Monday, July 30, 2012

Open Sesame


A few words of welcome to a new comic book blog, for you the reader and me the writer. I love (mostly) all things superhero, and plan to discuss comics and graphic novels as high art, rather than the cheap escapism they frequently are. Every Wednesday, I cash-dump religiously at my local shop for magazine comics. But I also have a sparkling cache of trade paperbacks, and if they don't join me in my grave it's because they've buried me here in my room.

Right to it then. The last face-breaking chapter in Christopher Nolan's Batman film trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, has had me exploring various print eras of the Caped Crusader. The original 1940s run by his creators, writer Bill Finger and artist Bob Kane, is collected by publisher DC in lovely, light-weight trades that they've dubbed the Chronicles. They present "all the Batman stories in the exact order they were published," which makes for fun, illuminating reading by casual readers and would-be comic historians alike.

I grabbed volume three at Harrison's Comics and Collectibles (one of the best reasons to visit Salem, MA), and was soon up to my pixie boots in stiff uppercuts and body-slams. This volume includes Batman 4-5, Detective Comics 46-50, and World's Best Comics 1, from 1940-41. Noteworthy bits I should have expected but didn't quickly became apparent in my devouring of the material.

Detective Comics primarily features Batman and Robin's battle against gangsters and social injustice. One tale is about a banker with no time for his son, who ends up paying blackmail money to the teen's crooked friends. Much action ensues, including the stiff uppercut and body-slam that artist Kane includes in virtually every issue. After events wrap up, the last panel has our heroes' civilian identities of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson share this moral nugget: "Mr. Midas has decided to take a little time off from business and become a real pal to his son! Other parents can take a tip from this case! It's well worth thinking about!"

Er, thanks Bruce. Do all your sentences end in exclamation points? That would be yes, except when they end in question marks or ellipses. Still, such tales are told with the genuine mirth and energy of a genre cutting its teeth. In the beginning, before Batman became terrifying, he made quite free with the sarcasm. Stan Lee later infused most of his characters with a healthy dose, most notably Spider-Man.

In the Batman comic, which was a quarterly release, not a monthly like Detective, Finger and Kane threw the Dynamic Duo into surreal situations that their other magazine precluded. They faced pirates, the Joker and a slew of traditional fairy tale creatures. These adventures foreshadow the "crazy uncle" Batman of the 1950s, when the Comics Code kept him and Robin from street-fighting gangsters, and they instead encountered aliens, imps and even Batman of the year 3055.

Also noticeable is the difference in reprint coloring quality between the Detective Comics and Batman issues. Detective is less vibrant, with paler background and flesh-tones. Only the Dark Knight himself and the occasional fire truly jump from the page. But Batman's illustrations tout the immediacy and warmth of bright green, orange and purple.

Kane's art in both comics, however, is beautifully clean. His textured backgrounds and midnight ambiance make the reading a world unto itself- a world we can thankfully revisit in any of eleven Chronicles volumes (so far).

1 comment:

  1. I remember reading somewhere that the reason most of the comics speech balloons included exclamation marks was that the printing quality was so uncertain in those days, that periods might get dropped or not show up. Hence the ! and ? and ... proliferated; even with a period missing, the kid could tell how the sentence was supposed to read.

    For what it's worth!