Batman: A Visual History is a unique look at everyone’s favorite Dark Knight Detective. Rather than taking the standard tack of exploring the character’s history from the inside of the narrative, this book looks at his real world history in comic books from the very beginning in Detective #27 (actually mentioned in a comic before that) up to the most recent story arcs of today.
The book breaks down the publishing history of Batman by decades and then hits on the highlights from each year and the months within that year. The book also doesn’t limit itself to books that The Batman is the lead character or “star” of but also those that were significant to the comic landscape as a whole within the DC Universe. And while the character’s 75 year history and the thousands of comics that are connected to him make it impossible for me to talk about every high point in every decade, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention several things that show just how comprehensive this book is.
It is common knowledge that Batman (or The Bat-Man at the time) premiered in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, but few know that he premiered at the end of Action Comics #12 with the promise of a new “thrilling adventure strip”. The first and most iconic telling of his origin occurred in Detective Comics #33 November 1939 and was written by Bill Finger, the often forgotten co-creator of Batman who is responsible for many of the things that we consider as canon today. This is presented in an important enlarged format that makes this book so special. It is enlarged to take up half the page or more, and uses a number of visuals and text that truly highlights the issue and the events in the issue.
This format is used to hit on a number of important parts of the Batman’s history including the introduction of Robin, the first of his iconic team-ups with Superman, and his inclusion in the Justice League of America, the Silver Age re-making of the Justice Society of America (of which the Batman was only an occasional member). The book covers in detail the multiple changes in costume and demeanor over the decades to match the stories that prove that there is no situation to which the Batman cannot adapt.
The supporting members of the Batman’s story are given equal time and attention in this book. Robin, from his introduction to his growth into Nightwing, is chronicled throughout the book as well as the creation and evolution of the Teen Titans. The subsequent Robins and several women who have used the name of Batgirl are also followed throughout the decades. Additional characters like Alfred Pennyworth (both the fat and thin ones), Commissioner Gordon, and the various cops of the GCPD are all given the writing respect they deserve. And as Batman is one of the three integral parts of the DC Universe, every major, earth-shattering event, crisis and war that the Dark Knight was part of are examined. Another format that makes this book so incredible is that at various points, the book will present one book in a double page spread with an iconic and often haunting image from the Batman’s past. DK Publishing also includes two iconic original prints in this size that should adorn any fan’s wall.
The first comic that I can remember reading and being excited by was a Batman book (Detective Comics #450), so it is safe to say that I have been a Batman fan for many years. Even to me, this book was a revelation. Its completeness, its loving attention to the history of Batman, and the absolute visual beauty of the book made me giddy with every page. Even the most casual Batman fan, however, will still be drawn to this book for its full and fantastic look at the number one most iconic character in comic history.