Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

22 May 2007

Showcase Presents Batman, v. 1

Collects: Detective Comics #327-42, Batman #164-74 (1964-5)

Released: August 2006 (DC)

Format: 552 pages / black and white / $16.99 / ISBN: 1401210864

Batman was one of the most popular characters of the 20th century, and his most recent movie shows he is still popular in the 21st. But the Batman of today — brooding, determined, and above all else serious — is not how he’s always been.

The Batman in DC Showcase Presents Batman, v. 1 is an altogether different sort of Batman. The cover says it was the inspiration for the (‘60s) TV show, but that’s not quite what this Batman is either. This “new look” Batman, revamped under orders of editor Julie Schwartz, isn’t the campy, over-the-top Batman of Adam West. This is simply the Batman of the Silver Age.

Showcase Presents Batman, v. 1 cover The Silver Age. Where sci-fi gadgets were as common as nickels, and only slightly more valuable. A world of superheroes with great power and no fashion sense. Where elaborate plans worked until the heroes made one tiny adjustment … or chanced upon some bit of blind luck. Where all gangsters wore suits and fedoras and had grand ambitions that dwarfed their abilities.

The question is, does this Batman work for modern readers? Not really. Batman and Robin fight few of their traditional adversaries; the Joker shows up twice in this Showcase and the Riddler and Penguin once apiece. Most of the crime is committed by thugs with only one asset: either a gadget or a plan. In this low-powered atmosphere, Batman is relentlessly cheerful, and he and Robin are never injured by the flocks of bullets aimed their way. There are little changes to their status quo in two years of stories.

The tales are vanilla superhero stuff — secret IDs, working with the police, ridiculously slow deathtraps, etc. It’s a pulpy mess, really: science fiction devices with no consequences for society on one side and soft boiled mysteries for Batman on the other. There is little in the way of character development. Alfred is killed early in the volume, but he is replaced by Dick’s Aunt Harriet, whose only purpose is to show up a couple of times a year and make Bruce protective of his secret identity.

The real positives are the Outsider and the Mystery Club. Each gives some continuity to the volume; the Mystery Club is a stable cast of amateur and professional detectives, and the Outsider is a semi-recurring villain with a secret. These manage to raise the level of the stories from inanity to mediocre. But that isn’t enough. Give this one a miss.

Rating: Rating: Half Batman symbol (1.5 of 5)

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