Let’s keep Bat-History alive and talk about Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams, Vol. 3. This collection of Neal Adams’ Batman work was originally published in 2004 as a hardcover but only now is it available in the more affordable softcover format. However, just like with Volumes 1 and 2, this assortment of classic tales does not feature the original coloring and that is sure to be divisive. In some cases the updated digital colors are welcome and give the pages an incredible vibrance and a feeling of being new again. Unfortunately those moments are few and far between and there are numerous cases where the digital coloring techniques appear far too flat and dark and often times drown out the original illustrations which is a big problem when you’re buying a book that celebrates the artist. You’ll want to flip through the book yourself and make sure that you’re okay with the colors before purchasing.

Content

The last volume showed Batman in an interesting transition period where Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil were just beginning to collaborate and shake off some of the more sci-fi and campy elements of the 1960s. That book also didn’t have too many memorable stories besides the origin of Man-Bat, but with Volume 3? This is Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil at their peak.

 

Batman #232: “Daughter of the Demon”

Written by Denny O’Neil

Inks by Dick Giordano

Here we have one of the most important Batman comics of all time. It’s the first appearance of Ra’s Al Ghul and it’s a story so well loved that Batman: The Animated Series hardly changed a thing when its creators adapted the tale for television. In fact, they brought O’Neil onboard to write the two-parter! You’ll marvel at how many elements stayed EXACTLY the same. And not only that, but Nolan fans will be sure to catch a reference to a rare “herb… used in ceremonies of a cult of killers. They’re called the brotherhood of the demon!” It’s so well done from start to finish. Yes, the dialogue feels dated by today’s standards (that’s just how it was then), but the story at the heart of it all is very compelling and Neal Adams’ artwork is astounding. The camera angles he chose, especially during a scene where Batman, Ubu, and Ra’s climb the Himalayas is very cinematic. I have a lot of fun reading this comic, it’s definitely one of my favorite Adams and O’Neil works.

 

Batman #234: “Half an Evil”

Written by Denny O’Neil

Inks by Dick Giordano

The dread Batman (Man, I love that! Why did we stop calling him “The Dread Batman”?!) confronts none other than Two-Face. You’ll see a pretty clever heist by Harvey Dent, a grey haired Gordon (which caught me off-guard since I review so many New 52 books nowadays), and a really great Batman moment in which he frightens a man with a simple “Boo!”, but one of the most interesting things I took away from this issue was the very origin of Two-Face which is retold in full. As you can imagine the tale goes through the usual beats of having the acid thrown in his face and how he started using the coin to decide his next course of action, but Batman’s telling of the tragic story of Harvey Dent also includes how the ex-District Attorney was given plastic surgery that cured him of his madness! Dent returned to a lawful life once again, but one night he attempted to stop a robbery and was blown-up by dynamite that the thieves had planted and the resulting fire scarred Harvey a second time. The new damage to the left side of his face was so severe, however, that doctors said that no surgery could ever fix it and so Two-Face was reborn! Interesting, no? The only real negative thing I have to say about this story is that the updated colors looked bad on Two-Face. The greens and purple effects looked like light reflecting off Harvey’s cheeks rather than horrific acid scarring.

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Batman #237: “Night of the Reaper”

Written by Denny O’Neil

Inks by Dick Giordano

Things get surprisingly heavy in this issue. In the beginning it looks like a Dick Grayson solo adventure where he’s hanging out with some college buddies and they’re on their way to a fun, superhero themed masquerade party but by the end of the story there are around 4 people dead and we’re shown some really horrific holocaust references. It’s in no way the lighthearted romp I thought it would be from the first two or three pages. Sure, there are a few more charming moments like cameos by Thor and Spider-Man (or “Webslinger Lad” as he’s called here) but the tragedy of what holocaust survivors go through is what’s really at the core of this comic and it’s very moving. As for the name “Reaper” in the title, that’s actually not The Reaper AKA Judson Caspian from Batman: Year Two. This is the Reaper that was brought out of cryogenic freezing in Batman #692 written by Tony Daniel, which probably shouldn’t have happened because this story has a pretty great message and should have been left alone in my opinion.

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Batman #243: “The Lazarus Pit”

Written by Denny O’Neil

Inks by Dick Giordano

The bad thing about this collection is that with it only featuring comics illustrated by Neal Adams we’re missing out on key plot points. We skipped the first appearance of Talia Al Ghul, the introduction of Matches Malone, and this issue casually mentions how Bruce has recently faked his own death. So while what we get is pretty great there’s still this sense of “Aw, man! I really wanted to see that!”

“The Lazarus Pit” kicks off a 2-part Ra’s Al Ghul story that features the first appearance of the Lazarus Pit (some sources say that #232 was the first appearance, but with that comic included in this collection I flipped back and saw that that simply isn’t true) and the second appearance of Matches Malone. The story begins with Batman trying to recruit a brilliant fighter who owes him a life debt. This sounds like a pretty easy task, but unfortunately this fighter owes a life debt to Ra’s Al Ghul as well and the mission Batman needs him for is the hunt for Ra’s! It’s never explained why Batman is out for Ra’s again, but the James Bond vibe of the story is fun and fast-paced enough that I was too swept up to care. What was odder to me was how Batman told Robin to stay behind and that this was a solo caper, but the Dark Knight goes on to hire a martial artist named Ling, a doctor named Blaine, and he also allows an attractive skiing champion to tag along as well. Why was Robin left behind? The big coloring problem that happened in this one was that Talia was given reddish hair, and odd choice. Why was the updated coloring to her other appearances in this book dark yet this chapter showed her with a red coloration?

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Batman #244: “The Demon Lives Again!”

