Nearly two years have passed since the last volume in IDW’s anthologies of Batman newspaper comics was published. The final volume is finally here, and it ends the series with a cuckoo shuffle of bangs and whimpers. On the whimper side is a couple of rather mundane storylines that trapped writers Whitney Ellsworth and E. Nelson Bridwell and artist Al Plastino in Humdrumsville for a year or so of the period that Batman Dailies and Sundays: 1969-1972! covers. These tales involve Bruce Wayne’s would-be suitor plotting revenge against the multimillionaire after he thwarts her marriage proposal (good intrigue but dull villains) and a typically boneheaded depiction of hippie revolutionaries as nasty, dirty monsters with no greater goals than killing cops and inciting campus riots.
As if to make up for that lost year, Bridwell and Plastino then course correct their comic with a delirious rogues rally storyline that manages to gather Riddler, Joker, Penguin, Cat Woman, Mad-Hatter, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Killer Moth, Poison Ivy, Two Face, and Scarecrow for a clever literature-inspired crime spree. On the outskirts of this tale is new villain Man Bat, who proves to be a conflicted and welcome new resident in Gotham City. This anthology’s designers knew exactly what the most crowd-pleasing storyline in 1969-1972, and have designed a gorgeous wraparound cover showcasing these sundry menaces that you’ll want to rip off the binding and frame.
Less gorgeous are the comics that follow the multi-villain storyline, as Plastino exited the fold and the Ledger Syndicate replaced him with an uncredited art team whose work rapidly devolved into doodles. While these comics aren’t a great joy to read (Bridwell was soon ditched for some anonymous hacks, too), they’ do set up an uproarious closing statement from the strip’s editors about how the dramatic quality decline has caused the Ledger to just ditch Batman altogether and replace it with a Sesame Street strip. Things actually get worse from there as the comic continues in a Singapore paper with Batman and Robin basically playing back up to a dopey new hardhat-wearing hero called Galexo. It’s a pitiable ending to a comic that generally had more highs than lows, but you can’t blame IDW for that, and the publisher has once again done a superb job presenting these strips in another ravishingly designed package.