about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

BATMAN: THE COMIC STRIP (1989), by Max Allan Collins and Marshall Rogers. Part 1: The Catwoman!

Fully revised and updated with bigger scans, color Sundays, and more of that great commentary that you've come to know and tolerate!

Batman is no stranger to the comics pages of newspapers, having appeared most notably in the 1940's and 1960's, but his most fun and fascinating appearance may well have been his all-too-brief revival from 1989 to 1991. Premiering five months after the smash hit release of the Tim Burton film, the strip served as a very loose continuation of the movie before quickly becoming its own original continuity that eventually became so unique that it was officially deemed an alternate earth (Earth-1289) in Absolute Crisis on Infinite Earths. It's canon non-canon, baby!

To top it off, it was originally illustrated by none other than one of the greatest Batman artists of all time, Marshall Rogers, but just like his marquee partner Bob Kane, the real writer and creator of this strip went uncredited. This is bizarre, considering that the writer was a man who was established amongst both Batman fans and newspaper comics readers: Max Allan Collins, co-creator of the Post-Crisis Jason Todd, future author of Road to Perdition, and Chester Gould's chosen successor on the Dick Tracy strips! The reasons why he wasn't credited also play into why he and Rogers' tenure on the strip would be sadly short-lived, but we'll get into that later.

For now, I'm anxious to show off this little-seen, largely-forgotten, and incredibly-rare bit of Bat-history, which has since gone on to be one of my favorite Batman sagas of all time. Don't get me wrong, it's not without its flaws, but even those only add to its oddball charm. Furthermore, it's got some of the most refreshingly original takes on many classic characters, starting with Catwoman's unique costume design and origin. This is a take on the Bat-mythos unlike any we've ever seen, one that's fun, suspenseful, surprising, moving, innovative, and poignant, with a nice side of ridiculous pure comics crack for good measure.

By sheer ridiculous luck, I managed to find a reprint of these strips signed by Marshall Rogers himself (who, strangely, seems to be given sole credit for Max Allan Collins' story), as you'll see in the very first image below. Mainly for the sake of his own detailed artwork, I've scanned a couple of these Sunday strips a bit larger than the rest.

Even still, the scan quality varies. I'd love to see a high-quality collection in proper print as they deserve. I wonder why that's never happened? Or, for that matter, why hasn't any of Stan Lee's Spider-Man seen a single collection? Are there rights issues with the distributor or something?

All right, all right, enough ado. On with the comic!

This is the first of the color Sundays, and while the quality is admittedly crappy, it's the best I have. How I long to find this strip in good quality, just for that "Jokopter" panel alone, because man, no one could depict the Joker's laughter like Marshall Rogers.

So yes, it's very similar to the events of Tim Burton's Batman, complete with the allusions to Jack Napier and Carl Grissom, but its changes more closely resemble Batman comics from the Bronze Age, and it also makes the Joker's "death" far more open-ended than it was in the film. With this, Collins deftly provides an in for fans of the movie while creating a world familiar to fans of the comics. It's a nice balance.

Oh, and be warned, Bruce is going to continue to waffle a few more times about whether or not he wants to watch TV. This is one of those things that doesn't entirely hold up when read all at once as opposed to one strip per day. If these strips ever were to be reprinted, an editor might do well to cut and paste a few panels here and there, just to make the narrative flow more smoothly.

Meet Harvey Dent: a stuffy, lawsuit-fearing bureaucrat who looks more akin to Jurassic Park's Bob Peck than any other version of the character, much less Billy Dee Williams. Not exactly the same handsome, crime-smashing hotshot we usually know, is he? Just wait, in the next storyline, new writer Bill Messner-Loebs greatly steps up the stakes for Dent when it comes to Batman, resulting in one of my greatest takes on the Two-Face saga ever written. Still, I can't help but wonder what would have been if Max Allan Collins had been able to tell his own story with this humorless stick-in-the-mud take on Harvey. Would he have proven himself to be heroic in his own way, or would he just have been a frustrated jerk who'd eventually take his resentment out on Batman after his disfigurement? Not even Mr. Collins seems to recall, so those answers are pretty well lost forever.

