My youngest brother Mike was born at around the time I got this Treasury Edition, which might even explain why I got both this one and the previous SUPER-VILLAINS one, either as an affirmation of parental love in the face of a new arrival, or simply as a way of keeping me entertained as bigger, more important stuff was going on. Either way was fine by me. I’m not certain what this oil painting of Batman was originally done for, but it made for a striking cover.
The contents were a typical mixed bag of Batman reprints from across the entirety of his publishing history up to this point. Clearly, nobody at DC was especially concerned with maintaining a consistency of style over the Caped Crusader in this era, especially in retrospective editions such as this one. The opening story was from the 1960s “New Look” era, penciled by Carmine Infantino, at that time probably DC’s most contemporary artist. It’s a great-looking art job.
At Commissioner Gordon’s request, Batman And Robin hop the Atlantic to “merrie old’ England in pursuit of an escaped criminal and find themselves as guests in an old castle filled to the brim with booby traps and hairsbreadth escapes. The actual plot is forgettable, it’s the paces that Infantino puts the Darknight Detective through that are memorable here. His crisp, open, design-oriented style is put to excellent use.
Next, we backtrack to the 1940s for a tale illustrated by Golden Age great Jerry Robinson, who was initially one of Bob Kane’s first assistants before establishing himself as a creator on his own. For whatever reason, I was never all that wild about Robinson’s Batman work as a kid–partly, I think, because of how often the reproduction on it was sub-standard. That’s the case here as well, you can easily detect the hand of a less-polished retoucher on a number of these pages, and often bits of faces or figures are falling apart entirely. A shame.
The story involves criminals employing the stylistic trademarks of rival felons in order to cast suspicion on them and away from themselves as their crime spree continues. A lot of room is given over to Batman as a detective, and his and Robin’s methodology is shown in great detail. There’s also a death-trap escape and some general derring-do. It’s all fun, but a bit empty for my liking.
Following a spread detailing the specifics of Bruce Wayne’s new headquarters in the Wayne Foundation building, we segue to the 1950s, and a job illustrated by Dick Sprang. Sprang’s lively style I found much more appealing, and the Batman stories of this era, with their puzzle box constructions and good-natured adventure sense, I enjoyed for the most part. It’s an era that is often wrongly categorized as being nothing but aliens and Superman knock-off stories, but that really only describes the period from around 1957-1963; earlier in the 1950s, Batman was your friendly masked police officer.
In this story, Batman and Robin are in pursuit of a gang of criminals whose crimes are all water-based. In particular, I found the sequence in which they were trapped in a water tower that had been half-drained, giving them no way to climb out, nor any manner of resting, to be memorable. Years later, when Spider-Man was stuck in a similar predicament by the Vulture, I knew what story Steve Ditko was channeling.
The final reprinted tale was from the modern 1970s, and was illustrated by Neal Adams, who had put as much a mark on the Masked Manhunter as any artist, returning him to his dark, mysterioso roots. By this point, Neal had largely left drawing regular super hero comic books behind, but his legend was already vast, so it was a treat whenever one of his stories would show up in a book. Same thing with his infrequent covers. He really was a game-changer in this era in terms of what readers expected from their comic book artwork.
The story, involving a corrupt art collector’s obsession with a woman who had spurned him years ago would have been at home on any cop show of the era; it’s not particularly memorable. But it did have one memorable deathtrap escape, as Batman is caught in a pit into which a form-fitting concrete block is being lowered.