Graphic Novel/Comics Review

The Batman Chronicles vol.1

(2005) Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Gardner Fox, Titan Books, 10.99, trdpbk, 190pp, ISBN 1-845-76036-0

This is the beginning of the huge task DC have set themselves in attempting to reprint, in chronological order, every Batman story. While there have been other reprints, notably 'DC Archives', this is the first systematic attempt at representing the original material. Created by Bob Kane, Batman began in Detective Comics no.27, May 1939, alongside Slam Bradly, Speed Saunders, Buck Marshall and others. Written by Bill Finger and Gardner Fox, this volume presents the covers and Batman strips from Detective from his debut in issue 27 up to Robin's debut in issue 38 (April 1940) and also Batman no.1 (Spring 1940). Aside from the dynamic duo, this period also covers the introduction of classic Batman villains Hugo Strange, Catwoman and The Joker. Those modern readers unfamiliar with Batman's early days might be surprised to see him, shall we say, somewhat careless of human life - his very first foe ends up in an acid tank and Batman simply comments, "A fitting end for his kind." Batman snaps one bad guy's neck, and gets another's head impaled, and even fought vampires in the Sept/Oct 1939 issues of Detective, shooting them with silver bullets from a Colt .45. His two-page 'origin' story didn't appear until issue 33 (Nov '39), opening the tale of the 'Dirigible of Doom', whose master ends up drowned and dead. As so many of his foes ended up paying the ultimate price in these early days, it was necessary to invent adversaries sufficiently competent to actually survive a run-in with Batman. So in Batman no.1 we have the unnamed burgler, The Cat, later to become Catwoman, and two tales of The Joker (who nearly died at the end of the second story!). Great stuff. I hope sales of these volumes are sufficient to keep them coming. On the one hand I can see how Batman's popularity could carry the whole thing, but I wonder if younger readers can be bothered to go through this material given that, by today's standards, the art is clunky, with tight, wordy panels with few backgrounds and morally simplistic stories. Time will tell, as ever. So I'd say of this and further volumes, grab 'em while you can; you just don't know how long it will last.

This is, of course, just one of several trade paperbacks published to co-incide with the release of the new Batman movie, starring Christian Bale. Another is Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told (Titan Books, 12.99, 192pp, ISBN 1-84576-038-7); a tall order if ever there was one. As Les Daniels quite rightly says in his introduction, everyone has their own favourite Batman stories, and there's so much to choose from, that you could fill several books like this. On the whole the tales revolve around the idea of Batman's identity, not (necessarily) Bruce Wayne as such, but who he is, in the sense of what makes him tick? Classics here include "Robin Dies at Dawn" from 1963, "The Batman Nobody Knows" by Robbins and Giordano and "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge" by Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams both from 1973, the fabulous "Night of the Stalker" by Steve Englehart from 1974, plus contributions from Marshall Rogers, Frank Miller, Dick Sprang, Alan Davis and others. Worth a look. Sadly that cannot be said of Batman: Scarecrow Tales (Titan Books, 12.99, 176pp, ISBN 1-84576-063-8), the Scarecrow being one of the villains in the new film, given the same treatment as Catwoman recently. The pin-ups are nice, and it's good to see a reprint from The Joker no.8 (for those of us who remember his short-lived title from the mid-seventies), but the best of the stories here is by Pete Milligan and Duncan Fegredo, "Mistress of Fear" from Scarecrow (Villains) no.1 from 1998, and the rest aren't up to much. I'm sure the Scarecrow could be a good villain in the right hands, it's just that so far - since his debut in 1941 - he hasn't been. I'd give it a miss; there's plenty more Batman-ia out there for you...

Tony Chester

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