Written by Denny O’Neil

Inks by Dick Giordano

A classic. The shirtless Batman vs. Ra’s Al Ghul duel to the death! This is a short and sweet episode with a lot of really great moments and some really creative page layouts by Neal Adams.

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Batman #245: “The Bruce Wayne Murder Case!”

Written by Denny O’Neil

Inks by Dick Giordano

It amazes me just how talkative Batman was even in O’Neil and Adams’ run. The voice they’ve given Batman is essentially what we would equate with Dick Grayson’s time under the cowl. Batman is chatty, sarcastic, eager to taunt, and he often smiles. This issue deals heavily with the presumed death of Bruce Wayne which, as I said earlier, is a bat-moment that was never featured in any of the Batman Illustrated volumes because Neal Adams didn’t draw that particular comic, but Bruce Wayne has faked his death for some reason and it was a plot point that lingered throughout several issues. Here in “The Bruce Wayne Murder Case!” a political rival in the upcoming mayoral election has forged evidence that his opponent murdered the now missing Bruce Wayne and it’s up to Batman to prove these clues false. It’s a nice, short story that, like many of the stories in this collection, show off Batman’s keen mind and incredible detective skills in ways that modern Batman stories don’t. It seems that all to often, rather than follow a hunch, Batman will just radio to “Penny-One” to Google something for him.

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Batman #251: The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge

Written by Denny O’Neil

One of the most popular Joker stories of all-time with one of the most loved comic book covers of all-time. Right from Neal Adams’ opening splash page depicting Joker laughing maniacally from behind the wheel you know you’re in for a hell of a ride. “The Five Way Revenge” has a recently escaped Joker hunting down the five ex-henchmen who betrayed him last time around. Interestingly, the place Joker escapes from is still referred to as “The state hospital for the criminally insane.” It’s 1973 and we’re still seven issues away from that institution being dubbed “Arkham Asylum.”

While it’s a great showcase for the Joker’s brilliance, Batman isn’t quite as smart in this one as he has been in earlier issues. He’s far too gullible and trusting of criminal scum but maybe these are the years in Batman’s career when he had all the trust beat out of him, eh? One of Batman’s smarter (and funnier) moments comes when he out-Catholics a nun by pointing out the meaning behind a Joker alias being a direct reference to a saint.

But as I was saying, this issue is more a Joker issue than a Batman issue and the Clown Prince of Crime is very much the Moriarty to Batman’s Sherlock. He’s always one step ahead of the Dark Knight who must watch Joker’s ex-goons die in increasingly surprising and elaborate ways. One of the real highlights of this issue is that readers get to see the classic shark tank deathtrap scene and other elements that were incorporated into “The Laughing Fish” episode of Batman: The Animated Series (See also: “The Laughing Fish” & “Sign of the Joker!” Detective Comics #475, #476) . The influence Adams and O’Neil had on that show is undeniable.

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Batman #255: Moon of the Wolf

Written by Len Wein

Inks by Dick Giordano

When Grant Morrison listed his five favorite Batman stories on Kevin Smith’s Fatman on Batman podcast, this was one of them. It’s a werewolf story featuring a comedic workout scene that Morrison found particularly memorable (I rather like the idea of Bruce working out with a plump, older gentleman named Amos, too. After all, Bruce needs a friend who doesn’t end up dead or a villain in 10 issues or less).
The story is all about Anthony Lupus, whose name was changed to Anthony Romulus in the Batman: The Animated Series episode of the same title, and his transformation into a werewolf under the control of evil Professor Milo (an underused rogue, for sure). However the animated series did a much better job handling this story. In the comic, Anthony seeks out Milo to cure him of headaches but Milo recognizes that, like most harry people, Anthony has a rare form of lycanthropy or werewolfism. Being eager to get revenge on the Batman , Milo gives Anthony an elixir that turns him into a wolf on every full moon night. If Anthony kills the Batman then he can have the cure and move on to a happier life. In the Animate Series, Anthony went to Milo for steroids to make him a better athlete and the elixir he was given just so happened to turn him into a werewolf.

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Power Records PR-27: Stacked Cards

Story, pencils, and inks by Neal Adams

This story was originally printed in a booklet that was a companion piece to a vinyl record. Without the accompanying record the simple story loses a lot of it’s charm and is overall quite forgettable and features quite a few lettering mistakes (particularly with commas). It’s about Batman and Robin’s hunt for the Joker, who has stolen a priceless Picasso.

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Power Records PR-30: Robin Meets Man-Bat

Story by Neal Adams & Frank Robbins

Inks by Dick Giordano

Just like the previous installment, this was never a comic book but was actually a small pamphlet that came with a vinyl record. It features Batman and Robin’s botched attempt at foiling a bank robber that ends with a rescue by none other than the Man-Bat. After that we see the origin of Kirk Langstrom’s alter ego explained in detail much the way it was by Neal Adams and Frank Robbins in Batman Illustrated, Volume 2. Much like the other Power Records tale, this one features few backgrounds at all, more spelling mistakes, and an overall feeling of being thrown together without as much care as the usual comics. I imagine it would be a lot of fun to read along with the vinyl but without it, well, it’s a pretty lackluster way to finish an otherwise spectacular collection.

Bonus Material

Two great forwards by Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil that span several pages, 14 pages of sketches, and all of Neal Adam’s Batman covers and pinup art from 1971-1996.

Value:   Full Price!

These are some of the very best Batman stories of the 1970’s. If you can’t find these books in their original, non-updated coloring then I wholeheartedly recommend you pick it up at full price.

Overall

The only thing holding this book back from being a 10 is the updated coloring. If you’ve never read these classic tales by Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil before and can’t find the original editions then you definitely need to check this out.

SCORE: 9/10