Whatever you want to name it — it’s spectacular…
In celebration of Detective Comics #1000 and Batman’s 80th anniversary this week, we’re counting down the 13 GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER — from all media — as selected by a panel of 16 experts, including such luminaries as former DC publisher Paul Levitz, legendary Batman artist Neal Adams and comics writers Ron Marz, Tom Peyer and Fred Van Lente. For a complete rundown of how the vote was conducted and the full list of panelists, click here. The countdown is running daily across 13 days and will culminate in THE ULTIMATE BATMAN READING AND VIEWING GUIDE, which will feature every single Batman story cited by our panel.
PICK #4 was the original RA’S AL GHUL SAGA (Click here.)
Next up on the countdown:
3. ENGLEHART AND ROGERS’ DETECTIVE COMICS RUN
Written by Steve Englehart. Pencilled by Marshall Rogers. Inked by Terry Austin. (With contributions from others, too. See below.)
It fascinates me to no end that Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’ 1977-78 run on Detective Comics made it all the way to the #3 slot on our panelists’ list — and yet the story remains out of print.
I’ve gone on about this a number of times so I won’t belabor the point here other than to say that not only does the enormously influential arc deserve to be perpetually available as a hardcover or trade paperback, it should be available as an Absolute Edition. (And I will forever harbor the almost certainly futile hope that it’ll magically be released as an Artist’s Edition someday.)
Anyway, this is the storyline that I put at the top of my own ballot, which, I have to tell you, wasn’t an easy decision. But here’s how I see it: If I’m going to force myself to select the best Batman story ever, then it has to check off the following boxes:
— Batman must be in his mid-career prime. Origin stories and “final stories” may be great but they don’t show the character in full flower.
— The story has to not just take place in Gotham, it has to involve the city’s central rogues gallery.
— It should convey scope.
Beyond that, it has to be damn great — and what Englehart, Rogers and inker Terry Austin accomplished was more than that. It was downright brilliant.
Theirs was an elegantly structured, beautifully illustrated multipart run of interlocking subplots, romance, mystery and action. The end result was a distillation of what makes Batman the world’s greatest comics character, simultaneously taking us back to his earliest days and giving us a fresh, modern spin.
We got new players (Rupert Thorne, Silver St. Cloud, Dr. Phosphorus), rehabilitated ones (Hugo Strange, Deadshot), precise iterations of the classics (Robin, the Penguin) and seminal versions of the Joker and Batman himself.
All in a Gotham City that looks and feels like a genuine, breathing metropolis.
You really can’t ask for more.
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As with the #4 pick, the original Ra’s al Ghul saga (click here), what constitutes the complete arc depends on your perspective. Walt Simonson and Al Milgrom illustrated the first two chapters (with covers by Jim Aparo) in Detective Comics #469 and #470. But there’s no question they are part of the story.
On the other hand, Rogers and Dick Giordano illustrated the framing sequence in Issue #477 and the two-part Clayface III story in Detective #478 and #479 that deal with the emotional fallout from what Englehart wrote. But they were all written by Len Wein.
I always saw it all as part of the same story and I’m not alone: The two times DC has reprinted the complete saga – as the miniseries Shadow of the Batman or the trade paperback Strange Apparitions — they’ve included those entries.
Englehart, on the other hand, once told me that as far as he was concerned, the story ended with the climactic battle between Batman and the Joker. And he’d know, right?
What do you think?
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The panelists weigh in on the run:
John Morrow, the head of TwoMorrows Publishing: “A landmark run by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers. If I had to only pick one issue, it’d be #476 with the Joker. Terry Austin’s inks added immensely to my enjoyment of the series, and Englehart and Rogers were just on an amazing roll throughout. I cared about Silver St. Cloud after only one brief appearance.”
James Tucker, producer of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, singled out The Laughing Fish for praise: “The finale to an amazing arc of stories that took Batman literally and figuratively back to his earliest roots.”
So did Chris Franklin, co-host of Batman Knightcast: “The greatest chapter in one of the greatest Batman runs ever. Englehart manages to combine the prankster Joker with the murderous psychopath revived earlier in the decade by O’Neil and Adams. It’s a combination that has stuck till this day. Rogers’ cinematic approach proves influential, despite his relatively short run.”
Michael Eury, editor-in-chief of Back Issue magazine and co-writer of The Batcave Companion, called out The Laughing Fish and The Deadshot Ricochet: “This has so much going for it: the peak of the Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers/Terry Austin collaboration, definitive appearances of Deadshot and the Joker, and my personal favorite aspect, the amazing Silver St. Cloud’s deduction of Batman’s secret identity!”
Mark Reinhart, writer of The Batman Filmography, added: “These stories gave a real-world sensibility to the Batman universe that continues to influence creators to this day.”
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Want more cool BATMAN WEEK stuff on Englehart and Rogers? Sure you do!
Check out artist Sandy Jarrell’s revision of Rogers’ covers — replacing the ’70s Detective Comics logo with the classic Golden Age banner. Click here.
And read artist Kelley Jones’ tribute to Rogers — including his pick for favorite cover. Click here.
Oh, and one last thought: Today happens to be the day that Detective Comics #1000 comes out. Fitting it should be at the same time that we pay tribute to the title’s greatest story.
NEXT: The #2 PICK is…
— The Complete TOP 13 BATMAN COUNTDOWN. Click here.
— MARSHALL ROGERS: A Remembrance, by STEVE ENGLEHART. Click here.