blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Detective Comics (1937) #471


So, I figured out where Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’s Detective Comics belongs. As a comic strip in late seventies Playboy. Seriously. Rogers’s art is detailed but plain, intricately designed but not artsy. Englehart’s exposition is childish—“comic book-ish”—and treats Batman as a fascist action figure, but it’s incredibly consistent. Lots! Of! Declarative! Statements!

Plus, this incredibly banal writing—dialogue too, the dialogue’s just! As! Declarative!—is just the style; the content’s adult. Political corruption and sexual innuendo for Bruce Wayne and Silver St. Cloud. It’s a lousy cologne commercial.

And a well-illustrated one. Rogers visualizes the heck out of Englehart’s script with a phenomenal combination of detail and personality. It’s excellent comic booking.

But I don’t like it. I always considered myself a big Englehart and Rogers Batman fan; since the early 1990s, since The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. But I’m not digging it. Yet. I might dig it. But it’s too didactic, too pragmatic, too effective. To be that asshole, there’s no slippage.

I get it too. Englehart’s done a couple issues of Detective already, and they look terrible when they don’t have an incredibly tight artist on them. It’s infinitely impressive how successfully Rogers is illustrating. But the story’s camp. The art’s not camp—and the art before on Englehart’s issues wasn’t camp—but Englehart’s script is camp. Maybe it’s intentionally camp; I hope it’s intentionally camp. It might not intentionally be camp.

Doesn’t matter. It plays like camp, and it clashes with the art; only the art is able to successfully package it. It’s a hell of a comic.

It’s just not a very good story. Lots of moody art—not a lot of moody Batman yet, mostly Bruce Wayne—but Rogers’s just doing setup. Bruce checks into a ritzy hospital for his radiation burns while the corrupt politicians conspire against Batman. It turns out the hospital is fake, set up to kidnap rich people.

Bruce Wayne might be locked in his room, but Batman can get to the bottom of it, leading up to a big reveal cliffhanger. Right after introducing the deep-cut villain return.

Wait, someone makes fun of how Batman and the villain talk to each other. Englehart knows what’s up. Still not a good story. But, damn, does Rogers tell it well.

And great inks from Terry Austin, obviously.

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