In a roundabout way, this brings me the topic of this love letter, Secret Origins #39, generally in demand for the Grant Morrison Animal Man short at the back.
The secret origin we get from Nowlan and Jan Strnad is that of Manbat. The story is a great little story that shows the previously unknown role that Kirk Langstrom (Manbat) played in the creation of Batman and vice versa. For Manbat's part he 'blinded' a bat's radar so it flew through the window at Wayne Manor the night Bruce Wayne was sat wondering kind of image would help him against criminals, by all accounts a cowardly, superstitious lot. Batman later wanders in on Manbat and causes the loss of the only chance of an antidote to him being a giant bat. Great stuff!
None of which addresses how flicking gorgeous the story is. Illustrated with a fair bit of Alex Toth like economy and shadows you can stick your arm through, great use of zipatone and colours that make the absolute best of the technology available at the time, the story showed Nowlan to be a definitive Batman artist.
His influence is very much felt in the Batman Adventures cartoon, particulary the earlier episodes and Nowlan was responsible for the design of Manbat for the series as well as submitting designs for Killer Croc and the Joker.
This comic is one of those which is almost painful for me to look at with the, what, fourteen pages of near perfection it is. In the eighteen years since, all we've had from Nowlan that came close is the '5 x five pages is never enough' that is Jack B. Quick and 8 gorgeous pages of Batman Black & White. There were a couple of nice bits in Details Magazine and X-Men, Gen 13 and Goon shorts and tonnes of covers.
The style he uses for covers nownowadays is quite illustrative with big figures lots of his famous cross-hatching and quite often a combination of elements slapped in the middle of an empty space. However, as this relatively recent example shows, Gotham City still seems to bring out the best in him.
Generally he gets brought out to be slap his style over, mentioning no names, not-so-remarkable pencillers (which does not including great inking over Mignola, Gil Kane (Kane's favourite inker), Jon Bogdanove, José Garcia-Lopez and Joe Quesada). In a way I should be grateful for the scraps I get but I can't help but wish for the ideal world in which he would have drawn the Mignola Hellboy/Mermaid story that was planned, or wrapped up the Man-Thing graphic novel that he came so close to finishing.
Or drawing the 144 page Adam Strange mini he was to draw (drawn by Andy Kubert in the end).
How about an issue of Batman or Solo or Plastic Man or...?
The next time we'll see Nowlan's heavy handed team-work with a fantastic penciller is over Rick Leonardi on Witchblade #112. My curiosity is well and truly piqued!
Secret Origins #39 is rarely available at one of the few of the remaining comic shops, generally really cheap 'cos no-one knows any better or at mycomicshop for $4,80 and worth every cent.