Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Classic Comics - Detective Comics #475

I talked about writer Steve Englehart last week and his excellent run on The Avengers.

After about four years on that title (and Captain America, among others) he had a falling out with Marvel and moved over to DC Comics in 1977, where he proceeded to write some of the all-time best stories for the Justice League and for Batman in an all-too-brief run on Detective Comics.

He started his run on the Dark Knight with an excellent two-issue tale drawn by Walt Simonson, and then he launched into an amazing six-issue series with the talented Marshall Rogers.

In the span of those issues, Englehart managed to redefine Batman as a sane man, a great detective and hero who must deal with a crazy world; he gave Bruce Wayne his first believable love interest in the sexy Silver St. Cloud; and repurposed several Batman villains into serious threats, including The Penguin, Hugo Strange and Deadshot; and recast The Joker into a truly scary and unpredictable force of nature.

This is the Joker we've been seeing ever since. Dennis O'Neil had returned the Joker to his original status as a madman (as opposed to the almost loveable clown from the TV show), but Englehart took the character to the next step - a character arc that culminated in the most recent Batman film and the brilliant portrayal by Heath Ledger.

This issue is the next-to-the-last in the Englehart/Rogers run, and it features Batman dealing with the realization that Silver has divined his true identity.

The Joker shows up with a truly insane scheme. He has used a chemical to give all the fish in the area his grisly smiling face. For what purpose? He appears at the local patent office and demands a patent on all fish sold, because they have his face.

When the man in charge explains that it can't be done under patent law, the Joker vows to take his life at midnight - even though the man will be held in a locked room, with the police and Batman on hand to protect him.

It's a dark delight of a story, with a Joker both completely unpredictable - and quite deadly.

Not only is it an outstanding story, but the art is amazing. Rogers makes Gotham come alive, his characters are precise and lively, his women beautiful, his villains chilling, and his Batman dramatic and invincible (love that huge cape).

The only strike against it is the poor printing, which smudged some of the darker scenes. But in a way, it just adds to the mood.

It's a fantastic series, and each issue is a gem - but the Joker nudges this one to the top of the list. And Batman has never been better.

Highly, highly recommended!

Grade: A+



Kyle said...

Hey Chuck, I didn't know it was an adaption till now, but they turned this into an episode of "Batman: The Animated Series". It was a great episode, makes me wonder which others were adapted from the comics...

Engleharts run sounds great, I'll have to see if it is collected somwhere...

Chuck said...

Kyle, I remember that episode, and I think I watched at the end to see if Englehart and Rogers got any credit. If they did, I didn't see it - but then, animation credits are so fast as to be subliminal anyway.

I think these were collected, but the only thing on Amazon seems to be long out of print - but surely DC should be keeping a collection in print. It's too good to leave it collecting dust on the shelf.