Batman Black & White
Edited by Mark Chiarello
Published by DC Comics
Available: Comics shops (print) / DC Entertainment (iOS + Android + Web + Etc.) / Amazon (hardcover pre-order)
DC Comics' most auspicious art project finally returned in 2013 with a new roster of storytellers that, while perhaps not as uniformly "legendary" as many artists of the 1990s incarnation, rose to the occasion with black and white, out-of-continuity tales that immerse the reader in their variously dark and peculiar visions of the enduringly popular and graphically compelling Dark Knight. Even the stories you don't like -- and there will be some here, as this is an anthology -- can come with rewarding insights and inspire thoughtful discussions about the artistic fascinations expressed by their creators.
Stories and other contributions come from Phil Noto, Michael Allred, Kenneth Rocafort, Chris Samnee, Marc Silvestri, Neal Adams, JG Jones, Lee Bermejo, Jim Steranko, Alex Nino, Jeff Lemire, Rafael Albuquerque, Amanda Conner and many more to come in the two remaining issues of the limited series. Standouts so far include:
- Cartoonist and graphic designer Rian Hughes' impossibly intricate "Babel Comes to Gotham" (text which in the book is set upside down and backwards), featuring Batman and Robin battling an alien who threatens to bring about the "semiotic decay of reality's linguistic and cultural substrate," the result of which would cause civilization as we know it to stop making sense. Illustrated in Hughes' trademark synthesis of mid century style and computer-aided precision, the story is replete with bold typographical choices, daring layouts and endlessly clever metatextual and graphic symbolism, all wrapped up in a fast-paced and properly riveting Batman adventure. Where else could a cartoonist and graphic designer marry so closely his primary concerns of text and image into so happy a narrative than in Batman Black & White?
- Damian Scott's gorgeous, form-defying journey into the Joker's hall of mirrors, whose innovations in visual storytelling earned him a place in Janelle Asselin's Best Sequential Art Ever (This Week).
- A splendiferous but no less visually sophisticated team-up between Robin and Superman by artist Michael Cho and writer Chip Kidd (another graphic designer/comics creator), where the unlikely partners collaborate to find the missing Batman in a tale that invokes the uncynical heroism of Golden Age superhero comics.
- Joe Quinones and Maris Wicks' utterly charming and exquisitely drawn sitcom-style story of Harley Quinn compelling Poison Ivy to find a cure for the amusingly horrifying allergic reaction that's befallen Harley's beloved hyenas after they ate some gross burgers at a fast food restaurant (which Harley robbed, naturally).
-Possibly the best depicted car chase in years, featuring Batman and Roxy Rockett in an exhilerating action-packed and indeed funny sequence devised by The Wake's Sean Murphy and BPRD's John Arcudi that demonstrates in equal measure each creator's special talents for creating rich visual worlds and characters who, well, if not laugh then at least smirk in the face of danger.
- A next-level work by Rafael Grampá that finds the cartoonist fully indulging his unmatched gift for hyper-detailed figures and blistering action, topped off with a twist that makes his story feel like an epic and unforgettable song that you're stunned to discover lasted for just under three minutes.
- "The Bat-Man In ‘Silent Knight… Unholy Knight!’", a short "directed" by animator and cartoonist Dave Bullock from a story by Michael Uslan, is the artist's most effective demonstration of his mastery of period style and dramatic storytelling. The short takes inspiration from the fashions, lighting and staging of silent film, going so far as to dedicate entire panels to the handsomely designed captions seen in movies of the era. It's really a stroke of genius to present the Batman in such a way, highlighting the similarities between comic books and silent film's usage of images and text and the character's roots in the dark cinema of the era. Bullock understands this intimately, with each line and brush stroke working to communicate something very specific about Batman as a character and Gotham as an arena of suffering as well as justice.
- Dustin Nguyen's break from the delightfully cute, all-ages world of Li'l Gotham provides us with the artist's most sophisticated work yet, a day in the life of Batman that makes Gotham City itself seem as real as the world outside your window. Always a master of style and layout, Nguyen outdoes himself with intensely focused page designs that express a true control over the story he wants to tell, which is not to say the cartoonist doesn't fill each panel to the brim with the pretty pictures we've come to expect from him. On the contrary, every image in Nguyen's "Long Day" comes with precisely the right measure of grit, bombast, emotion or indeed tenderness that's called for.
- Animation designer and cartoonist Sean "Cheeks" Galloway provides an answer to Michael Cho's Golden Age-inspired Superman-Robin adventure to rescue Batman with a Robin-Batman adventure to rescue Superman, this time with visual inspiration taken from modern animation styles. It's as entertaining and funny as Cho's story is classically heroic and dramatic, and another great example of the kinds of aesthetic wells the reader can fall into when reading this most ambitious anthology.
- Andy Khouri