Between 2004 and 2006, a dozen of the best artists were each given 48 pages of almost total creative freedom. Any genre, any style, any DC character, any wholly original idea all their own was possible. Within this massive tome you’ll not only find several great Batman short stories, but a vast range of other equally unforgettable tales as well that will remind you just how great comic books can be.
SOLO Deluxe Edition features all 12 issues from the critically acclaimed series and it presents them in the extra-large deluxe format bound in a glossy hardcover with Adam West’s Batman on the front and Wonder Girl on the back. The artists who are celebrated throughout SOLO are the following:
- Tim Sale (Batman: The Long Halloween, Batman: Dark Victory)
- Richard Corben (Heavy Metal Magazine)
- Paul Pope (Batman: Year 100, Battling Boy)
- Howard Chaykin (Black Kiss, American Flagg!)
- Darwyn Cooke (Selina’s Big Score, Before Watchmen: Minutemen)
- Jordi Bernet (Torpedo, Jonah Hex)
- Michael Allred (iZombie, The Golden Plates)
- Teddy Kristiansen (Sandman Midnight Theatre, Batman Black & White)
- Scott Hampton (Batman: Night Cries, Book of Magic)
- Damion Scott (How To Draw Hip Hop, Batgirl)
- Sergio Aragones (MAD Magazine, Dick Clark’s TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes)
- Brendan McCarthy (2000 AD, Rogan Gosh)
Many of these artists write their own stories and do so exceedingly well, but a few of the shorts are actually collaborations with famed authors such as:
- Brian Azzarello (Wonder Woman, 100 Bullets)
- Neil Gaiman (Sandman, American Gods)
- Jeph Loeb (Superman: For All Seasons, Batman: The Long Halloween)
- Chuck Dixon (Robin: Year One, Batgirl: Year One, too many other great Batman stories to count)
- Steven Seagle (American Virgin, Ben 10)
- and many others
With so many talented people coming together to do what they love you end up with a book that radiates passion and, as a result, is almost impossible to set down. When every 4 or 5 pages leads into another story in another genre featuring an even more unique artistic style you say to yourself “I probably have time for one more story.” before going to work or catching up on sleep, but there you’ll be one hour later still devouring quality fiction and even some non-fiction. You didn’t like the previous short-story? The next one will likely be more your speed. Not a fan of the pencils on this page? The look won’t be the same in just another flip of the paper. SOLO is nothing if not a beacon of variety! Clearly, since I’m reporting on it for a site called Batman News, there are obviously plenty of Batman stories to choose from, but this volume collects so much more than that! Yes, there are supeheroes such as Superman (Loeb and Sale deliver a touching scene that would fit perfectly in their Superman: For All Seasons), Hourman (there’s a really funny story about Hourman trying to find something, anything to do for the next 59 minutes after finding nobody in need of saving), Teen Titans, The Question, The Spectre (if you liked the animated short from 2010, you’ll love this), Doom Patrol, The Flash, Cassie Cain, Stephanie Brown, and others, but the genres go beyond capes and cowls.
There’s an assortment of fine Westerns, detective stories featuring the likes of Slam Bradley, espionage tales, romances, personal anecdotes (these can be regarding anything from how the artist broke into comics, their artistic process, a touching flashback to how they fell in love with drawing, or the time they thought they caused the death of Young Frankenstein‘s Marty Feldman), and much, much more. Some of my personal favorites were by MAD Magazine’s Sergio Aragones, who writes with so much heart and illustrates some of the funniest and even the most poignant pieces in this anthology. Other favorites include a romantic affair by Darwyn Cooke about a man and his love for his brand new vacuum cleaner (can’t say I’ll forget this one anytime soon), Howard Chaykin’s WWII short about a black jazz musician trying to escape Nazi occupied France, a cursed tomb from Richard Corben’s imagination, and, well, if I kept listing all of the stories I loved we’d be here all day! I suppose the things I should discuss the most are the various Batman shorts.
Much like the rest of the stories in this extremely large graphic novel, no two Batman stories are alike. Some keep things traditional and modern day while others get nostalgic (just look at the Batusi cover) or abstract and downright psychedelic.
