Batman Chronicles Vol. 2

Written by Bill Finger
Penciled by Bob Kane
Inked by Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, and George Roussos
224 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

Dipping into the early days of Batman with reading Batman Chronicles: Volume 2 may seem like an odd way to go about reading those early Bill Finger and Bob Kane stories, but I actually had a plan in mind. By starting with the second collection of Detective Comics and Batman, it would let me see just what Finger and Kane came up with once the basic concepts were stabilized and the creators were fully . So, once a lot of the guesswork was out of the day, what do we end up with? An oddly compelling comic.

Now working with his sidekick Robin, Batman continues to try and protect the city from criminals of all shapes and sizes. From the bleached-white face of the Joker and the mysterious and alluring Cat-Woman, to crooks like Clayface and the Puppet Master, every time the city finally seems safe, a new madman begins to threaten its people. And so, once more, Batman and Robin must leap into the fray…

Reading Batman Chronicles, the first thing that struck me was how grounded into the real world these stories were. Perhaps it’s a combination of knowing that Batman was created to help ride the wave of popularity of Superman, coupled with having read a lot of modern Batman comics, but it actually surprised me how many of these early stories involve common day crooks. Towards the end of the volume we see some slight deviation from this pattern, but even those two exceptions are more science-fiction than anything else; a drug that deforms the injected’s face, and a second drug that allows the Puppet Master to hypnotize the person from afar. So when a character such as Clayface is introduced, it’s not the fantastical shape shifting modern incarnation of the character, but an actor with makeup disguising his face that runs around stabbing people. If you’ve only ever read the modern takes on Batman, these straight-laced stories might end up being a bit of a surprise and revelation.

The stories themselves, primarily running in Detective Comics, aim to be straightforward mysteries that just happen to star a man in a costume that solves the crimes. While I really enjoyed Finger’s stories, it is safe to say that the mystery part of these stories is the weakest element. Often you can narrow down the criminal to one subject in a matter of pages, and that’s ignoring the old trick of, "Pick the one obviously innocent person and they’re the killer." Finger himself is a good writer, though, and his stories move at a brisk and entertaining pace. As time goes on, he mixes things up a bit; early stories in Batman Chronicles Vol. 2 have a tendency to follow a formula where the bad guy is dead at the end and often the informant, with side moments of Robin always needing to get bailed out by Batman. It’s nice to see Finger deviate from these as time goes on, especially with Robin becoming more effective and not just a sounding board that gives Batman one more person to save at the end of the day.

I was actually a little surprised by how angular Kane’s pencils were in Batman Chronicles; I’m so used to the smooth, rounded faces of 1960s Batman comics that jumping into comics from 1940 was a slight shock to the system. The more I saw of Kane’s art, though, the more I liked it. Kane had a very iconic, crisp style and the characters really pop off the page. I’m less than crazy about his page layouts, which to a modern eye are sometimes hard to follow; conventions of today’s comics don’t quit fit with panel placement rules of 1940. I have to say that I especially love Kane’s covers, though; some of his Detective Comics covers in particular are almost instantly intriguing and show off a real sense of motion and excitement.

Now that I’ve finished Batman Chronicles Vol. 2, I’ll definitely read more. It’s easy to see why readers were so taken with Finger and Kane’s stories, and it’s certainly fun to jump back to a simpler time where Batman’s actress fiancee is being menaced by angry former actors and Robin gets to infiltrate child gangs. As tempting as the DC Archive Editions compilations were over the years, I’m quite pleased with their low-cost Chronicles collections and am definitely going to keep buying them.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

2 comments to Batman Chronicles Vol. 2

  • I love these affordable golden age reprints. The first couple of years of Batman and Superman are incredibly strong, creatively, and stand up a lot better than a lot of stories that have been and gone since then.

  • anon

    I read Chronicles vol.1 and thouroughly enjoyed it, it’s interesting to see the story and characters develop from such a primitive state. I found the stories and artwork started to get stronger around halfway through, especially when Bill Finger gets the typewriter (although story no. 2,also written by Bill, is surprisingly good and even contains the kind of brutality and elements used in Batman Begins).Chronicles Vol 2 is certainly on my to do list!