Today on Batman News, I talk about Batman Illustrated, Vol. 2, an anthology of Neal Adams’ work that was originally released in 2004 but only now comes to you in the more affordable softcover format.

Content

Foreword by Neal Adams & Introduction by Dick Giordano

You’ll come for the comic books, but stay for the essays. These lengthy articles written by two comic book legends are one of the major highlights of this book. In Volume 1 we got a nice article by Adams that explained how he broke into the industry and here he gives us the story of how he brought Batman out of the Silver Age and into the darker Bronze Age of comics at a time when Batman was dangerously close to cancellation. The foreword is full of anecdotes about Julie Schwartz, Denny O’Neil, and others and it makes for a really great read. I wish both men had gone into more detail about how crippling Bob Kane’s contract with DC Comics was for the Batman character, but it’s hard to complain with the small glimpse they gave us at comic book history.

The Comics

The world of Batman is still changing at this point in time. Volume 2 features more stories by beloved creative team Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil, but they have yet to capture the grittiness that will ultimately make them so famous. Batman comics are finally moving beyond the science fiction stories of the 60’s and other fantastical elements are in their death throes but we still aren’t seeing the darker, noir aspects of Gotham emerge just yet. In fact, most of the stories collected in this book don’t even take place in Gotham! It’s a globe-trotting series above all else with almost every issue showcasing Batman in a new exotic location fighting foes well outside the rogues gallery you know and love.

However, that’s not to say that none of these classic villains show their faces. One of the biggest and most important features of this volume is the 3-part origin of Man-Bat and it’s really fascinating to see how all of that began. The character actually became incredibly popular in the 70’s, eventually gaining his own self-titled series! Fans of Grant Morrison’s run will be particularly impressed with this collection because they’ll notice some quirkier moments that served as inspiration for recent tales featuring the Al Ghul family.

None of the stories here are “stick to your ribs good” but reading some retro Batman is always interesting. Of all the stories collected, I think that the Man-Bat origin and the brief Deadman team-up issue are the only sections truly worth revisiting in the future. Everything else I merely digested and moved on without a second thought.

The Brave and The Bold #86

Written by Neal Adams

Lots of Nanda Parbat and even more Deadman. I never quite appreciated how cool Deadman could be before reading this issue and if you’ve never seen the appeal then I think this is definitely worth reading. The action on display as a twisted Deadman tries to kill Batman is fantastic. It reminds me of The Matrix and how Agent Smith (or any of the agents for that matter) would move from body to body. It’s awesome and it makes me wonder why Deadman isn’t more popular if these are the sort of fight scenes we could be seeing on the regular. He can possess anyone and that’s a pretty formidable power, especially when you consider that once you bring a body down he’ll just pop up in another host. It’s all a ton of fun until Batman and Deadman make nice and we go to Nanda Parbat and meet Sensei, then it gets rather convoluted and I was eager for things to wrap-up.

Detective Comics #395

Written by Denny O’Neil

Batman is in Mexico and he’s there to stop a couple who have been alive for hundreds of years thanks to some flowers that they grow. These flowers also create a fear toxin-like hallucination. It’s one of the least memorable issues in the collection.

Batman #219

Written by Mike Friedrich

Does crime take a holiday? Gordon convinces Batman to hang out with the GCPD all night singing Christmas carols and surprisingly nothing bad happens! It’s a charming issue except for the final 2 pages that hint at a real-life Ghost of Christmas Spirit being behind it all. Without that nod to the supernatural, I think it would’ve been one of the best Batman Christmas specials.

 

Detective Comics #397

Written by Frank Robbins

There’s a really cool death-trap scene and sweet ending to this story about a wealthy man who hires criminals to steal works of art that remind him of the girl that got away.

Detective Comics #400

Written by Frank Robbins (from a plot by Neal Adams)

Issue #19 (really #900) of the New 52 wasn’t the first centennial celebration that included the Man-Bat. Issue #400 marked the first appearance and origin of Man-Bat, a character Neal Adams pitched to Julie Schwartz himself.

Detective Comics #402

Written by Frank Robbins

Part 2 of the Man-Bat origin story. You’ll be surprised at just how much Man-Bat could talk in this first appearance and how important of a character Francine was right from the start!

Detective Comics #404

Written by Denny O’Neil

Batman gets an assist from another ghost, this time while he’s in a dogfight above set of a World War I film that Bruce Wayne is financing. In this issue, Batman is in Spain.

Detective Comics #407

Written by Frank Robbins

Marriage: Impossible is the conclusion of the 3-part Man-Bat story. Odd how there were so many issues between parts 2 (#402) and 3 (#407). There would be many an angry message board if those same practices were seen today.

 

The Brave and The Bold #93

Written by Denny O’Neil

Not your typical Brave and the Bold team-up. Batman is joined by the House of Mystery, a mystical home owned by the biblical Kane, when he’s vacation in Ireland. Cain doesn’t actually interact with Batman nor does Batman realize he’s in a team-up adventure at all. Cain merely serves as our narrator as Batman brings down a corrupt businessman bent on poisoning an entire town. Quite a lot of ground to cover in one issue, no?

