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Batman 80 Page Giant

(DC Comics; US: Feb 2010)

Better to leave well enough alone.


The Batman: 80 Page Giant is a daunting task for any writer or artist or even editor. It has entered into the popular imagination with mythological impact.


While the book itself has been largely a sporadic event in Batman publication history, the Batman: 80 Page Giant found itself thrust into the limelight of popular consciousness when Frank Miller offered a personal anecdote in an introduction to a late-80s publication.


Miller had read an 80 Page Giant as a kid. For him it was a marker of a Batman far older than he. And remembering that original 80 Page Giant from his childhood while pitching a new Batman book of his own to former DC Publisher Dick Giordano, Miller keyed in to a crucial insight.


Miller himself was fast approaching 30, making him safely older than Bruce Wayne’s Batman character for the first time in his (Miller’s) life. There was a hidden distress there. Shouldn’t Batman always be older than that kid who first read that 80 Page Giant? In that turbid emotional distress lay the germ of something truly magnificent. What if Miller could tell a story of a Batman once again far, far older than himself? What if Miller could tell the story of a Batman returned from retirement, but far older, and far, far meaner?


Miller’s pitch would of course become the seminal Dark Knight Returns which would go on to not only influence but define a generation of superhero as well as noir comics. But with the ascendancy of Dark Knight Returns, the Batman: 80 Page Giant would become a blip on the radar for mainstream consciousness.


Could the next 80 Page Giant hold within it the seeds of future Dark Knight Returns? The challenge itself might prove far too daunting. Better to leave well enough alone.


Editors Mike Marts, Michael Siglain, Harvey Richards and Janelle Siegel find themselves shouldering the burden of history with the 2010 Batman: 80 Page Giant. Whether the potential seeds of greatness may well lie in this publication can only be known in the months and years to come. Marts, Siglain, Richards and Siegel however, can rest assured in having produced a well-rounded and oftimes intriguing collection of short stories. In this regard they achieve a true miscellany, in the best sense of the term. The Batman: 80 Page Giant 2010 edition is a twofold hit. It is a collection of writers both established (Steve Niles and David Tischman) and lesser-known (Ivory Madison and Simon Spurrier). At the same time the book becomes a genetic launch-pad for emerging characters in the evolving Batman mythos (Veil, the Saint and of course the new Dynamic Duo of erstwhile Robin Richie Grayson and heir apparent Damien Wayne as Batman and Robin).


The 2010 Batman: 80 Page Giant, titled “Gotham Freezes Over!” in an eerily familiar logic equating Gotham City to an urban post-industrial hell, is a collection of short stories surrounding the worst Gotham snowstorm in two generations. As with any anthology piece, writers take different paths to the unfolding dramas of the heroes and villains who confront this cold snap. Some creative teams take the path of current social relevance (as with writer Kevin Grevioux and artist Grey’s lead story “Batman and Robin in Fire and Ice”), some delve deeply into the psychology of Bruce Wayne-era characters (like writer Simon Spurrier and artist Chris Samnee’s “Poison Ivy in the Wilt” or writer Kevin Shinick and artist Rafa Garres’ “Commissioner Gordon in What Falls Below”) and some teams simply aim for the timeless (writer David Tischman and artist Alex Konat’s “Alfred Penny in Pure as the Driven Snow” or Steve Niles and Stephanie Buscema’s single page offering “Batman in Snow Patrol”).


The anthology lead story “Fire and Ice” is a strong opening gambit. As with any gambit it runs the risk of getting you to close the book and discontinue reading. This gamble where the new Batman and Robin duo must overcome the traditional Bruce Wayne threat of random gunfire (the ‘fire’ in “Fire and Ice”) as well as confront sluggishness and disorientation due to the cold does indeed pay off. Here are a Batman and Robin cold and under-prepared, not at all master tacticians of Bruce Wayne’s ilk. The decision to end the story with an accidental family shooting, inspired in part by the economic crisis stands as a bold one. But the decision to offer such a shocking denouement to such a psychologically explosive in so concise a format (the story runs only 10 pages) remains questionable.


A high point of the publication stands out with the work of writer Kevin Shinick. In Shinick’s “What Falls Below” longtime Batman supporting character Commissioner James Gordon leads the manhunt for regular villain Mister Freeze. Impaired by the onset of hypothermia and attendant mental fatigue, the Commissioner finds himself increasingly susceptible to the devilishly seductive Freeze as the latter bargains for his freedom. In a strange reversal of fortunes the snowstorm has allowed Freeze to move about without his usually required refrigeration armor, while Gordon is encumbered by the various layers of clothing required to stave off the cold.


Its opening gambit aside, the 2010 Batman: 80 Page Giant provides well-rounded introduction to the new world of Gotham and its successor Batman and Robin, as well as a strong sampler of emerging talent. With its strong, character-driven stories it holds within it the possible seeds of great inspiration for a future comics visionary.

Rating:

AB-, ENTJ, PhD: shathley Q is deeply moved by the emotional connection we build with our perpetual fictions, and hopes to answer for that somehow, somehow. He holds a Doctorate in Literary and Cultural Theory. His writings have appeared in Joss Whedon: the Complete Companion and Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men, as well as regularly on PopMatters. Like a kid in a china shop, he microblogs as @uuizardry on Twitter. Or hit him up directly on shathleyq@popmatters.com.


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