Batman: Hidden Treasures, an October special from writers Ron Marz and Len Wein, isn't just a clever title. It's a literal description of what's inside.
The issue has two stories by artist Bernie Wrightson, both featuring the artist's tall-eared Batman, and both representing a pretty significant milestone.
One is Wein and Wrightson's well-known story from Swamp Thing #7 — a tale that is treasured by fans — which is significant because Swamp Thing is being published under the DC imprint instead of his usual home at Vertigo. The art on the story will be re-colored by Alex Sinclair, who is also coloring the second story by Marz.
The other story is truly a hidden gem — a uniquely told Batman story by Marz that Wrightson completed 15 years ago, and which was previously unpublished.
"It was a story I originally did with Bernie for Legends of the Dark Knight ,when Archie Goodwin was editor, about 15 years ago," Marz explained. "Archie had it on reserve as an inventory story, but then he ended up getting sick, and then passed away, and the story just sat in the DC offices. They wanted to publish it for a long time, but they said it was too much of a 'treasure' to just throw into an ongoing series. So they finally came up with this idea."
The story features Solomon Grundy, so it echoes the "swamp" theme of the other story by Wein. "Let's face it," Marz said. "Bernie likes to draw swamps more than he likes to draw buildings."
Marz's story also has a feature that is pretty unusual — narrator text in a gutter. "For 20 of the 22 pages, there is a gutter left on one side of the page so there is blank area. And there will be text in the gutter down that side of the page. It's in a character's voice, who is telling this story. We're just showing the pristine moments in the story, so there is a more involved character voice telling the story.
"The style in which we did the story probably played a part in how long it took us to find the proper place to print it, because it's a little off-model in terms of what people expect from a comic," Marz said. "But my thoughts going into it were, if I'm going to have Bernie Wrightson and Batman and Solomon Grundy, and most of it taking place in a swamp, I'm going to get the hell out of the way and let the artist take up most of the space."
The previously unpublished story was penciled and inked — by Kevin Nowlan, no less — and just sitting in limbo, Marz said. There were a lot of editors over the years who tried to collect it with other stories so it could be printed, but it never worked out, until now.
"It went from Archie to Bob Shreck, and I know Mike Marts had it in his possession for awhile because he called me and said, 'What is this Wrightson story sitting in my drawer?" Marz laughed. "We never found the right place to put it. I think, through all of this, the guardian angel of the story has been [DC editor] Mark Chiarello, who has been taking care of it and trying to get it in print for many years. And he finally succeeded."
According to Marz and Wein, it’s common, when editors leave the business, for stories to get stuck in limbo. "There is no editor in the business who hasn't left his job with stories still in the drawer, unpublished. God knows I did," he said. "Some of them finally see print; sometimes the book goes away and they never do. I have a dozen or more of my stories that never saw print."
Wein said the Swamp Thing story that Wrightson drew became a beloved classic because it's when the character ran into Batman.
"It's part of the continuity of the early Swamp Thing stories," Wein said. "Swamp Thing was on a quest across the country to find the people who had killed his wife and him, and his quest finally brought him to Gotham City, where he crossed paths with the Batman."
The writer said he's sure that the classic story is being paired with Marz's Batman story because both of them feature Wrightson's distinctive long-eared cowl.
"Bernie's work is always astonishing and surprising, and God knows, he's fun to work with," Wein said.
"I believe Bernie and I hatched this Batman story when I lived, literally, a mile down the road from him," Marz said. "So looking at these pages again, it's a nice memory of that period in all of our lives. I've moved; Bernie's moved; everybody's in a different place now. But this story is a nice little personal time capsule for me, as well as one for a period in comics that's gone now."