Sunday, January 12, 2014

Review- TALES OF THE BATMAN: DON NEWTON VOL. 1


TALES OF THE BATMAN: DON NEWTON VOL. 1 (DC, 2011; Hardcover)

Collects The Brave and the Bold Nos. 153, 156, 165, Detective Comics Nos. 480, 483-497, and selections from Batman Nos. 305, 306, 328 (cover dates November, 1978- December, 1980)

Writers: Denny O'Neil, Cary Burkett, Bob Rozakis, Martin Pasko, Michael Fleisher, Marv Wolfman, and Gerry Conway

Artists: Don Newton (Penciler) with Inkers Dan Adkins, Dave Hunt, Robert R. Smith, Kim DeMulder, and Frank Chiaramonte

These artist-centric collections are a hit or miss affair, often not reading well at all. Fortunately Don Newton did a consistent run on Detective Comics, giving us a nice slab of latter day Bronze Age goodness. Aside from the colossal blunder of inserting Batman #328 in between Detective Comics #494 and 495, a two-parter with a cliffhanger no less, this reads just fine. If you like late '70s/turn of the '80s superhero comic books then you will like this. Those expecting the torture porn, boobies, and/or swearing found in many modern superhero comics will be disappointed.

Don Newton's artwork is the focus of this book, and I was completely unfamiliar with his work prior to reading it. He has solid storytelling abilities and clear layouts, sometimes looking like early Frank Miller. In other words, slightly polished, slightly rough-edged but solid work. Nothing I would call great. Was Newton a Batman fan favorite or something? I did a few minutes worth of research and learned that he passed away at the relatively young age of 49.

Note the horrendous gradient shading by the impact lines.
The Bob Rozakis-penned stories suck, but the Denny O'Neil, Marv Wolfman, and Michale Fleisher ones are of course solid and well written. The Curse Of Crime Alley from Detective Comics #483 is one that really works. In that story, Batman returns to the once-fashionable neighborhood where his parents were gunned down in front of him as a child. He returns once a year on the anniversary of their death to visit Leslie Thompkins, the woman who came to his aid when his parents were shot. While there he gives a beat down to the vermin who have turned this once nice area into a ghetto and stumbles upon a bigger scheme: Mister Zeus, a crime lord with delusions of grandeur. That's actually an understatement. He believes that he is a Greek God, and his delusions prove amusing. He goes on to plague Batman (I refuse to use the term “Bats”, as it sounds retarded) for several issues afterward. Great, highly entertaining stuff.

Along the way we have other great stories, like the ones where Batman fights General Scarr, the Riddler, the Crime Doctor, and sort of teams up with the Man-Bat. One thing that I really appreciate as an adult but would have probably hated as a kid is that Batman is a normal human in Olympic-level shape with gadgets who relies on his brain to help when he is physically outclassed. I was a Marvel kid and thumbed my nose up at the Distinguished Competition, so I read these books free from nostalgia or other emotional involvement with the characters.


My favorite story in this book is Murder On The Mystery Ship from Detective Comics #496. There is a party aboard a cruise ship sponsored by John Carlinger (not Carpenter, see?) honoring the legends of Horror films. Basil Karlo (not Boris Karloff) was the greatest of them all, until his mind snapped when they were remaking a movie with a role he was famous for without him. He assumed his recent role of Clayface in real life and went on a killing spree. This origin story occurred way back in Detective Comics #40 in 1940 but is referenced here. He is now residing in Arkham Asylum when he reads the news of this theme cruise honoring the legends of the industry. Enraged that they didn't even invite him, he kills the nurse who came to administer his medication and escapes, finding his way to the ship. There's a really cool twist ending that I am not about to spoil for you. DC Comics seem to be darker and have a lot more murder in them than Marvel did at this time. I say this not as a pro or con, merely making an observation.

While I have severe reservations about picking up the theoretical Volume 2 based on the subpar production values of this book (scroll down), I probably will pick it up if it ever comes to fruition since this was a decent read.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 3.75 out of 5.

The OCD zone- There are no issue covers included in this book. At all. When DC does an artist-centric collection, they make sure that nothing that the artist did not do was included, issue covers as proper chapter markers be damned! Of course, using this philosophy DC should have blacked out all of the word balloons, since Don Newton didn't write those, either.
DVD-style Extras included in this book: Extras??? Are you kidding me? DC can't even put the frickin' issue covers in the book. Lets get the basics covered and then we can talk about extras. DC's collected editions department lives in 2004. DC used to be better than Marvel's collected editions department since they had a head start, but Marvel has come up from behind and left them in the dust.
I can't believe that DC would release a book with subpar restoration like this.
Linework and Color restoration rating: 3.75 out of 5. While the linework looks good in some spots, in others it is horrendous. The coloring is comic book restoration amateur hour, with lazy airbrush gradient blends, giving a harsh, cheesy look to the proceedings. Some issues have obliterated or downright muddy linework. The Brave and the Bold #165 has pixelation, while #153, particularly pages 93-95 of this book, are godawful messes.
There are dropped words in the word balloon in Detective Comics #484 panel one, page 14 (page 69 in this book).
On page 276 DC went to great effort to Photoshop the *footnote box out. It's a shame that they didn't put that much effort into proper restoration. I don't get the point in removing the *footnote boxes. Do the mythical mainstream bookstore buyers that DC believes scoops these pricier hardcovers up prefer this? Because I can't believe that anyone outside of the hardcore collected edition circles would buy a book like this.
Paper rating: 4.5 out of 5. While the glossy coated stock paper is of decent weight and is overall pretty nice, it is not optimal for material with flat coloring such as this. DC is where Marvel was in 2005. Marvel figured out that this high gloss stock was not appropriate for their classic material and switched to a stock with a semi-sheen to it. DC used to use mando toilet paper in their collected editions of vintage material but now use this. It's a step up I suppose, but does anyone that works there actually compare their product to other publishers' stuff? Because their decontented product is laughable when compared to what other companies are releasing nowadays.
Binding rating: 4 out of 5. Again, DC's collected editions department is found lacking when compared to Marvel's. Marvel would have issued this book with sewn binding. DC issues a perfect bound (read: glued) hardcover which does not lay flat and has tight gutters, making for an annoying read for the first and last 80 pages. Not bad, since the book only has 360 pages.
Hardback cover rating: 2 out of 5. Good lord, someone let the bean counters at DC take over their collected editions department! Gone are the foil stampings, and the boards used on this book are cheap feeling with the cheapest “finish” available, all in an attempt to keep costs low and profits high. DC has some backward philosophy that the market for books like this is mainstream bookstores. No mainstream bookstore buyer is going to plunk $39.99 MSRP on an artist-centric book that many modern comic fans wouldn't buy because they don't know who he is.


http://www.instocktrades.com/TP/DC/TALES-OF-THE-BATMAN-DON-NEWTON-HC-VOL-01/AUG110254


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