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Tales of the Batman: Carmine Infantino Hardcover – June 3, 2014
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Carmine was a Master of Comic Book Covers. Each one had some kind of hook that drew you in, made you want to know how the story inside was going to turn out. Remember the house which resembled the Joker's grinning face? The introduction of the new Batgirl? Batman putting up his crime fighting gear for auction? Batman about to reveal his secret identity to Batgirl while Robin looks on in astonishment? Or Robin weeping openly as he holds a newspaper which proclaims Batman is dead?
Carmine Infantino was THE Batman artist of the 60's. His artwork appeared on quite a lot of the Batman merchandising in the 60's and 70's. I'm glad to see DC Comics finally recognize this talented artist who helped keep Batman's popularity so high. If you are familiar with Carmine's artwork, this book is a real treasure. For those unfamiliar with this master of art, you are in for a real treat.
Enter editor Julie Schwartz, who had a track record for great selling comics. Most recently, Schwartz had revitalized several of DC's superhero properties for a new generation. It was decided that Schwartz would then take over the Batman books. His first decision was to bring his number one artist on board. Infantino had already successfully revitalized the Flash and done stellar work on new character Adam Strange. So, it should come as no surprise that his work on Batman was also a success. So successful, in fact, that tv exec William Dozier was inspired to start the wildly popular (and wildly campy) Batman tv show after reading some of Schwartz/Infantino's comics. These stories, along with the tv show, literally saved Batman from cancellation. For the next couple years, Batmania swept the nation, and the character's place in pop culture history was secured.
So, with the recent advent of artist-centric books put out by DC, it should come as no surprise to anyone that these stories would be collected. Infantino has been called "DC's Kirby" by many historians, and I agree... his sleek, design-heavy artwork was the template for DC comics for years. On the strength of his artwork, Infantino climbed the DC corporate ladder, eventually becoming Publisher and President. He became a bit of a pariah in the late 70s after he was unjustly fired, but his importance has been reexamined over the last decade. This book is a welcome addition.
That isn't to say, however, that there aren't problems... as every other reviewer stated, the DC editorial team seems to have left out several stories. Besides the 2 regular comics stories that were left out, there was also a Kellog's premium giveaway that was forgotten... particularly unforgivable, as the story was included in the Batman: The Dynamic Duo - Archives, Volume 1 (Batman (DC Comics Hardcover))... does the current editors at DC not do research? Much like the other big companies (Marvel, Dark Horse), DC's archive/omnibus/hardcover series seems to be hit-or-miss. Despite the defects, this book is worth owning. Particularly for those who are interested in the history of the character.
While sales rose on Batman and Detective after Schwartz took over the titles from Schiff, they didn't rise as dramatically as DC would have liked, not matching those of other Schwartz-edited DC superhero titles in the period preceding the TV show's debut. Ironically, concurrent with Schwartz's editorial regime, Jack Schiff continued to edit 80-Page Giant Batman reprint collections of stories culled from his late-1950s to early-1960s run on the Batman titles, which frequently outsold the regular Schwartz-edited Batman books.
Most people would define the "campy Batman" by the Batman '66 television show. As such, the Infantino stories reprinted here both preceded and were concurrent with that period, dovetailing with the campy elements (to Schwartz' chagrin, but by publishorial decree) during the period when the TV show was at the height of its popularity. By the time the TV show was cancelled and Batman began turning away from those elements (under writers Frank Robbins and Denny O'Neil), Infantino's involvement with Batman (as an interior artist anyway) was over; he pretty much stopped drawing the character for Detective Comics at the end of 1967.
The most astonishing thing to me in looking over the Infantino stories collected from the Silver Age period is the lack of classic Batman villains represented (excepting Infantino covers for issues of Batman and Detective that he didn't illustrate the interior stories for). In these Silver Age Infantino stories, the Joker appears in exactly one story, and the Catwoman appears only in a 2-panel cameo. Riddler, Penguin, Poison Ivy and Scarecrow appear here only on covers for issues of Batman whose Sheldon Moldoff-illustrated stories are not reprinted here. While some of the original villains Schwartz introduced made multiple appearances, none but Poison Ivy would go on to become part of Batman's classic rogues' gallery, and for some unguessable reason Schwartz was reluctant to assign any of the stories featuring classic Batman foes to Infantino to illustrate. In reviewing the catalog of Silver Age Batman stories contained in this volume, what's striking is how few of them, in retrospect, are truly memorable or "landmark" stories (compare to, say, the Silver Age Marvel Comics stories published in the same 1964-1967 period), despite the stylish art of Carmine Infantino on display here. The single exception in this volume would probably be "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl". I sort of expected that the Infantino stories from the Silver Age would represent the pinnacle or creme-de-la-creme of Silver Age Batman. One gets a far better overview of Silver Age Batman reading the first 4 volumes of SHOWCASE PRESENTS BATMAN, so I would recommend those (despite the unfortunate lack of color) as an alternative to purchasing this volume. The ironic part is that Carmine's *covers* for both BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS from this period *are* truly iconic and memorable; unfortunately, the stories themselves, by and large, far less so.
Inexplicably absent from this collection are two Infantino-illustrated Batman stories both dated September, 1966: Detective Comics #355 ("Hate of the Hooded Hangman") and The Brave and the Bold #67 ("The Death of the Flash", first team-up of the two characters that were Infantino's regular assignment). Oddly, the cover of the former issue is even reprinted here (while the latter is not), which makes its non-inclusion here even more puzzling. Regarding the missing stories, I have to agree with reviewers elsewhere calling thumbs down on DC. While not technically mis-solicited, I would think (based on previous volumes in the creator-centric Tales of the Batman series) that people rightly expect this to be a complete chronological collection of Infantino's Batman stories and covers, at the very least those from the prime Silver Age period. If the upper page count was a issue, I could excuse them leaving out the later 1970s Infantino stories from The Brave and the Bold, and the one-shot Julius Schwartz homage DC Comics Presents Batman, in order to accomodate ALL the Silver Age Infantino stories, and I think that they should have included the stories Infantino drew for Kellogg's cereal premium giveaways as well.
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