BATMAN ON FILM, since June 1998!

A Tribute to Marshall Rogers

Author: Robert Reineke
Saturday, April 14, 2007

We lost a great artist this week when Marshall Rogers died at the too young age of 57. Fans of Dr. Strange and the Silver Surfer are likely to remember him quite fondly. But his major mark was made on Batman and, in particular, the run on DETECTIVE COMICS from #471 to #479 that is included in BATMAN: STRANGE APPARITIONS.

Although the 1970s were a good period for Batman, it would be fair to describe much of the mid to late 70s as merely workmanlike. Neal Adams was off doing other things. THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD still featured great art by Jim Aparo, but Bob Haney was growing a bit stale after a decade on the title. However, David V. Reed, John Calnan, and Ernie Chan on BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS didn’t have much spark. And then Julius Schwartz hired Steve Englehart to write DETECTIVE COMICS who was joined in the fourth issue of that run by Marshall Rogers and you got pure magic on one of the most celebrated and influential runs ever.

Noirish mood was present right from the first page of DETECTIVE COMICS #471 featuring Rupert Thorne in a smoke filled, shadowy room. Mood, mystery, shadows, crystal clear storytelling that could tell a story without words, sophisticated page layouts, design elements and sound effects incorporated into the art, the ability to swing from action to romance in an instant, memorable cityscapes, and, perhaps most of all, a cape that almost seemed alive would define the rest of the run. This wasn’t a Neal Adams, Dick Sprang, or Jim Aparo copycat, this was something brand new. It was art and story that could be appreciated by adults, and in particular an adult named Michael Uslan who would use it as a springboard to turn Batman into a motion picture. It also left quite an impression, especially the cape, on people like Bruce Timm who’s design for the cartoon BATMAN would be heavily influenced by Marshall Rogers’s work.

Marshall Rogers' Batman and Joker © DC COMICS

In many ways, Marshall Rogers was the perfect Batman artist. His every strength conformed to Batman’s world. He had training as an architect, which leant itself perfectly to creating a memorable, moody, and detailed Gotham City. He also had a strong conception of character in his art. Gotham City wasn’t merely gothic, it was fog shrouded and prone to thunderstorms. Dick Grayson, perhaps for the first time, looked like a young adult instead of a boy or teenager. Silver St. Cloud was thoughtful and sexy. Batman would disappear into his cape. Deadshot was redesigned to be a no nonsense killing machine. And The Joker was a perpetually grinning, totally insane, lanky monster who was literally surrounded by his own laughter. So insane that he’d help turn the page for the reader. Rogers reportedly believed that the Joker was incapable of not smiling and it’s an obvious influence on the design of Jack Nicholson’s Joker.

For whatever reason, Marshall Rogers’s run on Batman was too brief. He had done some work before, on BATMAN FAMILY and on the Calculator story, and he’d return regularly but it was never enough. He drew a terrific experimental illustrated prose story “Death Strikes at Midnight and Three” with Dennis O’Neil. He produced a rare portfolio of Batman in the early 80s featuring colors by Lynn Varley. He did a memorable issue of SECRET ORIGINS featuring the Golden Age Batman. He did the first arc on the newspaper strip springing out of the Tim Burton’s Batman. He did an arc in LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT featuring Silver St. Cloud. And, finally, he and Steve Englehart returned to do BATMAN: DARK DETECTIVE. The sequel wasn’t up to the standards of their first run, but it does have some quite thoughtful things to say about Batman. Reportedly, Englehart and Rogers had another sequel planned, which makes his death even more of a shame. But his legacy is secure and he’s well established in the pantheon of Batman artists

Robert Reineke is a Civil and Environmental Engineer residing in Wisconsin. He’s earned a BS and MS degrees from the University of Wisconsin and has been reading Batman comics since the 1970s.
He’s of the firm belief that there are plenty of Batman comics written before Frank Miller that are worthy of discussion

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