A lost chapter in Bat-history…
UPDATED 6/28/22: TwoMorrows’ Back Issue #136 is out this week and the topic is comic strips in the Bronze Age. Click here for an EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT. You’ll dig it. But it also reminded me of this piece that first ran in 2018 (in slightly different form). It’s as valid today as it was then. Groovy. — Dan
The late Marshall Rogers was born 72 years ago — Jan. 22, 1950 — and as each birthday passes, I despair a little bit more that his magnificent and influential Batman art appears to become increasingly obscure.
Not among people of my generation, mind you. Those of us who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s are acutely aware of just how spectacular the Steve Englehart/Rogers/Terry Austin run in Detective Comics was.
Unfortunately, that complete story — which refurbished Hugo Strange and Deadshot for modern audiences, gave us Rupert Thorne and Silver St. Cloud, and featured the classic The Laughing Fish! — is not in print, something I consider a crime against comics. (Click here for more on that wonderful epic.)
(Side note: I’m aware that much of this story is available digitally, but it’s not complete. Besides, this should be an evergreen on bookshelves. Hell, there should be an Absolute Edition.)
Anyway, I’ve made the point plenty of times over the last several years. Now, I’d like to add something else to the mix:
DC Comics should also reprint Rogers’ 1989 Batman newspaper strips written by Max Allan Collins.
As far as I can tell, the only time these were reprinted was in 1990, across three issues of The Comics Revue. (Huge thanks to 13th Dimension reader Bill DeSimone, who sent me those issues!)
It was a brief run: Rogers and Collins left after the strip’s first arc and William Messner-Loebs and Carmine Infantino took things from there, through the strip’s end in 1991. The Comics Revue collected those too, but the whole thing has been sitting in limbo ever since. (A fantastic history of the strip can be found here. I’ve included some of the scans in this post.)
The Rogers-Collins story is odd and interesting. It picks up where the 1989 Batman movie left off but with some important differences: Batman’s wearing his comics costume of the time; the Joker death plunge is instead left ambiguous; and Vicky Vale doesn’t appear to know Bruce Wayne is Batman.
Batman’s opponent is Catwoman — but she’s a murderous vigilante hell-bent on cleaning up the Crime Alley drug trade. Her adversary? A druglord named “Bull” Pitt, who of course looks like a pit bull. (Cat vs. dog, get it?)
It is cool to see Rogers illustrate Catwoman, since he never drew her in costume in the comics. (Correct me if I’m missing something, folks.) That said, her outfit is kind of a bizarre take on her classic Golden Age costume, with asymmetrical boots and an unfortunate “CW” design on her cat cowl.
And Rogers himself was kind of a weird choice for the medium. One of his greatest strengths as a storyteller was scope: He drew detailed cityscapes as good as — and perhaps better than — any artist in comics history. His Batman, with his flowing cape, benefited from the full comics page. His panel breakdowns and ability to lead the reader’s eye, enhanced it.
The strips, on the other hand, afford little real estate for Rogers’ particular brand of cinema. It’s like trying to build all of Manhattan — or Gotham City — on the space of a couple of city blocks. Still, given his prodigious talent, he makes it work — there are all sorts of fantastic angles and kinetic bits of action. (The Sunday installments naturally give him more room to breathe.)
It all makes for an offbeat chapter in both Batman lore and Rogers’ artistic history — but it’s a chapter that demands to be preserved nonetheless.
Because Marshall Rogers — who died far, far too young in 2007 at the age of 57 — to this day remains one of Batman’s three or four greatest artists ever.
The thing is, DC has an ongoing relationship with IDW’s Library of American Comics imprint to reprint its newspaper strips. Golden Age and Silver Age Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman strips, for example, have been bundled into wonderful, landscape-shaped hardcover editions.
But from what I’ve been able to sort out, DC has not made a deal to reprint these later strips — let alone the unrelated, Justice League-starring The World’s Greatest Superheroes newspaper series that ran in various permutations from 1978 to 1984 and ultimately morphed into a Superman vehicle.
I can only speculate that there are rights and royalties issues that are complicating things because the people who’ve been putting these editions together love their comics history. (Plus, DC has a robust reprint program in its own right.) And I can’t imagine that a hardcover series that includes Rogers and Collins’ strips — and the subsequent Messner-Loebs/Infantino segments that continued the series — would sell any less than what DC and IDW have been publishing for the past several years.
It’s a mystery worthy of the Darknight Detective himself.
Unfortunately, the end result is that there’s just one more piece of Marshall Rogers’ legacy that is in danger of fading away.
— The MARSHALL ROGERS Index of Stories and Tributes. Click here.
— An INSIDE LOOK at ENGLEHART AND ROGERS’ Unfinished BATMAN Trilogy. Click here.