Saturday, 15 February 2014

Batman Black and White Volume 4 Review (Neal Adams, Sean Murphy et al.)


The black and white Batman short story anthology, imaginatively titled Batman: Black and White, returns for a fourth volume. Like the other three books, Black and White’s stories are very uneven with some standouts out of many duds but as is also the case with this series, the art is by far the selling point of these books. 

The most memorable story here is Neal Adams’ “Batman Zombie” where a zombie Batman shuffles through Gotham witnessing the effects of a recession on ordinary men and women. He wakes up having experienced a Christmas Carol-ish dream and decides he could do more good as Bruce Wayne the billionaire than Batman the vigilante, and goes out to spread the wealth. It’s great to see Adams’ art but man, that is a completely nutso storyline! I guess we couldn’t expect less from the guy who brought us Batman: Odyssey, right? 

Continuing the theme of having artists writing their own stories is Rafael Grampa’s “Into the Circle” where Joker is recruiting gangs to rob Wayne Manor – but Batman is waiting in the shadows to stop them. Why are Batman and Joker working together? Blair Butler and Chris Weston’s “I Killed the Bat” is an interesting riff on the sensational tabloid stories of yesteryear as a madwoman murders a man whom she believes to be Batman. Weston’s art is absolutely first class and his time with Grant Morrison drawing The Filth serves him well especially when things start to get meta towards the end. 

Ivan Brandon’s “Hell Night” shows Batman’s yearly attempt to break into Wayne Manor to test its defences, which was a pretty clever and enjoyable short, and Olly Moss and Becky Cloonan’s “Bruce” takes the perspective of the many hot women Bruce “dates” for appearances’ sake and what their take on the “billionaire playboy” is. Cloonan’s art is her usual stunning best and the story is an original angle for looking at Bruce that you rarely see. 

These kinds of shorts – a certain idea, often very small, about Batman explored in roughly 6 pages – are the ones that work best rather than the ones trying to fit in a full mystery/case within a short frame. Though looking at the book as a whole, it’s clear to see Batman’s not at his best in the short story format and the character works better in long-form narratives. 

The rest of the volume is filled with mediocre, forgettable stories with one particularly awful one by Dan DiDio called “Manbat Out of Hell” where Manbat’s kids get molested!!! JG Jones’ art is terrific, it’s just a shame he got the short straw to draw this crummy, utterly horrible story. 

But if the stories are generally unremarkable, the art more than makes up for it. Jim Steranko’s absolutely confusing cover where a Jesus-esque Batman is standing above jigsaw puzzle pieces and giant ants is as well drawn as it is baffling, and Amanda Conner’s cover of Batman is also eye-catchingly beautiful. Artists who drew the interiors include Chris Samnee, Michael Cho, Rafael Albuquerque, Dave Bullock, Lee Bermejo, Damion Scott, Sean Murphy, Michael Allred, along with the aforementioned Becky Cloonan, Chris Weston, and Neal Adams. It really is a murderer’s row of first class comics artists! 

Batman Black and White Volume 4 isn’t a must-read Batman book but if you’re a fan there’ll be enough here for you to enjoy and there’s certainly a lot more here than the shorts I’ve mentioned – just remember to skip over Dan DiDio’s story!

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