Review: Batman Black and White #2
Background: Batman Black and White is an anthology series by DC comics that features a series of new short stories by industry’s leading writers and artists along with pinups by superstar artist.
I love anthologies. They provide a sampler of stories for a reader to enjoy that often can explore different themes and tones. Batman Black and White provides the creative teams the liberties to create and develop visually distinct and literary interesting stories that explore different aspects of Batman’s various characterizations over the years. You can find a villain tale, a detective story, and high-flying superhero story all in the same issue.
Note: To not spoil the comic, I will keep details of the plots to the bare minimum.
Batman Black and White #2
“The Unjust Judge”
Written by Tom King
Illustrated by Mitch Gerards
Letters by Clayton Cowles
King and Gerards team up once again to do a small story about Batman rescuing a Priest from a cathedral engulfed in flames. King creates a story that deals with faith and the human spirit in a trying time. It is focused and brief. There is not a mastermind villain behind the plan. Instead, it is a personal and almost claustrophobic story.
The detail work by Gerards is unparalleled and here in the Black and white world is No exception. The art is laid out in king’s trademark 9 panel grid. The panels here only contribute to the claustrophobic sensation in the story. We don’t get an idea how close Batman is to the priest until the end of the tale. This lack of reference combined with the confined energy of the 9-panel grid cranks up the tension in an effective and subtle way. The art can be busy at times with some of the detail work being lost in the flames, but I believe the busy nature of the composition contributes to the general hectic feeling of the walls coming down. The lettering by Cowles is welcomed as it provides distinct captions and dialog boxes for Batman and the Priest. It helps with the confusion that can arise in some pages about who is speaking.
Good short story with an All-star creative team.
“All Cats Are Grey”
Written and illustrated by Sophie Campbell
My favorite of the shorts in this issue. Campbell creates a silent story detailing a chase between Batman and Catwoman. It is a simple story in that regard but what sells me on it is the art. Campbell’s style is soft and full of body. Her character work is top notch. In a dialog-free comic, a lot of the weight is placed on the art and Campbell delivers. The body language speaks volumes here and I love it.
Campbell’s use of black and white is creative here and really takes advantage of the main gimmick of the anthology. The creative use of shadows and silhouettes makes for a visually stimulating experience. It is an excellent story.
Written by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko
Illustrated by Gabriel Hardman
Letters by Troy Peteri
Batman is pursuing the Joker through the streets of Gotham when he wrecks the Batmobile and is threatened by rise waters in a spillway. Hardman and Bechko brings the readers a short Batman and Joker story. While I feel Joker to be oversaturated at this time, this is a story where he works. It isn’t an over-the-top Joker story, but a smaller more personal story about the relationship between the two. It works well for it. Bechko’s dialog is brisk and gets to the characters. Points for incorporating “Batmobile lost a wheel/ Joker got away” into a straightforward story. It was a nice touch.
Hardman’s art has an atmosphere that really sets the scene. The pouring rain and rising waters provide suspense to the story. Hardman employs various techniques to create texture and visually distinct illustrations in the absence of color and traditional shadowing. This is scene throughout the book but I think it is used to its greatest effect here by Hardman.
Written and Illustrated by Dustin Weaver
Letters by Todd Klein
Weaver brings his knack for detail in this story about Batman facing his negative copy. Weaver also takes the opportunity to explore the nature of black and white by setting a story about inverted copies and actions. It is a wild story with an ending that left me going, “What in the world”.
Weaver brings detail to the art in a contrasting way to others in this book. Opting for simple shadow work and detailed lined work creates a distinct feature in the book. Weaver also eschews the more grid-based story with objects often breaking the gutters and jumping out of the page. The only knock I have on it is that he opts to draw Batman’s eyes in the mask for a few panels. It has a purpose to the story, but personal preference has me wishing that he opted for the simple whited-out eyes of the cowl. That is just personal taste, though.
“The Devil Is in The Detail”
Written, illustrated and lettered by David Aja
The final story of the collection is possibly the most creative of the batch. Aja’s story is a period piece set in the late 1940’s and presented in a newspaper strip format. It is a novel way of telling a story and leads to some great story telling devices. First, the story is an occult detective story involving Batman chasing down leads about a satanic cult that is killing off criminals in its ritual. It is a detective story though and through. I love it. The best part of it being a period piece includes things such as a much smaller and more literal Batcave, old-fashioned Batmobile, and equipment set. It is a small touch but works great here.
The presentation of a 1940’s comic strip is inspired and gives sells the period piece. The strips are even dated and if you pay attention you will notice the strip jumps in dates but the story has progressed in the real time. This provides a unique pacing tool but also gives the comic a more realistic vibe. It is definitely a novel way to do it. Only complaint is that the binding of the comic makes it harder to read these strips in their intended form. This doesn’t harm the story at all, but it is something that must be worked around.
The art by Aja is wonderful. I am a fan of his minimalistic renderings of characters and body language. He employs screen tones (much like others in the book) but they help sell the newsprint style with spot printing techniques. Of course, the tones also provide shadow and shape to objects, but it is a nice touch. The decisions to create print artifacts in some of the font being slightly off or the panel borders being smudge helps the aesthetic of the book.
Batman Black and White #2 is a fantastic anthology book. For its price point, you receive five short stories by some of the most talented creative teams in comics. In addition to the features, you get a wonderful cover by Jock and a spectacular pin up pieces by Stjepan Šejić and Ramon Villalobos. All of this is packaged in a Prestige Format soft cover. I recommend this book. The art and storytelling takes advantage of the format and is a worthwhile experience.