LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT: MARSHALL ROGERS (DC, 2011; Hardcover)
Collects Detective Comics Nos. 468, 471-476, 478, 479, 481, Batman: Dark Detective Nos. 1-6, DC Special Series No. 15, Legends of the Dark Knight Nos. 132-136, and Secret Origins No. 6 (cover dates April, 1977- Late September, 2005)
Writers: Steve Englehart, Len Wein, Archie Goodwin, Dennis O' Neil, Archie Goodwin, and Roy Thomas
Artist: Marshall Rogers (Penciler) and Terry Austin (Inker) and others.
I am normally not a fan of these creator centric scatter-shot collections. This book in particular spans 18 years of publication over its 496 pages, and yet there is a strange thread of continuity due to the fact that the creative team of Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, and Terry Austin all reunited some 17 years later and revisited some plotlines from their previous run on the character. This book compiles out of print collections like Batman: Dark Detective and the bulk of Batman: Strange Apparitions.
The restoration is so hit and miss. (See The OCD zone below for more details.) In some issues you can see the brilliance of the team of Rogers and Austin, while others are a complete disservice to their artwork.
|Don't take my word for it, judge for yourself. Left, original issue. Right, craptastic recoloring.|
Steve Englehart rules! He does a great job with ongoing plotlines and organically shuffling in Robin as well as classic villains like the Joker, the Penguin, and the super obscure Doctor Hugo Strange. Boss Rupert Thorne remains a thorn in Batman's side. Englehart ties up all of his loose ends and hands the book over to Len Wein with issue 478, a personal favorite of mine. My Mom bought it for me on vacation in the summer of 1978 at a rural northern Michigan convenience store near my Grandparents' cottage. Wein's narrative style is a lost art in this age of decompressed comic books. He sets mood and tone in a manner that modern comic writers can't pull off. The “pictures do the heavy lifting” crowd can call me a dinosaur all they like, but I am sticking to my guns on this one. Len Wein also rules!
Roy Thomas does a great retelling of Batman's origin in Secret Origins #6. I am not a DC expert, nor do I pretend to have a firm grasp on their myriad continuity. I freely admit to having a double standard when it comes to DC. With Marvel, things must fit likes pieces in a puzzle. With DC, anything goes as far as I am concerned. It's completely liberating, albeit completely unfair, but there you have it.
Rogers' artwork actually improved with age, as clearly shown in Legends of the Dark Knight Nos. 132-136 (the Siege storyline). Again, these stories are all great reads, and Marshall Rogers is a great artist. It's just a damn shame that his work was immortalized in such a substandard package.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.
The OCD zone- The branding on these creator centric Batman books sucks. Wouldn't you think that you would want the name of the character in the title of the book? This is an embarrassing oversight on DC's part.
DC can be infuriating with the way that they do their collected editions. For example, they include the covers as a cover gallery in the back of the book as opposed to putting them before each issue as a chapter marker. We get a solid black blank page before each issue when they could have just as easily placed the cover there. This is clowntown, and I'm not referring to the Joker, folks.
DVD-style Extras included in this book: None. There are several pieces of Marhsall Rogers Batman artwork that could have been included as nice extras, but DC makes no effort to go the extra mile. Marvel would have done exhaustive research and even reach out to the fans if need be for help in procuring scans of posters, what have you. Marvel's book program was lagging for years, but they have come up from behind and left DC in the dust. The shortcomings listed above only cement my argument.
Linework and Color restoration rating: 1 out of 5. The Detective Comics issues are an embarrassment. Seriously, this is comic book restoration amateur hour. The recoloring is harsh and sloppy, with cheesy gradient airbrush blends. Did DC hire first semester Photoshop students to do the recoloring here? It's that bad. The color palette isn't even close to the original publications, which is blasphemous. It's not like they did some bang up recoloring the material using the latest computer coloring techniques.
The linework is obliterated and/or pixelated, depending on the page. It's really sad, because these are such great issues. A few pages look okay, but the '70s issues are a hackjob in terms of restoration. I suspect that DC starts out with a price point in mind and then cuts any and all corners to meet that MSRP. This is because DC listens way too closely to the Direct Market. Nobody buys these books at comic shops for full cover price. These things are moved through online vendors, so when a shop owner tells DC “We can't move a book that costs $75”, DC cheapens their product to meet that $50 price point. Folks like myself who buy these high end hardcovers are put off by the cheapness of the restoration and materials, and they end up bailing on future purchases. Meanwhile, the $50 price point doesn't attract some mythological mainstream bookstore buyer or someone who buys floppies every week. It's the ultimate lose-lose scenario.
All of the recoloring looks garish compared to the original issues, and there are, shall we say, “liberties” taken throughout the book. Pick an issue, any issue, and you will see deviations from the original color palette. I will be laying awake in bed all night, counting the rotations of my ceiling fan as I try to fall asleep. Thanks a lot, DC.
Paper rating: 3 out of 5. DC used to use cheap mando paper in many of their “high end” hardcovers, which was laughable to those of us who buy tons of these books. So DC switched paper stock to super bright white, high gloss stock, which is even worse. While it is a good weight coated stock paper and is excellent for modern material with computer coloring, it fails miserable on the flat four color printing process material. The vintage material in this book looks positively garish, like Marvel Masterworks from 8-10 years ago.
Binding rating: 4.25 out of 5. Glued binding on so-called high end hardcovers is a complete joke. Having said that, this book lays reasonably flat, a feat even more remarkable when you consider that DC uses super squared, wedge-blocked hardbacks. It lays flat within the first and last 30 or so pages, which is again impressive considering how tight so many hardcovers with glued binding are.
The gutters are tight, a problem compounded by the glued binding and square block binding. The image actually curls around into the gutter, requiring you to tilt the book back and forth in order to see everything. This isn't a problem unless you try to, you know, read the words on the page.