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  • Michael W. Rickard II

Review: "The Batcave Companion" Provides Lots of Insight into an Iconic Character.

Copyright 2019 by Michael W. Rickard II

The writer/editor of the critically acclaimed The Krypton Companion and the designer of the eye-popping Spies, Vixens, and Masters of Kung Fu: The Art of Paul Gulacy team up to investigate the Silver and Bronze Ages of Batman comic books in The Batcave Companion!

Two distinct sections of this book follow the Dark Knight's progression from his campy "New Look" of the mid-1960s to his "creature of the night" reinvention of the 1970s, through art-jammed interviews with and examinations of the work of Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson, Dennis O'Neil, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Len Wein, Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, Elliot S! Maggin, Mike Grell, Walter Simonson, Jim Aparo, Irv Novick, and other fan favorites. Also included are explorations of Bat-lore such as the effects of the 1966 Batman TV show upon comics, a Batmobile timeline, and Batman's colorful rogues' gallery. -Promotion blurb

With Batman celebrating his 80th anniversary, fans are discussing the character more than ever. Every fan has their favorite incarnation of the character whether it’s the Golden Age Batman, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, or today’s take on the Caped Crusader. However, for many fans the 1970’s and early 1980’s are considered one of the finest runs for the Dark Knight. For fans looking to reliver or discover what made this era so popular, they have The Batcave Companion, a comprehensive retrospective of Batman’s late Silver Age and Bronze Age comics, complete with interviews from many of the creators involved, and indexes of key issues and villains. It’s one of the best books yet from TwoMorrows Publishing, which is known for its outstanding productions.

As popular as Batman may seem, the character has had his ups and downs in popularity, with the comic book sometimes coming close to cancellation. By the 1950’s most superhero comic books were gone, with only a handful left such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. During the 1950’s, creators added a heavy science fiction element to Batman’s stories as well as characters such as Batwoman and Batgirl. The Dynamic Duo had lost some of the elements that made them original and popular—the team’s detective skills, the more-or-less realistic villains, and the shadowy nights of Gotham City. Instead, the comics featured Batman transforming into a number of bizarre incarnations such as the Bat-Mummy or Bat-Genie or dealing with otherworldly foes such as aliens and the extradimensional imp Bat-Mite. Reportedly, orders had come down from on high that Batman emulate the sci-fi elements of the much more successful Superman books, but sales continued to drop.

DC Editor Julius Schwartz played a key role in keeping the Batman comic books intact.

As detailed in The Batcave Companion, National Comics asked editor Julius Schwartz to rehabilitate the Bat-books (Batman and Detective Comics), much as he had brought back new incarnations of Golden Age heroes such as the Flash, Green Lantern, and the Atom (as well as putting them into the Justice League of America, an updated version of the Golden Age team, the Justice Society). Reportedly, Schwartz was told he had six months to turn the comics’ sales around or it would be cancelled. While fans and historians still debate whether National Comics would have cancelled one of its biggest characters, the fact is the Batman comics were sinking and needed serious help.

From this perilous beginning would emerge an incredible evolution of the Batman character, once again becoming a top book for National and seeing the character jettison the baggage of the 1950’s. After a brief emulation of the Batman TV series, Batman returned even further to his routes, with Robin entering college and Batman operating alone, much as he did in his earliest adventures.

The Batcave Companion traces this history well, interviewing the writers and artists who worked at different phases in the Bat-books. Beginning with “The New Look” Batman, this well-written book proceeds to cover the various phases of Batman’s career from the campier adventures around the time of the Batman TV series, the character’s restoration to that of the Darknight Detective, and his further development in the 1970’s. Like any of TwoMorrows Publishing’s publications, there are pictures galore of the comic books as well as photos of the assorted individuals who worked on the Bat-books.

The Batcave Companion is well-organized, detailing key eras in the character's history from the 60's and 70's

Batman fans will find lots to enjoy with The Batcave Companion if they’re looking for the character’s comic book adventures from the 1960’s through the 1970’s. Not only does it include interviews, but it includes special features on areas such as the Batmobile, the Batman TV series, and the controversy surrounding Batman creator Bob Kane taking credit for the creations of many of his artists. This wonderful book also includes brief recaps of the various Batman books from the 1960’s and 1970’s (including credits for writers and pencilers) as well as brief profiles on the villains from the Silver Age and Bronze Age comics.

Neal Adams, one of many talented artists who worked on the Batman comic books.

Another highlight are the various interviews with key individuals from Batman’s various creative eras. There are so many incredibly gifted writers and artists that worked on Batman and The Batcave Companion features interviews with giants such as Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, and Dennis O’Neil (to name a few). These interviews give remarkable insight into the creative process involved with the various stories as well as the creators’ thoughts on Batman.

The only downside to The Batcave Companion is that it ends with the 1970’s comic books, ignoring the remaining few years of the Bronze Age of Comics (generally regarded as ending around 1985-1986). The first half of the 1980’s featured some excellent Batman tales including the introduction of Jason Todd and Killer Croc. Former Marvel Comics artist Gene Colan also provided some of the finest art on the book, continuing the legacy of artists such as Jim Aparo and Neal Adams. Nonetheless, The Batcave Companion does a thorough job covering the time frame mentioned.

If you’re looking for a behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of Batman in the 1960’s and 1970’s, The Batcave Companion has lots to offer. The book isn’t a breakdown of the character’s adventures as much as the comic book's creative process, but it still provides some details on the stories taking place inside the book.

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