Issues 583-594; 596-597; 601-603
By Alan Grant & John Wagner and Norm Breyfogle
1988 was a strange year for Batman.
The franchise-reinvigorating Frank Miller Dark Knight series, which made Batman much more no-nonsense and grim was two years old (summer of 1986).
The grand commercial explosion of the Michael Keaton Batman movie wouldn’t arrive for another year.
By late 1986, everyone’s perception of Batman (or at least, the perception of the editors and most of the people that were reading new comics) was that he had taken a dramatic step back into the shadows from his slightly more cheery mid-1980s incarnation. Julie Schwartz, Batman’s editor since the mid-’60s, had just stepped down and was replaced by Denny O’Neil, the writer often credited as giving Batman his shadowy mystique back in the late 1960s.
The wide holes left by DC’s Crisis series (also 1986) allowed O’Neil a great deal of editorial freedom: his first act as editor of the Batman titles was to allow Miller to write Batman: Year One (serialized in O’Neil’s first four issues as editor) which canonized Miller’s darker vision of Batman. Perhaps as a way of offsetting this, the companion Batman title Detective Comics approached the affair from a lighter and more classic angle, written by Mike Barr.* History has shown which has won out: Year One was collected into a single book almost twenty years ago, and has stayed in print since. There has been no collection of the fun-loving Barr Batman strip.
*The subject of a future column.
Barr’s successors on Detective were British writers Alan Grant and John Wagner, longtime writers of the “Judge Dredd” strip in the English comic 2000 AD. In an interview with the 2000 AD Review website, Alan Grant explained how they got the job: “John and I were working on Dredd one day when the phone went. It was Denny O’Neil to say that sales of their flagship title were the lowest ever, they were thinking of closing down ‘Detective Comics‘, but he’d been reading Dredd and wondered if we could impart any of that weirdness to Batman. We said yes, of course. He gave us a 2-issue contract, extended to a year after he read the [first] story.” The artist assigned to work with them (and who, in truth, had drawn some of the last few Barr issues as well) was a relative newcomer, an American named Norm Breyfogle.
Their work on Batman, though well-praised in its moment, has since fallen off the radar – undeservedly, since it remains some of the finest Batman material published to date. Nearly twenty years later, and with the appearance of a new Batman movie, their work on the character deserves a second look.
While I hope to discuss in depth the whole of the Grant/Breyfogle tenure on the character over time (Wagner leaves the strip relatively early on), here I’ll only be discussing the first 17 issues (the 75-cent cover-priced issues), to whet your appetite for more.