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CSBG Archive

75 Greatest Batman Writers and Artists: Writers #25-21

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22. Gerry Conway

Gerry Conway came on to the Bat-titles full-time in 1981 with a novel idea, to use both Batman and Detective as if they were, in effect, just one combined title that just came out twice a month. It’s basically the same approach that Marvel did on Amazing Spider-Man with Howard Mackie and more recently with Dan Slott (DC did a variation of it with their Superman titles, although those were multiple writers just working in concert – Mike Carlin was a hell of an editor to have made sense of that approach for so many years). Conway’s first major epic was this fascinating and complex narrative based on the return of Rupert Thorne, who decides to control Gotham’s politics from behind the scenes and ends up with Commisioner Gordon losing his job. At the same time, Vicki Vale comes back into Bruce Wayne’s life, only she’s now more adamant than ever about learning Batman’s secret identity. Conway also brought Dick Grayson back as Robin on a more regular basis (he also returned Batman to the Bat-Cave). Commissioner Gordon got more character development under Conway’s pen than he had received in the previous forty years’ worth of appearances.

Here’s an example of all the plot lines that Conway was juggling at once…

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After his Thorne epic finished, Conway told one last big storyline involving the introductions of Killer Croc and Jason Todd (plus the deaths of Todd’s parents).

21. Len Wein

Len Wein had been writing one or two Batman issues here and there for EIGHT YEARS (including the last story before Steve Englehart’s Detective Comics run and the issues after Englehart tying up any loose ends Englehart left) before he finally took over as the regular Batman writer in 1979. Wein’s run was a compelling mixture between action and character-driven work. Character-wise, this run is likely best known for introducing us to Lucius Fox and for re-introducing Catwoman into the Bat-books as a regular supporting cast member.

Wein also wrote a tremendous mini-series detailing Batman’s history, something that was, at the time, quite novel (now stories recapping characters’ origins happen all the time) with John Byrne and Jim Aparo (WOW!) working together on art…

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Wein set the title up nicely for Gerry Conway’s run on the book. Wein also has a special piece in Batman lore as being the first writer to have Batman vanish on Commissioner Gordon (in the pages of Swamp Thing, of all places!).

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37 Comments

Good choices. Frank Robbins was on the job when i first really started regular Bat-reading, so I like his work. I never really thought of him as contributing to the O’Neil Dark Knight concept.
Conway’s run had much goodness in it. For instance the Scarecrow story in which he makes everyone terrified of Batman and his use of Dr. Thirteen as someone who’s actually good at what he does instead of a clueless skeptic.

Great choices all.

No, he’s on both lists once.

now i feel stupid! haha

I’m surprised Wagner placed so low. He’s one of my favourite Batman writers and artists, so I’m curious who placed higher than he is.

joe the poor speller

June 11, 2014 at 7:17 am

Good choices. Love Dark Knight, Dark City and the Rupert Thorne saga.

We had almost all stories by Milligan in Poland reprinted in the nineties intervowen with Grant’s issues and I really liked those crazy adventures. Wolfman’s run I read less then, and only few years ago read the whole thing, but from what I remember, it was pretty average after first big stories.

DC will be reprinting the Dark Knight Dark City (Batman #452-454) with Detective Comics #629-633 (Hungry Grass, Stiletto, Golem, Identity Crisis) in a trade, but they didn’t think to put in the remaining Milligan’s issues (Detective #638-640, 643, Batman #472-473 and some Catwoman one-shot) to make it complete. That’s too bad. I wouldn’t mind seeing Wolfman’s Batman run with his four Detective issues in a trade as well.

Nightwing’s original costume really doesn’t work when drawn by anyone not George Perez. Just too damn silly.

It doesn’t work when Perez draws it either.

scarletspeed7

June 11, 2014 at 8:42 am

Peter Milligan’s Dark Knight, Dark City is one of my personal favorite Batman tales.

I’m surprised to see Marv and Wagner this low on the list, but neither of them are in my top 10 so it’s cool with me. So far the list is looking nice.

