Picks and Pans Review: Tales of the Dark Knight

updated 12/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Mark Cotta Vaz

It's just as well Michael Keaton didn't read this everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-Batman book before he agreed to play the character. If he had, he probably would have decided that the Caped Conundrum was too complex to tackle and opted for somebody simpler to portray,-such as Hamlet or Oedipus.

Then again, maybe Vaz, a martial arts instructor and a member of the board of the Cartoon Art Museum of California, just overdid it in this tribute to the 50th anniversary of Batman's debut, in Detective Comics 27. Celebrating the superhero's "renaissance approach to crime fighting," Vaz says Batman "is always seeking an edge, whether by pushing the limits of what is physically possible, or by developing some new technological innovation for his war on crime. And Batman brings to his art a warrior's ferocity, a scientist's brilliance, a feel for the streets, and a millionaire's sense of elegance."

There are separate chapters on such topics as Batman's weapons, enemies, hometown, World War II activities, time travel and his relationship with Robin, who was killed off in Batman issue No. 428 in November 1988 after Batman fans voted him down in a telephone poll. (Purists, of course, will note Vaz's rationalization that the Robin who died was actually Robin II, the original Dick Grayson boy wonder having spun himself off into a superhero called Nightwing in 1987.)

Vaz also has fun in a chapter on Batman's love life, recalling a 1943 comic that said that in addition to being "merciful to the unfortunate," Batman's heart "can soften to the whispers of love!" He in fact became a batgroom in 1987, marrying Talia, daughter of the villain Ra's al Ghul; they broke up, though not before conceiving a child Batman doesn't know about.

For those whose fascination with Batman is only cape deep, the illustrations are plentiful, including 48 full-color covers. Note, for example, how little Batman has changed over the years, especially in comparison with some of his comics colleagues. Batman's mortality, which has made him peculiarly attractive among his fellow superheros, may claim him some day and send him to join the big bat signal in the sky. If it does, we won't forget anything about him. If we do, we can look it up right here. (Ballantine, paper, $17.95)

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