and Marshall Rogers, among others — but I was surprised not to feel as inspired finishing this one as I did its earlier companion.

[Review contains spoilers]

Collected within this book are the first historical appearances of Batman, Robin, Batwoman, Batgirl, Leslie Thompkins, Two-Face, Riddler, Clayface, Man-Bat, and Bat-Mite. In this way, it is not at all a bad representation of the effect of Detective Comics on the Batman legacy, to put the cart before the horse, and indeed as well — in terms of what will be familiar to current DC fans — there's also the first appearance of Martian Manhunter.

Also here, however, are a variety of Detective's other features and backups — Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson's saga of Manhunter Paul Kirk remains a compelling classic, but there's also rougher stories of Crimson Avenger, Slam Bradley, Air Wave, Rip Carter and the Boy Commandos, Pow-Wow Smith, and Roy Raymond, many more than what was in the Action book. Detective and Action are different titles with different legacies, but it remains that the Detective retrospective is at times a slower, less polished read.

But for me where Detective really lacked was in the essays. Again in comparison, Action featured discussions of Superman's legacy, the lives of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, how Action changed over the years, the character of Clark Kent, and Marv Wolfman's gripping tale of saving Action pages from an incinerator.

Detective's essays are more abstract, even a bit self-serving. I'm good with Dan DiDio on Detective's various features, Paul Levitz on the rise of a nascent DC Comics, and Anthony Tollin on Batman's various pulp inspirations, but later we get more into essays about how Batman inspired individuals, with the focus on Detective largely falling away. Dennis O'Neil should surely be here, but his essay is more about his own comics-reading childhood than Batman even, and Cory Doctorow, while remarking correctly on the role of wealth in the Batman mythos, comes off even a bit dismissive of Batman, which seems an odd choice for this particular book.

Most head-scratching is that, alongside an essay by Dale Cendali about Detective "ghost-artist" Lew Sayre Schwartz, only reprinted here are notepad layouts by Schwartz from his Detective Comics #200 story, and not the story itself. As such, the layouts (reprinted four to a page) read like so much scribbles, making it hard to appreciate the implied mastery — and surely Detective #200 could have been here, even a snippet, replacing perhaps the second satiric Bat-Mite story that's included. Action's reprinted "lost" story is far better realized; later on, Detective also reprints part of an unpublished story by Levitz and Denys Cowan, but doesn't do a very explicit job crediting them.

There are surely gems among the stories reprinted here, not to be mistaken. Again, Goodwin and Simonson's "Manhunter" is as good as ever. Adams and Giordano draw Man-Bat's first appearance spookily well, seemingly either re-colored or the coloring has held up remarkably well. Interesting too is Englehart and Rogers' "Deadshot Riochet," particularly the classic interplay between Bruce Wayne and Silver St. Cloud. Harlan Ellison's got a funny tale; Brad Meltzer and Bryan Hitch's rewrite of the original Detective Comics #27 is a particularly good bookend toward the end of the book. There's a surprising lack of post-Crisis material here (three to four, versus Action's seven), but I was glad Greg Rucka and Shawn Martinbrough's "New Gotham" Detective run got a nod.

The stories, of course, come with the particular foibles of their eras — that Batwoman's arsenal of gadgets is based around makeup and jewelry, that Batman threatens to spank Bat-Mite perhaps a few too many times for comfort, that a disguised Martian Manhunter walks into a police precinct and gets hired as a detective in the span of a page. Batman's depictions in the early Bronze Age charmingly lack the self-consciousness of the modern era, with Batman kissing Leslie Thompkins on the forehead or roughhousing in the Bat-cave with a grown-up Dick Grayson. On the whole the book makes me nostalgic for the Bat-costume with the yellow circle on the chest.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Detective Comics: 80 Years of Batman Deluxe Edition

In Detective Comics: 80 Years of Batman, DC pays good tribute to its namesake title. We certainly see here the breadth of characters that have appeared in Detective, its variety of tones, and some of the creative teams for which it's best known. The book is not, I acknowledge, meant to be a history of Batman per se, though I found it sometimes lopsided — we could've used one of Paul Dini's strong modern era mystery stories, for instance. And I don't think the book contextualized Detective via essays as well as it could have — nothing on Robin, Batgirl, the Bat-family, nor the various eras of O'Neil and Adams or Englehart and Rogers or Rucka's notable "Batwoman" feature, or the pull and push of Detective towards and away from the 1960s TV series. A lot happened in 80 years, and this book looks at some of it, but not by far all.

[Includes original covers, selected cover gallery]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Detective Comics: 80 Years of Batman Deluxe Edition
Author Rating
3 (scale of 1 to 5)
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

3 comments:

  1. hi, I have been reading your blog for a couple of years and really like it, so just wanted to say thank you for all the work you put into it.

    is there a possibility to also read about your thoughts of the latest DC movies?

    ReplyDelete
  2. They left out all of Denny O'Neil's era as an editor. They should have included at least one of issue of Alan Grant and Chuck Dixon's runs.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Detective Comics 704 is a great, sentimental one-shot story from Dixon's run that would've fit in nicely.

    ReplyDelete