DC appear to have finally cracked the problem of how to get the purchasers of single issues to still fork out for the trade, in this collection of the bizarre fifties Batman tales which fuel Grant Morrison’s run on the book. Even without the introduction by the writer, a cursory reading would make the connections obvious, and the result is an essential purchase for fans of Batman R.I.P. and the epic story that surrounds it. The only slight quibble is the admission fee, but the resolutely un-decompressed storytelling going some way towards remedying disquiet.
The twelve stories reproduced here, mainly from writer Bill Finger, vary drastically in tone. DC has struck a careful balance here, including a few choice examples of this era’s surrealism alongside the expected stories. Although the sheer bizarreness of seeing Bruce Wayne assisting a south American country resist the rage of a rainbow-powered monster offers some entertainment, the greater draw is in those stories more open to modern reinterpretation. The story ‘A Partner for Batman’ is initially striking due to the amount of unintentional gay innuendo it contains, although by the time that a passer-by has remarked on how Batman and his new older Robin replacement “can do things together”, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that the scripter knew exactly what he was doing.
The adventures that Morrison has directly recast are the main draw, with the original Zur En Arch tale the most obvious inclusion. The one downside to this process is that it’s now impossible to fully appreciate ‘Robin Dies At Dawn’, probably the strongest story in the collection, on its own merits. The infamous isolation chamber experiment is now seen as having a scope far beyond that depicted on the page, being relied upon to account for must of the strangeness in this entire volume. The appearance of the ‘Military Doctor’ is the final nail in the coffin of a contextually-faithful reading. Having a minor character retconed into the embodiment of Satan is unfortunately the sort of thing that tends to leave an impression. The original appearances of the Club of Heroes largely escape this fate, with the Club’s unironic tone completely removed from their Morrison incarnation.
‘The Superman of Planet X’ has been widely distributed online, and given how essential that tale is to understanding Batman R.I.P., it was probably only the promotional emphasis on the extremely gritty Nolan film that prevented the release of The Black Casebook this time last year. You wouldn’t see the successful combination of this price and poor paper stock without the hook of Morrison’s run, but this remains an essential purchase.