By now, we all know how Batman: Black & White goes. Several short stories by different writers and artists are compiled into one book. The title has given us some classic Batman stories, and even more amazing artistic visions of the Dark Knight. The series has become so popular that it has launched a successful line of statues. After some down time, Batman Black & White returns.
Issue #2 gives us five Dark Knight stories, ranging from a battle with Man-Bat to a Christmas tale with a sinister theme. First, I must make note of the cover, a Batman done by Marvel stalwart Jim Steranko. It’s always a great thing when a new book showcases the old school pioneers, and Steranko’s Batman is awesome. DC Editor-In-Chief Dan Didio pens the first story, “Man-Bat Out Of Hell,” with art from J.G. Jones.
The story is simple. Batman follows Man-Bat to try and thwart his attack on a supposedly innocent man. As the story unfolds, circumstances change and enemies become allies. Didio wraps a tale of parental love within the action and does it quite effectively. The art from Jones is a bridge between fine art and comic book art. His brushstrokes bring to mind older fantasy and adventure books. I’m not a huge fan of the style, but it does fit Didio’s story.
Next is “Into The Circle,” a bizarre, twisted and unnerving Joker story. Written and drawn by Rafael Grampa, “Into The Circle” has Joker plotting to break into Wayne Manor with some of his more disturbed henchman. Naturally, Batman steps in and beats the piss out of the would-be criminals. In a final stroke of the bizarre, the Joker was not the Joker, it turns out to be Alfred dressed as the Clown Prince of Crime in order to trick the denizens into Batman’s trap. While the story here is clever, the real story is the art. Rafael Grampa’s work is spectacular. His pencils are creepy, even disturbing. The way he pencils the Joker is so vile, so disgusting, that it adds an entirely new layer to how the character is perceived. The line work is staggering, each page is an absolute masterpiece.
American Vampire artist Rafael Albuquerque also takes care of writing and penciling duties for “A Place In Between.” The Dark Knight is taken by Deadman to a place where the newly deceased go before crossing over. Deadman is no friend here, but rather an instrument that attempts to dictate terms to Batman. Apparently, the Caped Crusader is dead, and it’s time for him to move on. On the edge of the other side, Batman witnesses Robin being murdered by a thousand small clowns. Defending his former partner, Batman kills one of the attackers, who turns out to be a child. What happens when a child is killed? Batman shows up. Now Batman must defeat Batman. As the story rages on, it turns out this is all an elaborate ruse by a man who specializes in screwing with people. Dr. Crane, aka The Scarecrow.
Rafael Albuquerque’s art continues to impress. Here, he’s less angular, less jagged than what he does with American Vampire. Rounding out the sharp edges, Albuquerque’s work is softer, but no less dynamic. Having spent so long with American Vampire, Albuquerque knows how to draw fear, making him perfect for this story. Outside of the lines, the detail work, and the movement, Albuquerque’s shading remains second to none.
Animal Man/Trillium writer Jeff Lemire steps up for the final straight narrative. Mixing a Batman adventure in the snow with a memory of the last winter Bruce Wayne was allowed to be a young boy, Lemire combines the tragedy of Batman’s past with his dedication to the future. Lemire shows his knack for creative storytelling, writing a dramatic inner monologue for Batman laid out over action of him beating the bad guys into hamburger. The art from Alex Nino is rather dull, though. I enjoy Nino’s work at times, but here it looks unfinished, or at the very least rushed. Way too angular, no real depth to the images, all very surface and lacking and real dramatic punch.
The final bit in Black & White is a very cool dedication to the sheer brilliance of Max Fleischer animation. Writer Michael Uslan and animator Dave Bullock pull together what looks like a silent movie, frame by frame, telling of the Batman’s origin. While the story and pacing are solid, the Fleischer-like imagery is what knocks this bit out of the park. I wish they would do an actual DC animated film this way.
Batman: Black & White continues to impress, dazzle, and tell captivating stories in small spaces.
(4 Story, 4 Art)