Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Special Case of Giant Batman Album # 27

Giant Batman Album #27, September 1973

Giant Batman Album #27 is, as I mentioned a few days ago, a special case. Firstly, let’s check out the contents:

Batman: Man-Bat Madness!
Frank Robbins
Detective Comics #416, October 1971

Batman with Robin The Boy Wonder: Batman's Great Face-Saving Feat!
France Herron/Sheldon Moldoff/Joe Giella
Batman #164, June 1964

Bat Out of Hell
Jack Oleck/Nestor Redondo
House of Mystery #195, October 1971

Superman and Batman and Robin: The Super-Rivals
Edmond Hamilton/Dick Sprang/Stan Kaye
World's Finest Comics #85, November-December 1956

Batman: Man-Bat Over Vegas!
Frank Robbins
Detective Comics #429, November 1972

The issue is conspicuous for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is bookended by two contemporary stories, which is odd for the Giant Batman Album series at the time. This represents a break from the pattern set with the first issue, way back in 1962, of reprinting vintage comics exclusively. Yet it gestures towards a unifying theme, which was a traditional element of this series, with the subtitle Three Bat Mystery Thrillers!

The second reason it is noteworthy is that the cover is a montage of various images from the US covers, a cut-and-paste job by a K.G. Murray staffer. The images are sourced from Detective Comics #416 and #429 (as per the Man-Bat stories listed above), and also a ‘non-Batman’ bat cover from House of Mystery #195, from which “Bat Out of Hell” was reprinted.

That the K.G. Murray editors decided to include a ‘new’ Batman story in an issue of Giant Batman Album is surprising enough (although, as I note below, not quite unprecedented). That the two stories happen to be Man-Bat stories, and were originally published a year apart, suggests a selective compilation from available material based on a theme, and this is supported by the subtitle. So far, so good - a bit odd in that it is new material, but the thematic approach is certainly warranted given the traditional profile of the series.

But to go a step further and include another mysterious non-Batman ‘bat tale’… Well, at best it’s a well-intentioned albeit crude effort, and at worst it smacks of desperation and misleading advertising.

It is enough to make me wonder whether the hapless editor in charge of compiling this issue gleaned some related theme in the other two accompanying stories. For example, was the suggestion of mistaken or confused identity inherent in Man-Bat tales deemed sufficient reason to include “Batman's Great Face-Saving Feat” on the basis of the false identity theme in that story? It’s a long stretch, of course, but…

What is certain is that changes were afoot in the K.G. Murray stable - remember, this is the first issue of the title under the Planet Comics logo - and as the various titles were being streamlined in this period, this provides evidence of some strain on the identity of this series.

I mentioned that it was unusual at the time for Giant Batman Album to reprint contemporary stories. There were precedents – for example, there was a contemporary Batman story of sorts used in Giant Batman Album #18, but that is an anomaly as it is a series of contemporary framing sequences used to introduce and link vignettes from vintage comics. There was also a retelling of Robin’s origin in Giant Batman Album #20, courtesy of Batman #213, but this is itself a retelling of a vintage strip. The prominent exceptions to the rule before this issue are in fact the two preceding issues, Giant Batman Album #’s 25 and 26, but I will discuss these separately as they are more properly relevant to the broader discussion on the Batman Album incarnation of this series.

In one sense Giant Batman Album #27 points towards the succeeding issues with their own Australian-made covers, such as Giant Batman Album #31 and Giant Batman Album #32 just as it harkens crudely to the classic issues before it which were modelled and based on the US Batman Annuals and 80 Page Giants. But as I will argue in forthcoming blogs it is also clearly symptomatic of the fumbling and frustrated attempts by K.G. Murray to settle on a title and format to best present the Batman comics of this period.

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