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The ’80s Revisited: The Untold Legend of the Batman #1

untold_legend_of_the_batman_0001In the Beginning

Writer: Len Wein
Artists: John Byrne & Jim Aparo
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Letterer: John Costanza
Cover by: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Editor: Paul Levitz
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: July 1980
Cover Price: 40 cents

This is a comic that I clearly recall coming across in Grandpa’s collection all those years ago–after he’d loaned me a stack to read, and we visited and I found it in his comics cupboard. It stood out to me immediately for the cover being taken up itself by a giant book, with three very recognizable villains (Joker, Penguin, Riddler) apparently teamed up, utilizing the book to learn more about the Batman. The Joker proclaiming "This book will tell us everything we need to know to defeat the Batman!" To this day, this particular issue is rather "iconic" to me, one of the more "singular" stand-out covers IN comics (though a bit behind the third issue of this very series, which I’ll touch on when I get to that issue).

Presently in 2017 (some 37 years after this issue originally saw print!) the issue is definitely a bit "dated" in that it’s clearly from its time…but for me, it’s rather timeless. And it’s easy to see as I read just how much this very issue originally (and still) informs my FOUNDATION with the Batman character and mythos–from Thomas Wayne’s costume, to Leslie Thompkins and Joe Chill and Lew Moxon, the notion of Bruce as the first Robin, and so on.

The issue opens with Batman having a pleasant moment with Alfred, going through mail…only to discover a package with the shredded remains of the most valuable item in the Batcave–the costume once worn by Bruce’s father, which inspired his own look as Batman! This kicks off some nostalgia/reminiscing between Bruce and Alfred, which gives us as readers the background on the costume, the "base" origin with the death of the Waynes and Bruce’s childhood vow and self-training, to some specifics of the training and such, the origin of both his costume and the Robin outfit, and a glimpse in montage of many of the villains faced over the years. We also get the "expanded" origin details of young Bruce having been taken in by his Uncle Philip, and being "raised" by the man’s housekeeper, Mrs. Chilton (unknowingly mother of the man who murdered the Waynes), as well as Batman and Robin’s discovery of Joe Chill and eventually Lew Moxon, and how the Wayne murder case was finally, completely closed. Despite 18+ pages of additional story (the issue has 21), there’s no resolution regarding the destruction of Thomas Wayne’s costume nor the perpetrator.

What we ultimately have here is basically a framing device to give thin "reason" to characters reminiscing in that classic comics way–think all that hard on it, and it’s like–what? These characters have known each other too long, been through too much, to have this sort of stuff in this sort of detail coming up. There’s also the issue of the thought balloons seeming–by 2017 standards to me–being very in-your-face and blatantly stating stuff that would be left to be hinted at or given only as a subtlety.

While I’ve probably known this issue’s art was John Byrne and Jim Aparo, I feel like it’s "consciously" new information to me in the sense that it feels so revelatory. This series being one of THE early introductions for me to Batman, and the character’s background and generally a compact, definitive source on all things Batman…it would seem to clearly explain why I particularly dig Aparo‘s Batman, and any Batman that looks close to how he appears here!

I also wasn’t aware–until rather recently (a couple years or so back)–that this was written by Len Wein. This series is one that, as a kid, simply WAS Batman. I didn’t know the artists, I didn’t know the writer, I just knew that this was Batman, this was his origin and the showing of everything that made up the character and associated characters, and that was that.

So framing device or not, ludicrously blatant detailing of stuff or not…this was a very key comic for me in my youth, and I love it to this day for what it was, and remains, to me, though this is a much different Batman than the one I’ve known for most of the time I’ve been into "current comics," and could functionally be a whole different character (and in a sense, is–this is from a half-decade PRIOR TO Crisis on Infinite Earths!).

I have a definite soft spot for this mini-series, which is also why it hardly phased me to buy a new-to-me copy of all three issues just for the convenience of re-reading the single issues AND seeing the original ads and such, rather than simply grabbing my Tales of the Batman: Len Wein volume off the shelf to re-read it or such.

I’m certainly biased on the issue, but I think if you’re a fan like me and enjoy the different "eras" of Batman, this is an issue well worth reading in some form.

And while I’ll get into it more for the third issue, it should definitely be noted here: there is an audio-drama of sorts out there for this issue…this entire mini-series was made into a "comics on tape" thing with a voice cast, music, and so on, and packaged with reprint editions of each issue.

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