Tales of the Batman: Don Newton

Tales of the Batman: Don Newton
Tales of the Batman Don Newton review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: DC - 978-1-4012-3294-8
  • Release date: 2011
  • UPC: 9781401232948
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes
  • CATEGORIES: Anthology, Superhero

Don Newton is a puzzlingly under-rated artist. It’s not as if too few of his pages exist to appreciate properly, as he worked for DC between 1978 and his tragically early 1984 death, primarily on Batman or related strips. This collection reprints roughly half his Batman output.

There’s never any querying what’s happening in a Newton story, or wondering how a character arrived in one spot from another, but that clarity is accompanied by imaginative, memorable page layouts and thought about Batman as a person. It’s now rare to look at Batman comics and believe he’s the same person as Bruce Wayne, yet with Newton’s pages it’s eminently plausible. His is an energetic, gymnastic Batman in action, a thoughtful character when following clues or assessing evidence and a believable human being. He’s placed in a shadowy Gotham oozing atmosphere, and Newton is a constantly improving artist. Check the difference between the first story here and the last, the difference between talent and mastery.

That final story ‘Bad Night in Baja’ is a highlight. Gerry Conway writes a clever Spirit pastiche, involving an exotic villain and ordinary people meeting a moment of destiny. Newton takes the vibe and runs with it, producing his own version of what makes Will Eisner’s work special.

If only the remaining content were as well written. Little else stands out. Denny O’Neil sets an effective mood in the two parts of Batman’s return to Crime Alley and his rage at the thugs he finds there before settling accounts with insane gang leader Maxie Zeus in his supposedly impenetrable fortress. O’Neil also writes much of the remainder, and although it’s competent it’s more run of the mill. As a rule anything involving the unpredictable Maxie Zeus reads better than episodes of a war between the Sensei and Ra’s Al Ghul. Cary Burkett also supplies several stories, only Batgirl questioning her superhero career having any spark in what are generally mystery-based outings. And for the sheer nuttiness of the concept, Michael Fleisher’s two-part introduction of the Crime Doctor is fun.

Some stunning pages grace a teaming of Batman and Doctor Fate, and they exemplify Newton being in the business of making ordinary stories look better than they actually are. How good would he have been on more inspiring material?