The Batcave Companion

Review by KC Carlson

The Batcave Companion is neatly divided into sections roughly covering the “New Look” era of the 1960s (about 1964-1970) and pretty much the entire Bronze Age decade of the 1970s. To be more specific, it’s a collection of articles and essays chronicling Julius Schwartz’s 16-year run as the editor of Batman and Detective Comics. (Archie Goodwin edited a year’s worth of Detective, but that’s covered here also.)

The “New Look” 1960s

Writer/Editor Michael Eury tackles the 1960s section, with a lively group of pieces that really capture the era, after an introductory essay that reveals the details of why Batman needed a makeover. (And boy, did he!)

Also featured is an interview with Carmine Infantino, the artist that redesigned Batman, as well as the first artist publicly recognized as working on Batman other than creator Bob Kane. Over the years, Kane employed dozens of “ghost” artists to draw the strip, and during the 1960s, as comic fandom increased in intensity and scholarship, the identities of these “ghosts” were uncovered — something that Kane was not happy about. This is covered, including interviews with the few surviving creators of this era, in a chapter worth almost the cost of the book itself. Inker Joe Giella is also spotlighted in a new, solo interview.

Next up is a look at the 1966 Batman TV show, with a timeline of how the show came together in both Hollywood and in the DC offices. Remarkably detailed, the article also offers up an index of the comic book that some of the show’s episodes were based on. Follow-up articles reveal the film and print origins of Batgirl, as well as the major effect that the show’s popularity had on other DC comic books of the era. Another article provides details and history of the Batmobile, both from the show and the various models from the comics.

The Bronze Age 1970s

The 70s (Bronze Age) section of The Batcave Companion is mostly written by Michael Kronenberg and takes a slightly different tone than the 60s chapters. Here the focus is on the major storylines of the decade and the superstar creators that worked on them, including Neal Adams, Denny O’Neil, Steve Englehart, and Marshal Rogers. A new interview with O’Neil, as well as a look at the Englehart/Rogers/Terry Austin run on Detective Comics, are highlights of this section. The Adams interview, reprinted from Comic Book Marketplace, is close to the definitive word on Batman from Adams.

There are also spotlight articles on the ever-popular werewolf and vampire stories of the 70s, Batman’s team-ups with the pulp and radio character The Shadow, a look at the evolution of the Joker, a rundown of Robin’s solo career, and an overview of the “creature of the night” Batman style, returning from the Golden Age. Specific storylines are looked at in detail, including the first Ra’s al Ghul storyline, the classic “Bat-Murderer” sequence, and an overview of writer/editor Archie Goodwin’s year on Detective Comics (which besides a spectacular run of Batman stories, also gave comics the award-winning Manhunter series, drawn by Walter Simonson).

Due to space limitations, the lesser-known creators who provided the bulk of the Batman stories during this time period are slighted, including Ernie Chan (Chua), Bob Brown, Irv Novick, Frank Robbins, David Vern Reed, Jim Aparo and others, although sidebars about Novick, Robbins, and Aparo are included.

The 70s were a schizophrenic time for Batman. While creators like O’Neil, Adams, Goodwin, Egleheart, Rogers, and others were attempting to return the Dark Knight to his original gothic incarnation, for other creators — like David V. Reed and Bob Haney (over in Brave & Bold) — it was pretty much business as usual, with stories not that far removed from those of the 1960s. But the work of this era was incredibly important to the development of the character that appears today, with elements from some of these stories creeping into the modern Batman films, as well as inspiring the present-day Batman creators.

TwoMorrows Companions

I’ve found the quality of the TwoMorrows Companion line and concept to vary wildly depending on who was editing/compiling. But Michael Eury’s Companion volumes are top-of-the-line. Both this and his Krypton Companion (covering everything Superman-related) are must-have volumes, filled with little-known or long-forgotten information and trivia. His Justice League Companion, while not quite as fact-packed as the Superman and Batman volumes, is also a very good read (and purchase). (Eury’s “day job” is editing the almost always excellent Back Issue magazine for TwoMorrows.)

Eury, a former editor for DC Comics (among other comics companies) knows his stuff. He’s one of those rare writers who can successfully filter total geek-like fanboy excitement into actual, readable English, without losing the inherent fun of writing about comics in the first place — an amazing juggling act of his well-organized brain. He’s also authored a biography of Dick Giordano, an acclaimed history of Captain Action, and an overview of monkeys in comic books (Comics Gone Ape!), all for TwoMorrows. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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