This deluxe-sized edition is a celebration of all the Batman work that creative team Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso produced, but Azzarello doesn’t get any credit in the title because this is about Risso’s ink first and foremost. You’ll quickly notice that all pages have been stripped of color to better  showcase Eduardo’s original work and due to the all black and white look and Azzarello’s hardboiled narrative; the name “Batman Noir” feels very appropriate.

Content

Batman Noir: Eduardo Risso includes a short story from Batman: Gotham Knights #8, all five chapters of Batman: Broken City, Flashpoint: Batman—Knight of Vengeance, and a collection of Batman shorts from Wednesday Comics #1-12. All of these tales are presented in stark black and white and in the deluxe page format that’s quite a bit larger than your usual graphic novel but still not quite as big as an extra-pricey Absolute Edition. While I don’t like the chalky texture of the dust jacket, pulling it away reveals a sleek, glossy cover featuring the exact same artwork found on the jacket but without any of the credits or synopsis cluttering things up and detracting from the illustration’s details.

About Eduardo Risso

And the little details are indeed what this graphic novel is all about. By removing any trace of color, fans of Eduardo Risso can appreciate his pen and ink skills in all their glory. So if you don’t like Eduardo Risso’s style then this book isn’t for you! Risso is an artist who has won numerous awards including four Eisners! He’s most well known for his work on the Vertigo series 100 Bullets, which he co-created with Brian Azzarello, the author of all the stories collected in Batman Noir. Risso is well known for his use of shadows, unique angles, and creating bleak worlds inhabited by beautiful women and weathered men.  His penchant for grim, sequential storytelling makes him a great fit for the world of Batman but his style will also draw a great deal of comparison to Frank Miller, particularly Miller’s Sin City.

For the most part, draining the panels of their color was a brilliant idea. Risso’s playful use of shadows is far more distinctive when presented in contrast to the pure white of page. And as for achieving that crime noir effect, those black and white images combined with Azzarello’s prose can’t be beat. However, the stories “Scars” and Broken City benefit from this bold new look the most because there was a far greater emphasis on atmosphere. There was a high level of detail that made the colorless image more impressive to look at and in pages where there isn’t any background, well, you just get a blank white background. Atmosphere played an incredibly large role in those two pieces, but in Knight of Vengeance, the setting is secondary and action is everything. In fact, this Elseworld’s-like tale doesn’t even have the hardboiled narration. A big part of noir is that it’s a slow burn and very introspective and Knight of Vengeance isn’t noir at all, it’s a fast-paced yet dark action story that just so happens to be in black and white. When the setting does come into play, it would have actually benefited from having color. Be it the vibrance of the casino, the way the rain washed away Joker’s makeup, or the distinctive red eyes of Thomas Wayne’s Batman, colors elevate that tale. As for the Wednesday Comics shorts, the panels are simply too small for Risso’s artwork to shine. Each page is a chapter in the story and that requires 15-20 panels per page! The drawings are simply too small even for the Deluxe format.

Risso draws a really great Batman and if you like the black and white look (I certainly do, Batman fits this style brilliantly. Joker, however… Perhaps it would be interesting to see a story in black and white but Joker is colorized. Sort of like how Miller did That Yellow Bastard or you could even go a step further with a Pleasantville route and have Gotham gain more color as Joker’s impact is felt throughout Gotham…I’m rambling). So if you like black ink and a gritty Gotham, you should definitely dig Risso’s work. There’s so much black ink in this book that there was actually a big blob of it on a panel in the final pages that I had to scratch away. I’m not joking!

Spoiler
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Batman: Gotham Knights #8: Scars

Zsasz

“Scars” is a short story featuring Batman and the ruthless Victor Zsasz. Batman has arrived at the scene of a gruesome murder just a few seconds too late. Rather than pulverize the murderer, Victor Zsasz, and leave him tied to a lamppost for the police to find, Batman asks “Why?” Why must Zsasz do these horrible things? It’s a change of pace from Batman and Zsasz’s usual confrontations but it leads to a brief discussion that explores the concept of power and how it is gained. None of the revelations are necessarily profound or all that memorable. It reminded me of some rather pretentious one-act plays I read while in college with an emphasis on dialogue that explores deep ideas rather than sounding like natural speech. The rest of Azzarello’s dialogue you’ll see in this book is nothing like “Scars.” In fact, each story has a slightly different tone. Risso’s art is the real highlight of the short story, but of all the material collected in this book, “Scars” likely won’t be the content you’ll be anxious to revisit in the future. It’s a passable, but forgettable short. I’d give it a score somewhere in the 5-6/10 range.

