TALES OF THE BATMAN: GENE COLAN VOL. 1 (DC, 2011; Hardcover)
Collects Batman Nos. 340, 343-345, 348-351 and Detective Comics Nos. 510, 512, 517, 523, 528, 529 (cover dates October, 1981- August, 1983)
Writers: Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Paul Levitz, and Doug Moench
Artists: All pencils by Gene Colan; Inking done by Adrian Gonzales, Klaus Janson, Alfredo Alcala, Tony DeZuniga, and Dick Giordano
I was a Marvel zombie in the classic definition of the term throughout the '80s. I would not read a DC comic if you paid me to. More fool me, as these issues stand up to anything that Marvel was doing in this time frame. Once Jim Shooter was named editor in chief at Marvel he chased away nearly everyone who mattered at Marvel in the '70s. These guys all found work over at the Distinguished Competition.
Gerry Conway writes the bulk of these issues, and he is incredible. Most fans these days seem to have a stick up their rear toward him, largely because he killed off Gwen Stacey during his tenure on Amazing Spider-Man. Never mind the fact that he has penned countless great stories, as evidenced in these very pages. No Internet, keep on hating his work for penning one of the most powerful Spider-Man stories of all time, one that is every bit as important to the character as his Uncle Ben being murdered.
The real star of the show is, of course, Gene Colan's artwork. A man whose work is moody and eerie, he is most famous for his legendary run on Tomb Of Dracula. Realizing his strengths, Conway of course pits Batman and Robin against Vampiri by introducing Dala DuBois. Those issues are particularly chilling and effective, especially the almost-solo Robin story.
Gene Colan's rendition of the Mad Hatter looks almost exactly like Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. I imagined that issue almost as if it were an episode of the 1966 television series. Detective Comics #517 is sort of creepy, as there are almost incestuous implications in that issue. I hope that I am wrong and read it incorrectly, because it really weirded me out.
There are members of the supporting cast that should be familiar to fans of the movies: Vicki Vale and Lucius Fox are both here. I am not a Batman expert by any stretch, so I was happy to see them.
One thing that I found interesting was that each issue of Detective Comics continued directly into the next issue of Batman. Apparently they were released two weeks apart, so fans essentially got a new issue every two weeks. Of course it is shenanigans when comic companies not only expect, but demand that fans buy more than one ongoing title to get a complete story. And here I thought that Marvel pioneered this shyster technique with Spider-Man in the '90s.
DC's artist-centric collected editions do not take Marvel's hybrid approach. Marvel will include an issue, even if the artist named in the title of the collection was not involved, so long as it is relevant to the storyline presented within the book so as to make it a cohesive read. The result here with DC's method is an uneven and occasionally unsatisfying read, as these issues tend to spill into one another. Some of these issues, such as Detective Comics #511, would have provided valuable subplot information. While there are recap panels and references in the next issue, in most cases it is not as fulfilling as reading the actual issue. This material is so good that I want to read every issue. All the skipping around drove me nuts. Marvel would have titled this Batman by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan and included everything.
Regardless of the gaping holes in story or the unfaithful recoloring, this was a terrific read with artwork by one of the greatest artist of the Bronze Age. Now my question for DC is...where is Volume 2?
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.
The OCD zone- This book was released during a dark period for DC, at least in terms of their collected editions department. Errors were the norm, and this book has incorrect information listed on the dustjacket and indicia. According to them, Detective Comics #520 is included. It is not, but it is not a dealbreaker since Gene Colan didn't draw that issue. #510 and 512 are included but are not listed, although they are listed on the Table of Contents page. As far as errors go these are among the most forgivable. This blog is for the most OCD-stricken of book collectors, though, and it is unclear how many regular readers died from strokes upon discovery of this error.
There is a dropped letter on page 177.
DVD-style Extras included in this book: This is DC. Surely you jest! I am just thankful that they decided to include all of the issue covers, even if Gene Colan did not do the artwork on all of them.
Linework and Color restoration rating: 3 out of 5. The linework is stunningly reproduced. If there is a dropout, I didn't catch it on the spotchecks I did. The color palette is occasionally faithfully maintained, although it is marred with “improvements” in an attempt to make things look more modern. Those unfaithful renderings resulted in a debit of two OCD points.
Paper rating: 5 out of 5. Excellent weight coated stock with a slight sheen. Again, this is also different from the high gloss paper used on the rest of the books in this line.
Binding rating: 4 out of 5. Perfect bound hardcover. Glued binding on books this thick with squared spines annoys the piss out of me.
Hardback commentary: While the boards of the hardback are the same cheap lightweight material with cheap coating that DC has been passing off on us for years, this book has an elaborate foil stamp. I am not sure why DC seemed to mostly go all out for this release when compared to the rest of the books in this line, but I am glad that they did. Material of this dignity deserves to be presented with care and love.