No fan of Andy Kubert’s Batman will want to miss this showcase of the artist’s best work from the past decade presented in the prestige “Deluxe Edition” format. Every issue has been reprinted in its original pencils without ink or color so every minute detail of the craft is clearly visible.
Batman Unwrapped: Andy Kubert collects Batman #655-658, #664-666, #686, #700, Detective Comics #853, Countdown 52 Week #46, and New 52 – Batman #18. I’ll give you a brief description of what these issues contain and how much they are worth a read, but make no mistake– this is a book that’s devoted more toward appreciating the art than it is about seeing the stories the way they were intended to be told. I wouldn’t recommend reading anything for the first time in an “Unwrapped” edition. You wouldn’t watch a movie for the first time with the commentary on, would you? This is a book made for fans of Andy Kubert’s art who have already read and love these comics, but would like to view them in a whole new way!
Now, the book opens with a clean and organized table of contents that’s completely useless considering how the novel has no page numbers whatsoever. Following the table of contents is a letter from Andy Kubert himself, which was a terrific surprise. The letter was written for this edition specifically and addresses the fans directly. In it, Kubert describes the raw power and sense of spontaneity that comes from seeing a comic in its original pencils or inks, praises the writers he collaborated with (Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, and Scott Snyder), and dedicates Batman Unwrapped to his late father, Joseph Kubert.
Batman & Son
“Batman & Son” is made up of Batman #655-658 from 2006. It’s an important story because it introduced us to Damian for the first time (in mainstream continuity, for the first appearance you’ll have to go back to 1987’s “Son of the Bat” which was an Elseworlds), but it’s also an incredibly fun story as well. I find that I enjoy it more and more every time I read it. It’s fascinating, especially now that Damian is gone, to see how much the character evolved over the past few years. Not only that, but the action between Batman and the Man-Bat ninjas of the League of Assassins is an incredible thrill and I love how writer Grant Morrison tapped back into the globe-trotting days of the 1970’s when Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil planted Bruce in adventures outside of Gotham.
Art aficionados will have to wait 2 chapters to start appreciating the original pencils, however. Kubert inked issues #655 and #656 himself and while these comics are still without color (except for the occasionally volatile speech bubble highlighted in red or green) the pencils do not begin until issue #657. Still, as Kubert said in his own introduction, whether you’re looking at the pencils, the inks, or the finished product, all approaches offer an entirely different experience that’s wonderful in its own way. There are a number of instances where you’ll even see notes to the inker or colorist scribbled in the panels– an “add spatter” here or a “do some kind of water color effect” there– that really gives you a unique look behind the curtain of how your comics are made. Be sure to pay special attention to the backgrounds, not only because they are so full of life and painstakingly detailed, but the seeds of Batman R.I.P. were sewn from the very first chapter of Grant Morrison’s Batman epic if you look closely.
The Three Ghosts of Batman
The Black Glove saga gets its start as Damian exits and Batman revisits his “Black Case Book.” Issues #664-665 serve as both a nice epilogue to the aftermath of the confrontation with Talia al Ghul and an important prologue to the coming of Doctor Hurt. Batman knows that something terrible is on the rise, but cannot yet pinpoint what the threat could possibly be. All that is clear is that cops are dressing up as Caped Crusaders and it reminds him an awful lot of a case he and Dick Grayson faced way back in the days when the dynamic duo dealt with alien invasions and time travel. This is where writer Grant Morrison really started to incorporate every aspect of the Batman mythology into one cohesive whole. His approach was to make all the camp of the Silver Age as cannon as the dark and gritty material of the post-Frank Miller era and the “Black Case Book” was the keystone that bridged the two! Remember the name of one of the prostitutes Batman speaks to during his investigation, she’ll show up again in volume 2 of Batman Incorporated.
You’ll see Andy Kubert return to drawing gritty Gotham environments again after “Batman & Son” spent most of its time in England. And he truly does draw some of the most iconic Batman imagery you’ll ever see. The action is also quite good as Batman and Robin (Tim Drake, who gets a wonderful amount of “screentime”) must take down a Bane-like foe dressed in a cape and cowl. I love Kubert’s attention to detail, going so far as to incorporate the same sound effect used when Bane broke Batman’s back in “Knightfall”!
Batman in Bethlehem
Batman #666 “Batman in Bethlehem” is a flash forward to a possible future that will come to pass if Damian is allowed to follow in his father’s footsteps. It might seem like a high-concept filler-issue at first, but, when read together with the rest of Morrison’s Bat-epic, it extrapolates on the idea of the Three Ghosts of Batman and there are actually quite a few clues hidden within this one-shot adventure that link directly to R.I.P. as well as Batman & Robin (the pre-New 52 Dick and Damian days), and Batman Incorporated. It’s a fairly fun done-in-one issue, but I think that the 2nd follow-up “Asylum” from the 2nd volume of Batman Inc. is superior in terms of characterization and scope.
