BATMAN ’77: The Best NETFLIX Series You’ll Never See

It would have been perfect.

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Every once in a while, an idea hits you that is so sharp that you can’t believe you never thought of it before.

See, it’s Steve Englehart’s birthday (he was born April 22, 1947) and I started writing a piece about how his run on Detective Comics in the late ’70s just might be the very best midcareer Batman story ever.

By “midcareer” I mean that it’s not an origin story or a “last” story, it’s just a story. But it’s a great one.

And that’s the key word: Story.

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Comics are a visual medium but for me, story comes first. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but it’s a lot easier for me to quit a bad story with great art than it is to leave a great story with so-so art.

But every once in a great while the two sides merge to form a classic, and that’s precisely what happened in Detective Comics #469-476.

The heart of that story — which I’ll call Batman ’77 because no other name has really stuck — is the six-issue segment illustrated by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin. That’s not to knock Walt Simonson’s contributions in the first two issues, it’s just that this was Rogers’ show. (As a reader, I always saw Len Wein’s two chapters with Rogers at the end as part of the story, but Englehart doesn’t and it’s his party, so I’m sticking with his vision here.)

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Anyway, I appreciate so many things about that run, but I think the thing that grabs me the most is its sheer Batman-ness:

You have the villains — from refurbished oldies like Hugo Strange and Deadshot, to newbies like Rupert Thorne and Dr. Phosphorous, to classics like the Joker and the Penguin.

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You have a guest appearance by the greatest Robin of them all, Dick Grayson, years before another would wear the outfit.

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You have a Gotham that crackles with the glamor and grit of late-’70s New York City.

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You have a great romance with one of the sexiest leading ladies ever to grace the comic-book pages in Silver St. Could.

So.

If Batman: Year One is a great noir thriller …

And if The Dark Knight Returns is a Wagnerian opera …

And if O’Neil and Adams’ Ra’s al Ghul saga is a fantastic BatBond adventure…

… then what is Englehart/Rogers?

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It’s the greatest Netflix show you will never see.

The structure’s all there. You wouldn’t need to change a single thing. It’s all woven together seamlessly across eight issues, which could be adapted lock and stock into eight episodes. Subplots and characters intertwine, there’s danger both personal and physical, there’s mood and atmosphere.

Start by introducing Silver, Thorne and Dr. Phosphorus and end with a climactic rooftop battle with the Joker.

It just pains me that it’ll never happen — although it doesn’t pain me quite as much as the fact that the trade collection of this story, with the tacked-on title Strange Apparitions is out of print.

Sigh.

At least I can go read it again. For the thousandth time.

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The first time the story was reprinted, in the mid-’80s. Much better title than “Strange Apparitions.”

Read Steve Englehart’s tribute to Marshall Rogers. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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3 Comments

  1. I keep hearing how the version of Batman in Batman v Superman is the most accurate version depicted. It’s fine. Absolutely no knock on it but the Englehary / Rogers is the version that comes to mind for me. Cerebral but not brutally cold. Can you imagine Batman & Robin laughing with each other today they way they do in this run? Batman here is more detective then psychopath. There’s a balance in the character that would be lost after Frank Miller’s work. The O’Neil / Adams run is practically tied with this one as my definitive Batman but I might give the Englehart work a slight edge.

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    • A beautiful piece to celebrate Mr. Englehart’s birthday. I know I’m in the minority of fandom, but Miller’s take on The Batman (not to mention the version[s] by those who worship Miller’s backside) doesn’t do it for me. (The only writer whose version of Batman rivals Englehart’s is Mike W. Barr. His “Player on the Other Side,” with Michael Golden, is brilliant, as was his stint on Detective with Alan Davis.) It’s a pity an accurate adaptation of the story arc on Netflix isn’t in sight. Maybe an ANIMATED adaptation?

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  2. Dan, anyone that’s been reading this site for a while knows that your love for this run knows no bounds! But I think you’re right on the money with this one–but you’re thinking small potatoes! Don’t blow your wad with Dr. Phosphorous, the Joker, and everyone in the first season, start it off as Batman mainly combating results of the corruption of Rupert Thorne, then as the season goes along and Batman gets closer to Thorne we see he is being haunted by Hugo Strange! First you’re watching a fairly straightforward mafia-type show, then throw that supernatural element in towards the end of the season when you least expect it! Anyway, it’s a great idea and I agree that this run could be developed into some compelling television (and frankly, a damn good movie!)

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