on June 3, 2003
This collection of Batman tales remains one of the most engaging, fun, and brilliantly wrought sagas of the Detective's long and storied history. Steve Engleheart pens a classic with the Joker fish, and Silver St.Clair stands as one of the more memorable and alluring love interests that the Batman has had over the years. However, as has been said before (yet cannot be emphasized enough) the real attraction here is the artwork, which (sadly enough) marked the pinnacle of Marshall Rogers' career, and remains one of "the" definitive renditions of the character (alongside such luminaries as Neal Adams, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Alan Davis, and Dave Mazzuchelli- look for their work). Ably abetted by Terry Austin in the height of his prowess (see Essential X-Men vol.2 for more of his very best work with joltin' Johnny Byrne), the Batman as presented in this collection is truly awe-inspiring and larger than life. Or, in other words- THIS BOOK IS BEAUTIFUL! An "art-fan's" delight. Not only that, if you are looking for "classic" Batman- the gentleman detective-cum-player, the swingin' bachelor with a keen intellect and a penchant for fisticuffs, well, you can't go wrong with this one. Top drawer, people, top drawer.
on March 27, 2002
It was a dark and stormy night. (or should that be Knight?) "It's Joker weather," says Commissioner Gordon. "True Commissioner," says Chief O'Hara, "But it's also tailor made for him!" The Batman is a character who needs lots of atmosphere. Darkness, rain, lightning, tall dark buildings, smoking gangsters, skinny trees bereft of leaves, all this and more fill the very affordable paperback collection of some of the best Batman stories ever produced. BATMAN: STRANGE APPARITIONS collects the beautifully drawn and superbly written DETECTIVE COMICS 469-476 and 478, 479 from 1977-1978. Some have called these issues "the definitive Batman." It was these stories that got the ball rolling on making a big budget and serious Batman movie and you can definitely see that many of the ideas from that movie came from these stories.
These pages are alive with atmosphere! Artist Marshall Rogers' panels literally drip down the page and capes slither behind the storyboards. Rogers sometimes lets the design of his panels tell the story as much as the art within them. When characters talk on the phone the panel's edges are drawn like phone cords. Sometimes panels rest on top of full-page illustrations that most artists would weep before covering up. Rogers is teamed for the most part with the incredibly talented inker Terry Austin. Together they provide pictures that are at once moody and sharp and exquisitely defined. When Batman menaces a thug you believe it. When Bruce Wayne has a nightmare you feel it. This artwork is a joy to look at and if the story were rotten it would still be worth buying this collection just to see the Batman look like the Batman should!
As the tale begins, Bruce Wayne has given up living at Wayne manor and he and his loyal butler, Alfred, have moved to a luxurious penthouse in the heart of Gotham. This makes it easier for the Batman to prowl the night. The first two issues, drawn by Walt Simonson (later of THOR fame) before Rogers came on board, sets the stage for what is to come. Bruce Wayne meets the beautiful and intriguing Silver St. Cloud and falls head over heels for her. But their romance is interrupted when a scheming white collar criminal, who has been turned to phosphorus (which burns on contact with air he loves to scream), decides to take revenge on the city that he believes is responsible for his fate. Dr Phosphorus contacts the corrupt city official "Boss" Rupert Thorne and agrees to spare his life if he will get the Batman off his back. Though Batman defeats Phos (of course) Boss Thorne continues to use his political power to undermine the Batman through the rest of the novel.
Hugo Strange, a great character who appeared long ago in BATMAN #1, is brought back from the 1940's. Strange has a hospital for the rich needing privacy that is actually a place where he drugs and mutates and blackmails them into doing his bidding. It isn't long before he captures millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and (gasp!) learns that he is really Batman. Hugo Strange is an interesting character who seems to admire the Batman as his only equal. "Truly a life of genius is a lonely one," he says. Strange is killed by Boss Thorne, but don't count him out! He is the "strange apparition" the book is named after. He haunts Boss Thorne all through the book and even helps the Batman out a time or two.
Next, the Batman faces off against the Penguin and another character from the golden age of comics, albeit retooled for the 70's Deadshot. All the while he dodges the machinations of Boss Thorne and as Bruce Wayne falls deeper and deeper in love with Silver St. Cloud, who by this time has discovered that he is Batman. After all, she "has spent many nights studying his chin." The bittersweet romance between St. Cloud and Wayne is so thick you can taste it, and for the reader extremely satisfying. It is rare to see the Batman obsessing over a woman as he flits through the darkened Gotham streets, but that is what he does. But he has little time for mooning because his next opponent is the maniacal Joker.
