While Batmanhas had various stories aimed at an older, more adult audience throughout the years, DC Comics almost licensed the Dark Knight specifically to an infamous adult comics magazine from the 1970s. Yes, really.

The magazine in question was Star*Reach, an independent, black-and-white anthology title started by Mike Friedrich in 1974. Featuring the work of mainstream artists like Jim Starlin, Howard Chaykin and Walt Simonson, the title acted as something of a bridge between the underground comics of R. Crumb and Harvey Pekar, and the mainstream publications of Marvel and DC. Star*Reach was also free of the restrictions of the Comics Code, making its “Adults Only” content a forerunner to the likes of mature magazines like Heavy Metal  and Epic Illustrated. It ran for eighteen issues between 1974 and 1979 before going under, but most surprisingly, the closing means the cancelation of future issues of Star*Reach which included the publishing of a Batman story... without DC Comics’ direct involvement.

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The first mention of this fabled Batman story came via The Comic Reader #173 from October of 1979. Discussing Star*Reach’s future plans, the article promised “(Star*Reach) #20 will be something special: Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers will team-up to present an all new BATMAN story,” which Englehart goes on to declare will be “the definitive Batman.” Englehart and Rogers had previously done a brief-but-memorable run on Detective Comics, in which they introduced elements like love interest Silver St. Cloud, the updated Deadshot, and the famous “Laughing Fish” Joker story. The fact that DC was willing to license out Batman to an independent publication speaks to the pair’s significance in Batman history.

Originally scheduled to come out in the summer of 1980, the story ultimately never saw publication. According to an interview with CBR, Englehart cites two reasons for why the story didn’t happen: DC wanted the story to appear in color, and wanted no more than ten thousand copies printed. Unable to reach a deal, Englehart and Rogers never started work, and Star*Reach folded soon afterwards. It’s hard not to wonder what impact the story might've had, along the lines of later works Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Little is known of what the story would have been about, with Englehart offering only vague details:

“[W]e wanted the climax to be on the top of a dirigible, the Bat-cape blowing in the wind. The lead-up was Bruce and Silver and a group of high society crossing the Atlantic on a modern-day excursion.”

Free of any content restrictions from the prohibitive Comics Code, Englehart and Rogers would have been free to explore the psychology of Bruce Wayne and Batman in a way they never could have in the monthly Batman comics of the day. That’s exactly what happened six years later when Frank Miller crafted the seminal Dark Knight Returns, which was itself influenced in part by Englehart and Rogers’ brief run on Detective Comics. Had the pair received the same creative freedom Miller enjoyed with his Batman tale, they might have had their own industry-changing, Dark Knight-level success.

While Englehart and Rogers never got to release their Star*Reach story, the pair would reunite almost thirty years later for Batman: Dark Detective, finally getting the chance to put a nice capstone to their previous run.  

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Sources: The Comic Reader #173 (via CBR)

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