Review: DC Retroactive 1970s: Batman

A classic character in a classic era of a classic writer's tenure gives us a last hurrah for the DCU as we know it.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

DC Retroactive 1970s: Batman

DC’s Retroactive series is a nice break from the hoopla surrounding the reboot. This series takes a look back at the classic style of comic books by getting old school writers and having them write new stories in their own voice. Retroactive: Batman features the extraordinary talents of Len Wein, a man who has drummed up some of the best tales around for everyone from Superman to The Flash. What’s so great about these one shots (released alongside Batman this week were Wonder Woman and The Flash) is that DC has taken the time to really nail the 1970s era of comics. Every last detail is here and for old school fans like me, it’s a beautiful thing.

The story in Retroactive: Batman is one of those early adventures that are simple and fun. Three armed robbers dressed as a Shark, a Vulture and a Fox are ripping off major financial organizations in Gotham City and it’s up to Batman to stop them. If the seventies era of comics isn’t your thing then this book will confuse you or irritate you or both. For the fans, the devil is in the details and DC has got the devil by the tail here. First is the art, handled by veteran Tom Mandrake. It's spot-on the 70s style, from the panel layout to the use of color. Outside of the splash page, panel placement in the 70s was more for storytelling use than to help the artist. If less needed to be on a page, there were less panels, if more did then there was more. Retroactive: Batman doesn’t steer away from all that. The panel layout is perfect for the era, very deliberate and very repetitive.

Colors in that time were muted, lots of browns and earth tones. Again, DC follows that style to the letter, giving everything a 70s feel. Even how the figures are drawn is reminiscent of an era when comics duplicated more natural physical forms. This was before everybody became beefed up in the Commando/Rambo era. Batman doesn’t look any different than anybody else he just kicks more ass. One of my favorite touches is how the Retroactive series is printed on newspaper quality paper, the way they were when I was a kid. I know it’s an easy touch because it saves DC money, but I’m sure finding this stuff to print on was a formidable task. Probably the best thing is the original re-print after the new story. It’s always awesome to re-read a long lost bit of Batman lore that has been filed away in a long box somewhere in a dark basement or closet. 

The Retroactive series is obviously a gift to the longtime comic collectors. Perhaps it’s a peace offering for the radical changes about to befall the DC Universe or maybe it was just a cool idea whose time has come. Personally I’m hoping it continues as a series, but I doubt there’s much capital to be made there. Whatever the future holds for the Retroactive series, I think everybody should pick a copy up just to see where comics were and where they are now.