Moving on, did anyone ever notice that Batman and Commissioner Gordon never officially met in Burton's Batman movie? Oh sure, Bruce and Jim knew each other, and by the time Batman Returns came out, the Commish and the Bat were on speaking terms, but they never actually met each other in the first movie. Collins apparently noticed this too, and decided to rectify it here.

The security bond is another neat original concept on Collins' part, one which attempts to reconcile Batman's outlaw nature in an era that can't get away with making him a fully deputized member of the police force. That said, this is the last mention of it in the story, and the strip's successor never makes mention of it either. God only knows if Collins intended to go somewhere with it rather than just include it as an explanation for how Batman can legally operate without police interference. Perhaps it's just as well that we don't get to dwell on this idea, since it could only raise questions about where the money is coming from, if Gordon (or Dent) wished to dig around. Still, I can't help wonder who Bruce's attorney might have been.

Now let's see the grand debut of this version of Catwoman. By the way, I love how Max Allan Collins' Gotham City is populated by 1950's greaser punks, just as it was when he reintroduced Jason Todd as a tough-talkin' kid who called women "dames" and whatnot.

I think this is the first time we'd ever seen Catwoman as a vigilante from the start of her career, resembling the Huntress at her most ruthless, only more cold-blooded. She's not a thief nor a cat-burglar, which is pretty much fundamental to her character in spirit, but she does foreshadow the more heroic, less selfish Selina we'd eventually see thanks to Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke's great Goggles!Suit run. Furthermore, her vendetta in this story also fits with the then-upcoming Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman, which is still one of the best takes on the character even while being the most loosely-based. All this to say, this is a very different take on Catwoman that ditches some core aspects to her character while also being a legitimate spin on Selina in spirit.

And hey, how about that costume design? Obviously, the most notable thing is the design of her headpiece, which has been controversial ever since I posted it here. On the plus side, it almost gives her forehead "stripes" like tabby cats have, which may or may not have been intentional on the part of Marshall Rogers. But even if that were the intent, the teeny "C" on top of the big "W" pushes the design into the realm of silliness. Even if it didn't look awkward, the fact is that only Superman is able to pull off wearing his initials on his costume.

What interests me about this costume is the other, more subtle changes. While this otherwise looks like the classic, Pre-Crisis Catwoman costume at a glance, her gloves and boots are remarkably different. One foot features her sporting her short Golden Age boot, while her other leg--the one on the side of the slit in her dress, thus showing more skin--is clad in a thigh-high boot. Catwoman has worn taller boots since the 1970's, but she wouldn't wear this particular style until the Jim Balent purple-suit era. In fact, that era also had her wearing arm-length leather opera gloves, which she is sporting right here as well. All in all, this costume is a neat mixture of classic and innovative, even if it doesn't entirely work.

Back to the comic:

Catwoman: "I learned it from watching YOU!" Man, if there's any panel in this entire storyline I'd love to see fully remastered in glorious color, it's the one with "Now SCAT!" accompanied by Batman's boogity-boogity-boo pose. Also, while I try not to think about such things too much, it's a shame that the only person of color in this entire strip happens to be a drug dealing kid. It's enough to make me wish that they'd kept Billy Dee Williams as the model for Harvey Dent.

I can't tell if Batman's being a sanctimonious ass, or if Vicki is being callous for snapping shots instead of running off to call for paramedics. Maybe a little from Column A, a little from Column B? Now let's check in with a character wholly original to this strip: mob boss "Bull" Pitt, whose name seems to be a play on "pit bull" (and/or "bullshit?") even though he seems to favor and resemble a bull terrier. While it may seem a bit on the nose for the nemesis of a Catwoman story to be a dog-themed villain, it had never been done before, to my recollection. He's mainly just here to move plot along, and if nothing else, he's no worse than Hellhound.

This goes without saying, but Alfred is the best. It especially helps that this is a rather human, Bronze Age Batman rather than the callous dick who would dominate the comics for the next two decades. Also, I should warn you that the next Sunday scan is a serious dip in quality from the ones before. That's because this is my own scan, made with my less-than-excellent scanner, which doesn't particularly like playing with newsprint.

