It’s not only the BATBOOK OF THE WEEK, we’ve got your FIRST LOOK at Sandy Jarrell‘s art — and a MIGHTY Q&A with writer Jeff Parker about DC‘s digital-first Batman ’66 #54!
There’s this thing that’s been going around where people post on the Twitter or Facebook four covers of comic books that basically hard-wired them as fans. I couldn’t do it myself because there’s no way I could narrow it down. It’s like picking four Beatles songs (which would look something like Let it Be, Hey Jude, In My Life and then a hundred others).
Batman #180 is an issue, however, that would be in the discussion. See, it may or may not be the first back issue I bought at a convention. Long story short, I was about 11 or so when I found myself quite unexpectedly at a con at the once and future Hotel Pennsylvania across from Madison Square Garden one night in the late ’70s.
I was going through the long boxes and couldn’t decide between Batman #186 — a Joker cover I was kind of familiar with — and #180, which I’d never seen before but that utterly mesmerized me. Such drama! Such composition! Brilliant!
I fell in love with it instantly. In one version of the memory, I bought #180; in the other, I bought #186. In either case, I remember trying to trade whichever one I did buy back to the owner for the one I didn’t. No dice. But such was my dilemma — a comic starring the Joker or one with a magnificent cover featuring a villain, Death Man, never seen before and almost never seen again.
(Eventually, I got both.)
Batman #180 stayed with me. And it obviously resonated to some degree with Jiro Kuwata, who translated it into manga — and for whatever reason renamed the villain Lord Death Man. Of course, few people in this country knew about that until Chip Kidd featured it in his book Bat-Manga! some years back. Then the folks at the wonderfully cockeyed Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series got their hands on the story. And then Grant Morrison drove Lord Death Man right into canon with the first two issues of the initial Batman Incorporated volume.
Finally, DC began reprinting Kuwata‘s manga last year, once again bringing Lord Death Man back to life.
Now, he rises once again, in Batman ’66, which is kind of full circle. See, because Batman #180 was one of the first issues on the stands after the Adam West show debuted in early 1966. I didn’t know this until a friend pointed it out to me last year.
DC has more or less stayed away from villains who never made it on air in producing the Batman ’66 comic — which are posted digitally first and collected in print weeks later. Now, they’re jumping in with both feet — like (Lord) Death Man leaping into his own grave — and they couldn’t pick a better choice. Except maybe that guy who was a gigantic, villainous pencil eraser.
Anyway, Batman ’66 #54 will be published digitally 2/18. DC’s digital-first titles are available for download via the DC Comics App, Readdcentertainment.com, iBooks, comiXology.com, Google Play, Kindle Store, and the Nook Store.
And it’s scheduled to be in print in Batman ’66 #21 due in stores 3/25. I asked writer Jeff Parker all about it (and check out the fantastic Sandy Jarrell art!):
Dan Greenfield: How did you first discover Lord Death Man?
Jeff Parker: I was taking a shortcut through a graveyard, and — oh, you mean as a comics character. I had heard of him but it wasn’t until the Bat-Manga book came out I got to read him in action. Let me correct that — I had read the Kanigher-Moldoff story with the character he was based on in someone’s collection as a teenager, but I didn’t make the connection that it was the same character when I saw the Bat-Manga book. Very happy DC is now printing the complete Jiro Kuwata stories!
Do you own a copy of Batman #180? If you don’t, you should get one because it’s rad.
I’m hoping some nice reader will just give me one.
Please tell me you saw the animated version from Brave and the Bold. Best Batman animation of the last 10 years, don’t you agree?
Look, I’ve seen every episode of Brave and the Bold, I love that show. And yes, that episode was ridiculously cool! You’ve got me wanting to watch some right now!
I see from the solicitations that DC’s finally allowing comics-only villains to be used in Batman ’66 (apart from the Two-Face special). What made you start with Lord Death Man?
Sandy Jarrell, who had drawn a Clock King and an Egghead story, did a commission or maybe it was some piece for his own amusement of Lord Death Man and it was perfect. Seeing that fired me up to write the story. I had referenced the idea that Lord Death Man existed in the ’66 world already: It’s mentioned in the first Batgirl story drawn by Colleen Coover — Catwoman strikes because Batman and Robin are out of the country dealing with Lord Death Man.
Sandy knocked this story so far out of the park it’s crazy. We agreed we wanted this to feel different and have a healthy dose of Miyazaki influence running through it. It should have the feel of a dream. Also we introduce The Batmobile-J, the ride he will be using when in Japan. And Batgirl is in it, it’s got everything.
Other than Grundy and Clayface, who are coming up, what other comics villains do you think would be well-suited to make the jump to Batman ’66?
Oh, I could easily see Poison Ivy… and say Killer Croc. And BANE. Interpreting other characters as they might have in the show is an incredible exercise, and one I feel the comic can do well. Part of our mission is to carry on further from the show, and they certainly would have used more characters from the books. The Harlan Ellison treatment of Two-Face proves that, and really would have brought the tone of the series back to where Lorenzo Semple Jr. had it at the beginning, with a heavier foot in the comics.
Are we finally gonna get an explanation on how he got promoted from just Death Man to Lord Death Man? Don’t you think that’s a crucial part of the (Lord) Death Man canon? I mean, I could totally envision a four-part, prestige format series on that. Whattya think? Can we make that happen?
I’m pretty sure I explain it the same way Kuwata did, you just get him saying “I’m a Death Lord!” and that’s all you need to know!
February 20, 2015
I can answer that last question… In Kuwata’s original Japanese scripts, the character of “Death-Man” was transliterated into Japanese as 死神男 (Shinigami Otoko) or, literally, “Death God Man.” So, “God” covers the “Lord” part of the translation back into English. Japanese readers saw the character as “Grim Reaper Man”, since, “Shingami” (Death God) is the equivalent to our “Grim Reaper” — or Death, itself. I could see him being referred to, in the parlance of the ’66 Batman as “The Grim Reaper.” But, now that “Lord Death-Man” is canon — and, of course, the original character appearing in #180 was “Death-Man” — well, Holy Pigeonhole, Batman! We’re stuck with that name!
March 12, 2015
My dad got me Batman #180 when I was home sick. I was not quite 8 years old and a fan of the (then new) TV show. It was my first Batman comic book and I was enthralled. Still have that issue among my many Batman comics (going back to #18). Thrilled when I first discovered Lord Death Man. A classic villain lives!
March 13, 2015
Ellsworth, that’s a great story! I love it!
March 13, 2015
Thank you Dan! So delighted to see other folks enjoy the same issue that meant so much to me.
June 17, 2015
Ellsworth same with me except I was 10 yrs old! Cool!
June 18, 2015
That’s cool Rick! Looks like it got us hooked! I remember a letters column from some issue in 1966 suggesting a Batman movie based on “Death Knocks Three Times” using the TV cast and Vincent Price as Death-man. It would have been an interesting film!