I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
I’ve read a lot of comics that were written and drawn by John Byrne. That sentence — or a close variant — has been typed out by me previously, I’m certain. His handwork probably accounts for a more sizable chunk of the previous entries in this feature than any other creator. In the nineteen-eighties and nineteen-nineties, I was willing to follow him just about anywhere, even to the dreaded land of inter-publisher team-up comics.
While I harbor innocent nostalgia for a few entries in this strange comic book subgenre, the conceit of intermingling these fantastical universes usually results in wan storytelling, obviously constrained by corporate nervousness over which copyrighted property will come off better. Besides, the stories didn’t count. I was bound up enough in an eager embrace of official continuity that I was instinctively dismissive of those titanic tales that resides outside of the canon (with certain exceptions). But Byrne was behind one of these experiments in intermingling, so I was all but destined to buy it.
Batman and Captain America was published late in 1996, when Byrne was peddling his wares within the DC Comics stable. It paired the world’s greatest detective and the star-spangled avenger not in what was then the modern day, but reached back into history, positing that the characters got mixed up in one another’s exploits toward the end of World War II. The retrospective approach also allowed Byrne to ignore the gruesomely dark version of Batman who romped through the DC Universe at the time, opting instead for a more personable “old chum” characterization.
As for Captain America, he was going through his own best-left-ignored era, albeit not one as grim the “Eh, let’s just make him a Nazi approach” that is currently soiling up the spinner rack. But by setting the story in 1945, Byrne was able to engage in other playful details, such as having Cap fight side-by-side with longtime DC war comics hero Sgt. Rock.
The first several pages establish the tone and tenor of the comic beautifully, but there’s no doubt what most people plunked down their quarters for. They wanted to see Batman and Captain America throwing punches together.
Batman and Captain was one of the prestige format books that Marvel and DC both played around with in that era, meaning Byrne had plenty of pages to play with — around three times as many as the average comic book story. That gave him room to really explore the inner lore of the characters, mixing and matching with obvious glee. Since both superheroes have teenaged sidekicks around, which not have Batman partner with Bucky for part of the mission, and have Captain America do the same with Robin?
When it came to the villains, though, there was no question which sinister figures would be causing consternation for our esteemed do-gooders. If Captain America is in a major story, the Red Skull is sure to be there, too.
And although Batman has a more robust rogues gallery, the Joker is obligatory. The appearance of the white-faced and green-haired foe of Batman at least provides the helpful reminder that even murderous madmen known that Nazis are no good and deserve fierce condemnation without a nanosecond’s hesitation.
Despite the title of this feature, I was hardly a youth when I bought this comic, and I was going through one of my periodic spells in which I was seriously considering jettisoning the collecting habit that had once given me such joy. The reason was simple: most of the comics I was reading — superhero comics, anyway — were just plain bad.
Byrne’s Batman and Captain America restored my belief in the possibilities within these colorful adventures, at least a bit. As I once believed — as I once knew — comics could be fun.
Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.