Much like the new one she got for the Post-Crisis era in Batman: Year One (and especially Catwoman: Her Sister's Keeper) onward, this origin is much grittier than the amnesiac-stewardess-adventurerer that she was before 1987. Both come from underprivileged backgrounds, and both turn to illegal activities to get by, but the similarities end there. Unlike the Catwoman in the comics who's in it for the challenge and the riches, this Selina--again, like the Selina of Batman Returns--actually has a personal score to settle by donning her costume and taking to the streets. The fact that she also has a double life as a popular artist says a lot about as well. As Catwoman, she's avenging her past in a way that also finances her future as Selina Kyle.

From here on out, you may notice a slight change in the artwork. This is because Marshall Rogers stopped inking himself by this point, with those duties being picked up by John Nyberg, who will remain on the strip until its finale. While the fact that Nyberg is the workhorse of the strip cannot go unappreciated, his inks just aren't as sharp as Rogers' own work above. If only they'd gotten Rogers' best inker, the incomparable Terry Austin! Oh well. It's still good, just not as good as before, which only adds to the general sense of impending change.

This is pretty much the last we hear of Selina's past, which is a shame, since there are still an awful lot of questions regarding when and why she made the choices to not just quit, but to actively strike back at her former leader/ex-boyfriend and his cronies. This is a neat take on Catwoman, and damn it, I want more! And speaking of things I want but don't have, I'm afraid that I don't have the next Sunday strip in color. It's the only one I'm missing from this storyline! So in the interests of keeping the Sundays special, here it is in the form of its original artwork!

Panther raises a very interesting point about Selina's motivations here. Is she acting out of self-interest for her new life, redemption for her past, vengeance against the people who dragged her into gang life as a youth, and/or is she trying to prevent more kids from ending up like she almost did? What I find most interesting is that she doesn't contradict or defend Panther's point that she's stealing the gang money to fund her shop and artwork. Is that greed, or is she at least somewhat justified? Sadly, there's no time for any answers, so that question must remain ambiguous as we get to the finale.

Why was that one "BLAM" printed upside down? More importantly, did Batman seriously just use a guy as a human shield? I guess this Batman isn't too far removed from the "send a henchman plummeting to his doom inside a cathedral" Batman of Tim Burton's movie.

The end! Wait, what? If that finale seems rather abrupt, that might be because this was the very last strip before Max Allan Collins and Marshall Rogers were unceremoniously kicked off the strip. What happened? Well, back when I originally posted these strips, Mr. Collins himself graciously popped up in the comments thread to fill us in on the tension between him and an editor with the Tribune Company Syndicate, whose petty interference eventually led to Collins being replaced entirely after their first storyline. Rogers also left, but there's no word from Collins or anywhere else online regarding whether he was also fired or just left voluntarily.

While the treatment of Collins was lousy and unjust--and thus sabotaged the start of what promised to be a fascinatingly unique take on Batman--there is a considerable silver lining to this cloud in the form of Collins and Rogers' replacements: William Messner-Loebs and Carmine Infantino! Holy cats, not bad at all! As with the all-too-short-lived Collins/Rogers collaboration, their stories won't be flawless, but I can promise that they'll be fascinating, fun, surprising, and unlike any other Batman tale you've ever seen, especially when it comes to Harvey Dent. I still need to edit and revise the continuation of this strip, but if you can't wait to read it and don't mind smaller scans all in black and white, then feel free to continue to Part 2: the Penguin!

Note: The black and white dailies scans are from Comics Revue magazine, issues #41-43, published in 1990. It's the only time these strips have been reprinted anywhere, and all of those scans are my own. Same goes for half of the color Sundays, which are taken directly from newspaper clippings I've managed to track down. The other, better quality Sunday scans are not mine, although I cannot for the life of me recall where I found 'em.

I am posting this complete saga because it has never been reprinted, nor are there currently any plans to do so. If that changes, I will reduce the scans here by a half to two-thirds of the content seen here. If you are a rights-holder to this strip and want it taken down entirely, I will do so. If you have any other objections or questions, please feel free to either leave a comment, send me a private message via LJ, and/or e-mail me directly at jhefner2@washcoll.edu.
Tags: catwoman, comic strips, jim gordon, marshall rogers, max allan collins, origins, reading list: batman comic strip (89-91)
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