Batman Black and White has always been one of those comic book mini-series that comes around every couple of years and reminds you there’s a lot of fun to be had with Batman and that bite sized stories going from 7-8 pages, along with back-ups can still be as great as a 22 page, or even a 32 page book. And of course, how can we forget some of the most iconic illustrations of Batman to come out of this proud run of Black and White Batman comics, many of the past issues have been able to get by on their amazing art alone so let’s not forget about one of the many reasons people keep coming back to this series.
Short stories like this are where strong writers shine, the limited space forces them to try and concentrate the story and idea they want to tell into a bite sized story, though some people do fail rather fantastically with this format, but you do get a few good ones so we’ll have to take the good with the bad.
Since this is an unusual format I’ll give each story its own little positive and negative review and then give an overall conclusion at the end of the review and this is how it’ll likely go for the next five issues as well. Now since these stories are so short it’s hard to tell you about them without spoiling anything, so I’ll try and keep the story descriptions brief.
So without further ado…
Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When:
Written by Chip Kidd
Illustrated by Michael Cho
The first thing you’ll notice when you turn the page onto this collaboration by Kidd and Cho is the extremely crisp and stylized art of Canadian artist Michael Cho that’s reminiscent of many Batman Brave and the Bold comics, and The Rocketeer Hollywood Horror. Along with the style of art Kidd and Cho went for an older style of Batman, Batman might not be calling Robin his “Old chum” but you can tell this is a throwback to the late 60s early 70s style of Batman, and it might be one of the most enjoyable things I’ve read in a long time.
Look at this art and try not to be happy…I dare you.
Coupled with the simple (not a criticism) and tight story of Robin trying to find a missing Batman, “Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When” ends up being the most charming and enjoyable story in the first issue. Along with a surprise appearance from another character whom I won’t say this first story hits all the right notes in art, and story…it’s a shame I can’t say the same about the next one.
Written and Illustrated by Neal Adams.
This comic comes as a great disappointment. Many people know Neal Adams as the other half of the amazing comic duo of Dennis O’Neil and…well, Neal Adams. Together they wrote arguably one of the best eras of Batman, and my personal favourite story involving Green Arrow Green Lantern/Green Arrow. Now when I saw that Neal Adams was writing and illustrating I was on board. Sadly this story ends up being the absolutely weakest story in the book and is just downright bad.
“Zombie Batman believe in substance before message!”
Now, this isn’t a typical Zombie story mind you, the Zombie-ism inflicted on Batman is actually a visual representation of his helplessness to a certain situation, now while this is a pretty neat idea, it completely falls on its face due to its absolute lack of subtlety. The message that Neal Adams, while a good one is hammered in so hard to the point it felt like I was reading an ABC After School Special starring Batman and after this he’d sing a song about how great Bat Martial Law is. The idea behind what Adams was trying to do here was clever enough, and the message he was trying to get across was a good one, but oddly enough this suffers from going on for too long. The comic prattles along like a child trying to explain a joke five times expecting it to get funnier each time after explaining it, what Adams went for could of been summed up in four pages maybe and he wouldn’t have knocked us over the head with the lack of subtlety not seen since Superman sat in front of a stained glass window of Jesus.
It’s hard to enjoy the art as well, while some of the crude lines and almost sketch like work Adams puts into this I feel like it doesn’t really come together in some of the panels. Some of the illustrations come together really well and for the most part look pretty good, but there are a number of panels that just look outright bad and rushed which makes me wonder how much time Adams had to work on this. Overall Adam’s’ contributions to this issue can only be summed up as a sad disappointment.
Justice is Served
Written by Maris Wicks
Illustrations by Joe Quinones
If you loved Harley and Ivy and craved for more from the crazy duo then you’re in luck. This little story from Maris and Joe is a well put together short involving Harley tracking down Poison Ivy after her little babies (a pair of hyenas) eat a pair hamburgers which in a matter of seconds cause them to bloat incredibly and sprout twigs from their bodies.
This is a fairly solid story if not a bit forgettable, it has a lot of charm and wit, but it doesn’t leave you with much to think about in the end, the story keeps you entertained, the art is fantastic, and it makes you feel like you’re watching an old episode of Batman the Animated Series…but without colour.
The illustrations by Joe Quinones is likely the highlight of this story, between the consistently solid artwork, the visual gags, and a number of panels that I’m not ashamed made me audible “D’awwww” Joe does a pretty great job with it all.
Script by John Arcudi
Art and Concept by Sean Murphy
To cut to the chase, this is about as close as Batman will likely get to feeling like a Calvin and Hobbes strip.
Now, with that being said, Driven is a pretty cool comic. It takes place in present time with Batman working on the Batmobile in the Batcave while holding onto his Batwrench and drinking a Batmijto. The Batmobile has taken a bit of damage after its most recent outing where Batman was chasing down…someone doing…something. That doesn’t really matter, what’s really important is the absolute glee Batman takes in working on his car, taking it apart, and doing other car stuff I don’t understand because I was reading comics instead of learning about cars but for the sake of the review we’ll say he was doing something with spark plugs.
Now, about my previous comment involving Calvin and Hobbes, let’s take a look at the Batmobile for a moment.
When I first saw this style of Batmobile I wasn’t too pleased with it, but as I thought about it more and more, there’s a very good reason they made the design of this Batmobile so boxy, and why they made the villainesses car look the way it does.
They were going for the look of a good ol’ fashioned soap box car.
As I read on this choice just kept getting better and better, Batman’s utter glee at working on the car made him seem like a kid again working on his soap box car to win the next derby and on reflexion the whole thing felt very Calvin and Hobbes-esque, complete with the Butler/Tiger getting in his sarcastic quips.
The only thing that felt fairly weak about this comic was the flashbacks to Batman on his night out, while the art looks nice the whole thing felt a bit hollow considering the meat of the story laid in Batman working on his car, as a means to tell the story the flashbacks are an acceptable flaw in an otherwise enjoyable story.
Story by Howard Mackie
Art by Chris Samnee
Head Games is a fairly forgettable story about a crazed killer doing away with a number of Gothams Scummiest mob members. Batman and Bullock team up to try and find out who is attempting to whack these men who seem to have a mysterious connection.
While it’s always nice to see Harvey and Batman working together and there’s something missing from this story that would make it more memorable. The story is a bit overplayed, it seems like, “X going to kill a bunch of Y’s to get back their Z but the Z might also be a Q along with an ever so sneaky U and the ever present possibility of K” is a story that has been done to death, and unless you have a longer format than eight pages you don’t really have an opportunity to build up the mystery and intrigue of just what is going on and then the whole thing ends up being rushed. On the plus side the art is pretty nice, and the repartee between Alfred and Batman is rather charming.
Head Games feels like it had the most potential out of the weaker stories in issue #1 to do really well as a full issue, or even a two to three part mini-series. Not the worst story in the issue, but definitely one of the weaker ones.
Overall I would say issue #1 of Batman Black and White is a fairly strong start, a couple missteps here and there but if they can keep a good momentum going on the series it could do quite well and maybe even become ongoing or semi-ongoing, do an larger issue every two months or so. And I hope DC doesn’t stop bringing in lesser known artists and writers for this series, it’s great seeing lesser known guys like Michael Cho getting to draw The Dark Knight in their very own story.
Bit more of a 7/10 but we can’t split The Earth in half can we.
Well, that’s it for Batman Black and White #1, what are your feelings so far and what are some of your favourite old stories collected in the old B&W trades.
Batman Black and White #1 is available right now for 4.99 at your local retailer or online for the same price.