Much has been written about the greatness of Batman: The Animated Series. Heck, I’ve probably written at least a few thousand words celebrating the series on this site alone, so it’s safe to say that the landmark cartoon is no stranger to effusive praise.
What’s so great about the show, though, is that it’s more than deserving of its sterling reputation, and us fans never get tired of talking about our mutual love for the series. Even better, after all these years, publishers, creators, and artists are still finding new ways to celebrate what so many people consider the definitive take on the Caped Crusader. We have no shortage of toys, video games, books, movies, comic collections, and other forms of media that scratch that Animated Series itch.
It’s also great to see just how many creators the series has influenced since its inception. Do a quick search on Instagram and there will be no shortage of amazing fan art of Batman, his crime fighting family, and their rogues gallery depicted in the Animated Series style.
How about those projects that marry both, though? One of the most popular by far has been Mondo’s posters and albums released to celebrate BTAS. Dubbed “The Phantom City Creative Collection,” these pieces from Mondo artist Justin Erickson capture the essence of the show while simultaneously evoking different art styles and film genres. The end result is a collection of posters that run the range from moody to exciting, and all are absolutely gorgeous in every way. Their beauty is often matched by their scarcity, as there have been countless stories of fans trying to obtain the newest piece, only to be met with an “Out of Stock” message mere second after the sale goes live.
Thankfully, Insight Editions have teamed with Mondo to give us the next best thing: an art book that collects all of Erickson’s pieces to date, all in one stunning volume. Dubbed Batman: The Animated Series: The Phantom City Creative Collection, this tome is a great “coffee table book” for every fan of the Animated Series, as well as a wish list for some killer wall art if you’re able to track the pieces down.
It is also incredibly hard to review as a book, because, well, it’s mostly images with little in the way of text. They are absolutely incredible images, of course, with each poster rendered on high quality paper, accompanied by progress sketches and drafts from Erickson’s portfolio. When you can sum it up by simply saying “buy it to look at the pretty pictures,” it can be difficult to wring out enough words for a review.
But that won’t stop me from trying.
In all seriousness, while most of the book’s appeal is indeed– and obviously– the illustrations it contains, there’s some enlightening and informative reading material too. Paul “if you like Batman I probably had at least a little bit to do with it” Dini contributes a foreword, for one, and it’s always great to read him wax poetic about the show. There’s not anything said here that hasn’t been said before by him, Timm, Altieri, Burnett, or anyone else involved with the series, but still, it’s nice knowing that the creators love the product as much as we do.
That’s followed by an interview with Erickson, as conducted by Mondo cofounder Rob Jones. This serves the dual purpose of letting us get to know the artist, along with providing a loose narrative detailing the conception of the Phantom City Creative project. The back and forth is laidback and easy to read, coming across like a conversation between two longtime friends, and while there are some inside jokes here and there, it never feels like we the readers are eavesdropping on something private. Much like Dini’s foreword, it’s great to read Erickson talk about how much he loves Batman because of the cartoon, which makes this collection feel more like a labor of love than “just another paid gig.”
From there, the book is separated into three sections: Mask of the Phantasm, Posters, and Soundtrack Designs. Phantasm gets a few additional pages dedicated to it, as it was the first poster that Erickson was commissioned to illustrate for the collection.
It also rocks hard, so that helps too.
The Phantasm section set up the format for the rest of the book, with the completed piece supported by various specs, concept art, and the occasional aside from Erickson to describe his process and inspiration. Almost every single piece has a final design that is indeed better than early concepts, but it’s cool to see some of Erickson’s creative process in coming up with the end product. Cooler still is how little changed between initial concept and final poster, with quite a few pieces having only minor changes over the course of Erickson’s work.
Some pieces are presented without any context or text, save for the name of the episode and its production stats (including writer, director, and original air date). Still, on a design level, most of the posters speak for themselves, so most of Erickson’s descriptions have more to do with how and why he was approached to do that particular episode rather than or his personal connection to that story.
While there really isn’t a bad piece in the bunch, I personally like those that were influenced by films and books. The Demon’s Quest, for one, is clearly an homage to Drew Struzan’s Indiana Jones posters, Beware the Gray Ghost and It’s Never Too Late take their cues from pulp serials and gangster films, respectively, and even I’ve Got Batman in my Basement has some fun with a layout that evokes old Hardy Boys adventures. Erickson has a great eye for the abstract, too, with a minimalist masterpieces that makes the pieces based on The Man Who Killed Batman, I Am the Night, and Blind as a Bat staying with me long after I first read through the book.
While the Soundtrack Designs largely consists of poster art that was reformatted for vinyl album covers, there are some cool original pieces here too. The villain mugshot cards and defaced Heroes of Gotham cards are a lot of fun, and Erickson’s moody illustrations for limited edition soundtrack collections are absolutely breathtaking. Even the interior front and back cover pages for the book itself have some nice design work, but I’ll let you discover that for yourself.
At a $60 retail price, the book is on the pricier side, but it’s more than reasonable for the quality and size. It’s definitely something for a particular audience, but considering that “particular audience” comprises a pretty sizable portion of the Batman fan base, I don’t doubt that most of you reading this would enjoy an art book of this caliber.
Note: Batman News was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of this review.
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