Not Just a Man in a Bat Costume
The day came when I refused to go back to CCD classes. I knew every Sunday when I learned about how mad God was at me my sister was home watching Batman. The unfairness rankled. I put my tiny foot down (I was a truly small, itty kid) and my mom shocked my by agreeing.
The day I asked her why the bad guys didn’t just shoot Batman instead of coming up with all of these bizarre contraptions, I learned an important life lesson.
“Because,” she answered patiently, “then the show would be over.”
My life long love of all things Bat had began.
An older still not tall me was hand fed comics by the not quite as patient but still rather wise brother Jon. WORDS and the Batman! ART and the Batman!
This was the Batman who regularly got conked on the head, knocked out and tied to chairs by villains who rarely seemed to shoot the man. There was usually a damsel (not always Robin) in distress wearing some diaphanous gown as she ran from her Gothic manse into the night (see Batman #227, The Demon of Gothos Mansion).
Robin was post high school and eager to become his own man yet still clad in green undies and pixie boots. That poor boy man. You’ll see the promise of many a Robin solo story on the covers of Batman as Dick Grayson outgrew the yellow, green and red.
There were murdered trapeze artists come back from the dead (Deadman –who is dead and a man) and men who are turned into bats (Man-Bat). Henchmen were still gangsters and villains didn’t all try to take over the world, let alone the universe ALL THE TIME.
Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil were the wunderkinds behind Ra’s al Ghul and his treacherously beautiful daughter, Talia. Their Daughter of the Demon in 1971 (beginning issue #232 and to #242 which is sans Mr. Adams art to #243 and #244*) is still arguably the best tale told of Mr. al Ghul. This led, of course, to fan favorite (not mine but…) Damian Wayne being born, trained as an assassin/asshole and eventually dumped on the Wayne/Bat doorstep/cave entrance.
Adams wrote quite a lot with Bob Haney, Neal’s partner when he joined DC. The stories read of their era but that is part of their charm. And many are timeless.
These were the days when hero men still punched people and didn’t have constant inner conflict and hero women wore go-go boots yet could still run. Things were a bit cheesy. They were glorious.
BATMAN BY NEAL ADAMS OMNIBUS
(In this one volume or in three individual volumes if you’re like Jon and you’re intimidated by seven pounds of Batman)
March 15, 2016
For anyone who holds Adams dear, this huge omnibus (it’s about a thousand pages of reprints) is a Batman primer. A tome to hold next to one’s heart. If one can hold seven pounds without… Okay, maybe sit with it resting as you gaze lovingly upon it.
Adams and partners Denny O’Neil and Bob Haney have regard for the source. Adams art, and art is what it is, amazes. He brought to DC a sensibility that had been missing from comics. Depths of field. Proportional bodies. Layering of color. More than just five go to expressions. Different perspectives.
“Daughter of The Demon” in which Ra’s Al Ghul & Talia Al Ghul surface for the first time, is included. Glorious. Read about the al Ghul’s when they were began as another set of baddies who had put our dear Robin in peril. But they, or rather Ra’s, was more than that.
the great revamping of the Joker, bringing him back to his murderous roots.
Batman teams up, inadvertently or no, with The Creeper (a personal favorite), Sgt. Rock, Deadman, The Teen Titans, and Green Arrow in a series of stories that took Batman back to where he began. His detective roots.
The panels with the action bursting outside the borders became an Adams trademark. See it over there in the aforementioned Batman getting floomed by Ra’s al Ghul panel set?
It finishes with the epic “Batman Odyssey ” that Neal Adams penned, penciled and inked.
Some that are sticklers for detail may notice that half of this book has been recolored/retouched by Continuity Studios, Mr Adams’ own coloring studio. If you’re used to and love the originals, you’ll note that the new coloring replaces that may have been well considering the time they were printed. Some may consider it unnecessary. That Adams’ himself had a hand in it and wanted it redone this way should quell those misgivings. For some. There are those that love what they love.
Snippet from the Neal Adams Interview with Dan Greenfield which you should read:
“I started to do things that people didn’t understand,” he said. “Nobody in comics was doing this stuff. It had been done 30 years ago but not now they just forgot. … So everything I did, it seemed like I was a miracle worker but it was standard stuff. You know, if you work for a magazine or if you work for anybody, this was regular shit. … I’m walking among cavemen. I took a rock and I went like this and it printed.”
About #244 “The hair on his chest sold more comics, I think than anything,” Adams said, only half joking, I think. “Like, ‘Batman’s got hair on his chest! I never realized!’ Yes he does!”
“Never blood,” he confirmed. “Never, ever, ever blood. And you have (the sword) off to the side, maybe it’s not quite in him. It’s in the sand. Of course it’s in the sand. He’s knocked him out and it’s in the sand. That’s bullshit.”
