Tales of The Batman is not your typical comics collection. Normally, DC Comics or Marvel will put together a collection that has a continuous story or narrative - usually having to do with some big event happening either to that specific character or comics wide across all of their properties. An example of this would be Marvel’s recent ‘Civil War II.’ Often times a collection that will come along and the entire story is started and finished within that one book, that is often not the case, as comic publishers like to try and milk as much money as they can. Why put out one large book when they can put out three hardcovers and THEN put out the omnibus?
Tales of the Batman is interesting because it’s not just a random collection of Batman stories. This collection is the comic writing journey of DC Comics writer Alan Brennert. A highlight is the forward of the collection where he describes that he sort of accidentally wound up a writer at DC Comics. Like many of us, especially me, we have a vision in our heads of: “Oh that would be nice to do that or I have a take on that character. But that will never happen. Oh well...” It is comforting to know that Brennert also had those thoughts, but through the passage of time and meeting the right people, his aspirations became a reality which really may be the most inspiring thing about the collection. The very first story in the book is the first story, and maybe one of the better ones in the collection, that Alan Brennert had ever written for DC Comics and it tackles one of the toughest subjects to write - time travel.
What’s nice about this comic is that it is written before DC really started over-playing with time. Nowadays with DC Rebirth, The New 52, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the Multiverse - DC Comics storylines are extremely convoluted. Even though there are parallel universes they don’t stay consistent. At one point in one universe they never had superheroes or even records of them, then a few comics later, that same alternate reality has heard of superheroes. In fact, they have their own version of Justice League and each character is slightly older or things worked out slightly differently. As a reader, I’ve simply stopped caring what world it takes place in and where, I just simply sigh and say a simple ‘okay.’ But here the time travel is digestible, there are only two universes Earth-Two, and regular Earth. The storylines here are just starting to get convoluted.
However, this isn’t Frank Miller Batman or even Scott Snyder Batman. Batman isn’t dark or brooding, he’s a lot wackier and vulnerable. Which is strange because the art is top notch, making every frame of the Dark Knight look spectacular. The artist changes from story to story, so we get work from Jim Aparo, Walter Gibson, and a half a dozen others. This really creates a stark contrast tonally. At one point Batman teams with ‘The Creeper’ in order to take down a monster made of paper. You read that correctly. Not exactly the badass that would take down ‘Bane’ or ‘The Court of Owls’ just yet. But the stories are interesting, the focus, at least for Brennert’s writing is more on the detective work that Batman performs.
One interesting thing that Brennert brings to his Batman stories is the re-creation of character’s backgrounds and origins. In this case, the characters of Catwoman and Dr. Hugo Strange specifically. Both characters, generally considered sort of B-roster characters, are usually written fairly narrowly and not with much depth; especially Catwoman. Here they are given much more emotionally tragic backstories that really make you empathize with them even though they are technically villains.
Even though this is a mixed bag of quality, the comic is a lot of fun to read. You almost enjoy the wackier stories for simply being wacky. It helps you remember Batman’s history of sort of silly and hammy Adam West-like stories. Even though I prefer my Batman dark and brooding, as do many others, there is room for some fun and humor because really at the end of the day the stories are about a dude wearing a bat costume! Even if you are a Batman superfan, you still have to admit that sometimes!