I feel I’ve made it quite clear that I’m a huge fan of Batman: Black and White. The original collection is easily one of my favorite books, and full of incredible stories and art. So, when it was announced that the concept was coming back, I was ecstatic. That excitement remained throughout the first two issues as well, as we were treated to the cream-of-the-crop stories from the best storytellers in the industry.
And then the third issue landed.
The incredibly moving and inspiring stories and art were suddenly replaced with mediocre attempts that felt more like a mandate to fill pages as opposed to a desire to deliver something special. And immediately, while reading that issue, I felt a sense of dread. Was this it? Had we already sourced all of the strong stories for the first two issues? Would all that remains just be… mediocre? Well, find out my thoughts on this issue below.
“A Night in the Life of a Bat in Gotham”
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Riley Rossmo
Letters by Deron Bennett
I can’t help but feel that this is an interesting story to choose to kick off this issue. Now, I know there’s a heavy bias here, but I’m not the biggest fan of Williamson or Rossmo, so there isn’t much here to excite me as far as name-value is concerned. Williamson’s script just never seems to be as crisp, polished, or character-driven as I want, and Rossmo’s art – while I respect it – has never been my cup of tea. So, with that forewarning out of the way, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I didn’t care for “A Night in the Life of a Bat in Gotham.”
My biggest problem here is the script. It’s quite clear that Williamson wanted to do something light-hearted that resonated, but I don’t think he ever actually figured out, specifically, what that message or theme was. In fact, I’d venture to say that the title itself has more weight and impact to it than anything in the story itself. I mean, hell, even the plot of this short narrative seems to meander.
There’s a low-level criminal that’s taking advantage of Gotham’s reality and reputation, and selling “souvenirs” of Batman’s rogues to the city’s wealthy and elite. For whatever reason, they also sell bats as pets. Yes, I get the Batman connection, but why these specific criminals would go from selling the Riddler’s hat or one of Joker’s prank flowers, and then also randomly sell bats… Is odd.
Anyway, they sell bats, and this is only important because when Batman shows up and a tussle ensues, the bat that the criminals caught breaks free and helps Batman. The little guy gets shocked, Batman saves the day, and then nurses the Bat to health… At which point we get the equivalent of an Animal Planet children’s program where the Bat-family spouts random facts about bats. It’s… odd.
As I mentioned, Riley Rossmo delivers the art for this issue. His work is always a little quirky for my taste, but I respect him for what he does. I will admit that you always know Rossmo art when you see it, and I actually think that is a positive. I also think the cartoony nature of the art plays in the story’s favor. Unfortunately, the script itself doesn’t have much purpose and leaves a lot to be desired.
“A Night in the Life of a Bat in Gotham” score: 4/10
“The Davenport House”
Story and Art by Karl Kerschl
Letters by Steve Wands
“The Davenport House” wins the award for my favorite story of the lot! This should come as no surprise to anyone though. I mean, it’s Karl Kerschl – who is both an incredible artist and storyteller – and he’s utilizing Maps as Robin. Be still my heart!
Batman and (Maps) Robin go to the Davenport House to investigate noise complaints from neighbors. The house is one of the oldest in the city, and has been abandoned for years. Did I mention that it’s haunted? Oh, well, it’s supposedly haunted as well.
Now, if you’ve never read Gotham Academy (you should), then simply saying “We get to see Batman and Maps banter about spirits and the occult,” would just seem like a standard plot point, right? Well, those of us in the know (seriously, you really need to read Gotham Academy), know that Batman and Maps discussing things that go bump in the night is a sheer joy to read. I repeat… Sheer joy to read!
From start to finish, I found “The Davenport House” engaging and entertaining. While the characters jump off of the page and demand your attention, the story itself is quite interesting. The occult isn’t something we get to explore too often with Batman, so seeing it presented here is refreshing, and a testament to Kerschl as a storyteller.
There’s so much packed into this short story. We’ve got a legend of a haunted house. Upon investigation, we discover what appears to be an illusion or a prank to push the narrative of the haunting. And then we learn that this isn’t a prank, but actually is the spirit of a descendant of the house, who is reaching forward in time to learn the details of a tragedy that plagues her – a tragedy that leads to a murder-suicide, granting the house it’s haunted status here in the present day.
This story is fun and heartbreaking at the same time. It’s spooky and exciting. And then, as I said earlier, it is engaging and entertaining. Factor in Kerschl’s incredible artwork, and it’s no surprise that this tops my list.
And, seriously… Go read Gotham Academy you animal!
“The Davenport House” score: 8/10
“The Green Deal”
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Nick Bradshaw
Letters by Aditya Bidikar
When Batman: Black and White first relaunched, I praised the book for creating an opportunity to let artists and their work shine. If any artist wins an MVP award from this issue, it’s Nick Bradshaw. I mean… Look at all of those lines! These pages are full. Oftentimes, when there’s this much linework on a page and no color, it can look jumbled and messy – hard to sort out what’s actually what, and where the eye should go. So, to see artwork that is this crisp and this clear… It just makes me appreciate how talented these individuals actually are.
