A More Dynamic Duo
Tripwire continues its 100 Graphic Novels You Should Read While Stuck Inside with its seventy-seventh choice, Batman Illustrated By Neal Adams Volume 2, by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams and reviewed by Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows…
Batman Illustrated By Neal Adams Volume 2
Writers: Denny O’Neil, Mike Friedrich, Frank Robbins, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman
Artists: Neal Adams & Dick Giordano
Today’s book is the second volume of DC’s Neal Adams collections. When Adams came along, he changed everything at DC. Batman transformed from the silly figure of fun he had been for much of the 1950s and 1960s and it was down to the work done by Adams and his writing partner, Denny O’Neil, who just passed away, that we can thank for that.
This volume kicks off with You Can’t Hide From A Deadman, reprinting Brave & The Bold #86. Here Batman faces off against unquiet spirit Boston Brand aka Deadman and the League Of Assassins and visually Adams brings his unique visual flair to the story, offering drama and a kinetic energy that had been lacking in comics prior to his ascendancy in the industry.
The second story, The Secret of The Waiting Graves from Batman #395 is perhaps the greatest Bronze Age Batman story, a wonderfully gothic tale of a couple in Mexico who hold a very dark secret and are prepared to kill to keep that secret. Adams uses a number of cinematic techniques to grip the reader here, with his regular writing collaborator Denny O’Neil on top form too.
What follows is a fun but throwaway Christmas story, The Silent Night Of The Batman, written by Mike Friedrich.
Paint A Picture Of Peril, from Detective Comics #397, by O’Neil, Adams and Giordano once again, is a more slight story but still a worthy inclusion here, the story of William Randolph Hearst fictional analogue Orson Payne.
The next story is the second true classic reprinted here, the first appearance of Man-Bat in Detective Comics#400. Here Adams and Giordano team up with writer Frank Robbins to create a new figure for Batman to battle, scientist Kirk Langstrom who transforms himself into Man Bat. But is he hero or villain? Robbins does a fine job of channeling the likes of Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson in this tragic creation. Adams and Giordano are magnificent as ever too.
The second appearance of Man-Bat is also reprinted here, from Detective Comics#402, in Man Or Bat where Robbins continues to pursue similar themes to the character’s first appearance although Langstrom feels a little more heroic here.
We jump a couple of issues ahead now to Batman #404 and another seminal tale is reprinted. Ghost Of The Killer Skies is O’Neil, Adams and Giordano’s tribute to Kanigher and Kubert’s wonderful Enemy Ace war comics. Adams even apes Kubert’s lines in a couple of panels which is really effective. This story shows just how versatile Adams is as an artist able to switch between scenes of hand to hand combat and aerial dogfights with consummate ease. The final panel is a beautiful nod to Kanigher and Kubert too, acknowledging their legacy.
The third Man-Bat tale here, Marriage: Impossible from Detective Comics #407, seeing Adams and Giordano reunited with Robbins for another adventure this time seeing Langstrom blackmailing his girlfriend Francie is the weakest of the Man-Bat stories. Visually however Adams and Giordano are still cooking with gas here and so it still makes sense it’s in here.
The next story, taken from Brave & The Bold #93, teams up Batman with DC’s House Of Mystery in a tale that takes him to Ireland to solve the mystery of a murder and a wealthy industrialist who is bent on covering up his environmental abuse through local superstition. It does touch on similar ground to some of O’Neil and Adams’ Green Lantern Green Arrow run and it is interesting also because it’s inked by Adams himself.
Next is The House That Haunted Batman, from Detective Comics 408, which has Len Wein and Marv Wolfman writing, which starts off as a creepy horror tale but turns into more of a straightforward revenge story. Adams and Giordano are on top form here even if the story does feel a little bit like a potboiler at times.
Finally we have A Vow From The Grave from Detective Comics #410, which sees O’Neil back with Adams and Giordano. Batman is pursuing an escaped murderer and finds himself in the middle of a new murder conspiracy among a group of escaped carnival folk. O’Neil manages to lift this rather perfunctory tale to something better thanks to his prowess as a scripter.
When Neal Adams came along, he changed what comics could be and his work on Batman with inker Dick Giordano continues to be one of the high points of the last fifty years in the four colour medium. My only quibble here is that some of the recolouring work is a little garish in places. But despite that, Adams’ Batman are still some of the best depictions of the Dark Knight Detective ever and this is a collection that should be on the shelves of every mainstream comics fan.
Here’s links to the other graphic novels reviewed so far