The third installment of Batman: Black & White landed this week, and while I was super excited to get my hands on this book, I hate to say that this chapter didn’t live up to the quality of the first two… Bummer.
There’s also a mishap where they advertise next week’s stories at the beginning of the book, then announce this week’s stories at the end of the book… Methinks DC is understaffed and employees are overworked…
Written by John Ridley
Art by Olivier Coipel
Letters by Deron Bennett
The first story in the docket follows our “next Batman,” Jace Fox. The story starts with Jace questioning some of the decisions he’s made, and opens on the Igloo Bois (former henchmen of Penguin who have branched off on their own) beating the snot out of him. Ah, yes, I would question some of my decision as well if I were in that scenario.
As the Igloo Bois do their dirty work, they eventually discover that this Batman is black. The discovery leads to a spatter of commentary that Ridley executes perfectly. It isn’t heavy-handed, nor is it trying too hard. It just is. And, unfortunately, it’s an accurate depiction of the state of America. “Dude’s black.” “These people are takin’ over everything.” “Kill’em. Then Let’s go kill some cops.” “Hey, you got any more meth? I’m starting to crash.”
In a single page and a few quick lines, Ridley manages to capture a number of “epidemics” plaguing our country. The revelation isn’t leaning one way or the other politically, and Ridley doesn’t feel the need to dive deeper into the conversations. The mere mentions are effective enough. The simplicity and effectiveness of it hook your attention right away before Ridley carries the plot forward.
There’s further questioning of who Jace is before his younger sister, Tiffany, enters the fray and rescues her brother. We get some fun banter between the two before they devise a plan and take down the bad guys. The remainder of the story is a fun action romp, with dashes of character thrown in here and there. The approach is a standard, simple story, but it’s executed well enough that it makes me want to put this book down and move right into The Next Batman: Second Son which released its first digital issue today. (We will be covering this on the print release schedule.)
Olivier Coipel delivers the art for the story and provides some masterclass work. Both the script and art are rather straight-forward, but both are executed with such finesse that it’s hard to deny the impact. I love the use of lighting and shadows by Coipel, and his lines add a nice texture when needed. The design of the characters are distinctive, and the action is clear, energetic, and engaging… What else could you ask for?
“The Cavalry” score 8/10
“A Kingdom of Thorns”
Script and art by Bilquis Evely
Letters by Aditya Bidikar
The second story in the collection is what I consider to be the first dud of the entire series. For a number of reasons “A Kingdom of Thorns” just doesn’t connect or resonate with me at all. And, to be fair, it isn’t bad, it just didn’t connect with me.
Bilquis Evely is an incredible artist, and in no way is my dislike for this story a commentary on my dislike for the art. Quite the contrary. The art is fantastic. Every page is flush with sweeping imagery that conveys the story quite well, and even creates the world we’re in rather distinctly. There’s so much pencil-work here, and that can often lead to a visual mess in black and white stories – making it hard for the reader to determine what is actually taking place. That’s not the case here. Evely shifts the density of the inks and pencils to not only help guide the eye, but to also establish what everything is within the panel itself.
So, if the art is so strong, why is my response so negative? Well, quite frankly, nothing about this says “Batman.” It’s quite clear that Evely had a story in mind that was more in line with fantasy during the medieval time period – perhaps even a King Arthur story – and then just changed and transposed the characters so that it featured “Batman” instead.
In the story, Batman is a knight, and he journeys across the land – initially for reasons unknown – enduring the attacks of a mythical plant creature. After enduring an onslaught of hurdles and attacks from the plant creature (perhaps Poison Ivy?), “Batman” finally makes it to the creature, and delivers what is essentially the soul of the creature back to it. “Batman” passes, is brought back to life by the creature, then gets up and leaves. That’s… It.
For a writing debut, it’s honestly solid. The biggest issue here, as I said earlier, is that this isn’t Batman. In fact, if you didn’t have the bat imagery depicted in the Knight, and you published this story as-is, without the bat imagery, nobody would know this is supposed to be a Batman story. Nobody.
