I’ve long been a fan of DC Comics Showcase Presents line. These inexpensive reprints of old comics in black and white allowed people like myself who enjoyed Silver Age comics to get a lot of issues without breaking the bank. These stories were often written in an age where the average reader’s (and writer’s) knowledge of real world science may have been questionable, so pure imagination and outright silliness became the rule. DC originally put out a volume every two weeks, often alternating between a well-known property (Superman, Green Lantern) and then a more obscure one (Metamorpho, Jonah Hex).
Sales must not have been too good, as over time volumes went on to come out once a month and then less. I suspect that the sixth volume of Batman stories may be the last one. I had ordered it from Amazon over a year ago when it finally showed up on my doorstep last February. Having just finished it, I can review it. And I will…after the cut.
Probably SPOILER-FREE, but these are 40+ year old comics, so, you know…
This volume continues the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams era when Batman went from a campy Adam West type into the shadowy avenger of the night he hadn’t really been since 1939 or so. O’Neil’s Batman is still a bit chatty, not above making a semi-public appearance or even chatting a bit with various cops before going into the evidence room, whereas later Batman stories would just have Batman sneak into those places.
Here’s the thing: O’Neil wasn’t always working with Adams. Artwork came from a number of different artists, and O’Neil didn’t write them all either. The Showcase volumes tend to alternate between Batman and Detective Comics stories, and O’Neil wasn’t the only guy writing them at the time. Writer/artist Frank Robbins also did his fair share.
That actually makes for some screwy continuity, if you care about such things. The issues are reprinted in the order they were originally released, and that means that O’Neil’s biggest contribution to the Batman mythos, Ra’s al-Ghul, is not exactly a single-line narrative. One issue has Batman meet Ra’s for the first time as the two go on a quest to find Robin and Talia (who Batman had already met). The whole thing was a set-up by Ra’s and the issue ends with Batman learning the reason was because Talia was smitten with him and Ra’s was testing Batman. That felt like a cliffhanger.
Then the next issue, written by O’Neil, and appearing in the same comic, is a Two-Face story that has nothing to do with Ra’s or Talia.
That happened a few times, and O’Neil was still writing them. An issue where Batman has faked Bruce Wayne’s death is followed by an issue where Bruce Wayne is making a public appearance and then a couple issues later Bruce is “dead” again.
Ra’s aside, most of the stories deal with regular people committing crimes. Classic Bat-foes are nowhere to be seen. Man-Bat, Two-Face, and the Ten-Eyed Man are about it for super criminals outside the League of Assassins. There do seem to be a remarkable number of ghosts for some reason, and whether or not Batman believes in them changes from story to story.
The Ra’s story actually plays out well. Elements of the League, other largely forgotten members, give Batman problems for a while. Batman then encounters Talia, who claims she is a medical student studying abroad. Ra’s comes next, and whatever he wants or his plans are only doled out gradually. The Lazarus Pit came last. He starts off as a mysterious figure who gradually becomes clearer as the master villain he is.
Other stories tend to focus on Batman’s detective skills. Some even ask the reader if they figured out the crime before Batman reveals it.
All in all, given this appears to be the last Showcase Presents, I am giving this one an eight out of ten, “Really? The Ten-Eyed Man?”s.