DC has reserved their Black and White endeavors for the best-selling artists like Frank Miller and Jim Lee, but every once in a while, they do Batman: Black and White. It originated as a mini-series created by Mark Chiarello back in 1996. I only recently read the first volume last year, and it was great. A lot of cool small stories that let writers and artists tell the Batman stories they want to without worrying about continuity or having to fit within the popular style of decompressed, multi-issue arcs. They get to just use their style of storytelling to do a Batman story of their liking.
I still haven’t gotten around to reading the second and third collection that originated as back-ups in Batman: Gotham Knights over 15 years ago, but I have read the second mini-series (or the fourth volume, I know, comic book categorization can be a headache). That was pretty good, not as good as the first volume but now we have a third mini-series to sink our teeth into.
Cover, Design & Pin-Ups
There’s no Mark Chiarello on this one, but it is dedicated to him. The Publication Design is done by Darran Robinson. They do a wonderful job of making the book look slick. As in the original Black and White series, there are bios on every creator and they bring a good amount of information on the style and personal history of the creative team. Greg Capullo handles the cover art and it’s immediately distinct. I love Capullo’s Batman, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss FCO Plascencia’s colors on his drawings. But, we still get the genius inking of Jonathan Glapion. And it looks like they did a Rebirth-era costume going off the chest logo and utility belt, which is probably my favorite Batman look ever.
Batman: Black and White #1 starts off with a pinup by Max Fiumara that offers a slick look at an almost-retro-looking version of Batman. I love the utility belt design, the long ears, the up-right ascent that is the sign of a hero triumphing, and the paint-spattered look. The bats that fly over Batman’s cape are also changed to white and it looks incredible. The Pin-Up by Dexter Soy is also pretty good, I prefer the Fiumara one though. His lines are really clean and it looks neater but has less definition, particularly the background. But, Batman from the waist up? Looks amazing.
The Demon’s Fist
Writer: James Tynion IV/Artist: Tradd Moore
It’s interesting to take the perspective of an assassin that works for Ra’s-al-Ghul and the League of Assassins. The story focuses on an assassin that must just land one hit, that every assassin’s job is to wear down the Batman by thousands of punches and hits over time, and his job is to contribute one punch. I took it as a metaphor for what James Tynion IV is doing with his Batman contributions. He is one piece of a patchwork story that is told over the decades and over the years, and it’s up to each creator to just leave one hit, leave an impact.
As for Tradd Moore, I’m a big fan. I love his artwork on Luthor Strode, Zero, and Ghost Rider. His style is so fluid and doesn’t hold to the linear paneling structure that a lot of artists work with. I did find his art a bit more difficult to interpret because of the lack of colors, to be honest. I would’ve preferred his work in color, because of how the motion tends to blur into each other. But, it also makes the audience actually take time to study the art and observe, something I feel that we don’t do enough when reading comics.
Final Score: 7/10 (Good)
Writer/Artist: J.H. Williams III
Oh man, what to start with? It’s great to see J.H. Williams III back on something DC related. I came into comic books when he was doing a stint with Grant Morrison on the main Batman title and I fell in love with his artwork immediately, as I’m sure most do when they see it for the first time. It’s quite an easy claim to make that he breaks the boundaries of comic book artistry and paneling, always pushing to create something that will last beyond the month it is released in.
This story focuses on Batman’s history and his vow to protect Gotham. There’s not much besides his brooding in terms of words on the page, but we’re treated to a couple of montage double-splash pages that tell the history of Batman. Seeing J.H. Williams III’s take on so many famous eras of Batman, like the 40’s Golden Age, the 50’s Silver Age, the O’Neil/Adams Bronze Age stuff, the Kelley Jones 90’s covers, the Animated Series, the Japanese Bat-Manga, 80’s Miller stuff, etc. He goes through more than just the eras, but man, that alone makes the story worth it to see his interpretation. If you know your Bat-history, it’s a damn treat.
