by Howard Chaykin, Dan Brereton
(DC Comics, 1998)
For some members of the Batman fan base, the 1960s will always be linked to the image of Adam West camping it up in tights against an array of colorful foes.
Writer Howard Chaykin reclaims a bit of the Batman legacy from that decade with Thrillkiller, a lushly, darkly painted Elseworlds story that offers an entirely new stamp on the story.
In Thrillkiller, Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered in his childhood, but their debts left him penniless. Without the Wayne resources at his disposal, his vendetta against crime took a different route, and now -- 1961 -- he works as a police detective on the Gotham P.D.
Police Commissioner Gordon's estranged daughter Barbara -- herself an heiress on her late mother's side -- has purchased Wayne Manor, and from there she and her boyfriend Richart "Dick Grayson" Graustark operate as Batgirl and Robin. They are cool but flashy, and they wield beatnik aggression against foes that resemble but are still quite different from the usual Batman gallery of rogues -- a green-haired, pale-skinned woman, a crooked cop with scars marring one side of his face, a scaly-skinned hoodlum.
Colorful bad guys notwithstanding, the world of Thrillkiller is a dangerous place to operate, and our heroes don't always dance blithely out of harm's way. And, as you'd expect, Batman too makes an appearance before this tale is done.
The story by Chaykin is tight, exciting and appropriate to the era. The painted art by Dan Brereton is a suitable vehicle for the story, matching the early '60s atmosphere and giving the main characters the rugged good looks of teen idols of the day. Action is a bit wooden, looking at times more posed than kinetic, but that never interferes with the story's flow.
The graphic novel, published as a collection in 1998, includes the three-book Thrillkiller mini-series from 1997 as well as the one-shot sequel, Thrillkiller '62, from 1998. Combined, it's an exciting alternate world that I'd love to see explored further.
by Tom Knapp