Sunday, May 27, 2012

Review: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT Jim Aparo Volume 1


WRITER: Bob Haney
ARTIST: Jim Aparo
COVER: Jim Aparo with Alan Passalaqua
Artists on cover reprints: Jim Aparo, Murphy Anderson, Bob Brown, Nick Cardy, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Irv Novick, George Papp, Howard Purcell, George Roussos
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3375-4; hardcover
360pp, Color, $49.99 U.S., $57.00 CAN

Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo Volume 1 offers readers three times the fun. How does this hardcover collection do that? This 360-page book reprints 23 issues of The Brave and the Bold, published over a five-year period, covering late 1970 to late 1975. Because it was a Batman team-up book for most of its run, this collection finds The Batman joining forces with such classic DC Comics heroes as Aquaman, Deadman, the Metal Men, the Phantom Stranger, Sgt. Rock, Swamp Thing, and the Teen Titans; plus the trio of Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and the Black Canary, and even a bizarre team-up of The Batman and his arch-nemesis, The Joker.

The second cool thing about the book is that every story reprinted within its fine covers is written by Bob Haney. Over a three-decade career at DC Comics, Haney was a key contributor to what would become the DC Universe, including being a co-creator of the original Teen Titans.

However, the purpose of this book and the third great thing about it is its focus on the late Jim Aparo. Aparo’s 30-plus year career at DC Comics as a comic book artist was a high-water mark for the American comic book industry. For the past few years, DC Comics has been publishing book collections showcasing the work of some of the most influential Batman artists of the last four decades. Hardback trade collections have gathered comic book stories drawn by such artists as Neal Adams, Don Newton, and Marshall Rogers. Now, the focus is on Jim Aparo, beginning with the subject of this comic book review, Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo Volume 1.

Debuting in 1955, The Brave and the Bold featured the debut of the Justice League of America (#28, February-March 1960) and of what would become the Teen Titans (#54, July 1964). Beginning with its 74th issue, The Brave and the Bold became a Batman team-up title. Jim Aparo, who at the time had only been at DC Comics a few years, was the fill-in artist for The Brave and the Bold #98. Beginning with #100, he became the regular artist and from 1971 to end of The Brave and the Bold in 1983, Aparo was the series’ regular artist.

Over a 30-year period, Aparo was probably the most prolific artist on the Batman line of comic books, but during that time, other Batman artists, like Neal Adams, Marshall Rogers, and Frank Miller, received more attention and critical acclaim. Aparo was clearly influenced by Neal Adams, who was his contemporary. Still, Aparo had his own style and was able to stand apart and also influence later Batman comic book artists, including, by my estimation, Norm Breyfogle, Alan Davis, and Bruce Timm.

Unlike the muscular, pumped-up Batman that is familiar to today’s readers or the classic line, cleanly-designed Batman of the Golden and Silver Ages, Aparo’s Batman is a lean, muscular figure. Aparo gives Batman the rangy and nimble physique of a natural athlete. He poses Batman in a way that makes him seem like a normal person, but also presents him in a classical fashion, as if Batman were posing before a figure drawing class. Aparo also gives Deadman the natural/classical ideal treatment during the character’s appearance and team-up with Batman. (The Brave and the Bold #104, “Second Chance for a Deadman”).

Aparo’s Batman is unmistakably human. Of course, Bob Haney gets credit as the writer of the stories reprinted here, but comics is a graphics medium in which a storyteller draws the story. Aparo’s Batman comes across as a tangible person. He is vulnerable and fragile, contemplative and thoughtful, stalwart and steady, brave and bold, and is as surprisingly emotional as he is consistently rational (as a detective).

Whoever made Aparo the regular artist on The Brave and the Bold made the perfect choice. Aparo had the ability to adapt Batman’s emotions, moods, and appearance for wildly differing scenarios. That also made him the perfect artist to draw Batman stories which paired him with other characters that were like him, only somewhat like him, and not like him at all.

In the story “The Commune of Defiance,” (The Brave and the Bold #102), Batman and the Teen Titans unite to help a group of young people save their blighted neighborhood. In this story, Batman is a father figure who not only discourages the young radicals’ propensity towards violence, but also encourages them to work towards their goal. Here, Batman the masked avenger becomes Batman the defender and people’s champ. He believes that if someone saves these young people’s neighborhood for them, it will mean much less than if they did the work to save and rebuild their homes. Today, Batman would be called a “thug hugger” for his stance in this story. So it is safe to say that this Batman, who bucks the police and political power in Gotham to help “young criminals” save their neighborhood, will never been seen again.

What we as readers and people who appreciate the medium lost when Jim Aparo retired was a storyteller who recognized what is best about these superheroes. They are not gods and figures of some new mythology. They are like us, but better; they are idealized versions of what we’d like to be. Our good sense and perhaps, some physical revulsion might keep us from jumping into the middle of an inferno to save a life. A superhero like Batman is someone like us – someone we want to be – who will indeed dive into the inferno. This is Aparo’s Batman.

I don’t mean to do a disservice to Bob Haney, a master storyteller who could do in a single issue what someone apparently can’t do in six issues of Justice League – tell a complete story. However, Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo Volume 1 is about Jim Aparo. I’ve long thought this, and now, I can unleash this thought. Jim Aparo, at this point in time, is the greatest Batman artist in the history of comic books.


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