The Untold Legend of the Batman (1982) collects the eponymous three-issue 1980 mini-series from DC Comics. It was written by Len Wein and illustrated by Jim Aparo and John Byrne. Here, someone is threatening Batman in the Batcave, and in trying to identify the culprit, Batman and other characters reminisce about their origins.
This is, first and foremost, a detailed retelling of Batman’s Gold and Silver Age, Pre-Crisis origins, based in large part on stories from the 1940s and 1950s. Not everything that’s here is canon anymore (Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One has supplanted it in matters contradictory; Bruce, for example, no longer was the original Robin), and not everything is consistent even with Batman’s several other Gold and Silver Age origin stories (Joe Chill, for example, is a hired hitman here rather than a random mugger).
Wein’s writing is adequate. The series is little more than an excuse for various characters to recollect their own and others’ origin stories. These include the origins of Bruce, Dick Grayson, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Barbara Gordon, the Joker, Two-Face, and Lucius Fox (and Batman isn’t the only one to have his origin retconned). Beyond this contrived framework, these origin stories are, on the whole, very interesting, even if the resolution to the “who’s trying to kill Bruce” plot is kind of weak and the dialogue is the typical melodramatic exposition comics are notorious for. The pacing throughout is pretty good, though, which covers some of these flaws.
The art is quite a bit better. Jim Aparo was the definitive Batman artist of the 1980s, and his work, both as a penciller and an inker, is excellent here (the latter is particularly noteworthy because this version is in black and white). John Byrne always did quality work in the 1980s, too, and with Aparo illustrating his work, there’s a good transition between pencillers.
The Untold Legend of the Batman, like a number of Tor’s comic collections, is about four inches by seven – standard paperback novel size. By necessity, the panels have been rearranged – the material from one page of the original comic is spread over several pages here. This obviously disrupts the flow somewhat, but not to a damaging degree. As this story isn’t particularly relevant to the current incarnation of Batman, DC has never released a better version.
It’s hard to recommend The Untold Legend of the Batman to new Batman readers because of its canonical irrelevancy, but it’s a pretty good, pretty quick read, and those who are at least somewhat familiar with Pre-Crisis Batman stories should enjoy it.