When it was announced that Batman: Black and White would be returning, I was really excited! I tend to love Batman: Black & White because it gives the writer a chance to come in and deliver a short, focused story that is centered on a single theme or characterization. It’s similar to the anniversary issues, but it’s almost as if you know you’re going to get the best of the writer and the artist. I mean, the artist is coming in knowing that the colorist won’t be there to help cover up some rushes or mishaps in the art, so they have to be on their game. And the writer knows the artist will be on their game, so they equally want to deliver. Because of that, it is almost guaranteed that you’re going to get quality work… And I’m ok with that.
“The Demon’s Fist”
Written by James Tynion IV
Illustrated by Tradd Moore
Letters by Clayton Cowles
The first story in the docket is an interesting choice to kick off the book. While James Tynion’s story is simple enough – we follow the thoughts of a League of Assassin member who has been selected to lead a group of assassins against Batman – Tradd Moore’s art is anything but simple. Now, I don’t mean that in a bad way. Moore has a very distinct style, and I think that can be a good thing when looking at art as a form of expression. His work is often easy to identify, and it’s unique and fresh in the grand scheme of things. There’s a certain whimsical or trippy nature to it, and then can make for a fun dive into characters that aren’t often associated with this type of art style. However, I do feel that his art works best with colors.
While reading this, I found myself struggling at times to identify or follow what, exactly, his lines were showcasing simply because there are so many wavy lines. It’s almost as if, visually, this story was approached through the lens of, “What if the worlds of Batman and Alice in Wonderland collided?” I’m all here for that! But, at the same time, if that’s the vibe I’m getting, then I want some crazy, fun, bright, acid-trip colors to go with it. I just kept thinking, “If you’re going to go there, then let’s go there!” So, I genuinely hope a colorist picks up this story and does something fun with it at some point.
Circling back to the script, this is quite possibly the best Batman story I’ve ever read from James Tynion. I often complain about him trying too hard, and this is an example of what I’m referring to. There’s nothing overly special with this story, but that is precisely why it works. We follow an assassin’s journey into battle against Batman, the honor, the responsibility, the awe, the attack, and then the failure… But in his failure, he finds honor because he landed a blow.
Again, it’s super simple and easy to digest, and had the art matched, then I think I would’ve understood why DC launched the title with this story. I also get that Tynion is the current Batman writer, so there’s a draw there as well. But, and I sincerely mean this as no disrespect to Moore, I know many readers that aren’t open to unique and different art styles, so my concern is that they’ll open the book in the local comic shop, see this art, then think, “Mmm… This isn’t for me.” The reality, this is totally for you!
“The Demon’s Fist” score: 7.5/10
(If someone throws in some super-awesome, trippy colors, 9/10 for sure.)
Written and Illustrated by JH Williams III
Letters by Todd Klein
Now, this is what I’m talking about! This is the story that should have launched the title, and I think it should have done so for many reasons. For one, JH Williams art is a little more traditional and it’s easier to digest for a range of readers. It’s also absolutely beautiful work! But beyond that, everything about this story resonates. This story resonates with me as a Batman fan. It resonates with me when viewing my life, the decisions I’ve made, and the pain I’ve endured over time. And it even resonates with the present day concerning Covid-19. And no, none of it is a preachy, political slant… It just is.
Point blank, this story is a love letter to Batman. Williams writes a love letter that honors everything Batman is, was, and is to be. I never say this, but this story is perfect. The script touches on the theme of Batman. Why he fights. What burns his memory. What burns his soul. It ultimately reinforces his reason for even being Batman.
There’s a focus early in the story on the tragedy of the death of his parents. It isn’t necessarily a rehash of what we’ve seen far too many times, just Batman’s reflection on it. He remembers how it isn’t so much the death or the blood that he remembers more than anything, but his mother’s pearls falling, almost in slow-motion, as a symbolism of their death. The pearls run throughout the story visually, shaping the various themes that Williams moves on to encounter, leading the journey of Bruce’s life and how he transformed from a damaged boy to the man he is today.
Throughout this journey, Williams morphs his art to reflect the different art styles of various time periods or artists. You’ll instantly recognize iconic styles or moments peppers throughout double-page spreads of gorgeous art. To say that it is anything other than stunning is a disservice to what Williams creates. In fact, I’d even say the word “stunning” doesn’t really do the art justice.
As the narrative flows from loss, to uncertainty (both of life and the city of Gotham itself), to the weight of uncertainty, to creation, and cause-and-effect – the pearls continuing to guide the reader – the pearls then morph. They shift from their perfection to disfigured, almost disease-like formation… Until it’s clear that’s exactly what they are. The pearls literally morph into Covid-19. Batman acknowledges the uncertainty and weight of that as well. How it hinders people. How it requires additional precautions on his part. And how the criminals he’s fought against since the beginning will take advantage of it.
I’ve said it once but I’m saying it again… This story is perfect. Thank you, JH Williams III.
“Weight” score: 10/10
Written by Paul Dini
Art by Andy Kubert
Letters by Rob Leigh
If you tell me that Paul Dini is writing, I’m going to be excited. And that’s exactly what happened here. Throw Andy Kubert in on art, and you’re only going to increase my excitement. So, before I tell you my thoughts on this story, please understand that expectations play a large part in my overall opinion, because my expectations were high… But if I’m being honest, this was probably the least interesting story in the entire collection. Also, it doesn’t help that it followed a story as strong as Williams’.