 

Detective Comics #408

Written by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman

Another creepy house story, but this time with a more colorful villain, better death-traps, and the Boy Wonder. We don’t even have to leave Gotham!

 

Detective Comics #410

Written by Denny O’Neil

I love how Denny O’Neil always describes our hero as “The Dread Batman” in the opening narration in so many of his stories. You don’t hear that one anymore! Anyway, “A Vow from the Grave,” our final story in this collection, is a wonderful surprise for fans of Batman: The Animated Series. You see, the episode “Sideshow” about Killer Croc hiding among a group of circus “freaks” is lifted directly from this very comic. All the creators of the cartoon did was replace the random murderer character with the more notable villain, Waylon Jones.

Updated Coloring

This is what hurts this book most. Neal Adams takes great pains to recolor all of his original artwork just like he did with volume 1. For the most part, I liked the idea of recolored pages in the first volume because it would be cool to see these classic stories look so vibrant with modern techniques. However, there were many, many instances in that book in which the new colors drowned out the original illustrations or digital techniques were used that were distracting or, worse, downright ugly. With volume 2, the colors used are often far too dark and the Neal Adams artwork you paid to see just isn’t there anymore. It’s replaced by flat colors that rob the pencils of their liveliness. The more I look at it, the more I start to side with those who wish the colors had been left alone. Too many chapters have the air of bad photoshop about them. Here’s a side-by-side comparison. This isn’t one of the best examples of how drastically different the coloring is, but it’s one of the only interior shots of the original artwork that I could find so I grabbed it and took a photo from my own copy of Illustrated Vol. 2:

comparison1

It’s quite difficult to notice the motion lines as Batman bounds from the top of the truck to the flag pole and the sky is so dark and the colors of the truck, rooftop, and neighboring buildings are so similar that many of the elements within the panels are almost indistinguishable. I also liked how the colors in the first panel were originally muted except for the light from the explosive collision, it brought greater emphasis to the impact whereas the new coloring has the truck looking just as bright as the BLAM. And like I said, this isn’t even one of the worst examples of the coloring effects going too far. I like the idea of enriching what was already there, the bottom left-hand corner panel looks great! But when you start making changes this drastic it begins to feel like a downgrade and like we’re losing what we fell in love with in the first place. It reminds me quite a bit of those remastered Star Wars pictures from the late 90’s. Han no longer shoots first, the Sarlac pit has a beak, and there are all these goofy little aliens and robots running around in the background for no damn reason.

Cover Art

When the book says it includes all of Neal Adams’ Batman work in chronological order, it means it. During his career there were a number of books which Adams drew cover art but the job of interiors went to another. Here’s a list of the covers showcased throughout Batman Illustrated, Vol. 2:

Batman #217 (1969), Detective Comics #394 (1969), Detective Comics #396 (1970), The Brave and the Bold #88 (1970), Batman #220 (1970), Detective Comics #398 (1970), The Brave and the Bold #89 (1970), Batman #221 (1970), Detective Comics #399 (1970), The Brave and the Bold #90 (1970), Detective Comics #401 (1970), Batman #224 (1970), Batman #225 (1970), Detective Comics #403 (1970), Batman #226 (1970), Detective Comics #405 (1970), Batman #227 (1970), World’s Finest #199 (1970), Detective Comics #406 (1970), World’s Finest #200 (1971), Batman #229 (1971), The Brave and The Bold #95 (1971), Batman #230 (1971), Detective Comics #409 (1971), World’s Finest Comics #202 (1971), Batman #231 (1971), Detective Comics #441 (1971)

Biographies

The book closes things out with a brief two pages worth of writer and artist biographies. The first page is devoted to Neal Adams himself while the second page is made up of bios for Dick Giordano, Dennis O’Neil, Frank Robbins, Mike Friedrich, Len Wein, and Marv Wolfman. I thought that including biographies for the gentlemen Adams had the pleasure of working with to be a very nice touch.

Bonus Material

None, unless you consider the author biographies and introductions I mentioned to be supplemental material.

Value:   Sale Price!

$24.99 is a bit steep for nostalgia. Perhaps if more of the stories collected in this addition had been of greater importance to Bat-history I could see this paperback being worth such a price, but I just don’t see this having a very high re-read value. I’m sure I’ll revisit it for the lengthy articles written by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano and the three-part Man-Bat origin story, but that’s about it.

Overall

There are two kinds of people who will be most interested in this TPB; there are those who want this book so they can appreciate the Neal Adams art and those who want to enjoy some old Batman stories. If you want to admire the pencils of Neal Adams, you’ll probably be upset by the brand new coloring techniques he used. These colors are too dark and often drown out the artwork you came to see! But if you just want to relax with some early Bronze Age tales then you’ve come to the right place. Highlights include the Man-Bat origin and another story that was adapted into the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Sideshow.”

SCORE: 7/10