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Batman in the Eighties

Posted: Friday, October 1, 2004
By: Michael Deeley



Writers/Artists: Various
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $19.99 USD/ $30.95 CAN

Reprinting material from: Batman #321, 348, and 384; Batman Special #1; DC Sampler #3; Detective Comics #500, 518, 519, and 571; and New Titans #55.

If DC wanted to make be buy more Batman comics form the 80s, they’ve succeeded.

Let’s be frank: The best Batman comics from the 80s are already widely available in TPB’s. Think of Batman stories from this decade, and you’ll think of ‘The Dark Knight Returns’, ‘Batman: Year One’, ‘The Killing Joke’, ‘A Death in the Family’, and ‘Arkham Asylum’. The 80s also saw the release of the popular mini-series ‘Batman: The Cult’, the graphic novel ‘Batman: Son of the Demon’, and ‘Batman: Gotham by Gaslight’, considered to be the first Elseworlds comic. Any and all of these books would make for fine reading.

The 1980s were the most tumultuous years for the Batman. The decade saw his partnership with Dick Grayson permanently end. Jason Todd joined him as the new Robin, but did not survive the decade. Batgirl Barbra Gordon was crippled by the Joker, a tragedy that haunts Batman and his fans today. Frank Miller’s grim portrayal of the character in ‘Dark Knight’ and ‘Year One’ has shaped the way readers and creators have seen the character for nearly 20 years. Although he typically worked alone, Batman found himself leading The Outsiders, a team of unusual super-teens. And then, of course, there was ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’, the story event that literally rewrote the history of the Batman and everyone he knew. By the end of the decade, when the blockbuster “Batman” film hit theaters, he truly wasn’t the same man he was in 1980.

The format of the comic book series also changed during the eighties. ‘Batman’ and ‘Detective’ no longer had back-up features. The 20-22 pages stories were often continued in the next issue. ‘Batman’ frequently had a “mini-series within a series”, such as “Ten Nights of the Beast” and “Year Two”. So the stories selected for this volume, (mostly) stand on their own, independent of other issues. That’s probably why mot of the stories featured here were originally published in DC’s pre-Crisis period. Short, one-off stories were the norm for comics until the mid-to-late 1980s.

As for the material in this book, I was entertained. It’s a fine sample of the creative talent that worked on the Batman comics during the decade, as well as representative of who the character was. But it’s the text pieces by John Wells that really interested me. His description of stories not included in this book, (such as ‘Brave and the Bold’ #200, where Mike Barr and Dave Gibbons do the same story in both the current style and contrast it with the 1950s style). Also missed is ‘Secret Origins Special’ #1. The defining origins of the Penguin and Two-Face were published here, along with the Riddler’s eulogy for comics’ innocent days. Most surprising was learning Max Allan Collins was hired to write ‘Batman’. He quit after 8 issues, but did give Jason Todd a new origin.

The stories that are included are very entertaining, and have a style rarely seen in today’s comics. My favorite is “The Player on the Other Side”, by Mike Barr, Michael Golden, and Mike DeCarlo. Batman faces The Wrath, his criminal counterpart. The Wrath saw his criminal parents killed by patrolman James Gordon on the same night Bruce saw his parents killed. Ever since, he trained his mind and body for the singular purpose of killing all who serve the law. I’d like to see this character revived today, (and no, Prometheus doesn’t count; he lacked discipline.) Also interesting is the two-part Batgirl story where Batgirl’s efforts to arrest a computer thief are frustrated by the thief’s brother. It’s a fairly complex emotional tale about guilt and family. In another tale, Batman and Robin travel to an alternate Earth where Batman has the chance to save his parents. That world will still have a Batman, but he’ll act for very different reasons. The story is called “To Kill a Legend”, but it seems a legend cannot die.

The only thing I would not have included in this book is the two-page feature, ‘A Batman and the Outsiders Primer’. It lists the characters, but gives you no sense of who they really are or why they’re different from other teams. I’d have preferred a full Outsiders story.

Overall, this is an entertaining collection of Batman comics. We get some great art by Michael Golden, Gene Colan, Klaus Janson, Alan Davis, Paul Neary, and George Perez. Stories are by Mike Barr, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, and Doug Moench. You’d be hard pressed to find better writers in the 80s. Not bad for $20.



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