DC Obscurity: Artist Bob Brown on Batman

A column article by: Jim Kingman

I’m not exactly sure which superheroes Bob Brown is most noted for illustrating during his decades-long career in comics. Brown’s work on DC’s Challengers of the Unknown and Superboy as well as on Marvel’s Daredevil and The Avengers immediately comes to mind.

However, what I’ve always considered to be his strongest, yet most neglected, effort is his work on Batman during the early 1970s. He drew several engaging Batman stories in the late 60s and early 70s--one in Batman, four in The Brave and the Bold, and 37 in Detective Comics, and I don’t think any of them have ever been reprinted in the many full-color collections of the “Best of” books on Batman--though they have been collected in a few of the black & white Showcase Presents collections.

While he illustrated 256 covers for DC between 1952 and 1973, the only one that featured Batman was The Brave and the Bold #78--which is surprising for someone who illustrated 42 Batman tales.

Brown’s style was tight, clean, and straightforward. Yes, it can be argued that he did not convey the back-to-its-roots air of mystery the Dark Knight (and the character’s fans) so enjoyed in the early 1970s, but Brown was no slouch. He made you feel that Batman was a determined detective. Heck, my favorite Caped Crusader tale illustrated by Brown isn’t even in one of the 37 issues of Detective he illustrated; it’s in a more “obscure” location--Batman #248 (April, 1973).

What’s so obscure about having your work published in an issue of Batman during that time?

Simple. Neal Adams.

It’s a little unfortunate that Adams’s undeniably dynamic work on Batman towers over his Bat-contemporaries. Fortunately, Irv Novick, Jim Aparo, and Frank Robbins have garnered due recognition over the years. Not so with Brown, however--which is a shame because his pencil-work on “Death-Knell for a Traitor,” written by Denny O’Neil and inked by Dick Giordano, is outstanding.

Had it been illustrated by Adams, this story of an American traitor during World War II, whose release from Gotham prison 30 years later attracts the interest of Batman and his nemesis Colonel Sulphur, would have been reprinted a half dozen times. I can’t imagine Adams’s take on this tale, as Brown leaves such an indelible mark on it.

Not even the startling Michael W. Kaluta cover and the dramatically paced “silent page” has generated much attention to this particular comic, which also includes a fine Robin backup by writer Elliot S. Maggin and artists Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin.

Brown, who passed away in early 1977, certainly deserves some long overdue accolades. Consider this a start!

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