In 1986, the combination of Frank Miller and Batman was a game-changer. But just a few years earlier, he did his FIRST work on the Dark Knight… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of DC Special Series #21 awaits!
Writer: Len Wein/Michael Fleischer/Denny O’Neil/Bob Rozakis/Robert Kanigher/Paul Levitz
Penciler: Gerry Talaoc/Dick Ayers/Frank Miller/Romeo Tanghal/José Luis García-López
Inker: Gerry Talaoc/Romeo Tanghal/Steve Mitchell/Dan Adkins/Romeo Tanghal/Dick Giordano
Colorist: Gene D’Angelo/Glynis Oliver/Bob LeRose/Tatjana Wood/Adrienne Roy
Letterer: Shelly Leferman/Ben Oda
Editor: Joe Orlando
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $1.00
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $40.00
Previously in DC Special Series: The publsihing industry used to be a very different beast than it is today, with issues ranging from postal permits to the theory that number one issues don’t sell to weird theories about anthology comics. DC Special Series was a way for DC Comics to get around some of those problems by providing an umbrella title that would allow for reprints, special one-shots and even movie adaptations. The book appeared in mutliple formats, as well, with some as multi-page “Dollar Comics’, some as digest size and even a couple of giant Treasury-Size editions (like the previously Retro Reviewed meeting between Batman and the Incredible Hulk, which came out a year after this issue.) This issue features a holiday theme, with a focus on the Star of Bethlehem, which lights the path of Jonah Hex in the first story, then ends up being stolen from a nativity scene in the opening pages of our second tale…
This story features Frank Miller’s first professional work on Batman, and I have to say that ol’ Bruce looks pretty good, with an utterly HUGE cape and some impressive sneaking around moves. There are even some scantily-clad stripper-types that can’t be blamed on Frank, as Denny O’Neil penned the issue. Matty Lasko (perhaps a play on Marty Pasko, another DC writer?) is a minor mafioso who overestimates not only his importance to the mob but his ability fo face down a human crimefighting machine.
Having gotten the information he needs, The Dark Knight heads out to find Boomer Katz, going undercover at a homeless shelter in Crime Alley to find out that Boomer is working as a department store Santa. Believing that this is all clearly a setup for a big rip-off, Batman tracks down Mr. Katz, only to find the thug having a change of heart, refusing to help his friends knock over the store. Sadly, they aren’t the kind of guys who take no for an answer, and force Boomer to disable the alarms at gunpoint!
The caption in the last panel is entirely true: This story’s art is something wonderful, especially during this era at DC. The fluidity of Batman’s motions here are lovely, reminiscent of Neal Adams’ work decades earlier, with hints here and there of the harder edges and brutalist designs that would eventually be the trademarks of Miller’s art. As Boomer is taken away to be murdered for his duplicity, Batman suddenly sees the missing star, bringing the issue’s recurring theme back to the forefront.
It’s a weirdly supernatural ending for a Batman tale, but something about Denny’s script (and Miller’s art) makes it all work. It kind of helps that it’s just one of several tales in the issue, as we follow up with a House of Mystery story that brings together DC’s Horror Hosts (which is to say, much of the supporting cast of Nel Gaiman’s Sandman, including Cain, Abel, the Three Witches and Morpheus’ big brother Destiny, as well as Madame Xanadu and The Phantom Stranger) for a weird little Chrimmus tale, which then leaves readers wondering why any of these creatures would celebrate the holiday. A Sgt. Rock tale follows, which makes for another odd fit for supernatural holiday stuff, but then the book wraps up with characters even more ill-suited for such tales.
This story is actually a tour of various holiday celebrations throughout the Legion’s future, and establishes in-continuity that Colossal Boy is Jewish (something that his surname of Allon had fans speculating for years, since it’s a standard Isaraeli surname in the present), which means that it kind of has to be treated as a canonical story, no matter how hard you have to twist your brain to pull it off. DC Special Series #21 is routinely priced two-to-three times as high as other issues released around the same time solely because of the Miller Batman story, and it’s a pretty solid package of fun, if inconsequential stories, the perfect thing for a one-shot Christmas book, with strong art across the board earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. There are no shortage of people who would pick this one apart, but for my tastes, it’s a perfectly fine book with Saturn Girl’s pleather bikini uniform. What’s not to love?
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DC SPECIAL SERIES #21
I don't know how well this lineup of characters works in a "Miracle Of Christmas" theme, but the art is lovely throughout and there are a couple of wonderful moments to be had, plus Miller's Batman is dynamic and excellent.