KC’s Bookshelf: DC Comics Classic Library: The Batman Annuals Volume One

by KC Carlson

Collecting Batman Annuals #1-3 (1961-1962). DC Senior VP and Creative Director Richard Bruning calls the early DC Annuals, in his informative Afterword, “the first DC collected editions.” So this is actually a collection of collected editions. Dude, you just totally blew my mind!

If there ever was a cosmic comic concept that totally deserved something like an Infinity Cover, it would be this book. Instead we get a gorgeous cover by artist Rodney Ramos and colorist Allen Passalaqua, based on the original work of the classic Bat-artists of the era: Sheldon Moldoff, Dick Sprang, and Charles Paris. It’s not quite an Infinity Cover – but close! The effective layout – big, bold Batman and Robin figures in front of a color-muted selection of elements from the actual covers – has an eerie, multi-dimensional look. It’s contemporary and yet immediately tells the reader he’s looking at a Batman from another era.

The Batman stories from the Batman and Detective Comics of the 1950s were a mixed bag of influences from all over the pop culture landscape. The best of the Bat-stories during this era (largely written by Bill Finger, the legally unsung co-creator of Batman) revolved around expanding the whole concept of Batman, including origin stories (or recaps), stories about Bat-gear (Batmobile, Bat-cave, utility belt, Bat-Signal, Hot-Line), or the Bat-villains (the Joker, Two-Face, the Mad Hatter). Many of the weaker stories of the era were those based on fads or trends in other media, including Davy Crockett-inspired adventure tales, or worse, a long-running series of ill-conceived time-travel stories with bizarre aliens similar to sci-fi and monster movies and comics of the era.

In his Introduction, Batman film producer and historian Michael Uslan presents his list of Bat-things he hated from the era:
“• giving him super-powers
• making him imitate Superman
• transporting him to other planets
• making him fight aliens
• making him fight giants
• making him fight robots
• making him invisible or making him fight invisible foes.”

Fortunately, the Batman Annuals generally avoid the worst of all of these types of stories, although a few occasionally drift in, including one in Batman Annual #2 that includes everything on this list! By the way, there’s a wealth of meticulous information in Uslan’s very informative introduction. Editor Jack Schiff (and later, E. Nelson Bridwell) usually made excellent selections for their still-memorable Batman Annuals and 80-Page Giants.

Another little thing I was very happy to see was “A Word from the Publisher” where Paul Levitz spends a couple of hundred words defining just what the DC Comics Classic Library is, exactly. Paul describes the series as a companion series to the DC Archives, sort of Archives-lite. The books are not printed on the thick archival paper used in the regular Archives – and mostly because of this, the cover price of these books are lower than the $50-$60 dollar price tag of the current Archives.

It would have been nice to know this information when these books were first being solicited. I was initially avoiding them because I thought that they were printed on the crummy newsprint that they’re using in some of their other books. I couldn’t check, because most comic shops frown on letting you open up shrink-wrapped books to investigate the paper stock. For the record, the paper stock is quite nice – not archival quality, but not cheap newsprint either. It’s sort of heavy-duty, smooth, off-white newsprint with some minor, but not bad, bleed-through. The paper holds colors well and does not succumb to the day-glo look from too-white paper. My one, minor, complaint is that the paper smells funny, but since I’m probably the only weirdo on earth that goes around sniffing stock, that’s certainly a complaint that can be discarded. (I’m also possibly the only person on earth who still uses the word “weirdo.” So it goes.)

The other major difference between these books and the DC Archives is that the Archives generally deal with comic series, and the DC Comics Classic Library is seemingly going to concentrate on one-shot storylines (see list below). The Batman Annuals is an exception, due to the “Volume One” appellation. Here’s my vote for continuing this series, especially since DC defines Batman’s “Silver Age” as starting with the “New Look” material of 1964 and everybody else’s “Silver Age” somewhere in the late 1950s (or whenever their new series started). The collected Batman Annuals may be the only logical way to “archive” the better (often great!) stories of Batman’s much maligned sci-fi days of the late 50s/early 60s, especially since the actual Archives, Showcase, or Chronological collections aren’t going to get to this material for a very long time, if ever.

Looks like I’ve got some catching up to do. Here’s the list of DC Comics Classic Library books to date, as well as a few upcoming ones:

Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore!
Legion of Super-Heroes: The Life and Death of Ferro Lad
The Batman Annuals: Volume One
The Roots of the Swamp Thing (the Wein/Wrightson stories) is due this month.
The Flash of Two Worlds (the origin of the original multiverse) ships in July.
The Justice League of America by George Pérez, Vol. 1, ships in August.
Batman: A Death in the Family (the death of the Jason Todd Robin) ships in September.

Also Available:
Camelot 3000: The Deluxe Edition (technically, not labeled as a DC Comics Classic Library title, but mentioned in Paul Levitz’s essay as part of the concept in general).
KC Carlson has been working in, around, and adjacent to comic books since the 1970s, most notably for DC Comics as an editor (including Collected Books) in the 90s. KC’s Bookshelf is an ongoing attempt to catalog the great comic book collections and history books that should be on your bookshelf.


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