Wednesday 17 April 2019

80s Comics Cavalcade: Collecting Conway and Moench Batman and Detective Back Issues

So much for maintaining my blogging momentum this year: this is the first post I've managed since I declared my intention to blog more frequently two bloody months ago. I've been pecking away at a prospective post about Batman comics, but it just wasn't coming together, so rather than persist in fruitlessly puffing at the flickering flame of what I laughingly call my muse, I thought I'd simply post a bunch of pictures of the early–mid-1980s Batman and Detective Comics I've been collecting since the start of the year, and write whatever comes into my head about them.

Comprising consecutive runs by writers Gerry Conway (Detective #497–526/Batman #337–359, 1980–83) and Doug Moench (Batman #360–400/Detective #527–566, 1983–86), a lot of these issues I had and read as a kid, around the age of twelve or thirteen or so, but subsequently flogged (probably to long-lost London back issue specialists LTS/Paradise Alley to fund the purchase of import electro and hip hop 12"s from long-lost London record shop Groove Records).

Boasting terrific art by Don Newton, Gene Colan and others (with some fab Jim Aparo covers thrown in for good measure), this era of Batman is notable for the way Batman and Detective became increasingly interlinked, with stories weaving back and forth between the two titles so that they effectively became one fortnightly series. It also marked the arrival of a more sophisticated style of storytelling, with more defined characterisation and multiple ongoing subplots which would simmer away until exploding into lead stories – all of which the Gotham Calling blog has identified as the 'Marvelization' of Batman.

That's besides more prosaic – but of course of vital interest to superhero comics collectors – fictional events as the debuts of Jason Todd (although I haven't yet got my hands on the issue with his first appearance in it; I'm still missing the odd issue here and there), Killer Croc and Nocturna (all characters I have a lot of time for), the return of Bruce Wayne/Batman to Wayne Manor (after an extended stint living in the penthouse of – and Caped Crusadering out of a Batcave beneath – the Wayne Foundation building), and Batman briefly becoming a vampire!

I've been picking up issues of Batman and Detective in a handful of comic shops – my local, Dave's in Brighton, as well as Uncanny Comics in Worthing and 30th Century Comics in Putney – plus on a visit to the bimonthly London Comic Mart at the Royal National Hotel near Russell Square, which I hadn't been to in over a decade (the comic mart I mean; I've been to a fair number of book fairs at the same venue in the interim).

Somewhere else I found myself for the first time in probably a dozen years was Mega City Comics in Camden. I made the journey there on the off chance, not really expecting to find anything, only to discover that they'd just got in a collection of precisely the era of Batman and Detective I was after – the sort of serendipitous occurrence that us collectors can usually only dream of, even in the internet age.

Speaking of which, I've been picking up issues on eBay as well – a run of ten Detectives from one seller, half a dozen Detectives from another, random issues of Batman and Detective here and there.

Although this is all ostensibly an exercise in nostalgia, I am intrigued to find out if these stories are as good, as contemporary-seeming, as I half-remember and half-suspect (I've only read/re-read up to the end of 1981 so far, so the best stuff is yet to come). Certainly Gene Colan's appositely shadowy and swirling art is as excellent and evocative as I remember, and Don Newton's is even better than I recall, owing an obvious debt to Bernie Wrightson and Neal Adams but still distinctive and aesthetically inviting.

And then there are all the additional pleasures of reading these stories in their original floppy format (rather than in collections or online): comics adverts for Hostess Twinkies (and Fruit Pies and Cupcakes) and Bubble Yum; other adverts for plastic toy soldiers and Sea-Monkeys and bodybuilding courses and magic tricks and pranks and Grit newspaper and the Olympic Sales Club ("Prizes for cash") and NBC's Super Star Saturday cartoon marathons (oh how I wished we had those in the UK back then) and comic book back issues; letters pages; a very modern (employing narrative captions rather than thought bubbles) Conway-written Robin back-up strip circa 1981; house ads for other DC comics; and from 1983 onwards, DC Managing Editor Dick Giordano's Meanwhile... columns.

Collecting – or in many cases re-collecting – these comics has been a lot of fun, and reading them has been just as enjoyable so far. And hopefully, when I get a little further along in my reading, I'll find time to write about them again.