Broken City

Broken City

The story that had to follow Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s top-selling Hush saga, Broken City is Batman with a Sin City vibe. That vibe is so strong, however, in its look and voice that the tale hardly feels like a Batman story at all. Many of the villains who crop up throughout the 5-part arc felt out of character and the portrayal of Batman was more akin to a stereotypical early 20th century gumshoe (then again, who’s a more famous early 20th century detective than Batman?). He’s not the quiet, no-nonsense Batman. He engages in snappy repartee with the suspects he investigates and his inner monologue possesses that cynical attitude riddled with similes you’ve heard so often in film noir. Example from Batman’s narration in Chapter 5: “I make a promise to myself that it will be for the last time. But like some cheating husband who knows he’ll be ‘working late’ again, it never is.” My personal favorite inner-monologue simile delivered by a detective still has to be Frank Drebin’s “Like a midget at a urinal, I was going to have to stay on my toes.”

Broken City could really have been anyone’s story, it just so happens to have characters who dress up like figures from Batman mythology. Looking past that, it’s a really good mystery with all the tropes you come to expect from film noir—they just don’t all work in a Batman story

Spoiler
Batman wouldn’t let this many bad guys off the hook after interrogating them nor would the baddies let Batman live after they knocked him unconscious like in the scene with Batman and “Little Boy”
. Broken City tried to capture that same success of Hush by slipping in as many villain cameos as it could but it wasn’t as successful in this practice. Villains like Killer Croc, Penguin, Scarface, and even the Joker make an appearance but only the Joker (who felt shoehorned into the plot and unnecessary) and Penguin are characterized properly. The events surrounding Arnold Wesker don’t add up with the sheepish, elderly man we’ve come to know over the years
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I don’t buy that he would’ve hooked up with a beautiful young girl. I just don’t. I’ll believe that goons will look past the doll on his arm and see that he’s a really brilliant crook who can make them all rich, but I don’t think any girl is going to perform any baby-making with Wesker.
and Killer Croc is shown to be a low-level thug with bad skin and a pimp’s attire. I’m in favor of Killer Croc NOT being shown as a monster like he was in Hush, but Azzarello and Risso went a little too far in the opposite direction here. Croc as a thug with gold chains, dentures, and—gasp—hair? No, I wish that more writers would look back to Waylon Jones’ first appearance in comics and take note of how smart and ambitious Croc can be.

But the classic rogues play a relatively small role in Broken City and mostly just pop up to remind us that it’s indeed a Batman story. Broken City is instead all about the hunt for a young girl’s killer and Batman’s need to solve a related crime that’s remarkably similar to the alleyway murder that took the lives of his own parents. There’s no Alfred, no bat signal or batmobile, even Gordon doesn’t show his face. Batman instead speaks only to Crispus Allen in regards to the case. Bruce even grills a steak while conversing with Crispus over the phone to calm his nerves, an odd character trait that I don’t think has ever arisen in a Batman comic since and it’s one of the few times I’ve ever seen Bruce cook! The other instance was in an Animated Series comic. Another first I saw in this story was when Batman made a joke in his inner monologue and then laughed about it out loud! The confused reaction of the man who overheard Batman’s “Heh” was a nice touch.

One of the great things about approaching a Batman story from such a strong pulp fiction/film noir angle is that we get a Batman who gets hurt! It’s a Batman who is truly a MAN that can take damage and has to be smart, fast, and strong to outlast his opponents. He’s not the BatGOD. Here is a Bruce Wayne who has to take a time out to wrap himself in bandages, take pain killers, and check his reflection in the mirror to see just how bad that loose tooth is! I love that stuff. I like seeing that the job of being Batman is really, really freaking hard but he patches himself up and gets back out there to do it because he’s the Goddamn Batman. The struggle makes it interesting.

Spoiler
If you’ve read this story, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on Brian Azzarello’s fall of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Like Batman: Earth One, Azzarello’s Bruce was a bit of a brat to his folks before they were killed and these negative actions lead up to that fateful moment on crime alley. How responsible should Bruce feel for the death of his parents? Should Bruce have a bad memory about his parents or should they remain a romanticized, perfect couple in his mind? Personally, I don’t like seeing Bruce have any regrets about the way he spent the time with his mother and father. I like that when he looks back on those days he only recalls the good. Tragedy washed away the reality of his parents and he only remembers them at their most perfect.

If you like a Raymond Chandler-esque mystery and can look past the questionable characterization of the usual Batman cast then I think you can enjoy Broken City, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Even those who like it might find that the story drags a little long and the subplot about the murder of another boy’s parents isn’t all that effective. Overall it’s decent pulp made all the better by the black and white presentation of this graphic novel. Broken City is by far the best example of Eduardo Risso’s art! I give Broken City a score somewhere between a 6.5-7.5 or so.

