Bob Greenberger on The Essential Batman Encyclopedia

The comic book industry is well-populated with many good folks that I respect immensely. One of those folks is Bob Greenberger. If you’ve ever enjoyed a reprint collection from Marvel or DC–odds are good that Greenberger was involved in the project (but that’s just one aspect of his prolific career). In recent years, he’s branched out into a variety of even more freelance projects–and with the release of the new Batman film, I became interested in Greenberger’s most recent effort, The Essential Batman Encyclopedia. Despite juggling a great deal of far more important demands on personal and professional fronts, he was kind enough to grant me an email interview this past weekend. I greatly appreciated his time and strongly recommend you visit his site after reading the interview.

Tim O’Shea: In researching the deep history of Batman, were there any particular characters (from the golden or silver or whatever age) that you think has been underutilized and DC would do well to bring into the present day?

Bob Greenberger: These days one writer or another brings back the underutilized or the obscure, especially in Grant Morrison’s current run on Batman. So, really, no, I can’t come up with someone truly deserving for a second look.

O’Shea: Were there any Batman writers or artists with which you gained a newfound appreciation for their work?

Greenberger: Frank Robbins and Don Cameron come to mind. Other than Bill Finger, Don wrote the majority of the stories during the Golden Age and gave us Vicki Vale and the Mad Hatter among others. While better known for his Superman work, his Batman stories were very entertaining.

Frank, a long time strip artist, came on as writer in the late 1960s and was the first to steer Batman more to his pulp-inspired roots. It was Frank, for example, to introduce the concept of Batman disappearing in the middle of a meeting with Commissioner Gordon. His sympathetic work with Man-Bat was also strong and helped move the character forward.

O’Shea: After researching the book, was there a period of time you just did not want to look at another Batman story for awhile?

Greenberger: The 1950s fell into some pretty tired formulas. The constant need to bring the Dynamic Duo to another era or world took him too far afield. The stories that introduced new elements such as Batarang X or the foam rubber suit Robin could wear to impersonate Batman were sometimes a bit much. Thank goodness for the nifty Dick Sprang art to make a lot of it more palatable.

O’Shea: The book clocks in at a healthy 400 pages–but I was wondering did you have to edit out any material due to space?

Greenberger: Actually, as I was writing, I kept warning my editors at DC and DelRey that I was going to go over the original 200,000 words commissioned. They finally saw the copy coming in and made a decision to let the book breathe. So no, we didn’t cut but I was conscious not to go overboard.

O’Shea: Did you get to select the color art work that appeared, or was it selected by committee?

Greenberger: There were many people who had ideas for artwork, both black and white and color. These included Chris Cerasi, my DC editor, Keith Clayton, my DelRey editor, the Art Director and design team. I had the least input on the color stuff to be honest but think we got the various eras and key artists fairly well represented.

O’Shea: As you acknowledged in Tom Spurgeon’s interview, John Wells was instrumental in clarifying certain continuity aspects for the book. Do you think DC will ever hire Wells, or do they fail to see the value of his knowledge and work?

Greenberger: John remains the greatest underutilized resource out there. In some ways he’s a treasure and should be on staff or retainer. However, it could prove ultimately frustrating for him if his input and research gets ignored. After all, had people done their own homework, contradictions and errors would not have crept in, forcing the company to do periodic continuity clean-ups. I don’t think they fail to see the value, but haven’t decided to fully embrace it.

O’Shea: The last encyclopedia of this scale was done by Fleisher in the 1970s, do you envision updating this book in a few years, or do you think DC will let another several years pass before tackling something of this scope again?

Greenberger: Four years later, the DC Comics Encyclopedia is seeing a revised edition from DK Books this year so I see that as an encouraging sign. I figure the current changes via Batman R.I.P. and whatever comes next will certainly provide a lot of grist for an update sometime down the road. I certainly couldn’t speak to the timing.

O’Shea: What other projects do you have in the pipeline?

Greenberger: Daily, I am the sole writer for the Famous Monsters of Filmland website and project manage a daily web comic strip produced for Microsoft that’s almost finished. I’m doing some more project managing and some editing.

As a writer, I have two more Batman projects in the works, neither of which have been announced. I also am at work on an Iron Man novel for DelRey and have other proposals for new stories in the works.

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