It’s understandable to be hesitant about a $5 dollar comic book, but this is Batman: Black & White. This is a series that has a long history of excellence and I’m happy to say that this issue keeps that legacy alive with a collection of beautifully illustrated and imaginative stories that are funny, sincere, thought-provoking, and action-packed. So if you were on the fence about it, know that I wholeheartedly recommend you go back out and buy it before reading this review. I won’t be going into any major spoilers, but you’ll be far more entertained if you head into this book without knowing exactly what stories you’ll be treated to. But if you choose to read on I’ll definitely try to keep all the big surprises secret. This is a comic for casual and longtime fans alike. You do not need an encyclopedic knowledge of the past 74 years of Batman comics or be up to date on what’s going on in the New 52. These are all easily accessible short stories that take place outside of any continuity.
Yes, the emphasis on the loss of Bruce’s parents is so over-played in comics that some will give the idea behind this image a sigh, but it’s absolutely gorgeous. And in a month full of 3D covers that move when you hold them I think it’s pretty impressive that Marc Silvestri’s stark black and white drawing of a hero brought to his knees by grief outshines all the competition and I really think it does. It’s one of my favorite covers this year.
One thing that really stood out to me is that there are no ads to be found in this book and for $5 bucks there definitely shouldn’t be. Instead, the only breaks we have between stories are these really well-done biographies on the writers and artists who made these stories possible and the book even opens up with a dedication to Archie Goodwin.
Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When.
This homage to the original World’s Finest team-up of Batman, Superman, and Robin by famed graphic designer and leading authority on all things Batman Chip Kidd and artist Michael Cho was a terrific way to kick-off the new Batman: Black and White. It’s a great first chapter because it lets readers know that while the title is “Black and White” this series isn’t solely about gritty, noir tales. It’s about letting really creative people do what they want and that includes celebrating a bygone era in comics. Cho’s style perfectly suits the delightful golden age aesthetic and every panel is perfectly shaded to get the most out of the black and white so much so that it feels like adding color would be doing these pages a disservice! Kidd does a fantastic job of writing a fun-filled, nostalgic story in a mere 8 pages and I think this will go down as a fan favorite from this issue.
Neal Adams’ contributuion to the book definitely stands out because it’s the only one that wasn’t inked and it’s the one that tries to deliver a rather profound social message. Yes, you’d think that by the title “Batman Zombie” and the awesomely grotesque splash page opening that this would be a chaotic, fun story about a zombified Dark Knight who Robin or maybe even the rogues would have to team up to stop before he infects the entire city and the rest of the DC Universe or something else extreme, but that’s not the case at all. Not by a long shot. Neal Adams uses the zombie transformation as a commentary on how Batman is only effective when faced with a problem that can be remedied with fisticuffs and gadgets, but when it comes to broad, social issues at the core of Gotham’s woes? In those cases the Batman is little more than a lifeless burden, a zombie. Batman can only do so much and it’s Bruce Wayne who needs to stand up and use his wealth and influence to do the most for his city besides beating up the freaks. I think this one will be a bit divisive because of the expectations that they’ll have from the super-cool opening page conflicting with the preachyness of the actual material but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I think Adams did a terrific job with this both in illustrating and writing.
Justice is Served
After a light story and then a heavy story we’re back to something more cheerful with “Justice is Served,” a short story that channels the spirit of the classic Batman: The Animated Series episode “Harley and Ivy.” Simply put? This is the best Harley Quinn story in years and, gun to my head, if I had to pick a favorite from this terrific collection I would have to go with what Maris Wicks and Joe Quinones made here. Maris wrote a very funny comic that stayed true to the tone of this world without turning to parody. This really could have been a Batman: The Animated Series episode and that’s one of the highest complements you can give a comic. The story begins with Harley’s visit to a Gotham Burger fast-food restaurant that quickly escalates to her and old pal Pamela Isley being blamed for a city-wide plant-themed pandemic. I would love to see Maris Wicks write more Batman comics in the future and if Joe Quinones could draw them then I would be in heaven. These pages are gorgeous and not just because we get to see the classic Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy costumes again. The camera angles are perfect and the lighting is beautifully cinematic, I especially liked the panel in which Ivy’s eyes are illuminated as she turns her gaze to the sound emanating from the corridor. It’s a style that’s so richly detailed and so expressive that it’s effective in the Batman’s most serious detective scenes and Harley’s most ridiculous comedic scenes. And Quinones isn’t afraid to mix up his style either when Harley recaps the first 3 pages of the comic in a single cartoony panel. This is a story fans of Harley will be revisiting again and again.
