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2. Jim Aparo
I thought it’d be interesting to show you Jim Aparo’s very first Batman story, Brave and the Bold #98 (co-starring The Phantom Stranger, whose ongoing series was Aparo’s second assignment at DC Comics – the concept of the issue is that strange things are happening at the home of the widow and son of a friend of Batman’s who just died – this being a Bob Haney story, we just meet this longtime friend of Batman’s out of nowhere this issue right before he dies – and Batman is investigating)…
Isn’t that crazy? That bit was from 1971. And yet it just as well could have come from 1981. Or 1991. Or 2001. Jim Aparo was the paragon of consistency. Yes, it is probably fair to say that his work lost a little bit of its verve in the very later years, but well into the 1990s Aparo was still the same old wonderfully accomplished storyteller that he always was – his characters continued to have their patented Jim Aparo facial expressions – the only thing lost a little bit was some of the fluidity of the character action (everything was slightly stiffer). Aparo took over Brave and the Bold a couple of issues later and then drew it for the next TEN years until it ended. Brave and the Bold led into Batman and the Outsiders. After he drew that for roughly two years, he had a bit of a break. Soon, though, he was right back to work drawing Batman for Jim Starlin (including the death of Jason Todd) and Marv Wolfman (including the introduction of Tim Drake) and then to Detective Comics for Peter Milligan and then back to Batman for Doug Moench (where Aparo was the artist who drew Bane breaking Batman’s back). Amazingly enough, Aparo’s stint on the Batman regular titles lasted as long as Breyfogle’s concurrent run, only Aparo had been doing it for fifteen years ALREADY by then!
After his regular work on Batman finished, he still did occasional fill-in work. He was still doing occasional artwork (like a cover for a collection of Batman stories) almost right up until his death in 2005.
1. Neal Adams
All told, Neal Adams “only” drew roughly thirty stories featuring Batman from 1968-1975 (and roughly eight of them were in World’s Finest and Brave and the Bold), but even if he had only drawn only a third of that, he likely would still be recognized as the greatest Batman artist ever, as that is how much of an impact his work on Batman in the early 1970s had on readers and his fellow artists.
In Batman #251, he brought back the murderous Joker…
while also helping to reshape our view of Batman as a hunter…
In the classic introduction of Ra’s Al Ghul, the famous fight where Batman is left for dead before Talia Al Ghul gives him an antidote to scorpion venom, Adams defined that era’s take on the action-driven love hero Batman…
Not only was Neal Adams’ approach to “realistic” comic book art (while being dynamic in a way that went beyond realism, hence the quotes) was dramatically different from most comic book artists at the time he was ESPECIALLY different from what your typical DC Comics artist looked like. For readers, it was akin to leaving Kansas and ending up in Oz. That’s how dramatic the shift was. And within a few years, everyone was trying to draw just like him. I’ve written about how Adams’ colleague, Dick Giordano, deserves a lot of credit for Batman’s re-design as a darker character at this point in time, but a lot of that almost certainly came from Giordano (with Julie Schwartz’s blessing, of course) pushing veterans like Irv Novick and Bob Brown to draw like Adams, who while not yet drawing the main Batman comic book stories, had already begun doing striking covers that captured everyone’s attention. Adams was a force of nature – guys like Novick and Brown knew that they could either adapt or perish.
There are basically three archetypal Batmen (four if you count Dark Knight Returns Batman, which I really don’t since its usage is so specific) – Bob Kane’s original design, Dick Sprang’s re-design and then Neal Adams’ re-design. Adams’ design is the one that remains in full effect forty plus years later – he was so far ahead of his time that his Batman STILL feels modern forty plus years later. There is no need to update the design because Adams perfected it. And that’s just one part of why he is the greatest Batman artist of all-time.
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