“A Kingdom of Thorns” score 4/10
“I Am the Bat”
Script and art by Bengal
Letters by Gabriela Downie
“I Am the Bat” is a simple story that is effective because of its simplicity. If the art looks familiar, this isn’t the first story from Bengal to land in Batman: Black & White, so when I saw the inclusion of another story here, I was quite excited. Part of what make’s Bengal’s work so intriguing is the cleanness of the art, and the almost absolute wash of just white and black. Where other artists add a lot of lines, cross-hatching, and gray tones for texture and mood, Bengal does the opposite. Instead, the art here embraces the purity of the white and the pitch of the black, creating a strong juxtaposition. What’s incredible, is that I almost feel Bengal is more effective in conveying the visual storytelling better than other artists despite the lack of detail.
As for the story itself, it’s a standard story that features Batman stopping low-level criminals, reflecting on the teachings of his father, the morals that were instilled in him, and how that legacy continues… There’s just one twist… All of this is a misdirect, leading to a fun, tongue-in-cheek reveal that legitimately put a smile on my face.
“I Am the Bat” score: 7/10
“An Unquiet Knight”
Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Kelley Jones
Letters by Rob Leigh
“An Unquiet Knight” isn’t the best story in the lot, but it is a fun, unique approach to the standard Batman story. Featuring a supporting roster of Zatana, Etrigan, and Raven, it becomes clear relatively early in the story that this isn’t going to be your typical crime story, but will instead feature mystical aspects rather heavily… In fact, here, Batman is actually dead, and we’re getting the manifestation of his spirit.
The script itself is good. I like the themes that Seeley plays with, but some of the dialogue leaves something to be desired. The “criminals” calling each other “bro” despite looking like they’re in their late 30’s or early 40’s was the first instance that caught my attention, and maybe it’s because I was aware of it from that point, but I noticed other moments where the dialogue appeared to be… off.
Despite the minor opportunities within the script, the themes make up for it. The idea that Gotham haunted Bruce, and now Batman haunts Gotham – in the literal sense – is a fun play. And having Zatana there to guide Batman’s spirit is actually rather touching and moving. There is something special here, though I think it creates a strong moment for Zatana than anyone.
As for the art… Well, Kelley Jones is an acquired taste. There’s a uniqueness to his art, and I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. As much as I respect what he does, I’ll be honest and say that he isn’t my favorite artis. However, you always know his work immediately, and that is something. Also, I think this might be some of Jones’ best work in recent years, so there’s that as well!
“An Unquiet Knight” score: 6/10
Story and art by Nick Dragotta
Letters by Rus Wooton
Finally, we end with “Legacy.” This story is mostly silent and heavily influenced by science fiction, but if I’m being honest, it doesn’t do it for me. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, where it appears that aliens are running rampant on the earth. Ever the protector, Batman is there to protect his city – well, what’s left of it anyway.
Batman fights one of these giant aliens – I’m assuming it’s an alien – there are some casualties… It’s… odd. I found myself turned off rather quickly because the story makes a distinct point to show that Batman uses a gun here, and yeah, he’s fighting these giant creatures, so I get it, but it still didn’t sit well with me. I think that had Dragotta not put such heavy focus on the gun, it would’ve bothered me less, but he did… So… Yeah…
After defeating the alien, Batman runs off into the distance, and the citizens that have been suffering follow him. He ends up breaking into what looks like a hideaway for the rich and elite, where they’re continuing to live their desired lifestyle. The down-and-out citizens follow, and essentially raid the place… Which is where the story ends.
Ok, so look… There’s some political commentary here, and I get where Dragotta is coming from, but the decision to make this a mostly-silent issue makes the story itself – and more importantly, Dragotta’s intentions – less clear. I can’t say that I’m a fan of this, because none of it lands or sits well with me. Dragotta’s art is quite impressive though, so I hope he comes back to illustrate a more straight-forward story.
“Legacy” score: 3/10
- You’re looking for quick, simple stories.
- The art alone is honestly worth the cover price.
Batman: Black & White #3 is the weakest book in the series so far, and that has me a little worried for what’s left for the remaining issue. While the first two books featured multiple, strong stories that really delivered a punch, that’s mostly absent here. There’s good art, yeah, but most of the stories themselves are generic. Even the strongest story in this collection (“The Cavalry”) is so straight-forward that while it’s good, it’s not something you’ll reflect back on and think, “Oh, man! You need to read this!”