Sunday 5 February 2023

Batman, Detective Comics, the DC Heroes & Villains Collection, and the Rise of Killer Croc

The earliest DC comics I remember reading as a kid were reprints in various British publications, chiefly 'Superman, You're Dead... Dead... Dead!' from Action Comics #399 (April 1971), a shocking story – to an impressionable lad who was unaware that Superman almost certainly wasn't dead – by Leo Dorfman, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson which I either read in a secondhand copy of the 1973 Superman Annual No. 1 or in the 1981 Hamlyn edition of Superman: From the 30's to the 70's (or both); and 'The Secret of the Waiting Graves' from Detective Comics #395 (January 1970), Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano's groundbreaking first Batman collaboration, which I probably read in black-and-white in the October 1980 first issue of The Super Heroes Monthly. But the earliest DC comics I remember reading in their original American comic book format are the ones collected in the latest volume of the DC Heroes & Villains Collection

Batman: The Rise of Killer Croc, namely Detective Comics #523–526 and Batman #357–359 (February–May 1983). I bought most of these comics in a long-since-vanished newsagent opposite Beckenham Rec, most memorably the double-sized Detective Comics #526 (May 1983), an extra-length all-star villain extravaganza by regular writer Gerry Conway and artists Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala. It's still my favourite Batman comic all these years later, but the whole storyline is great, weaving between Detective and Batman – the two titles tied together so closely by this point that they effectively became one fortnightly series, a Conway innovation – featuring fine work by Don Newton's fellow regular Bat-artist Gene Colan, plus guest artists Curt Swan and Dan Jurgens, and introducing not just the new villain of the DC Heroes & Villains Collection edition title – actually my title; this storyline has never had a proper title, so I gave it one – but a Robin-to-be in the shape of Jason Todd.

When I was first putting together notes and ideas for what would eventually become the DC Heroes & Villains Collection, one of the first storylines – if not the first storyline – I put on the list of potentials was this one (titled simply the 'Killer Croc saga' at that point). It remained on every iteration of the list right through to the finished collection itself; I made damn sure of that. I loved these comics as a kid, and forty years later I got to collect them in a discrete volume for the first time (the storyline has been collected once before in full, as part of Tales of the Batman: Gerry Conway Vol. 3, but not as its own edition) under a title I came up with. Even better – from my perspective if not necessarily the poor readers' – I got to write a 500-word introduction and 6000-word feature on the Conway/Colan/Newton era of Batman.

I would rest on my laurels here, but the DC Heroes & Villains Collection rolls ever onwards, plus I've got a book to write, so there's no rest for the wicked just yet. But now I have a copy of it in my hands – a freshly printed hardback, with its spot-varnish cover and that inky new-book smell – I will take a moment to leaf through and linger over Batman: The Rise of Killer Croc, a book I reckon 12-year-old-me would have been well impressed by.