As for the story itself, we’re presented with an interesting plot. Poison Ivy is attacking Wayne Manor. Like clockwork, Batman arrives on the scene immediately and confronts Ivy. This is all pretty status quo, and I was concerned that we were in for another generic story. But then, when Batman asks Ivy why she’s attacking Wayne, she proclaims that she isn’t attacking him, but needs his help.
Alright, Mr. Zdarsky. You have my attention.
As it turns out, Ivy is looking for Bruce, because, together, she believes that they can save the planet. And you know what? She kind of has a point. Ivy, if controlled properly, could do some great things with Bruce. But we all know that Ivy is who she is, and there’s more to this than just seeking Bruce’s help. That’s right, she wants to control Bruce and force him to do her bidding. That seems more like it.
Overall, the story is intriguing in some aspects, and completely predictable in others. Zdarsky is one of my favorite writers in comics, but his DC work – so far – has just been ok. I’m waiting for him to write something at DC that really resonates with me, and while I thought for a brief moment that this might be it, I hate to say that it isn’t.
“The Green Deal” score: 7/10
Story and Art by Daniel Warren Johnson
Letters by Rus Wooton
Daniel Warren Johnson is a talent that is just now starting to come into his own, and I was really excited to read this story simply because it is from him. If you’ve read Murder Falcon, then you will understand why I’m hyped. Anyway, I love the idea of getting his take on Batman, and this is a wonderful medium to test those waters. So, how did this fare? Well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Elements of this story are great, and other elements are just good.
I feel like DWJ excels in creating stories that emotionally resonate with readers, and that notion is alive and well throughout parts of this short story. The crux of this story is to explain how Batman prepares for various scenarios, and what led him to think, strategically, the way that he does. It’s a nice dive into this concept of “Bat-God” where Batman always seems to have the answer. But instead of approaching Batman as if he just knows how to solve everything, it approaches it through variables and knowing your opponent… Thanks to Chess.
Yes, that’s right, on the heels of The Queen’s Gambit, we get a Batman short where Alfred teaches a young Bruce how to play Chess. I loved every second of this – possibly because I miss Alfred in the main continuity, but also because Johnson handles it so well! You can feel the humanity and warmth in every scene that Bruce and Alfred share. You can see Alfred stepping in as the father figure. It’s beautiful.
And then there’s the present-day scene with Batman and Two-Face. This is where the story is just ok to good. As great as the flashbacks with Alfred are, the action scenes in this issue just come off as generic and predictable. Not bad, but generic and predictable none-the-less. It’s simply just two different elements written on two different levels.
As for the art… Johnson has a distinct look to his art. It isn’t the cleanest artwork – which isn’t a bad thing – but it’s also not my first pick for a Batman comic. There’s a messiness to Johnson’s work that kind of reminds me of Frank Miller back in the day. A lot of texture and grit. Is it the best artwork in terms of visual aesthetic? No. Does it work in terms of storytelling and mood? Hell yeah!
“Checkmate” score: 7.5/10
“The Fool’s Journey”
Written by Becky Cloonan
Pencils by Terry Dodson
Inks by Rachel Dodson
Letters by Becca Carey
First things first, any time Terry and Rachel Dodson are on art duties, I’m there. There’s a simplicity to their art that is fantastic – some might even say “standard comic book art” – but it’s so damn good. Sequentially, layouts, emotionally… They check all of the boxes and it always works for me! Always. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t really work for me.
“The Fool’s Journey” takes place relatively early in Bruce’s career (pre-Robin), and there’s been a murder at Haley’s Circus. Madame Fortuna has been stabbed in the chest, and Gordon has called in Batman to assist with the investigation. The story essentially runs through a list of witnesses as Batman gains information about the murder, and allows him to build his case.
Sounds good, right? Well… Yeah, sure. In some ways it is. We learn some details that don’t necessarily paint a number of suspects in the best light, and just when you’re trying to determine who did what… Batman just says, “It wasn’t murder. It was suicide.” And I immediately felt let down.
To be clear, it isn’t because Cloonan subverted expectations, but because it felt like a cop-out. It literally feels like she couldn’t come up with a satisfying murder scenario, so just went with suicide. And then, knowing that the resolution wasn’t strong, felt the need to add “You should know this by now. Sometimes there are no answers, and the ones you do manage to find… They will never satisfy you.” I mean… Come on. This isn’t poignant. She knew what she was doing and it all feels a little cheap.
There are some nice nods and foreshadowing concerning the Graysons though, as well as the circus paying Zucco for protection money. If you like those little nods and textures in stories, then you will probably enjoy it here as well. I’m not going to lie… Seeing a toddler Dick Grayson did make my heart go pitter-pat.
“The Fool’s Journey” score: 6.5/10
- You’re looking for some solid short stories.
- As always, come admire the art!
Batman: Black & White #4, like the previous issue, doesn’t pack the same punch as the first two issues, but it is still a fun, entertaining read. This book serves as a great opportunity for DC to showcase their talent – especially their artists – and give us, the readers, a glimpse into what certain creators’ takes on Batman would be. It’s always fun, and always beautifully illustrated. Where can you go wrong?