- Silver-Age pastiches: A lot of the writers seem to have no idea that Batman shed his camp past about two decades before this book was published in 1989, right after the Tim Burton Batman movie. (Before the Internet, it actually took that long for pop culture ideas to percolate to the norms.) I have no interest in Silver Age excesses — see my general displeasure with Showcase Presents Batman — but here I was, stuck with the book, so what was I going to do?
There’s a Riddler story (“Wise Men of Gotham” by Edward Wellen), but I can forgive that; the Riddler is a very Silver Age kind of guy. (He warns the authorities of his own crimes, for heaven’s sake.) “The Sound of One Hand Clapping” by Max Allan Collins is a silly Joker story, in which he tries to woo a mime — unsuccessfully, of course, but it presages the Harley Quinn / Joker relationship nicely.
“Command Performance” by Howard Goldsmith reads like a rejected Hardy Boys story retooled into a Robin story. There’s a hypnotist who’s the villain, but that’s not the focus of the story; the focus of the story is Robin — working for the school paper — jumping to the wrong conclusion, harassing the wrong hypnotist, and ending up in a death trap anyway. He wanders through the old guy’s house, which has been conveniently been converted into a “Chamber of Horrors” for … well, I don’t know why, since the guy doesn’t want visitors. But he hasn't even done anything illegal, really, and the story wastes pages and pages and all of the actual action and drama on him.
The three most Silver Age stories in the book? “Pirates of Millionaire’s Cove” by Edward D. Hoch has a yacht club bartender inspired by reading history books to become a modern-day pirate, using 18th century methods to prey upon the yacht club’s members. Henry Slesar’s “Bats” has Batman feigning insanity in public to catch a crooked psychiatrist. But the most Silver Age of the stories — so Silver Age, in fact, that the spirit of Gardner Fox is taking notes — is “The Origin of the Polarizer” by George Alec Effinger, which has Batman lecturing on the future wonders of integrated circuits while building the BATIVAC computer before battling the Polarizer, a villain who harnesses the power of vacuum tubes and uncovers Batman’s identity before careening off a cliff.
- Modern tales: Just because they’re modern doesn’t make them any better. “Death of the Dreammaster” by Robert Sheckley may feel modern, but it uses ludicrously transparent secret IDs and obscure / futuristic devices on the utility belt and has Gotham City Police Commissioner Gordon show up to arrest a federal criminal in Washington, D.C. … Plus it uses induced hallucinations as a hook, and that always feels a little hokey to me. William F. Nolan’s “Daddy’s Girl” resembles “Command Performance”: a rambling investigation in which Robin stumbles across … something. He’s looking for a thief, and then he falls off a roof and is taken in by a girl raised by the Joker, and he forgets all about the thief … I don’t know. “Subway Jack” is a Joe R. Lansdale’s version of the Jack the Ripper story, with this one featuring a cursed knife. Eh.
“Batman in Nighttown” and “Idol” have a similar idea: obsessed, insane men who dress as Batman or feels himself to be Batman. Neither is that affecting. The former, by Karen Haber and Robert Silverberg, features a long chase scene that doesn’t work (they’re hard to do in prose) and an “aunt” of Bruce Wayne’s who knows his secret identity and conveniently dies. The latter, by Ed Gorman, is essentially a madman’s (short) diary and fails to engage.
“Neutral Ground” by Mike Resnick is the best of this group, although it’s more of a vignette than a story; it explores how villains in Gotham get their gear and henchfolk.
- Realistic: OK, there’s really only two of these. One is the “Batman Memos” by Stuart M. Kaminsky, in which movie studio head David O. Selznick negotiates for the rights to make a Batman movie. The story is told exclusively through memos, which gives you an idea of high they ratchet up the tension. The second is “Northwestward” by Isaac Asimov. It’s the best story in the collection; I had read it before, in a copy of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in 1990. Bruce Wayne, upon whom the story of Batman is based, suspects his butler of doing … something. He turns to a group of amateur sleuths to get to the bottom of things. The fact that this story is the best in the collection tells you something; it’s not bad, it’s a solidly constructed little mystery, but it’s not exciting or a very memorable story.
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