Before The Long Halloween, the brilliant writer/artist team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale collaborated on three one-shot issues about Gotham City's chosen...moreBefore The Long Halloween, the brilliant writer/artist team of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale collaborated on three one-shot issues about Gotham City's chosen protector. I had never heard of either of them before, but I quickly came to appreciate their unique talents, their sharp and observant perspective on Batman, and their ability to craft cracking good stories.
Haunted Kinght collects all three of these stories, each with a different take on a Halloween theme, into a single volume.
The first story is "Fears," featuring perhaps the most natural villain of any of these tales, the Scarecrow. "Madness," the second story in the volume, features the Mad Hatter and a unique spin on Alice in Wonderland. The final story, "Ghosts," turns Bruce Wayne into a modern-day Scrooge in the All Hallows' Eve version of A Christmas Carol.
Through each story, Jeph Loeb shows a deft understanding of the subtleties of the Batman character, of the nuances of Bruce Wayne's relationship with his dark half, and with the themes that are central to the mythos of the Dark Knight overall. Tim Sale showcases an equally strong grasp of the source material in his artwork - crisp, dark, moody, drawn in simple lines and high-contrast darks and lights and broad swaths of monochrome. The overarching theme of Halloween - of ghosts and monsters and things that go bump in the night - is the perfect foil for these tales.
Taken together, the three stories in Haunted Knight represent a high-water mark in the long history of Batman. Rarely has a writer and artist team gotten it this right. In Haunted Knight, Loeb and Sale express the Batman we all knew existed, but never dared to imagine this fully: the hero who lives in darkness, the man haunted by his own history.(less)
A new Batman, a new villain, an old city, and lots of familiar faces. The Black Mirror is a potent formula, and for the most part very effective.
But,...moreA new Batman, a new villain, an old city, and lots of familiar faces. The Black Mirror is a potent formula, and for the most part very effective.
But, I have to say at the outset, it's difficult to read a Batman story without Bruce Wayne. Scott Snyder brings all his considerable skill to bear in writing this multifaceted tale of a Gotham City finding its way, Dick Grayson trying so hard to fill the cowl of Bruce Wayne with new partners, and a long-forgotten piece of Commissioner Jim Gordon's past come back to haunt him.
There's a lot to this story, and Snyder spins it with the same wit, the same grasp of history and literature, and the same subtleties of craft as he has evidenced with the excellent American Vampire. For all its newness, it's clear that Snyder "gets" the Batman, gets the importance of Gotham City as a place and as a character in its own right, gets the history of those who've come before him, and pumps all of this into the overall arc of 'The Black Mirror.'
And yet part of me can't let go - where's the Batman I know?
Similarly, artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla get the look and feel of Batman. Despite pretty dramatically different styles - Jock's harsh and jagged and nearly monochromatic, Francavilla's more colorful and less edgy - they both show well here, and the material they illustrate is well-suited to their talents. Jock expresses the drama and the darkness of the Batman, Francavilla expresses the more human side of both heroes and villains alike. For a story this complex - a story of drugs and madmen and broken families and long-held grudges - both have their piece to contribute, and they do it well.
And something still feels like it's missing.
It's a little like reading 'The Hound of the Baskervilles,' in the parts where Holmes is absent from the story. Watson is a fine investigator, and pushes the story forward in his own way, and it's still a good story. But it feels less driven, less exciting, less complete, until Holmes' return, with all his fire and fervor, to wrap the case up with his signature panache.
I kept waiting, in 'The Black Mirror,' for that moment. When Bruce Wayne returned and righted that world and brought it all back into sharp perspective. Though there were many satisfying moments to be experienced...that moment never came.
'The Black Mirror' is aptly named. It reflects aspects of Gotham City and its denizens, both those who fight for it and those who would bring it crashing down, in new and original ways. It makes us see things we haven't seen before. Scott Snyder and Jock and Francavilla represent well here, and have created a finely-crafted addition to the ongoing story of Batman.
But a reflection of a thing is not the thing itself, and that difference was felt here. A slight warping of the glass, or a flaw in its surface gave it away. Though his reflection was seen in the black mirror, the Batman was not to be found here. And that was hard to get past.(less)
In many ways, Batman is the artist's hero - independent, self-made, creative, relying on his image and reputation to do at least some of his work for...moreIn many ways, Batman is the artist's hero - independent, self-made, creative, relying on his image and reputation to do at least some of his work for him. It makes a certain sense to tackle his story with a designer's eye...but in the case of Death by Design it just doesn't hold up.
It's a visually striking book, mostly black and white with subtle hints of color, faded green or pale blue. Finely-executed drawings on one page are augmented with rough charcoal renderings on the next, simple yet stylized panel layouts with an eye for the dramatic. The result is something that looks and feels like a classic superhero comic of the 1940's, but with a modern edge. I stopped every page or so to admire the artistry of it.
The story is an interesting idea, but ultimately tries to do too much with too little to go on. With the Wayne Central train station decaying and nearly falling apart, Bruce Wayne is overseeing the replacement of his father's legacy. Thick with architectural trivia, union contracts and political intrigue, a misplaced appearance from the Joker, a love interest for Bruce Wayne, new gadgetry for Batman, and a new pseudo-hero in Exacto, Death by Design feels like a story in search of a point. Ultimately, the story crumbles under the weight of its ambition. Removing some of the elements (the Joker's presence seems most obviously unnecessary) might have made it work better overall.
I can appreciate the ideas here - a love of classic building and classic storytelling, an appreciation for the art of the previous century. The art of this story makes a great showcase for those ideas, but when it comes to the story itself, Death by Design lived up to its own title - what killed it was inherent in its design.(less)
There are very few living artists today who I would use the term "Renaissance Man" to describe. Clive Barker, for example - imaginative writer, vision...moreThere are very few living artists today who I would use the term "Renaissance Man" to describe. Clive Barker, for example - imaginative writer, visionary artist, dabbler in theatre and film. Dave McKean is another - painter, designer, filmmaker - and his graphic novel Celluloid is one more reason (among many) why.
Celluloid is McKean's exploration into the realm of erotic fiction, and typical of McKean's work, he does so with an eye to the fantastic and the strange. This tale of a woman who walks through a doorway created by a film projection into world after world of sexual experience, featuring impossible anatomies and unexpected scenarios, is not your typical erotic story. McKean takes a somewhat trite setup and turns it into something adventurous and new.
And amazingly, he does it without words.
Celluloid is told completely through McKean's stunning images - sometimes photographs, sometimes painting, sometimes collage, sometimes just a few sketched lines...often a blending of all of these. McKean as a visual stylist is unmatched, and he brings all his different talents to bear here.
Whether it's depicting a shadowy, faceless man dominating his masked partner, or coupling with a woman with grapes for hair and a dozen breasts, or intimate explorations of hands and fingers and skin, McKean's images bring new life to the familiar. What the imagery sometimes lacks in narrative drive it makes up for in powerful impressions and sensations of sexuality.
Celluloid is sexually graphic without being pornographic, both sensual and sexual, a study in the exploration of the different forms of passion. It's something kind of magical to do all this in the graphic novel art form, and nobody but Dave McKean could pull it off quite like this.(less)