Mat Wagner’s “Faces” is, in my humble opinion, one of the all time greatest Harvey Dent / Two-Face stories ever.

nice pick forgot that marv wolfman was the one who had a hand in tim drake arriving in the batman universe to be till the new 52 the new robin as for his short run think that had to do with his teen titans work . plus always wondered who introduced killer croc and find from this list its the legendary gerry conway

I guess you’re right, Michael.

But I don’t know if I was too young or too enamorated of Perez’s artwork or something. He was doing those overelaborated, rococo costumes at least since Harbinger and Pariah in CRISIS, but they almost make sense in the ultra-detailed Perez visual universe.

Or maybe it wasn’t so offensive because he introduced Jericho’s (even worse) costume in the same issue. Hey, maybe that is the whole point of Jericho’s superhero career.

For Wolfman don’t forget his also great homage/retelling of the Case of the Chemical Syndicate in Detective Comics #627 which he did during the same time as his run on Batman.

Wolfman’s Detective Comics #625-628 actually came out six months after his Batman run ended.

“Dark Knight, dark City” was the first Batman story I bought with my own money. It was way creepier than anything else featuring Batman I’d seen. The weird thing is I remember one non-creepy line above all the demonn stuff:

Batman: “Riddler, we’ve always had a… sporting relationship…” In the midst of all the chaos and possession, Batman tried to reason with his opponent, understand why he’s changed, and remind him of what he used to be. It told me the character’s skills extended beyond clue-sniffing and punching and into psychology. 11 year-old me thought that was awesome. well done, Mr. Milligan.

Wagner was soooo close to making my list. One more story by him and I’m sure he’d have made it on mine. Still feel regret about it.

I think Perez got the proportions of Nightwing’s costume right so it looked a bit less silly, and more like Robin/a circus uniform. But no, it’s not great. I always wonder if it would have worked better without the yellow feathers. But then, none of Nightwing’s costumes have really worked. He’s basically a ninja in a leotard in his most recent incarnations. How can a character with such a rich history and such a cool name not have had someone come up with an acceptable costume for him? I mean, they even gave a new Robin a cool costume upgrade…why is it so hard for the first Robin? It’s probably why they keep trying to recycle Alex Ross’s Red Robin. Because the costume is pretty cool, even if the nickname is even sillier. Someone give Dick Grayson a good costume! (Had to add the “Grayson” because it read very differently without it.)

Frank Robbins is an interesting case – he started off fairly strong, with the ‘blind’ gang story, and stories like the one you reference above. But lots of the stories soon felt forced – particularly in regards to dialogue. I feel like he was forced into campy dialogue that didn’t suit him and his stories really suffered for it. However, once 1969/1970 hit, I think he was invigorated by the presence of Adams and O’Neil, and started swinging back with lots of great tales – some great weird stuff like Man with Ten Eyes and Man-Bat, kind of reminding me of Peter Milligan’s weird/good. Robbins’ Man-Bat Over Vegas was excellent!

And speaking of Milligan, I loved that he brought in *some* class stuff in Batman comics (as did Grant), amped up the bizarre light-horror in his stories, but still wrote a strong, human, and somewhat compassionate Bruce Wayne/Batman.

Wagner’s tales have always been fantastic – the ending to Faces was indeed very very strong. Conway did so much for Batman that’s not yet been recognized – with Gotham, Gordon, and storytelling in general. He did a good job of bringing Batman forward from Len Wein. And Marv did indeed write a very good Bruce/Dick dynamic. He’s almost certainly the definitive Dick Grayson writer.

I am very glad that Conway ended up on the list–he’s my #1 favorite comic writer ever, and now I really want to check out his Batman run.

Wolfman probably did the most damage to Dick Grayson’s characterization and the Bruce Wayne/Dick Grayson dynamic than any other writer, but man did I love Gerry Conway’s take on those same things. He wrote a very competent Dick Grayson and also did a good job with the Bruce Wayne/Dick Grayson dynamic. Englehart also did a good job on both those things but didn’t do enough with it in terms of quantity.

He and Julie Schwartz (who obviously decided to let Robbins darken things up) deserve a ton of credit for what we think of as Batman today.

At one time that would be a high compliment. Nowadays in the modern era of Juggalo Hot Topic Batman, I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.

The Bruce/Dick dynamic is one that’s really suffered as Bats has been steadily darkened. It’s like the idea of a close emotional connection or treating Dick as an equal is just too human for Bruce in the 21st century.

