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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comics – Day 231

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the comics posted so far!

Today we look at the last issue of Peter Milligan’s original run on Detective Comics, #643, the great “Library of Souls,” with art by the late, great Jim Aparo.


Now, let me note beforehand that my mother is a librarian, so this issue’s plot resonates a bit more with me than it perhaps does with others, but I think even if you have no interest in libraries you would still get a kick out of this (sadly never reprinted) issue, which ended Milligan’s great run on Detective Comics (which alternated between one-off issues like this and longer stories).

The issue opens with an old woman finding a skeleton in her bathroom, which coincides with a flurry of similar skeletons popping up around Gotham City…

The killer is discovered dropping off a fresh victim…

Yes, folks, the killer is killing using the Dewey Decimal System!!!

We gain a little insight into his madness…

To stop him, Batman must team up with…a librarian!!!

What a great offbeat and spooky tale!

It was a real throwback story to the times when Batman comics would be based on solving mysteries that involved knowing stuff like when the Norman Conquest was. I especially love how it is not just that the killer is killing based on the Dewey Decimal System, but based on a specially-designed IMPROVEMENT on the system!

What a cool send-off for Milligan (and, of course, it doesn’t hurt that he had one of the most legendary Batman artists of all-time doing the art for the issue).

You should be able to find this issue in the back-issue bins for not too much money! Go look for it!


Can you include publication dates in this series? I know it’s an easy google, but I can’t immediately place the run.

Man I miss Aparo. He really did some of the greatest Batman comics of all time and growing up it was him and Norm Breyfogle and Bill Sienkiewicz. That’s what drew me in and for me really allowed me to understand comics.

I was never blown away by Aparo when I was younger. It may be more appropriate to say that I got tired of him very quickly. Often the only way to tell which character was which was by the color of their hair. I thought he had a pretty stock ‘young man face” and “old man face” and the distinctions came from hair color, glasses, facial hair, etc. In retrospect I think I was taking him for granted. He really is rock solid.

Later on I saw some of his earlier work and was really impressed. The shading was very dynamic and the characters were more nuanced. It may have been a function of the inker, but I also suspect that his process became a little more rote in his advanced age.

Regardless, I think he’s the definitive Batman artist for readers of a certain age.

Interestingly enough, I think that Neal Adams (another definitive Bat-guy) sometimes suffers from the same issue of “stock face”, different haircut.

So what issue was that, Brian? Forgive me if you included the info somewhere — I read it twice but couldn’t find it.

It’s Detective Comics #643 (April 1992). Chuck Dixon started his Detective Comics run with the next issue.

When he says “theologists” I assume he meant “theologians”?

Theologist is a lesser-used synonym for theologian.

You’d think he’d have gone to ex-librarian Barbara Gordon with this.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t this one of the last times that Aparo got to ink and letter his artwork at DC?

My favorite Peter Milligan Batman story is “Dark Knight, Dark City” (Batman #452-454), penciled by Kieron Dwyer and inked by Dennis Janke. The part where Batman has to give a baby a tracheotomy stuck in my mind forever thereafter: “So Batman takes a deep breath… and slits the little cherub’s throat…”

Thanks, Ryan, for the issue # — Detective Comics #643 (April 1992)

I don’t doubt you for a moment, but looks so 1970’s.

God, I loved Aparo’s work. He was one of a small handful who can be considered definitive Batman artists. His take on the Dark Knight Detective was wonderful.

Aparo’s work on the Spectre in Adventure Comics in the 1970s was great, too. DC reprinted those stories -written by Michael Fleischer – in the Wrath of the Spectre miniseries in 1988 (the mini also provided three new stories, pencilled by Aparo and inked by Mike DeCarlo, from Fleischer scripts that had sat unused when the ’70s Spectre run was cancelled). Three of the ’70s stories had fill-in pencillers (Frank Thorne on one and Ernie Chua on the other two) with Aparo providing the inks as he didn’t have time to do full art duties.

That ’70s Spectre work is some of the best Aparo ever did, and it’s well worth checking out. I think his faces had a bit more variety at the time, too, compared to his later work.

My favorite moment from that Spectre run is when the Spectre makes himself into a giant, picks up a car containing some murderous gangsters trying to make their escape, and hurls it through the night sky up into the stratosphere. As the car makes its flaming trajectory across the sky a child looking out the window says, “Look, Dad! A shooting star!” And his father replies, “Make a wish, son!”

Good stuff.

As a librarian to be, I approve of this comic. :P It’s awesome. :)

Aparo’s later work turned me off whatever comic it appeared in. However, i like lots of his early stuff. i wonder what makes the difference? i mean i know that styles change, but Aparo [to me] got stale very quickly.

Also, i often like earlier work by an artist rather than their later stuff. Does this happen with others? Why do we think this is?

I didn’t really read through the main post here, but danjack’s comment about earlier vs later work got me thinking.

I’m wondering if it’s because earlier work has the rawness and energy that can leave the work as the artist settles into the mode of the art being a “job” rather than “I’m doing comics!”. Also, as artists work more, they tend to find shortcuts in doing things that can make the work look “lazy”. Familiarity with an artist also can make us go, “oh, this guy again”, so maybe we as fans get burnt out. And we know with comics art, a penciller can be served VERY differently by the inker.

