Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Interlude on Earth Brennert: Alan Brennert's Batman in the K.G. Murray comics

Alan Brennert has only written a dozen or so superhero comics. Around half of them are Batman stories. Three of them are amongst my favourite Batman stories ever. And the best of the lot is “Interlude on Earth-Two” from The Brave and the Bold #182, January 1982.

But don't take my word for it - - here's the testament of Mark Cannon:

"This is my personal favourite of Alan Brennert's Batman stories and one of the most unsettling Batman stories I've read. It's probably the only Earth 1/Earth 2 which ever touched upon just how damn unnerving it would be to know that there were doppelgangers of yourself - especially ones who have died. Thoughout the story, the Earth 2 Robin and Batwoman are unsettled by the presence of the double of their dead friend , Batman is similarly unsettled by Batwoman, whose Earth 1 counterpart is dead, Robin can't help but feel resentful of Batman's presence, and Batman feels terribly out of place and spooked by the whole thing.

The story also has one of the most touching and heart wrenching Batman scenes ever, as Batwoman confesses that she had loved Earth 2's Batman, but that one day his whole attitude and approach to her had changed, and she knew, without ever actually being told, that he must have gotten married in his civilian identity.

It's interesting to note that several of Alan's Batman stories utilised parallel worlds. Next time somebody claims that the old Multiverse was nothing but a confusing mess, cite these to them. They couldn't have been done in the current DC Universe, and I refuse to believe that they would have the same impact if done as 'Elseworlds'."

Quoted from The Alan Brennert Bibliography

You’d think it would be one of the most reprinted Batman stories from the early 1980’s, but for some reason, it seems to have eluded the editors of DC reprint volumes such as The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told, The Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told, and Batman in the Eighties. To be fair, these volumes do include Brennert tales, but the fact remains if you want to read one of the best pre-Crisis Batman stories ever, you need to scour back-issue bins and eBay to pick up an original copy of a 25 year old comic selling at a collector’s premium.

Or, you could buy the Australian edition of Batman #2 from 1982 for a buck or two.

I consider it one of the best-kept secrets of the Australian DC reprints.

It helps that it is hidden behind a regular Buckler cover from the period, which is not particularly enticing. And there’s a couple of bland Jose Delbo Batgirl stories in there to ward off interested parties. However, there is also a sweet Don Newton reprint (Newton shines in sleek black and white) and a couple of Irv Novick reprints (the Vince Colletta inks notwithstanding) to compensate.

But they are side dishes. The main meal is the Batman and Robin of Earth-2 reprint, complete with Jim Aparo art in black and white. Aparo is the unsung Batman artist of the 1970’s, hidden between the shadows of Neal Adams and Marshall Rogers. I suppose the fact that he had such a long stint on The Brave and the Bold led him to be taken for granted. I also sometimes wonder whether he was more popular with readers of the black and white reprints, because his line art has a tendency to be muddied with colouring on newsprint, and can also appear garish on the later Baxter paper (or similar) books.

But I'll leave Aparo for a later discussion.

I’ve drawn up a list of the Brennert Batman stories, citing their original appearances and, more importantly, their Australian reprints.

To Kill a Legend
Detective Comics #500, March 1981
Crime Fighters NN, 1982

The Brave and the Bold #178, September 1981
Batman and The Creeper #3, 1983

Time, See What's Become of Me...
The Brave and the Bold #181, December 1981
Adventure NN/#14, 1986

Interlude on Earth-Two
The Brave and the Bold #182, January 1982
Batman #2, 1982

The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne
The Brave and the Bold #197, April 1983
Super Adventure #6, 1985

There are two other Brennert Batman stories. One is Holy Terror, a prestige format book illustrated by Norm Breyfogle from 1991. Breyfogle was an inspired choice as artist as I regard him as the true inheritor of the Aparo Batman mantle.

The other is a short black and white back-up story in Gotham Knights #10, October 2000 with art by José Luis Garcia-Lopez.

At his best, Brennert is to Batman as Alan Moore is to Superman.

My suggestion: pick up copies of the Australian editions listed above for less than $2 each. Carefully tear out the Brennert stories. Pick up a copy of Gotham Knights #10 for another $1, and also remove the Brennert pages. Staple them together with a colour Aparo cover. Then put it on your bookshelf next to the UK Titan edition of black and white reprints of the Superman stories by Alan Moore. That’s where it belongs.


Daniel Best said...

Norm is possibly one of the best Batman artists of the last twenty years. Certainly he's one of the most original, in the sense that he didn't draw like Neal Adams/Jim Aparo, but instead found a niche and did it totally differently. Great artist and a damn good guy.

spiros xenos said...

Yeah, I thought Breyfogle was an excellent Batman artist. I loved his exaggerated, distorted, emotive style. I don’t know whether he was directly influenced by Aparo's Batman or not, but I do see his Batman as an intensified, almost expressionistic/pop extension of Aparo, just as Sienkiewicz appears as an expressionistic intensification of Adams (I mean his Batman of course, not Stray Toasters). To extend this line of thinking, Kelley Jones is almost a further intensification of Breyfogle, even though they are contemporaries. This is just my fancy of course.

mcannon said...

Heh – I’m blushing to see my words quoted! I think I wrote that in the context of a Usenet discussion many years ago – probably way back in the mid-90s. I’ve since seen it quoted a few times – most recently in an eBay listing that Spiros pointed out to me. Funny to think that a few paragraphs idly dashed off in the course of a discussion have ended up as the most widely-read thing I’ve ever written.

But “Interlude” is indeed a fine story, and Brennnert is an excellent writer. While it’s a pity that he hasn’t written more comics, almost all of his small output is memorable - and producing a handful of notable stories is preferable to writing a thousand mediocre ones.

In addition to the Aussie reprints of Brennert’s Batman stories, the Australian “Wonder Woman Album” #7 features a story of the Golden Age Wonder Woman (guest-starring the JSA!) co-written by Brennery & Martin Pasko. While not up to the standard of Brennert’s own work, it’s still worth a read, particularly if you’re a fan of DC’s GA characters.



spiros xenos said...

Mark, don’t be modest - start blogging!

I picked up a copy of that Wonder Woman Album not three weeks ago, but I haven’t read it yet!

Brennert also wrote a neat little Daredevil story just after Miller finished his first run. I think I read somewhere he was mooted to be the new Daredevil writer, but he was so disappointed by the quality of the art on his first story (by Klaus Janson) that he quit. I wouldn’t be surprised to find it is reprinted in Australian Federal issue as the latter Miller stories of the period were reprinted.