Thursday, March 8, 2007

Batman Comic #3: You're Ratty, You're Beautiful, and You're Mine!

This comic may appear a little bit ratty, stained and dirty, and it may be defaced with some pencil tracing, but given it’s from 1950 - making it just about the oldest comic I own – and that I bought it just last week for around $20, and it features Sprang on Batman, well, you might forgive me if I sing its praises with a bit more gusto than the average CGC grader would muster on its behalf!

The first four issues of K.G. Murray’s Batman series in the 1950’s were titled Batman Comics, and personally, I wish this full title had been maintained for the duration of the 115 issues. For one thing, it would distinguish it from the US series. For another, just including the word “comics” in the title somehow suggests it’s from another age, when the word “comics” implied a lightness and playfulness and humour, without apology or irony. A time when comics – even superhero comics - were for kids!

And so it is with this issue, beginning with a cover image cropped from an issue of the US series World’s Finest Comics. This particular issue has the Superman figure erased and the elements slightly rearranged and redrawn to fashion a Batman and Robin cover image.

Such cropping and editing was a common practice with K.G. Murray DC reprints at the time. If it wasn’t Superman being removed for a Batman cover, it was Robin being erased and Superboy drawn in his place for a Super Adventure Comic issue (see James’ site for numerous examples).

The contents of this issue:

Batman with Robin The Boy Wonder: The Trial of Bruce Wayne!
Bill Finger/Dick Sprang/Charles Paris
(Batman #57, February-March 1950)

Johnny Quick and his Magic Formula: The Duel of Speed!
Otto Binder/Charles Sultan
(Adventure Comics #142, July 1949)

Batman with Robin The Boy Wonder: The 1,000 Secrets of the Batcave!
Bill Finger/Jim Mooney/Ray Burnley
(Batman #48, August-September 1948)

Plus the following fillers: "Happy" Herman by Phil Berube (0.66 pages); Monthly Invention: Automatic Record Changer (0.33 pages); Casey the Cop by Henry Boltinoff (0.5 pages); and Daffy & Doodle (0.5 pages).

The three main features in this issue have been reprinted at least twice in later K.G. Murray titles. What is interesting is that they were reprinted, in All Favourites Comic Annual NN/#1, 1956 and later again in Colossal Comic #39, 1966, precisely as they appear in this issue, that is, in the same greyscale format.

I’ve mentioned previously that Colossal Comic #39 reprints a slab of material from the first All Favourites Comic Annual, but it is only now that I could confirm the greyscale printing was in the source material and not especially prepared for All Favourites Comic Annual, as I originally thought may be the case (I'll discuss these two issues in greater detail in a forthcoming blog).

Even with the grey tones, it is easy to see why Sprang is regarded as the best Batman artist of his era. He may have ghosted for the Bob Kane ‘house style’, but his art was quite idiosyncratic – crisp, sharp and angular lines; radical perspectives - bold close-ups alternating with extreme vanishing points; round panels breaking up the nine-panel grid; inky skylines and shadows and silhouettes; and a keen sense of movement, of kinetic energy – in other words, of cartooning rather than mere illustration. His villains were almost Chester Gould-ish – you get the feeling he relished drawing gangsters and super villains even more than the superheroes - and of all the Batman artists of the 1940s-1950s, Sprang was best at invoking a slick and cartoon-based ‘film noir’-lite tone and style. And of course, the black and white reproduction in these Australian reprints serves Sprang - and inker Charles Paris - well on Batman.

I happen to also like Jim Mooney on Batman. He’s no Sprang or Lew Schwartz or Jerry Robinson, of course. He’s a rather ‘proper’ artist, not prone to caricature or impressionism. He’s mostly identified with stints on Supergirl and Tommy Tomorrow, but in some ways he’s the perfect interior-art companion to a Win Mortimer cover. Indeed I consider him to be a good compromise artist on World’s Finest between a 'Superman artist" and a "Batman artist".

I don’t buy every Australian pre-1956 Batman (or Superman or Super Adventure Comic) issue I come across. I might pick one up if it’s a Hart Amos cover, or if the contents aren’t reprinted in a later Colossal Comic, or if the cover is especially appealing and represents a feasible alternative to an expensive US copy. Or maybe if it’s so well preserved that it’s just a beautiful book in and of itself.

But sometimes it’s hard to pass up early vintage issues regardless of the condition, especially if you’ve not seen one before, and may not see one on offer again any time soon. Sometimes the ratty ones are beautiful in and of themselves for no good reason at all.

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