- The team from The Long Halloween offer a fun look at Catwoman leading Batman on a wild chase across Gotham rooftops
- Paul Pope’s colorful “Teenage Sidekick” (which won the Eisner Award for best short story of 2006) has Dick Grayson trying and failing to take on the Joker by himself. As an enormous fan of Pope’s Batman: Year 100, this was really great to see. I love his manga style and the use of color is unlike anything else in the collection
- Darwyn Cooke makes Batman references throughout his chapter with everything from a Selina Kyle pinup to a single panel cartoon with Joker and Harley, and then there’s “Deja Vu,” a short based on the 70’s classic “Night of the Stalker” by Steve Englehart, Vin & Sal Amendola & Dick Giordano. Like the tale that was originally featured in Detective Comics #439, Batman arrives too late to stop a crime that’s eerily similar to the one that took the lives of his own parents. Enraged and fueled by memories, Batman takes this case personally as he hunts down the men responsible
- Jordi Bernet draws Poison Ivy at her most voluptuous, but besides her curves, his contribution to the book’s Batman portion never quite captured my attention
- “Doom Patrol vs. Teen Titans” by Michael Allred is overflowing with fun silver-age cameos and will most definitely be a crowd-pleaser for all DC fans. In this story, The Doom Patrol rent a room and try to have a nice, relaxing evening after a day of adventuring, but the floor above theirs just so happens to be the location of Bruce Wayne’s penthouse. While The Dark Knight might not be staying there this evening, the Teen Titans certainly are and even more young heroes are on the way for Dick Grayson’s rocking party! Even Bat-Mite is invited
- Allred’s other Batman short “Batman A-Go-Go!” is one that will actually make you feel bad for enjoying dark, gritty Batman stories. What you’ll see here is essentially the Adam West Batman, but don’t get too comfortable because he’s not played for laughs. Gradually over the course of these pages you’ll see Batman’s city change around him into something much more mature, modern, and far less wholesome. The world turns into a place that wants a dark hero who has gazed deep into the abyss and the abyss gazed deeply into him. Even Robin is ready to trade in his tights for armor and Gordon wants Batman to stop chasing down costumed jewel-thieves and help out against murderers and perhaps even quell the race riots. It’s all very meta and quite unforgettable, I only wish that Allred had fully committed to the concept rather than ditch it with an all-too convenient ending
- “Batman: 1947” by Scott Hampton was a charming piece about a father who performs as the Caped Crusader for Gotham TV serials. This actor ends up in a situation where he — in the batsuit– must actually chase down a few crooks or risk ruining the childhood of an entire crowd of young fans who are watching events unfold around the man they believe to be their hero
- Sure to be a welcome sight for fans who miss these characters in the New 52, Damion Scott’s “Batgirl & Robin” features Stephanie Brown getting some much-needed training from Cassie Cain. This was an enjoyable, lighthearted adventure but besides the novelty of seeing these characters back in action again it doesn’t offer much else
- Damion Scott follows things up with “The Batt.” This story is presented more in Scott’s graffiti style and it’s about a Gotham 15 years in the future where Tim Drake is Batman and his sidekick is none other than Cassie Cain. This was one of the most surprising Batman stories in the collection but I wish it had been longer. It’s an interesting look at the possible future of the Batman mythology that’s entirely fertile ground that should be explored more deeply
- The one story in Sergio Aragones’ issue that he did not write himself was “A Batman Story.” This comedic look at the Batman was written by Mark Evanier who, like Allred, holds up a mirror on society’s desire for a dark, violent Batman. In it we see Bruce Wayne host a film crew shooting a Batman movie in his very home when the villainous “Plummer” breaks in only to get into a fight with the actor portraying Batman in the upcoming movie and not the real Dark Knight himself
- I probably cared for Brendan McCarthy’s work the least simply because it was so strange and nonsensical and his Batman story was really no different. McCarthy and writer Robbie Morrison try to recreate a dream that McCarthy had about a Batman comic that never existed…or something. In this adventure, Batman battles a horde of disembodied hands lead by one really large bejeweled hand… it’s as weird as it sounds
The greatest strength of SOLO is its depth. SOLO shows us everything comics have to offer and because of that it’s now my #1 go-to book when it comes to introducing non-comics fans to this exciting medium. I firmly believe that those who never gave comics a chance and even thumbed their noses at them will discover the literary and artistic value comics are capable of when they read SOLO. It might not be a superhero story, it might not be a comedic yarn– it might not even come until they’re halfway finished with the collection, but I wholeheartedly believe there will be something here that will ignite a passion for reading that they never knew they had.
Even with all of that content there is still room for supplemental material! The last 30 pages or so are dedicated to giving each of the twelve great artists a full biography accompanied by several pages of original sketches. Had this book included no bonus material whatsoever I wouldn’t have even batted an eye since there’s so much book there already, so getting these extras was a genuine treat.
Value: FULL PRICE!
Yes, even at $49.99 I totally think that this is worth full price– not that you’ll need to pay that with Amazon currently offering it for around $35 bucks! It has over 560 deluxe-sized pages featuring short stories from almost every genre written and illustrated by the best talent in the business. It’s immensely re-readable, the perfect book to lend to a friend, it will likley take you a few days to finish it all because there’s just so much of it, and, let’s face it, that giant cover showcasing Batman doing the Batusi will look great on your shelf!
SOLO has it all. Batman stories (dark, light, funny, modern, and retro varieties), westerns, science fiction, espionage, romance, fantasy, horror, historical tales, autobiographical accounts, and some of the most imaginative and gorgeous artwork you’ll ever find in a comic. I give it my highest recommendation and say it’s a must-buy for anyone who loves comics!