Before I begin, I should point out that I’m not really a big comic book reader. I don’t say this to try and convince you that I’m not some sort of geek in a “I would never read those things!” fashion–really, my main method of exercise is a game where I thi arrows with my feet; I think I left on the geek train a long awhile ago–but rather so you know that, honestly, I’m probably not the most qualified to judge this collection from a knowledge point of view.
Here’s what I do know: The Batman Chronicles is a reprinting of the very earliest Batman stories in chronological order. I was first made aware of their existence through a post on Superdickery’s message boards. The post showed some panels from Volume 1 that would seem completely counter to modern day readers’ perceptions of Batman, especially the whole “code against killing” thing (My personal favorite example from said volume has Batman hanging a villain by the Batplane while remarking “Oh well, it’s probably better for him anyway”.). Right away, I knew I had to have this collection despite my generally not being big into comic books.
Anyway, I missed Volume 2, but picked up Volume 3. How, I’m not quite sure (Well, yes I am–I waited too long and the comic shop I drop by occasionally had Volume 3 but not Volume 2), but the point is that I probably missed out on some evolution of the Batman character (Still called “The Batman” in any expository panels here, by the way). Volume 3 covers the period from December 1940 to approximately May of 1941 or so (The last several stories are listed as coming simply from “Spring 1941”–apparently DC had several quarterly titles back in the day, Batman among them). Right away, there are several quirks of the time that will pop out to modern-day comics fans. First off, there are a lot of stories packed into those four months. Part of it was Batman’s popularity, appearing in Detective Comics, plus his own title, and here making an appearance in something called “World’s Best Comics #1”, but part of it is the story-telling format of the time too–rather than a one-story-per-issue format, the comics of the time tended to give you two or three smaller stories per issue.
From a content standpoint, perhaps partially due to the format mentioned above, you’ll also notice that Batman’s famed “rogue gallery” is largely absent. There’s a story featuring The Joker, and another with a villain named Clayface (Different from today’s Clayface, just to confuse you some more), but other than that, Batman and Robin’s foes here are decidedly more pedestrian in nature–mainly mobsters, with a corrupt publisher dressed as a witch or some acrobats dressed as devils thrown in for good measure now and again.
You’ll probably also note that Vintage Batman is…well, as sane as a guy who dressed up as a bat to fight crime gets, I suppose. There’s no mention whatsoever in this collection of just why Batman wants to go out and catch criminals (Though this was briefly covered in Volume 1–he watched his parents get murdered in cold blood), no probing his psychology, none of any of that. Generally, it’s just Batman beating up crooks. Here in this collection, we note that “Batman never carries or kills with a gun”–I can only presume that other means of killing are perfectly acceptable, such as tossing people overboard from a cruise ship.
My favorite story of the collection is probably also the strangest, which features Batman and Robin going inside several fairy-tales courtesy of a machine by a not-mad-really-but-authorities-would-think-so-if-they-knew-of-this-device scientist. It’s the sort of thing that might have been more suited to the goofy 60s version of the character, as opposed to when he was still in his relative infancy.
In short, I very much enjoyed this collection, and recommend it especially if you’re curious about how “The Batman” was developed during his earliest years.