Flashpoint: Batman—Knight of Vengeance

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This story is fantastic, but it’s also short and it’s hard to describe in detail because the premise itself is practically a spoiler. Essentially it’s an Elseworlds story in which Thomas Wayne survives the attack in crime alley and this is what his life looks like a few decades later. It’s a world in which Thomas Wayne becomes the Batman. It’s a fun premise if you can accept it. It’s an idea built around “Wouldn’t it be cool if?” Rather than what a natural progression of these various personalities would be in a scenario like this. A desperate father going out on the streets in search of Joe Chill? Cool. That I can believe. But him deciding to dress up like a bat and start killing every criminal in Gotham? Why would he go with the bat motif? None of this is addressed at all in the story although it might have been in the larger Flashpoint epic.

Speaking of which, you might be wondering if you need to have read the main Flashpoint comic in order to grasp what’s happening here, but you don’t. The final exchange between Thomas and the Joker is the only hint at a greater Flashpoint story and that this was a tie-in at all. Yes, that’s right, I said the Joker. Most other villains, however, have been killed by the Batman but there are a few exceptions like Harvey Dent who never became Two-Face and Oswald Cobblepot who works as Thomas’ personal assistant in the casino. The casino is one of the coolest ideas in the story, I felt. The idea that Thomas would built such a place just so he could keep a closer eye on Gotham’s underworld is quite clever. The shame is that with the black and white look of the book, we’re missing out on all the bright flashing lights that make up the casino atmosphere. The entire story, actually looks better in color because without it we don’t get the now famous red-eyes of Thomas Wayne’s Batman or other wonderful details that I won’t go into. In fact, I’ve probably said too much already because the fun of reading an Elseworlds story is turning the page and being surprised by how classic characters have been re-purposed.

The grizzled characterization of Thomas reminded me greatly of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight and I actually found myself reading his lines in Peter Weller’s voice. Other Batman incarnations that came to mind would have to include Nolan’s The Dark Knight since Joker looks almost identical to Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime.

Knight of Vengance is more action driven vs. dialogue driven like the other stories in this collection and Eduardo Risso isn’t used to his full potential in this story either. Risso is great at drawing the dirty, rundown slums of Gotham, but the backdrop of Knight of Vengeance isn’t all that visually interesting. Most of our time is actually spent away from the city whereas his work in Broken City made Gotham feel like a character itself. I HIGHLY recommend you read this story, but I also strongly urge you to read it in its original colored edition. Overall I would give Knight of Vengeance any where from an 8.5-9.5/10. In my opinion, it and The Black Mirror were the two best Batman comics to come out of 2011.

Wednesday Comics: Batman #1-12

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The original format for this series was even larger than the deluxe edition can allow and that means that the panels had to be shrunk down a bit. The font inside the speech bubbles is rather tiny and the tight spine of the book requires you to really pull at the pages to read what some characters are saying. It was about a week ago that I read this story and I can’t say I remember much. It was a pretty simple narrative and with panels so small it was hard for Risso’s illustrations to really make an impact. I do remember that I enjoyed reading it but it wasn’t quite good enough to really stick with me or give me the desire to re-read it in the future. I’d give it a 5-6/10 much like the “Scars” short story that opened the book.

Bonus Material

I understand that Eduardo Risso isn’t a native English speaker, but couldn’t we have had someone translate for him so we could get a little insight from the artist? It would’ve been wonderful to have had an essay from him included in this that talked a little bit about his creative process. Or perhaps his collaborator, Brian Azzarello, could have written something about what it’s like to work with Risso? As it stands, the only bonus material included with this book is a never-before-published Bane pinup by Eduardo Risso, which is very cool looking.

Value:   Full Price!

If you don’t like black and white comics, then you should obviously skip this one, but otherwise I think it’s a great value for your money. The TPB for the full-color Flashpoint: Batman—Knight of Vengeance alone costs $17.99 and this book is a deluxe-sized hardback that comes with WAY more content for $24.99. I say it’s worth full price for those who love black and white. Knight of Vengeance is easily one of the best Batman stories of the past few years and Broken City has some really terrific moments that make for a book perfectly suited for repeat readings.

Overall

If you like Batman in black and white and are a fan of Eduardo Risso’s art style and Brian Azzarello’s words then it’s an absolute must-buy. It’s a great showcase of Risso’s artwork with loads of content (2 large stories and 2 short stories) at an affordable price. However, I do think that Knight of Vengeance looks much better in color and Broken City, which takes up the bulk of the book, had some really iffy characterization.

SCORE: 8/10