“But it makes you think it’s in his chest,” I agreed.
“It’s an optical illusion. You notice the little white space between the blade and his chest? It makes you think it’s in his chest. But those are tricks that I’ve learned over the years in my career. All these — I’m kind of a geek. I know I seem like a fireman or whatever the hell it is but I am so fucking geeky. And I know all this shit. And I use it in my stuff but I never hit you in the face with it. I’ll always kind of slide it back and let you see it but I won’t pull it away. I like that so much. I like the idea of making you look where I want you to look.”
This way would reign and change, as so many things do in the world of DC, everything changed.
BATMAN & ROBIN ETERNAL, Vol I Trade – Collects BATMAN AND ROBIN ETERNAL #1-12.
Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
BATMAN & ROBIN ETERNAL, Vol II Trade – Collects BATMAN & ROBIN ETERNAL #14-26.
Scott Synder and James Tynion IV
Many years, a few Robins and the new 52 later (when everything changed but didn’t but did until the Convergence when it kind of changed back but didn’t but the Rebirth is going to change things again), Batman is not Batman. He is just Bruce Wayne with a big hole in his memory where the Batman, all the Robins (one his blood son) and a couple Batgirls (pre-new 52) were. A robot-cocooned commissioner Gordon is a pseudo Batman sans the detective skills and tremendous fight scenes.
But what concerns us is that Batman made a mistake. Dick Grayson (who was the first Robin, then Nightwing with various costumes, then fake dead after being almost brutally killed then Grayson the spy who is really spying on the spies) is handed a flash drive by a mute assassin directed by the now absent Batman. If he were to disappear then surely all hell was going to break lose. And because of the woman behind the only word the black-clad, mute assassin can say. “Mother.”
When Grayson was still the only Robin, he and his mentor faced The Scarecrow for the first time; the seeds of the current mayhem were sewn. Not by the fear gas the affected Robin so badly. But by the doubt Batman had that the partner he took on and trained would be all that he needed him to be.
Mother trafficked in what Batman needed. She handpicked and then altered children to become killers/sleeper agents for those willing to pay the price. Was Batman one of the willing? Was Dick Grayson that much of a disappoint to him?
With only a list that includes the true names of all the Robin’s (with the exception of Damian Wayne) and many close associates of the Bat Family, Grayson, Tim Drake, (Robin the Third and now Red Robin) Jason Todd (Robin the Second and now Red Hood) must rely on each other to find out where Mother is and who can be considered a true ally.
What will capture any fan of Batman in this trade is watching the boys he trained come together and, despite vast differences in technique and mindsets, going after the bad guys. The do it for their mentor and in a very real way, for each other. But mostly because it is the right thing to do. Their all female supporting cast (Spoiler, Blue Bird and Black Bat – Cassandra Cain) almost steals the show at times. The kids in the internets would say they do. Watching them crisscross the globe together is fun and with an end game we can only guess at at this point.
Now, if you haven’t read the first trade, don’t read what I have written below.
La la la. Musical interlude while non-trade II readers find something else to entertain themselves.
Mother is tenacious. Mother is nasty. And Mother has inveigled her way into the craws and crannies of the world. The world, as per usual, is blissfully unaware. We find the Dynamic Duo going toe to toe with The Scarecrow and his Bio-hazard suit clad henchmen in a warehouse when the villain of this part of the piece begins to chatter to Batman on his cowls headpiece. About Mother.
Spring ahead five years Dick Grayson, Blue Bird and Cassandra Cain are faced with a nuclear bomb and a crazed automaton who is also Cassandra’s father. He considers himself a true and pure creation of Mothers next to all the failures he destroys. He tells Grayson that he is one of Batman’s failed children. What a crazed and well-trained meanie he is.
Red Hood and Red Robin take a direct approach against The Order of St Dumas and Azrael (Jean Paul Valley, shaped by Mother) but are made to face the very process that wish to stop. Red Robin goes into the belly of the proverbial beast as Jason Todd goes from faux captured to replaying his death in his head, whilst Jean Paul Valley regains memories of all that Mother has taken from him.
In the end, it is the good guys vs the bad guys on an epic scale as Mother unleashes her sleeper agents across the world. The Bat Family, including my favoritest – Midnighter, in one of the best cross pollinations I’ve seen in comics, go to battle against children controlled by a Mother they never knew who has shaped them from a molecular level.
“And to think. It only took two attempted brain washings, one evil church, and six thousand miles of globetrotting to get his here.” – Red Robin
“We started as an army. We chose to be a family.” – Red Hood
This is why this is/was a great series. The heart of the best DC has to offer is heart. Not epic stories that could destroy the world or the universe. It’s the disparate people who come together for what is right. It is these people who keep fighting even when it seems they’re losing. Remember this, DC.
*kind of thinking I earned some kind of credential with obsessive issue numbering