Review by Ian Keogh
The change of cover design differentiates this third volume of Jim Aparo’s Batman work from the earlier two, and so, unfortunately, does the quality of the writing. What began as a chronological reprinting, took a leap back to 1973 over the closing pages of Vol. 2, as someone at DC remembered Aparo had actually drawn Batman before starting his long run of Batman team-ups. This opens by continuing the mid-1970s strips, heads back to team-up work from 1979, and then filters in a solo Batman tale alongside those team-ups. It takes us to early 1982, where this reprint series seems to have stalled.
At least it closes with one of the most memorable of the Batman team-ups, TV writer Alan Brennert supplying a pastiche of 1950s Batman alongside a touching love story. Brennert’s preceding Creeper and Hawk and Dove submissions don’t hold up as well, but have their moments, and are the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow compared to most of the team-ups beforehand. Having written almost every single one of those in the previous volumes, Bob Haney contributes just four stories, listed as collaborations with Mike W. Barr on the contents page, but not in the story title page credits. None are memorable, and his swansong bringing Kamandi to the 1970s from his own era invalidates anything making him special, perhaps an indication of him being burned out. Despite Haney’s departure, DC stick to crime-based stories that continue to feature less obviously commercial guest stars, Lois Lane, Sgt Rock, and Adam Strange all taking a turn sharing Batman’s spotlight.
As Aparo sometimes illustrated covers to stories he didn’t draw, and occasionally didn’t provide covers for those he did, there are a few moments of confusion, and omission. Reading the conclusion to Len Wein’s story of Batman being framed for murder in 1975 requires searching for an issue Aparo didn’t draw. Anyone expecting a Man-Bat or Black Canary team-up after the cover reproductions, instead turns to chapters of another solo Batman story. That still reads well enough, and the combination of Aparo and John Byrne on the opening chapter makes for some nice pages. As seen by the sample art being a page from 1975 and one from 1981, Aparo’s style changes considerably, using less distance and simpler inking, but the storyteller’s clarity remains, and the Spectre team-up surprises with a couple of trippy pages.
Because so much is so average, the good stories stand out more. Cary Burkett teaming Batman with his Nemesis character is a twisting thriller, there’s a novelty to Gerry Conway pairing Batman with a Guardian of the Universe, and Martin Pasko takes a dry run for the Swamp Thing series he’d soon revive. Aparo seals the moody swamp atmosphere. However, for the most part he’s labouring to make ordinary material look better than it is, and of the three Legends of the Dark Knight Aparo collections this is by some distance the weakest.