The examples off the top of my head — Giffen’s early stuff, what I’ve seen, isn’t spectacular, but as he moved on (and, shall we say, absorbed certain influences), I think he got better. The early 90s 9 panel grid, heavy inks, Heckler/Trencher style is one that I personally like, so I’d say later Giff better.

Dave Sim’s early stuff looks really ugh to me, but later on (maybe when Gerhard joined the book), his stuff pops more and is really good, and the faces really turn into caricature, which is a good thing, to my view of his art. (However, I’m thinking maybe that Gerhard was a big element of the book. I’m not sure how much of Glamourpuss is Dave and how much is Dave riffing on photorealism, but it is nice to look at. I remember though, a Wizard feature with Gerhard showing what he did on Cerebus, and it was during Guys, so the characters were at the tavern, and I remember thinking, wow, Dave doesn’t even draw the RICE CAKES himself?)

So my examples say older better. I argue against myself. Let’s go counter example. I think John Byrne wasn’t that interesting early on, but once he got to Marvel and the XMen, he got really good, and continued for most of the 80s, but once he got to where he didn’t do backgrounds, inked his own stuff regularly, etc, his stuff I think suffers. He’s probably taking too many shortcuts or trying to do too many pages regularly. (Or WAS, I guess)

So yeah, danjack, there’s an answer for ya.

As another Librarian this story’s a hoot, and once you realize the theme, the cop’s line in the first panel about it being a ‘novel experience’ can’t help but make you snicker.

Also i can’t help but wonder if the Librarian was in fact Barbra Gordon, she does bear a passing resemblance, although that could be due to the perception of what a Librarian is supposed to look like. (In my experience very few do look like that. Not since the 50’s anyway. Nowdays we’re way cooler :)

One question though; What was the killer’s improvement upon the Dewey Decimal System?

Shane, the librarian is identified as Jenny Holding. The killer’s improvement on the Dewey Decimal System is never specified.

“She couldn’t accept that I, STANISLAUS JOHNS, discovered A FLAW in Dewey’s otherwise great system” is one of the funniest examples of villain-speak I’ve ever read.

Whoops, sorry, I was wrong earlier, the changes he made to the Dewey Decimal System are specified (it’s how the librarian realizes he’s the killer): the killer felt the arts, including sports, should be in the 900s rather than in the 700s.

Thanks Ryan, on both counts.

As for moving the arts to the 900’s well this just proves the villain was totally insane :)

Peter Milligan’s Batman run was pretty disconnected, more of a number of fill-in spells that eventually amounted to a 14-issue run. His work comprised of the following:

“Dark Knight, Dark City” in Batman #452-454 (August to September 1990), pencilled by Kieron Dwyer and inked by Dennis Janke.

“The Hungry Grass!” in Detective Comics #629 (May 1991), pencilled by Jim Aparo and inked by Steve Leialoha.

“And the Executioner Wore Stiletto Heels” in Detective Comics #630 (June 1991), pencilled by Jim Aparo and inked by Mike DeCarlo.

“The Golem of Gotham” in Detective Comics #631-632 (July 1991), pencilled by Jim Aparo and inked by Mike DeCarlo.

“Identity Crisis” in Detective Comics #633 (August 1991), art by Tom Mandrake.

“The Bomb” in Detective Comics #638 (November 1991), pencilled by Jim Aparo and inked by Mike DeCarlo.

“The Idiot” in Batman #472-473 (December 1991 to January 1992), art by Norm Breyfogle, and Detective Comics #639-640 (December 1991 to January 1992), pencilled by Jim Aparo and inked by Mike DeCarlo.

“The Library of Souls” in Detective Comics #643 (April 1992), art by Jim Aparo.

Did Batman know the Dewey Decimal System before consulting with the librarian? I imagine someone with his training would. You never know when it might come in handy…as this story proved.

No, he didn’t know the system in detail. He realizes the numbers on the bodies must have a pattern, but he can’t figure out what it is. It’s only when a body is left at the library that he makes the connection that they’re Dewey Decimal numbers, but he relies on the librarian to tell him what category each number stands for.

Batman must be more of a Library of Congress Classification guy. All that research he must do in special and corporate libraries, you know.

That sure is one massive Batman in the last panel of the second page. =)

““Identity Crisis” in Detective Comics #633 (August 1991), art by Tom Mandrake.”

For me this is the pick of the very high quality MIlligan Batman crop. The “something is off” sensation creeps in subtly (perhaps subsequent readings will reveal it earlier than first thought) but gradually and soon escalates into a five-alarm case of “I can’t be reading this; this can’t be happening; no way can they let this stand, but how do they get out of it?”. Thrilling, disconcerting, enthralling, puzzling, maddening.

It was a great few years to be reading Batman: Milligan, Grant, Wolfman, Starlin, Dixon etc were all hitting home runs regularly

[…] embargo, también hay malvados con hábitos bibliotecarios, como en el del cómic de Batman, La biblioteca de almas. En esta ocasión el hombre murciélago trata de aplacar la locura de un bibliotecario metido a […]

[…] Barbara G. and you’d learn your mistake. (Batman also has a keen grasp of library science, as proved in the Peter Milligan storyline where he copes with a serial killer who is murdering people and placing their bodies according to a […]

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