A glimmer of gentle greatness.
UPDATED 5/30/17: This first ran when Tales of the Batman: Alan Brennert was published last year. It’s Brennert’s birthday today (he turns 63), so it only seemed fitting to revisit it now. By the way, Brennert himself picked his 13 favorite Batman stories and you can check that out here. Enjoy.
If you asked me to name my Top 13 Batman writers of all time, Alan Brennert would not be on that list. That’s down to his comparatively tiny output. And yet, Brennert, a writer in other fields including television, has written Batman stories that engender an almost cult-like reverence.
DC’s picked up on it and this week is releasing Tales of the Batman: Alan Brennert, the latest in its series of hardcovers focusing on the Batwork of a specific writer or artist.
The book includes the graphic novel Holy Terror, as well as a variety of other stories, mostly from Brave and the Bold, plus some non-Batman pieces. But there are three in here that every Batfan should own:
— To Kill a Legend, from Detective Comics #500.
— The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne! from Brave and the Bold #197.
— Time See What’s Become of Me, from Brave and the Bold #181.
What makes these so special is Brennert’s liberating use of the What If? scenario: What if Batman could save the Waynes in an alternate reality? What if Batman married Catwoman?
To Kill A Legend, illustrated by Dick Giordano, is the runaway classic here. It’s a story that allows Batman to enter a parallel universe, Robin in tow, where Thomas and Martha Wayne are alive and Bruce is still a boy.
Ultimately, he has to decide: Let the Waynes live and deprive that world of Batman, or let the Waynes die and have young Bruce suffer as he did.
This is Batman’s version of The City on the Edge of Forever and, without spoiling the ending, I’ll tell you that its emotional impact still resonates. Paul Levitz himself told me how pleased he was that the story has endured for decades. (Click here for that conversation.)
The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne also deals with love and death, but of a different sort. Brave and the Bold #197, with Joe Staton art, fills us in on the details of Batman and Catwoman’s romance — on Earth-2.
Again, it’s a speculative scenario in the sense that all of DC’s parallel Earths give writers the chance to twist and turn things in ways they can’t in the main universe. The conceit is that we’re privy to a manuscript written by the late Bruce Wayne after his wife, Selina Kyle, has died. It traces his rise as Batman but the focus is squarely on their relationship and how two wounded people on the opposite sides of the law ultimately found love and comfort with one another.
The last story I want to mention is a Batman team-up with Hawk and Dove, which posits: What if Hawk and Dove, teen heroes who emblemized the Vietnam era, grew up and became adults at the onset of the ’80s?
If To Kill A Legend echoes City on the Edge of Forever, then B&B #181, with its Simon and Garfunkel lyric as title, presages The Big Chill.
And it’s all down to a wonderfully flawed premise.
Brennert and, presumably, his editor, Giordano, were under the idea that Hawk and Dove — who were created to be symbolic of the intense debate over the Vietnam War — hadn’t been seen since Teen Titans #25, which came out at the end of 1969. So, with B&B #181 out toward the end of 1981, it seemed like a great “Whatever Happened to …” concept. But the Hall brothers had actually been active — with the Teen Titans — as recently as a few years before.
But it doesn’t matter. The story, with Jim Aparo art, is a character study of these polar opposites who share a familial bond — and how each would have struggled if they’d aged in real time. Batman is really just the Macguffin. (Side note: There’s a great bit of Bronze Age palling around at the start of the story between Bruce, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, three guys on the town.)
What each of these stories has in common — plus another one from B&B in which Batman teams up with an adult, Earth-2 Robin — is that in addition to their hypothetical natures, they emphasize characterization and emotion over action and bombast. Each story touches you in unexpected ways.
Brennert asks questions — and then his answers are intriguing and moving.
They make you wish he’d written more.