If you want to continue your journey on Grant Morrison’s Batman run: Batman & Son, The Three Ghosts, Batman in Bethlehem, Club of Heroes, Space Medicine, and The Fiend with Nine Eyes are all included in the Batman vs. The Black Glove Deluxe Edition. You can read my full review of that by clicking HERE. Otherwise this book takes a big leap forward from issue #666 to #686– that’s a 20 issue gap! Truthfully, the book could’ve used an essay or some sort of creative chapter-break between the Morrison, Gaiman, and Snyder sections as they do not make for a cohesive narrative whole.
Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?
We jump ahead more than a year in Batman comics to “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” which was originally printed in Batman #686 and Detective Comics #853. This is not as simple as having a tie-in issue to the “death” of Batman that occurred in Morrison’s saga. Writer Neil Gaiman presents a tale intended to represent the final story of Batman. Ever. It is a wake for every time Batman has died and will die. It’s not just our Batman, but the Batman of all eras and the story and its artwork pays homage to the entire history of the mythology. It’s a fascinating, post-modern piece that will leave you feeling like every fictional character in every literary work has a soul. While I hesitate to declare anything my favorite Batman story of all time… it just might be “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?”
I only ever read it once. It made me cry and I put it away because I was afraid that if I read it again it just wouldn’t be as good as it was the first time. Well, it turns out that it’s still just as good and I have tears yet to shed. I won’t dive too deeply into this since it’s buried so deeply in this extra-long article– I’ll give it the attention it deserves when I finally review the hardcover devoted entirely to it– but just know that Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert created one hell of a love letter to The Dark Knight that serves not only as a magnificent end, but a spectacular beginning! Kubert’s art is especially spellbinding in this edition as he channels the style of artists from every decade. Keep an eye out for notes scribbled in the margins that call out the references– everything from Miller’s Batman: Year One to Frank Gorshin’s Riddler!
“Tomorrow” is lifted from Batman #700, which featured 3 stories from 3 different Batmen (Bruce, Dick, and Damian). This is another look toward the potentially apocalyptic future where Damian is the Dark Knight and it’s a briefer but more exciting adventure than “Batman in Bethlehem.” Here we see Damian racing to find a baby that holds the cure to a Joker-zombie plague. This short story also marks the first appearance of Terry McGinnis (Batman Beyond) in mainstream Batman comics and leads directly into “Asylum” the Batman 666 sequel from Batman Inc. Volume 2.
The Origin of the Batman
This excerpt from Countdown 52 #46 is only 2 pages long and you’ve seen variations on this a hundred times before. It’s essentially the quick montage of “Batman: Who He Is and How He Came to Be” only here it’s written by the great Mark Waid (who gets no other acknowledgment in the book’s forward or closing biographies) and drawn by the much celebrated Andy Kubert.
The graphic novel’s only New 52 story is unfortunately one of the weakest issues of Scott Snyder’s Batman. You can read my full review of that issue HERE, but in retrospect I believe I awarded it far too high a score. This chapter was intended to deal with the aftermath of Damian’s death in Batman Inc. #8 but it actually turned out to be a showcase for an all-new character named Harper Row, who was being set up as a new sidekick (like Batman needs another teenage sidekick). It’s far from one of Batman’s best moments, it’s not a fitting tribute to Damian, and since the 2nd half of the one-shot was illustrated by a different artist and therefore not included in this collection– it’s an incomplete story. The title is called “Resolve” but that important theme isn’t addressed when you don’t include the pages by Alex Maleev. Batman: Unwrapped ends on a sour note with this half-finished Harper Row episode. The book should have finished strong on some of Kubert’s best Batman imagery and this one doesn’t measure up to the rest of the tales in this collection.
There is a gallery featuring those instances in which Kubert illustrated the cover, but not the interior of various Batman comics both from the original DCU and the New 52. The covers from The Return of Bruce Wayne are noticeably absent from the gallery. The book also closes with a brief biography for Andy Kubert, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, and Scott Snyder.
Value: FULL PRICE!
As far as a tribute to Andy Kubert is concerned, it doesn’t really get much better than this. It’s a beautifully presented book with some absolutely fantastic Batman stories in it. I don’t think anyone who wants to take the time to appreciate these pencils and revisit some modern classics in the process could be at all disappointed with their purchase. This volume has an incredibly high re-read value as well!
It’s a must-own for die-hard fans of Andy Kubert’s artwork and it would make a fabulous resource for readers who want to become comic artists themselves. Seeing these stories in their original pencils is a real treat and many of the comics collected within are indeed classics of the modern era.