Tales of the Batman

Image of Tales of the Batman: Carmine Infantino
Release Date: 
May 25, 2014
DC Comics
Reviewed by: 

“This is a Batman free of cynicism and irony. It is pulp adventure at its best. It is art that influenced the entire art world, advertising, and TV. Without what Carmine Infantino did back in 1964 there is a good chance Batman would be a memory.”

Tales of the Batman is where the modern Batman truly begins. Without the work featured in this collection the character we know today wouldn’t exist. The TV show would have never happened and the run of terrific and thrilling movies would have never even reached the drawing board.

In 1964 artist Carmine Infantino, at the request of DC Editor Julius Schwartz, was tasked with reinventing Batman. Sales were declining monthly and had gotten so bad that, unless the two men could work some magic, DC was six months away from canceling the title.

This wonderfully fun and entertaining anthology collects the work that Mr. Infantino did to bring Batman back to life. Beginning with the very first story that he drew, Detective Comics #327 (May 1964), the anthology collects dozens of stories across this important run in the mythology of Batman.

It also features stories that the artist drew after Batman resumed his place as one of the bestselling, best drawn titles in the industry. It includes team-ups and stories that reach into the eighties and beyond.

As an artist Infantino brought danger and adventure back into Batman. He deliberately imbues the stories with a sense of mystery. His pencils (usually inked by Murphy Anderson) snap with energy. The lines he drew are crisp and carry authority. They looked modern. They look fresh. For many, this period has become the “New Look Batman.”

As good as the stories often are, in 1964 comic books relied on a strong cover to bring sales. Building an interesting cover was one of Mr. Infantino’s greatest strengths. Each one of the classic covers from the New Look period of Batman are featured in this collection.

Considering the popularity of Batman today, it is hard to believe that the title was in so much danger. Under the direction of Bob Kane, his cadre of ghost artists and unimaginative editorial polices, the character who once walked in shadows had become safe.

The Batman of late 1963 was mired in stories that featured simplistic science fiction, unrealistic adventures and gimmicky props such as giant pennies or robot dinosaurs. He was also saddled with an ever expanding family of extra characters that mimicked what was being done over on the Superman titles.

The Joker was practically gone, and when he did appear a six year old would laugh at the silliness of his crimes. Any remaining spark between Catwoman and Batman was of the most pure and virtuous kind. Gone was the cat o’ nine tails. No one had seen the Riddler in ages.

Mr. Infantino threw all of this sanitized nonsense out. Looking to not only attract new readers, but those who had left the character as well, he gave Batman stature, athleticism and a new strength. He subtly redesigned the costume, most famously adding the circle around the chest insignia.

Bringing back the idea that Batman was a modern Houdini, covers began to feature incredible traps from which Batman had no apparent chance to escape. There was a sense of emotion, adventure and danger in every cover image. When Poison Ivy appears on Batman #181 (June 1966) you can feel the rage in Batman and Robin as they vie for her attentions. The art created questions that almost commanded readers to pick up the book in order to find out what was going to happen.

Infantino’s cool, sleek lines would come to inhabit the skyline of Gotham as well as the Batcave. The Batmobile was given a makeover that provides a direct link to what we have seen on screen in recent years.

In addition to what he brought to the character of Batman, Mr. Infantino brought new life into stories featuring villains. Especially the Joker. Once again there was something maniacal behind his grin.

On the cover to Detective #332 (October 1964) Infantino uses three panels across the cover. The first shows the Joker behind bars, the second holds an extreme close-up of the Joker’s face and the third show him now locking Batman behind the same bars that had held him! 

No cover better captures the growing menace of the Joker than Detective #365 (July 1967). Against a dark, purple background Batman and Robin race toward a house of bricks as gunfire reigns down across them. In a sense of wild design, the house they race towards is made of bricks and in the shape of the Joker’s grinning visage! Gunfire, violence, and a house built by an insane man, the Joker is once again a wild card.

There is intrigue, mystery, danger and wonder inside each of these perfectly designed covers. Fans begin to notice that something different is going on across the Batman titles. Sales began to take off. A TV Executive charged with building a Batman TV shows sees this work and decides that Batman is a perfect example of modern pop art.

The popularity of the show kicks the book up another notch. The network decides they want a woman character. Unaware of what has preceded them Infantino and Schwartz come up with the new Batgirl.

Infantino was no stranger to building a hero. In 1956 he had helped kick off the Silver Age of comics, the very era that brought superheroes back to newsstands, with his work on the creation of a new Flash.

Above all this collection is a top notch, absolutely killer group of stories that leads straight into what Neal Adams, Jim Aparro, Frank Miller, and others have been able to create since these pages first saw print.

This is a Batman free of cynicism and irony. It is pulp adventure at its best. It is art that influenced the entire art world, advertising, and TV. Without what Carmine Infantino did back in 1964 there is a good chance Batman would be a memory.