A birthday tribute to STEVE ENGLEHART — with the Joker’s 80th anniversary Friday…
UPDATED 4/22/20: It’s Steve Englehart’s 73rd birthday! Not just that, but today was the date that Tales of the Batman: Steve Englehart — which brings the writer’s complete classic Detective Comics run with Marshall Rogers back into print (and in hardcover for the first time) — was scheduled for comics shops. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has put that on hold for now. (Boy, this book is snakebit.) It’s available from at least a couple online retailers but it’s always best to support your local shop if you have a good one. Oh, and there’s more: The Joker’s 80th anniversary is Friday and The Laughing Fish! is easily one of the greatest Bat-stories ever. Putting it all together, this is the perfect time to re-present this piece, which first ran in 2016, in slightly altered form. — Dan
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.
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.)
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.
You have a guest appearance by the greatest Robin of them all, Dick Grayson, years before another would wear the outfit.
You have a Gotham that crackles with the glamor and grit of late-’70s New York City.
You have a great romance with one of the sexiest leading ladies ever to grace the comic-book pages in Silver St. Could.
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?
It’s the greatest premium TV 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.*
At least I can go read it again. For the thousandth time.
— * It’s Official: DC Re-Solicits the ENGLEHART-ROGERS BATMAN Hardcover. Click here.