With a high-contrast, perfectly-detailed art style, Argentine comic book creator Eduardo Risso became synonymous with the crime comic in the United States with 100 Bullets, his Vertigo title with writer Brian Azzarello. That comic has recently been revived in the form of a miniseries dedicated to series regular Brother Lono, which showed that the duo's love of their characters had not dulled a bit in the intervening half-decade. In fact, it seems like their 2011 collaboration Spaceman might have let them work out their niceties entirely and focus on the seedier stuff.
It seems logical, then, that if you make comics about brutal criminals, you'd want to make comics about their opposition. The recent Batman Noir: Eduardo Risso deluxe hardcover collects Azzarello and Risso's entire output featuring the Dark Knight, stripped completely of color and presented in harsh black and white. This is the first time I'm aware of that a major publisher has done this sort of presentation for a modern superhero comic, and while Risso's regular colorist Patricia Mulvihill is no slouch, getting to see Risso's work in its unadulterated form is a real pleasure. I just wish I could say the same about the actual comics contained within.
Risso is his usual top-flight self, managing to make deep blacks a trusted ally for the sake of storytelling, drawing the reader's focus where it needs to go and making flawless choices in shot selection and how to depict action. You're never bored looking at a page created by Risso, as he takes you on a trip through the environment, spotlighting tiny things that might be lost when presented in a splash or other configuration.
You could easily debate Azzarello's take on Batman, though. He comes off as a brutal thug who seems to do very little in the way of detective work and instead relies on intimidation to get the answers he seeks. While this is a mode of Batman that a lot of people seem to like, it doesn't sit particularly well with me. Even noir flourishes and character moments like Bruce Wayne talking on the phone with the then-commissioner as he cooks a steak feel as if they wandered in from another story entirely.
However, the third story, part of the universe-resetting Flashpoint event, seems to be tapping into something special. The Bruce-Wayne's-father-as-Batman arc manages to work well as superhero noir, likely because it revels in the excesses that both creators are known for while taking place in a discrete reality. It also places Jim Gordon front and center, which gives the reader a lens through which they can see how deeply broken every character is.
If you're searching for an in-depth exploration of Batman, Batman Noir is certainly not the place from which you should start. However, as a stripped-down look at a master comics illustrator working with an icon to create atmosphere, it's well worth consideration.
(For the sake of completeness, I feel I should mention the out-of-print Elseworlds Gotham Noir is a fine example of the idiom, especially as it's a crime-and-spandex comic by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Sean Phillips.)