Author: Robert Reineke
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
SHOWCASE PRESENTS BATMAN VOLUME 2 covers BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS from the fall of 1965 [EDITOR'S NOTE: When Jett “Began”] through all of 1966, excluding 80 page reprints. If you’ve read SHOWCASE PRESENTS BATMAN VOLUME 1 you pretty much should know what to expect in the follow up volume, at least at the start. Terrific hook covers from Carmine Infantino, solid albeit sometimes stiff art from Sheldon Moldoff, terrific and dynamic interior art by Carmine Infantino on a bi-monthly basis, and fairly standard DC Silver Age stories alternating science fiction (usually with criminals in scifi-eaque suits), detective stories, and costumed criminals. The feature was safe from cancellation, but hardly a sales juggernaut.
And then the Adam West show hit and sales exploded to the 800,000 to 900,000 range making BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS two of the biggest sellers on the market. And, in what we’d probably call synergy today, the comics changed to tie in, although except for “The Joker’s Original Robberies!”, “The Eraser Who Tried to Rub Out Batman!”, “The Circle of Terror!” and perhaps one or two others, they never turned into all out campfests like the television show. The changes were more subtle than that and some were positive. More emphasis was placed on costumed criminals and less on guys in suits with science fiction devices. Practically every month introduced a new villain and some like Poison Ivy, Cluemaster, and the Blockbuster stuck around. Action was emphasized more. A few more deathtraps were thrown in. And Alfred was reinstated as a member of the cast. And although you would find “Holy ____!” used more often, usually on the covers, you can sense a certain reluctance to embrace the campier aspects of the series by the writers, although there certainly is an increased emphasis on quips. The two campiest stories in the volume, “The Joker’s Original Robberies” and “The Eraser Who Tried to Rub Out Batman!” are backed up with more serious stories.
Beyond the impact of the television show, there’s another interesting change from the previous volume. Robert Kanigher came over as a writer for several stories and there’s an obvious stylistic difference as he wrote Batman more like one of his characters from his war books. Joe Kubert even contributes a few covers. Kanigher’s stories have a much higher degree of violence than other superhero stories of the era. The Birdmaster downs planes and kills people, including a woman who dated Bruce Wayne. “Clay Pigeon for a Killer!” revolves around a triple murder. Security guards are liable to be shot, probably to death, rather than receive a bump to the head rendering them unconscious. Batman is even liable to sustain a bullet wound. This all reached a crescendo in the best story in the volume “Death Knocks Three Times!” as Batman faces the skeletally clad Death Man which reaches a deadly climax in a fight in a graveyard during a thunderstorm. (And apparently Kanigher was taken enough by the design of the Death Man that he reused the skeletal costume in an Enemy Ace story illustrated by Joe Kubert and Neal Adams.) “Death Knocks Three Times!” is one of the best stories of the sixties.
In the lighter side of Kanigher’s contributions, he more than paid lip service to Bruce Wayne as playboy, he showed it. Several times he has Bruce Wayne on dates with multiple women in a story, often at the same time. This culminates in Kanigher’s most lasting contribution to Batman, Poison Ivy. There’s no sign of the plant controlling villain she would evolve into, but instead you have a cunning femme fatale who uses her sexuality and some chemicals to her criminal advantage. The Poison Ivy stories are nothing special, but you can certainly see the seeds of a memorable villain within them.
Beyond “Death Knocks Three Times!” and the introduction of Poison Ivy, other highlights of the volume include:
* “Batman’s Inescapable Doom-Trap!” was adapted rather faithfully into the episodes “Zelda the Great”/”A Death Worse Than Fate” of the Adam West show.
*“The Cluemaster's Topsy-Turvy Crimes!” introduces the Cluemaster who really is leaving clues as a diversion from his real plans, not as any kind of compunction. That’s an interesting contrast to the Riddler. And Carmine Infantino knocks the visual clues that the Cluemaster leaves out of the ballpark.
* The Weather Wizard comes over to challenge Batman and discovers that even though Batman doesn’t have superpowers, he’s just as effective as The Flash.
*The Hooded Hangman gives Batman a good tussle. And between his wrestling getup, his competence in battle, and his determination to unmask Batman, he can be seen as something of a precursor to Bane.
*The Outsider storyline is wrapped up. And something of a Lovecraft influence can be seen in the Outsider’s origin which involves a scientist involved in experiments that man isn’t meant to know about, midnight explorations in a graveyard, and the results of the experiment resulting in an unfortunate fate for the scientist.
*“The Riddle-Less Robberies of the Riddler!” is good character development for The Riddler as it establishes that the riddles he leaves are a compulsion, not just a gimmick.
Again, like the first volume, the stories are uneven here. For everything that’s notable like the above, you have plenty of stories that are merely competent or worse. I’ve not a thing nice to say about The Joker’s midget sidekick Gaggy. Or The Eraser. And despite Infantino’s art, I’m not much of a fan of The Blockbuster either.
The production values are again strong with crisp art being reproduced on good paper. This volume does scream out for color though. Still, for historical completists, this is a must have and bargain priced. Volume 3 will continue the campy trend, but Volume 4 will take a turn towards the more serious. If you’ve read this far, there’s no reason not to pick up those two volumes. Volume 5 is the next natural jumping on point which will feature O’Neil and Adams and Robbins and Novick with solo Batman adventures in the 1970s.
He’s of the firm belief that there are plenty of Batman comics written before Frank Miller that are worthy of discussion