Excelent countdown! It reminds me why I started to read comics when I was a teenager. Batman IS the BEST DC Character. It very sad now that the current Batman tittles are like crap (sorry, my french), but is the true. I wish that once again Batman will be as chill as True Detective.

Gerry Conway came on to the Bat-titles full-time in 1981 with a novel idea, to use both Batman and Detective as if they were, in effect, just one combined title that just came out twice a month. It’s basically the same approach that Marvel did on Amazing Spider-Man with Howard Mackie and more recently with Dan Slott.

Arguably, Gerry Conway did this first with Spider-Man as well, when he was writing Spectacular and Web Of.

Good choices all. I love Milligan’s “Dark Knight, Dark City” and Detective issues – some the first non-collected back issues I made a conscious effort to buy. As Nikolai said above, he wrote some great, creepy stories but a very human and relatable Batman as well, which certainly stood in contrast to how Batman was written for a lot of the 90s and afterwards.

Matt Wagner’s “Faces” is brilliant too, and after reading some of Grendal recently I have to track down that crossover.

Wolfman’s “Year Three” is a very underrated Bat-tale. His tenure on the Batman books in the early 90s perhaps wasn’t on par with Milligan, Grant, Breyfogle etc. but it was a good, solid Bat run.

I haven’t read much of Robbins or Conway. I’d like to read more.

Nathan Daniels

June 11, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Loved Gerry Conway’s Bat-tales in the ’80s. He brought back classic characters and modernized them, and the stories were good. Glad to see him on the list!

Two of my very favourite standalone Batman stories ever, that have both stuck with me since I bought them from a newsagent when they came out, while hundreds of more recent stories made so little impression I may as well have not read them:

“Identity Crisis” written by Peter Milligan in Detective #633 and “Hearts” written by Marv Wolfman in Detective #628

Bill K:

I’m so glad someone else mentioned Detective #633! It’s just such a good, tightly plotted issue that sticks out in one’s mind. It’s like the film Inception, but better, shorter, and twenty years older.

Matt Wagner was my #6 vote and Peter Milligan was my #2. (If I’d remembered Batman/Grendel Wagner would probably have been a bit higher in my votes).

I really disliked Marv Wolfman’s work on Batman – which is a shame because I loved CoIE and some of his Superman work.

I haven’t read much of Robbins or Conway. I’d like to read more.

Conway’s run was great, a real classic. And this is coming from someone who normally doesn’t like Conway (not even his Spider-Man run).

Arguably, Gerry Conway did this first with Spider-Man as well, when he was writing Spectacular and Web Of.

When Conway did that with Spectacular and Web of, it was in the late 80s/early 90s. When he did it with Batman and Detective, it was the early 80s, at least 5 years earlier. So he did it first with Batman.

Cass, forget it. I misunderstood what you meant. I now see you meant he did it with Spider-Man first as compared to Dan Slott doing it with Spider-Man.

From this list of writers #25-21, I voted for Gerry Conway at #9 on my list.

I loved “Lonely Place of Dying”, which introduced Tim Drake and made me a fan of the character on into his own solo miniseries. But it’s pretty incredible how Wolfman Gary Stu-ed Drake in this story, basically making him the ideal Robin that everybody would want to see.

Love Milligan’s Batman work, so quirky, so unsettling, atmospheric and weird. Fantastic Jim Aparo artwork on most of those issues. Really would like to see more Milligan on Batman someday.

I had a black and white paperback reprint of “Untold Legend of the Batman” as a kid, which I read and re-read dozens of times and certainly helped make me a fan for life of the character. Chalk that up again also to Aparo’s wonderful artwork. Aparo and Breyfogle will always be my favorite Batman comic book artists.

altough there were several major artists’ run on Batman, mine would always be Grant/Breyfogle that came around the first Batman movie : it was a great time for Bruce Wayne! The stories were simple , and deep at the same time . The art was dynamic and very expressive…For me Breyfogle was for Batman , what McFarlane was for Spidey…a groundbreaking novelty!

How I miss those times where stories were told in one or two monthly comics, not like those never ending a,rcs crossovers and so on…..

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