Final Score: 9/10 (Amazing)
Writer: Paul Dini/Artist: Andy Kubert
This one is going to depend on a lot of factors for you. I love Paul Dini’s work, I loved the Animated Series and I loved the work he put into the comics afterward. I especially loved his Vertigo Graphic Novel, Dark Night, which is an autobiographical journey about being a Batman writer and the violent act that nearly took his life. But, I’d be lying if I said that Dini was a flawless writer. I haven’t been impressed with a lot of his recent output. I know I’ll get crucified for it, but Batman: Arkham City isn’t written very well, and there’s a lot of cooks in that kitchen, so I can let that one go. But, I had a lot of issues with how Batman: The Adventures Continue worked out as well. You can check out my opinions about that here:
Anyway, First Flight is pretty weak. It sort of serves as an epilogue to Batman and Son, which featured the debut of the ninja Man-Bats from the League of Assassins. Batman fights a swarm of them that have broken into the Batcave. It’s fairly uninteresting and the ending cameo is pretty bizarre and does not come off as a natural conclusion to the story.
Now, here’s another debatable take, I’m not a huge fan of Andy Kubert. I loved Adam Strange from the ’90s, and I like Andy more than Adam (although I like Joe the most between the three of them), but I haven’t liked too much of Andy Kubert’s output the past 15 years or so. It’s his perspectives? His perspective feels like a fisheye lens at times as the chests puff out and warp at their center of gravity. I don’t know, I just can’t get into the look. But, Andy does have some great panels and he has an amazing sense of action and pacing. The book moves wonderfully.
This one depends on your feelings towards the two creators. I haven’t been impressed by a ton of Dini and Kubert’s work the past decade and this doesn’t change anything for me. But, it’s still enjoyable, even if I have problems with it.
Final Score: 6/10 (Okay)
Writer/Artist: Emma Rios
I’m not going to lie, this one was over my head. I like to think I’m a pretty receptive reader but I had a hard time understanding what was going on in Emma Rios’ Sisyphus storyline. Sisyphus is the Greek legend of the guy rolling the boulder up the hill, just for it to roll down again, so I think I understand the metaphor of Batman having to constantly fight and the ‘boulder’ being at the bottom of the hill every time he thinks he’s defeated evil. But, I would be lying if I said I ‘understood’ what was all going on.
The art is also difficult to interpret, feelings I’ve had with Emma Rios before on her work with Kelly Sue DeConnick. But, it’s very interesting to look at and interpret. This was my favorite panel down below. Even though I have a hard time figuring out what’s going on with Emma Rios’ comic, I still enjoyed it. It’s good to be challenged.
Final Score: 7/10 (Good)
Writer: G. Willow Wilson/Artist: Greg Smallwood
I have pretty much liked everything I’ve ever read by G. Willow Wilson and have loved everything I’ve seen that is drawn by Greg Smallwood, and this story is no different. Metamorphosis is about Batman rescuing a girl from a monster that is being held in an apartment with a dead cop. But, the story is not quite what it appears to be.
As usual, Wilson pushes us to question ourselves and the perspectives of the other. She does such a good job of making us question our allegiances and our convictions. What should we think of Killer Croc and the responsibilities of a caretaker? Is this affection okay? Or is this Stockholm Syndrome? Is Batman the monster? It’s a really cool piece that makes you really think.
Greg Smallwood just does an amazing job. His style is so perfect for noir, the first panel is a perfect example of what he brings to the table and his sequential storytelling and paneling is perfection. The story moves so easily through, steady, it feels like a fast read but it’s because he keeps the action moving so steadily. Some artists excel at making you study the panels but Smallwood excels at making you feel like you don’t need to; like you’re gliding through the pages like watching a movie.
Final Score: 8/10 (Great)
Odds are, you know what you’re getting into if you’re purchasing Batman: Black and White. It’s a showcase for artists that take on Batman stories in their own style without color. The stories aren’t going to be robust usually, but some will. You’re here to appreciate the art and the stylistic takes and this comic delivers that in grand fashion. The one story that I didn’t think was great was one that had a heavier story than the others. I think the others let the art do the heavy lifting, which is appropriate to this comic.
If you want color, probably don’t pick this up. If you want heavier doses of story? This comic isn’t for you. But, if you want an artist showcase? This is perfect and exactly what you’re looking for. I also recommend you go back and check out the previous Batman: Black and White series. Batman: Black and White #1 delivers exactly what it promises and there are some memorable comics within.