"My world goes CRAZY sometimes," thinks Batman as he considers all the things that are piling up on top of him at the beginning of "The Laughing Fish." The Joker has another insane plan and is on a killing spree. There are some beautiful scenes between the two archenemies and the Joker is portrayed as delightfully chilling and insane. His laugh is described as "raining down like ice cubes." The two Joker issues are my personal favorite Joker stories. He is deadly, evil, menacing and doggonnit FUNNY! The Joker never takes himself too seriously - except when he does. And if you don't know which way he is taking himself at the moment - he'll kill you. You gotta love a guy like that (from a DISTANCE!)
The plot lines of Silver St Cloud, Boss Thorne, Hugo Strange and The Joker all come to conclusions, but I won't spoil them for you.
The paperback ends with a pair of stories featuring a new Clayface, written by Len Wein and continuing with the beautiful art of Marshall Rogers. Clayface is a somewhat tragic figure who is in love with a wax dummy. Wein does a good job conveying this and keeping it sad rather than comic.
STRANGE APPARITIONS features an all-new cover illustration by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin and a foreword by Steve Englehart? It is attractive and easy to read without cracking the spine. It gives you 10 classic comics for thirteen bucks - such a deal! And Like any good compilation, this one ends too soon and leaves you begging for more. Unfortunately that more will have to come from back issue bins - at least until someone decides to collect Englehart's Justice League America!
Highest Possible Recommendation!
on September 29, 2000
Certainly one of the best runs ever on the Batman - portrayed appropriately by writer Steve Englehart not as a psychotic, vengeful terrorist of some sort but as an adventurer/detective born of a lifelong desire to see that no child would come to the end of their childhood as violently as he had. Justice being the goal, but not at the expense of life (any life), he adopted this identity to work with law enforcement, in a manner which they could not. Artist Marshall Rogers appropriately renders the Batman with the build of a gymnast/martial artist - fitting for one skilled in all manner of each and inker/embellisher Terry Austin brings further character and mood to these renderings. There might well be a better depiction of the Batman, but one would be hard pressed to find it. Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" from the mid-1980's (which is said to have inspired the Batman films in the late 80's) is often cited as the height of the Batman's lore, but was intended as a tale outside the current Batman stories - a story of a possible future, 10 years after his retirement and a tale of hope and redemption mired in a dark, grim and gritty world. Unfortunately, those who followed Miller focused solely on the "dark, grim and gritty" and superimposed that mood upon the character of the Batman. "Strange Apparitions" by Engelhart and Rogers is, in my own opinion, a much better rendition of the Batman. Beautiful art and engaging story for juvenile fiction fans old and young alike.
on January 13, 2000
This came out before Dark Knight and Englehart and Rogers developed a definitve look for the Batman. The artwork is stunning and you get a lot of insight of the man behind the mask (my life goes crazy sometimes). Even Robin, the Joker, and Penguin look great. The Penguin is written as a true criminal mastermind instead of as the comic relief character he is often portrayed as. The Joker story is chilling and is a landmark story for the Clown Prince of Crime (this is why a lot of his pinups have Joker fish on them). Englehart and Rogers did a great job on the run of the Batman and it is too bad that they never collaborated on Batman stories again. They had a great understanding of the characters and their histories (the use of oversized props and an obscure early character Hugo Strange). Buy this today, as this belongs on any Bat-lover's bookshelf.
on June 21, 2003
This is the epitomy of Classic Batman. The story arcs are beyond reproach, even if the dialogue and expositionary blurbs are melodramatic and farcical by today's standards. If you grew up a fan of Batman: The Animated Series, you'll recognize this as the archetype for what that series became. The artwork, at most times, is the epitomy of the era. These days comics are more artistic and design-oriented, while these remain rather straight-forward. As such, they are the standard by which all other comics of the era, from the 70's through the mid-90's, should be measured.
on January 31, 2000
I bought this collection, part of them anyway and translated to Spanish, about seventeen years ago when I was fourteen years old. During all these years I've read and seen a lot of versions of Batman but this remain as one of my favorites Batman runs ever. I like the art, I like the writing, I like the inking but over all that I like the way It made me love the comics more than I already did. If you are a comic fan you should buy this and feel the magic of this underrated medium.
on August 25, 2000
For me, this is the story that I always go back to. I originally bought it as a very cheap poorly produced reprint paperback in England, 20 years ago. Read it countless times. So I was overjoyed when at last this was reprinted. This is the story that gave us our Batman back! super writing and even better artwork. Just as influential as Frank Miller, if not as well known and just as good.