Review: Batman: Black & White #3

By | November 8th, 2013
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With two issues under it’s belt, DC’s revival of “Batman: Black & White” has so far more than lived up to the lofty expectations set by it’s predecessor. Here, the third issue proves to be arguably the strongest offering of the revival with a bevy of short stories that prove that creative experimentation is paramount.

Written by Lee Bermejo, Damion Scott, Marv Wolfman, Rian Hughes and Paul Dini
Illustrated by Lee Bermejo, Damion Scott, Riccardo Burcielli, Rian Hughes and Stéphane Roux
It’s another spectacular selection of adventures by some of comics’ top talents, with tales of The Dark Knight by Lee Bermejo, Marv Wolfman and Riccardo Burchielli, Rian Hughes, Damion Scott, and Paul Dini and Stephane Roux.

As with previous issues, “Batman: Black & White” #3 is an anthology of five different, eight-page short stories by different creative teams that each take a unique look at the caped crusader. Between that simple yet effective premise and the host of talent on display, this is not only the strongest issue so far, but among the strongest issues DC has published in a long time. And, for my money, that all comes down to the level of creative experimentation shown here. Each story is vastly different from the last and exquisitely plays to the strengths of each creative team so that the book reads like almost no other on the shelf right now.

The first story, titled ‘Rule Number One’, comes to us from “Joker” artist Lee Bermejo as the writer and artist. While the story is rather simple, it’s the art that stands out here. His work looks to be entirely in pencils with an extraordinary level of detail. Bermejo looks to be able to paint with graphite that creates a realistic, authentic world with a brutal, gritty atmosphere that is completely suited to a Dark Knight tale. Yet, for once, this story isn’t actually about Batman himself. He features, sure, but the narrative is from the POV of who I assume is Dick Grayson mostly because he isn’t named in the story itself and the male Robins look mostly interchangeable to me. Again, while the story is simple it’s effective because, when teamed with Bermejo’s realistic pencils, gives a very authentic feel to the story on a level which Chris Nolan could only dream about. It’s a hell of a way to open the issue as it’s fairly light thanks to Dick’s narration providing some levity, but also action-packed and heavy on the atmosphere as it follows Batman taking down a drug ring. It’d the best of both worlds and is one of the best showcases of Lee Bermejo’s raw pencilling talent I’ve ever seen.

Following up from Bermejo’s story is a story titled ‘Hall Of Mirrors’ written and illustrated by Damion Scott. This is a very interesting story as each page feels like a pin-up illustration in and of itself showing a sequence of Batman facing of against a new villain. Scott breaks down the idea of sequentialism over each page as he slowly eliminates the use of panels with each illustation until the final page which coalesces the story into the context of Scott’s exploration of Batman. While the art is incredibly stylised and gets slowly more and more disorientating, it does fit well with the idea of Batman descending into a heart of darkness trip through a hall of mirrors that distorts reality. It’s a look into the psyche of Batman and why he fights his battles he does and Scott pulls it off masterfully.

Next is the first of two stories in the issue that has a separate writer and artist. Marv Wolfman writes the story, titled ‘An Innocent Man’, with Riccardo Burchielli providing the art. Talking about this story is rather difficult as it is a murder mystery built around a twist. Batman has only hours to prove a death row inmate’s innocence with the inmate’s identity being the reveal. If you’re an attentive enough reader, the reveal is easy to guess, but what is much more interesting is the implications this places on Batman. Riccardo Burchielli’s art is much less stylised than the preceding artists, but still brings an inking style full of harsh shadows and atmosphere. However, there’s not a lot that stands out. This is possibly the most “normal” story of the bunch and as such could feel lesser by comparison, but it’s a still an interesting read in it’s own right. Even the least impressive of the group still stands out.

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Rian Hughes’ story, ‘Namtab: Babel Comes To Gotham’, is easily the most divisive story of the lot. Hearkening back to Silver Age psychedelic sci-fi, Rian Hughes channels his best Grant Morrison in a story that turns language itself against Batman. It’s a very trippy story that might need a couple read-throughs before it’s meta-textual ending that even draws attention to the story’s monochrome nature to click, but when it does it might be the stand out of the bunch. Thanks to Hughes’ pop art styled design and bold art, this might be the most visually interesting story in the issue that comes back with a story with much more than depth than the eight pages that contains it. This is the story that justifies that $4.99 price tag.

The final story of the issue teams writer Paul Dini and artist Stéphane Roux in another story in which Batman isn’t the focus. Instead, Dini tells a tale in which Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy become unwitting saviours of a young girl running from a child kidnapper. It’s a fun story to end with that shows Dini’s humour and is surpisingly light-hearted for a Batman story, showing that even the worst villain isn’t a bad person through and through. Well, the Joker might be, but not Harley and Ivy. Roux’s art is much stylised than, say, Hughes’, but manages to capture the levity of Dini’s script through subtle, cartoonish exaggeration of character figures while keeping that Gotham atmosphere intact. Dini and Roux definitely stick the landing with a surprisingly uplifitng story that nicely ties the whole issue together.

Overall, this is the strongest offering of “Batman: Black & White” to date. While the mix of hyper-stylised stories and more conservative comic offerings may come off as uneven, there is not one weak story among them. Each creative team takes a very unique look at the Dark Knight Detective that allows stories like Scott’s and Hughes’ which would never be found anywhere but in these pages. That’s what makes this series stand head and shoulders above the competition and why this is the issue to beat. This is as close to damn perfect as comics get.

Final Verdict: 9.8 – You would be just batty to miss this one.

Alice W. Castle

Sworn to protect a world that hates and fears her, Alice W. Castle is a trans femme writing about comics. All things considered, it’s going surprisingly well. Ask her about the unproduced Superman films of 1990 - 2006. She can be found on various corners of the internet, but most frequently on Twitter: @alicewcastle