By Todd Allen
Back in August, DC released the “TALES OF BATMAN: GENE COLAN VOL. 1” hardcover book. This book reprints Batman #340, 343-345, 348-351 and Detective Comics #510, 512, 517, 528 and 529. As we see a trend towards naming collections of a title by the creator(s),we come across a little glitch. When collecting the a run exclusively by artist, the story sometime suffers.
That’s not to say this book is mislabeled. Batman by Gene Colan is exactly what it is. The thing is, this is an art book. The time period collected in the book, roughly late 1981 through 1983 is an interesting period in the history of DC. Marv Wolfman and George Perez had already struck gold with New Teen Titans. Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen started their collaboration on Legion of Super-Heroes. Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo launched Batman and the Outsiders. Things were starting to turn around a little. Marvel creators were starting to come over. Gerry Conway had been at DC for a while. Roy Thomas had arrived and was doing things like All-Star Squadron and Arak (which never captured the Conan audience it was intended to). Doug Moench would arrive at the end of this period. And, of course Gene Colan.
Colan’s initial batch of work included some Batman, Wonder Woman, The Phantom Zone (a Superman mini-series with Steve Gerber) and Night Force (a horror series with Marv Wolfman that never captured their Tomb of Dracula audience). This book is a collection of Colan’s Batman. The thing is, it isn’t a linear collection. Possibly some of the skipping around was due to the variety of books Colan worked on for DC. Possibly some of it being his work coming out in blocks.
For the most part, this book collects the Gerry Conway era of Batman. In that time frame, Conway wrote both Batman and Detective Comics. The art chores were a little bit of a bullpen. You had Don Newton, Gene Colan, some Irv Novick, Dan Jurgens, Dan Day, Curt Swan and so forth. Don Newton was really the most constant and artists would swap between books.
Storywise, sometimes you’d have stories that stayed in Detective or Batman. Sometimes they ran through both books. Regardless, the plentiful subplots ran through both.
In many ways, Batman of this era was similar to how Spider-Man has been run in recent years. And this makes picking up just the Gene Colan issues a strange thing to read. The second story in the book is a Poison Ivy tale from Batman #344. It wraps up a story that started in Batman #339 (a Conway story drawn by Novick) and had been running in the background for 4 issues in between. Subplots jump around. First there’s a mayoral election, which gets partially resolved in what’s reprinted. Suddenly Commissioner Gordon is pushed out of office outside the scope of these stories. There’s a subplot of the Human Target taking Bruce Wayne’s place as Deadshot stalks Wayne that is resolved in issues not reprinted. The introductions of Harvey Bullock and Jason Todd are events that take place in between reprinted issues. The final issue is the beginning of Doug Moench’s Thief of the Night and Nocturna cycle, which probably has enough material for a collection of it’s own.
It’s not as though you’re getting unresolved main plots. You also get a 4-part Conway/Levitz collaboration reworking the Monk villain from the very early days of Detective Comics and involving voodoo and vampires. You also get a lot of Gene Colan art under a variety of inkers like Alfredo Acala, Dick Giordano and Tony DeZuniga. It has a slightly different flavor to it than the Tom Palmer inks Colan is so strongly associated with.
If you look at this as an art book, as a Gene Colan sampler, this book is exactly what you’re looking for and you’re likely to be pretty happy with it. If you pick this up looking for a complete story, you’re likely to be scratching your head a little. A story collection would be Tales of the Batman: Gerry Conway with a lot of Don Netwon art added, among others.
Ironically, the upcoming Tales of the Batman: Don Newton looks to sidestep this reading order problem, opting for a self-contained earlier run from Detective (with some League of Assassins material that has some historical resonance, pending whether it exists post-New 52 reboot) and some Brave and the Bold Material.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.