I found this one to be really interesting because of its emphasis on the Batmobile. When it comes to animated or live-action portrayals of Batman the Batmobile is a HUGE part of it all. But in comics? Sure, we see a new design for the Batmobile here or there, but action scenes with one of pop culture’s most famous cars are few and far between in the comic books. Not only that, but the car is often depicted as being quite disposable. Batman’s always wrecking it or blowing it up and then he’ll immediately have another car lined up with a brand new design. It’s just another tool in his arsenal that he’ll throw money at whenever there’s a problem. But what writer John Arcudi and artist Sean Murphy give us is not only a really terrific, fast-paced car chase scene but a Bruce Wayne who LOVES his car and I think that’s a really nice character trait to have. As horrible and soul-crushing the war on crime may be it’s cool to see him actually take pride and have some fun in at least one aspect of the campaign and having that be his car, something many readers can relate to, well I think that’s a great direction. However, I will say that while I’m a huge fan of Sean Murphy‘s artwork (the more Batman stuff he draws, the better) I think that this is the one story in this collection that could have benefited from being colored. The non-linear storytelling and absence of time-stamps could have been more clearly told if there was a different color palette used for the two different places in time. One last thing I want to note about this story is the spot-on choice in villain. Rather than have Batman chase unnamed thugs or Joker in a “Jokermobile” we see The New Batman Adventures character Roxy Rocket, who has only ever been seen in the comics twice before in Brian Q. Miller and Lee Garbett’s Batgirl #6 & #7 (the Stephanie Brown Batgirl).
Probably the most satisfying of these stories for me is Howard Mackie and Chris Samnee’s “Head Games.” Not necessarily because it was the most well told or illustrated of the bunch (although as a big fan of Mark Waid’s Daredevil it was great to see Samnee draw Batman) but because it features a villain that I feel very strongly about who has been cut out of the New 52 recently. In fact, it was just this week that I mourned the loss of this character and basically wasted half a comic review lamenting how much I liked the classic version of the character compared to the New 52 incarnation! So when I reached the surprise reveal at the end of “Head Games” I was ecstatic. Not only is it a fine mystery that showcase’s a hard boiled vibe and great detective work by our hero, but it gave me one last adventure with a character I love. Perhaps even better than that, Mackie and Samnee brilliantly parallel this villain with Batman’s own relationship with his butler and make “Head Games” a stand-out Alfred story as well.
- Batman: The Animated Series is close to your heart, especially the “Harley and Ivy” episode
- You love to see the uncolored work of some of the best artists in comics
- The Batmobile is your favorite car. Ever
- The original 1940’s World’s Finest team-up of Batman, Superman, and Robin interests you
- You miss a classic rogue lost to the new 52 as much as I do SpoilerVentriloquist & Scarface
- You hate ads. There is not one single advertisement in this entire comic
- You like Batman. Seriously, I could make this list go on and on, but really if you like Batman you’re going to be satisfied with what you find here
The only legitimate excuse that you as a Batman fan can have for not rushing out and buying this is if you’re waiting for the more affordable trade paperback that’ll be out sometime next year. Otherwise you’re missing out on some very entertaining stories. There were a lot of Batman books on shelves this week, but in my opinion this was by far the best.