Now, before you get the wrong idea, it wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t seem to shoot for anything special. Every story in this collection felt as though the creative team wanted to deliver something unique, except for this story. This story almost felt like a lost chapter that was cut from the Grant Morrison days. It just… is. Even the art, while good, still feels a little bland because it looks like standard comic book art.
Batman finds himself in an all-out assault against ninja Manbats in the Bat cave. There’s a lot of action, but that’s about it. Is it fun? Sure. Is it great? Meh. There’s really nothing here to resonate with or dig into, so I found myself actually wanting to just skip this story after a page or two. Thankfully, I didn’t because there is some fun fan service to be found here.
For one, it is nice to think back to Morrison’s run – I do have fond memories of that time period in Batman books – and the action provides a nice, mindless break from the other stories that surround it. But we also get some action on the T-Rex in the Bat Cave, as well as an appearance from the Bat-copter. Ok, Dini, you have my attention.
We learn why these ninja Manbats have attacked Batman, and learn that they weren’t ordered to do so by Talia. These are early creations before Talia could figure out the perfect balance in transforming her assassins, and because they weren’t perfect, they were never used for their intention. Hence, their desire to kill Batman to prove themselves.
The conclusion of the story ends with Batman and Talia deciding that they can be tamed under the right hand, so Batman sends them to an ally who can keep watch over them and calm their desires to kill. That someone… is Swamp Thing. What!?!? Ok, now I’m sold. We don’t really get much more to the story than this, but Swamp Thing leading a pack of ninja Manbats is something I definitely wouldn’t mind reading more of.
“First Flight” score: 6/10
Written and Illustrated by Emma Rios
Letters by Steve Wands
“Sisyphus” is probably my least favorite story in the entire collection, but I can still respect and appreciate it for what it is. If you’re unfamiliar with Sisyphus, then let me take a moment to explain the correlation here. Sisyphus is a figure from Greek mythology who, as king of Corinth, became infamous for his general trickery and twice cheating death. He ultimately got his comeuppance when Zeus dealt him the eternal punishment of forever rolling a boulder up a hill in the depths of Hades.
The theme of this story is excellent because it symbolizes Batman’s journey and his uncanny odds of constantly cheating death. As a result, his cheating death leads to a life of hell in continuing his never-ending battle against evil. See the metaphor there? Rolling a boulder uphill in hell? Wallowing yourself in the eternal fight against evil – a fight that will never end?
Yeah, I think it’s a great reimagining, and appreciate it, but if I’m being honest, outside of the approach, the story itself didn’t resonate with me until the final panel. The script is written almost as if a poem, and the art is also very pretty, and flowy – almost as if it were equally poetic. And as pretty and poignant as all of this is, I just didn’t connect with it.
I do feel that Rios’ art is what some might consider “high art” – or at least for the world of comics anyway. Is it what I want to see in my Batman comics? No, not really. That being said, I’m happy we have books like Batman: Black & White to give artists like this a chance to dip their toes into the world of Batman. Like Moore’s art in the first story, I wish a painter could’ve added colors here. This is genuinely beautiful linework, and one of the examples where I think colors help breathe life into the art rather than take away from the skill.
So, while I didn’t care for this story personally, I greatly respect the approach and technique. It didn’t resonate with me, but I have no doubt that it will resonate with other readers. If you’re looking for some beauty and grace in your Batman comics, then this might be the story for you.
“Sisyphus” score: 7/10
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Greg Smallwood
Wow! Ok, I want to start off by saying that seeing Greg Smallwood deliver the goods in a Batman story is something that I’ve wanted since discovering his art in Moon Knight. His work is so dark, expressive, and moody, but still clear and sharp. His approach to, and ability to create a noir look is probably the best in the business, and I want more of it!
Here, he and Wilson deliver a simple story that some might see as overdone, but it harkens back to many things I love about the Batman mythos, and I think it’s executed incredibly well! Batman is involving himself into a hostage case where a police officer has already been killed. As we progress in the story, we learn that the rogue involved is Killer Croc. Right away, I wonder what Wilson’s approach to Croc will be? Will it be what current writers seem to lean into? The horror approach of a monster that is nothing more than a ruthless killer? Or, will she circle back to the roots of the character and play into the deformed, gentle soul that only lashes out because of the treatment he’s endured.
I’m happy to say that it’s the latter. I think Croc is an excellent character with a number of layers, and Wilson and Smallwood manage to inject so much story in context with very little effort. In fact, I’d say that the narrative is equally balanced between visuals and the script, which is how I think comics should be. It’s is an example of efficient storytelling.
The story is a little predictable as I saw the twist coming a mile away, but at the same time, I like how the creative team handles the twist and the commentary that surrounds it. Is this story perfect? No. But, it is beautiful, and while familiar, it is executed incredibly well.
“Metamorphosis” score” 8.5/10
- Come for Batman, stick around for the art.
Batman: Black & White is a fun exploration into the world of Batman as depicted by a range of creators. It gives us a glimpse in how different creators would approach Batman – often in ways that we would never see elsewhere. The art is definitely the standout here, and the scripts are equally as strong. No matter your take on Batman, there’s something here for you. So, if you’re at your shop today, go ahead and pick it up. This book is well worth your time and money.