Review: Batman: 80 Years of the Bat Family trade paperback (DC Comics)

November 8, 2020

 ·  1 comment

There’s been a lot packed in to the recent Action Comics and Detective Comics issue #1000 specials, with perhaps enough pressure to deliver stories worthy of the monumental issues that at times they seemed too highfalutin, too grandiose. For Batman: 80 Years of the Bat Family, maybe it’s the occasion of the collected format, or maybe that the Robin, Catwoman, and Joker issues are “80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectaculars” rather than the #1000s, but I found the stories uniformly approachable and enjoyable.

There’s a fine mix here of creators historically or currently involved with these characters, one-off stories and stories revisiting specific instances of these characters' eras, and even stories set during current events in the characters' titles. All of that makes these specials feel wholly worthwhile, true anniversary parties and not just more skippable anthologies on the stands. I’m hopeful these serve as models for other such specials going forward.

[Review contains spoilers]

The Robin special is weighted toward Dick Grayson, not undeservedly since it’s his 80th anniversary after all. But right off these specials show a good strategy; of four Dick Grayson stories, we skip perhaps a cutesy, traditional “young Robin” story, going instead for recognizable, popular Dick Grayson eras. Among the most welcome of these is a Nightwing story by the legendary Chuck Dixon/Scott McDaniel team, set around Batman: Cataclysm in the heart of their run. Devin Grayson tells a Titans story set in her era (with art by friend of the Titans Dan Jurgens), and Tom King, Tim Seeley, and Mikel Janin re-team for a Grayson story. That’s all of what I want from a Robin anniversary book (plus Marv Wolfman and Tom Grummett on a story roundabouts New Teen Titans) and the book’s only just getting started.

Further winks and nods abound — Jason Todd by Judd Winick, Tim Drake by Adam Beechen and Freddie Williams, James Tynion writing a prelude to his Detective Comics run, and Damion Scott draws Stephanie Brown as Robin again, with Amy Wolfram writing. I have mixed feelings about that one: I’m glad to see Stephanie-Robin included but I’m sorry to see the story still depict Stephanie as a screwup; I find the premise that Batman doesn’t know how to costume for a girl clever but I wish the lone “in-continuity(ish)” female Robin story wasn’t about sartorial choices and didn’t include the word “booty.”

Rounding it out, I was pleased to see, was a Damian Wayne story by Teen Titans writer Robbie Thompson, set within that book’s current events and after Batman: City of Bane. That’s a facet of all of the specials — the Catwoman book has one kicking off Ram V’s run on the title, and the Joker book has a Punchline origin by Tynion. Possibly 80 Years of the Bat Family would have gone to the bottom of my pile if it were just one-off stories, but the fact that these specials got the characters' actual writers in here for relevant stories goes a long way for me.

That Joker book is at times downright terrifying, which is apropos for a Joker book though I was surprised by the extent. The book struggles a bit around a weaker tale by Dennis O’Neil with some repetitious dialogue (though art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez), but picks up frighteningly in stories by Tom Taylor and Eduardo Risso, Rafael Albuquerque, and others. Peter Tomasi’s got an uncharacteristically weird one with art by Simone Bianchi. Tynion’s Punchline story didn’t enamor me of the character any more, but again I’m glad it was there.

The Catwoman book also has a lot of fine guest stars — King and Janin, perhaps in prelude to King’s Batman/Catwoman; Ann Nocenti; Mindy Newell, in a story surprisingly frank about Selina Kyle as a prostitute, something DC sometimes tries to gloss over; Dixon and Kelley Jones, drawn in the Jim Balent costume; Will Pfeifer, with art by Y, the Last Man’s Pia Guerra; Ram V and Fernando Blanco; and finally Ed Brubaker. That one’s got the classic team of Selina, Holly Robinson, and Slam Bradley in it, leading one to wonder sometimes why good things can’t just stick around forever.

Kicking off the book is a reprint of Detective Comics #1000, which might be a little bit of a cheat, though this book is otherwise packed enough that this doesn’t feel like blatant double-dipping. There’s two new stories in there, too, however (previously appearing in various Detective #1000 reprints). The one by Robert Venditti, featuring Two-Face, didn’t move me quite so much, but the second — Alan Grant writing Anarky, the Ventriloquist, and Batman with a yellow chest circle, drawn by McDaniel — is a real blast from the past treat. I wish “the shadow of the Bat falls on …” could’ve been worked in there somewhere.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batman: 80 Years of the Bat Family

4.5

Rating

So again, I liked Batman: 80 Years of the Bat Family and I’d be happy to see something like this come around again. If I’m not missing anything, there’s only one more of these out there, the Green Lantern 80th Anniversary 100-Page Spectacular, which is a shame — not the book itself, which I’m eager to read and I might just have to pick up on its own, but that there’s not some other Justice League compatriots with which DC could make another one of these collections. A nice “bridge” to a couple different storylines going on in the Bat-titles.

[Includes original covers, pin-ups]

Comments ( 1 )

  1. Can we talk about the fact that this book is incomplete, as it leaves out all of the variant covers for the 100-page Spectaculars (a disturbing new trend that continues with the "Three Jokers" hardcover)?

    Or the fact that it's one of the most expensive Batman paperbacks ever published? At $39.99, it's as expensive as "Batman Eternal Volume 1" was, with almost 80% of the page count (and poorer paper quality). It's more expensive than the "No Man's Land" trades were, which had almost 40% more pages and better quality paper (for $34.99) and even more expensive than the thick Knightfall trades, which had similar quality paper and more than 60% more pages.

    I haven't read the content yet, but from a production standpoint, this book was an absolute fail for DC's customers. They're charging a premium for lesser quality paper and far fewer pages, leaving it as both incomplete and forcing hardcover collectors or completists to double-dip (since the Detective Comics 1000 standalone volumes are the only way to get the variant covers for 'Tec #1000 or some of the material in hardcover) - and neither camps will be happy, even after paying the premium, because there's NO way to get the variant covers for the 100-page Spectaculars in collected edition format, nor is there a way to get the 100-page Spectaculars content in hardcover format. It's a lose-lose proposition for customers.

    Would the variant covers have added too many pages for an already-thick trade (thicker due to the paper choice)? Drop the double-dipping of 'Tec #1000 to reduce the count by 25% and make room for the covers ('Tec #1000 was released in multiple formats just a year beforehand, no need to republish it in this collection yet again!). This would also justify dropping the price to a more reasonable level.

    Or choose thinner, glossy paper, so at least I'm getting my money's worth in both paper and content.

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