01/12/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Running Press/Perseus Books. 192 page horizontal illustrated giant hardcover. Price: $49.95 (US), $63.00 (CAN), £29.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-7624-3663-7.
check out website: www.perseusbooksgroup.co.uk and www.runningpress.com
'The Batman Vault' follows in the tradition of 'The DC Vault' which I reviewed last year. It is a combination of history about the Batman's origins before exploring the lives of the Dark Knight himself. By 'lives', I mean the number of resets the Gotham Crusader has had over the years to satisfy and adjust for the new fans, not to mention sorting out the complexities of an ever complex DC Universe's multiple Earths and that in real time, Batman as a comicbook has been going since 1939. In that respect, authors Robert Greenberger and Matthew K. Manning have done a remarkable job in explaining them all and in context so that even a novice to all the variants should come away with a deeper understanding of what's been going on and no doubt recognise their own Batman.
As these Vaults are sub-titled as 'A Museum-In-A-Book' then you also see a lot of rare things although I should point out that National Periodicals that adopted its more familiar name 'DC Comics', the name based off the Batman title 'Detective Comics', did little to keep early merchandise and even original art from the earlier years. If anything, a scan through the Internet does show that a lot of Bat-fans out there have and it's a shame that more wasn't done to exploit such collections to examine the Bat-merchandise to give an even more complete picture of how much Batman has gotten under the skin. Although it risks some repetition with the aforementioned 'DC Vault', I'm pretty sure there are many Batman fans who might have foregone that book with this one as the main choice.
In that respect and as a long-time reader of the Batman until the late 1980s, it's easier to focus on what is missing, including explanations, and various adjustments than what is included. So let's focus on that before heaping on deserved praise.
It's a shame that the original two page Batman origin wasn't included rather than just described. It isn't until much later than a rare reverse negative of it appears several dozen pages more in but even so, showing it the right way around would be an acknowledgement to its history and probably the most remembered two page origin for any generation. It's interesting seeing a still from the second Batman film 40s series and his costume. Before the days of spandex, it's a good thing the nickname 'The Wrinkled Crusader' never stuck. I suspect the reason for the modern day costumes to be more like a set of armour than leather as used by other super-heroes was because the problem is rather insolvable if the actor within has to move. There's also the practical problem of a skin-tight costume offers little defence from attack. Over the years, the Bat-costume has had minor adjustments to become more practical even in the comicbooks.
I always thought Gotham City was based on Chicago rather than New York, especially when you consider the windy city bears a close resemblance to it. Likewise, considering that how Bruce Wayne could keep his own identity secret when a lot of people know Nightwing is Dick Grayson. Then again, maybe people aren't supposed to think that deeply about such problems. Looking at the various insights into the main characters, I wonder if anyone else has thought that butler Alfred Pennyworth looks like an elderly David Niven?
Outside of the comicbooks, the Batman has also appeared with marked if somewhat odd success in the 1966 TV series. Loved the photo of Adam West posing as his Batman with Milton Berle on page 22 showing just how thin the bat-boots were. All the films are covered, together with production stills and such. To my mind there's a lot of room for expansion here in the media and that they might also consider giving separate vaults to these as well at a future time.
Bearing in mind the season this book is being released in, 'The Batman Vault' would make an excellent gift for someone who has a vested interested in the Dark Knight although make sure that they don't already own a copy as it is a must-buy. I spent a wonderful few weeks reading this book and savouring the content that to not to heartily recommend it would be an understatement. My reactions above shows how much sinks in and how much I responded. If reading the book can get a similar response from those of you interested in the subject then long may the release of these books continue.
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