Brief observations on Batman: This holiday I thought I’d break out some Batman comics that I’ve been wanting to read. The first was Paul Pope’s Batman: Year 100. Not bad. Pope’s art is certainly unique, and it lends itself to the grimness in which Batman usually luxuriates. However, I appreciate him–at least in this book–more as a writer than I do as an artist. There are several scenes in Year 100 where the action seems obscured, or even undermined, by the illustration style and/or layout of the panel. Perhaps this was intentional, something akin to creating the “fog of war” in Batman’s various actions. But there are elements of the writing, as well, that could have been more tightly conceived. In a couple of cases the chase scenes are drawn out beyond narrative necessity. Still, a good read (although I’m still unclear on how Batman makes it to 100). In some ways, I enjoyed “Berlin Batman,” the story at the end of this book, better than the main title.
Next, I picked up Lee Bermejo’s Batman: Noel. Nothing heavy, but okay. I look at this as a nice piece of confection for the holidays. But reading back over that last sentence, I feel that tone is one of condescension. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Perhaps a better way of putting it is that this is a nicely executed Christmas story, a variation on Dickens, as it was intended to be. Henry James said that we should “grant the artist his subject, his idea”…in other words, his donnée, And for that, Bermejo success spectacularly. Retellings of “A Christmas Carol” don’t really do it for me, but as far as the idea goes, Bermejo’s is a home run. The storytelling is okay–although too much reliance on the “voiceover” telling the story, as opposed to the visuals (including word balloons) to carry the action–but it is the art that is so outstanding. As he did in both Joker and Luther, Bermejo demonstrates his ability to narrate through art.
Finally–at least for now–I read Batman: A Death in the Family. I had never read the original comic books nor the trade release, but now that DC has decided to rerelease the collection in a new paperback, I thought I’d finally get to it. I liked it well enough. I could tell that these were story arcs from the 1980s, before the Dark Knight became too dark. The 1980s, in fact, is when I suspended my comics-reading for some time, so when this event first took place, it was completely off of my radar. At the time, I was in undergraduate school, so my mind was much more on school-related matters (my literature classes, and especially the psychology reading I was doing at the time) than they were on comics. In fact, during this time I completely lost track of comics, even Mad magazine that I used to read almost religiously. This hiatus from comics lasted into the 1990s, during which time I was in graduate school, leaving me with even less time that I had before. Since then, I’ve felt that some of my reading has been a matter of playing catch-up.
But back to Death in the Family. The story arcs of Jason’s death and Tim’s ascension are solid. I especially appreciated the sheer brutality of the Joker and there being no efforts to sugarcoat his actions or intensions. But what do you expect. It wasn’t long before this that he crippled Barbara Gordon. These were grim stories, but one of the things that seemed to make them less dark than the more contemporary Batman comics is the color style…again, of the time. The tone of the stories themselves was darker than the coloring of the art. Even the most gruesome actions can appear “palatable” drawn in the bright colors of the traditional comic-book page.