Shiny Shelf

Batman Legends #13

By Eddie Robson on 30 September 2004

To my great alarm and not inconsiderable shock, I now live in a town without a comic shop. There is no specialist supplier of the graphic medium within these borders, and it is only due to the heroic efforts of a man who works at the local chain bookstore that obscure, niche titles such as ‘Action Comics’ and ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ enter the otherwise fine city of Lancaster at all. Unfortunately, this system involves ordering books a few weeks in advance of publication: until my order comes in, no new comics.

Under any other circumstances it is unlikely that I would have bothered looking for comics in a high street newsagent, as I was given to believe that the market had long since dwindled to nothing. Ask your parents what it was like to buy comics in an ordinary shop and they’ll probably tell you that they can’t remember either. In passing, however, I noticed the UK reprint title ‘Batman Legends’ nestling among the skiffy mags in WH Smiths. I may have registered it in passing before, but in the midst of my present drought it looked more attractive. So I bought it.

This proved to be an inarguably good decision. For ?2.40 you get 72 pages, containing reprints of three issues of ‘Batman’ without adverts (for the benefit of overseas readers, most shops sell new issues of ‘Batman’ for around ?1.70), smartly presented by Panini Comics – best known for its repackaging of Marvel strips. (Yes, Marvel and DC under the same roof – you’d think the apocalypse was coming or something.) The first 12 issues, I have since learned, reprinted ‘Hush’ backed with ‘Batman’ strips from about three years ago and a selection of older material from ‘World’s Finest’ and ‘The Brave and the Bold’.

As a correspondent to this month’s letters page points out, this made for an odd mix: the emotionally gruelling ‘Hush’ and the whimsical ‘World’s Finest’ stories aim for very different audiences. Panini’s editorial team was already on the case. Before ‘Hush’ ended, the book moved onto Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams’ early 1970s ‘Batman’ for its ‘classic’ content: an intelligent move that made for a more coherent book, especially given Loeb/Lee’s clear debt to the earlier partnership.

Now, #13 has moved directly onto the story that followed ‘Hush’ last year, ‘Broken City’ by Azzarello and Risso, which is so different that the book has lost a little of that coherence, but at least one can imagine the same reader appreciating all three stories here. The weak link is the middle strip, which draws upon 2001’s ‘Batman’ comics – but even that’s OK. And it all works well as a whole – O’Neil/Adams’ ‘The Lazarus Pit’ links into the use of Ra’s Al Ghul in ‘Hush’ (and the forthcoming movie): the story also features Bruce’s other alter-ego Matches Malone, who in turn is the subject of the Vaughn/McDaniel story. The logical move would be to run ‘Year One’ sometime between now and next summer, although DC might not allow it.

For what it’s worth, this venture has my enthusiastic backing. ‘Batman Legends’ is a well-constructed package that offers excellent value for money, making a highly creditable attempt to get quality comics onto mainstream news-stands and hopefully getting a fraction of the masses who flock to superhero movies to pick up a comic book.

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By Eddie Robson

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