SPOILERS for like all the stories in this issue
Batman Black and White has been a welcome addition to DC’s lineup, especially because I’m not currently jiving with any of their in-continuity Bat-books. I don’t know if this was the best issue yet, but it was definitely the most peculiar. Let’s dive in.
“Rule Number One” is a Robin story written and drawn by Lee Bermejo. As far as I can tell, Bermejo never explicitly tells us which Robin this is, but based on the motorcycle and the attitude, it’s probably Jason Todd. Fine by me, I don’t mind my Robin with some snark and roughness. The story has Jason, out of costume, sent by Batman to try and buy drugs in a dangerous part of Gotham. Meanwhile, Batman himself is raiding the house where those drugs are made, so that Robin has to fend for himself when things get dicey. He does just fine, of course, but makes one dumb mistake that leads to a very funny final panel. It’s a pretty succinct little tale, and Bermejo’s art looks really good in black-and-white. Especially when drawing Batman, he doesn’t need color, because his pencils are heavy enough to display the Dark Knight’s imposing presence on their own. He does a good disgruntled teenager, too, with some genuine fear peeking out through his projected calm. I liked having Robin be the focus of the opening story, because it was a little unexpected, but not at all out of synch with what I want from this title. Not the deepest narrative, but sturdy enough, and bolstered by rock solid artwork.
Damion Scott is the writer/artist for “Hall of Mirrors,” which is basically a poem placed on top of a series of visual deconstructions of several classic Batman villains. Scott’s a very talented artist, and renders all the bad guys in his signature style while still pinpointing what makes them unique. There isn’t a story here, but Scott isn’t trying for one. It’s just Batman contemplating life as Batman, turning over his past exploits with the greatest hits from his rogues’ gallery, translated into comicbook format by Scott’s ambitious imagination and design. The Scarecorw page was the best, if anyone’s keeping score.
Perhaps the strongest story is Marv Wolfman and Riccardo Burchielli’s “An Innocent Man.” The night before The Joker is scheduled to be executed, having finally committed a murder high-profile enough to earn himself the death penalty, he reveals to Batman a piece of evidence that he knows proves his innocence. Batman, then, because he’s such a stickler, makes it his mission to get The Joker off and find the real killer, which he successfully does, playing right into his enemy’s plans. It’s a tight breakdown of what makes their relationship so fascinating, and it’s a story where Joker gets to win, which I always like. He’s so good at being bad, I want to see it pay off for him once in a while. Burchielli’s art is shadowy and dense, underlining the gloom of the story. Batman doesn’t want to exonerate his greatest foe, nor does anybody else want him to, but he feels driven to find the truth because that’s the kind of crazy he is. So he devotes himself to accomplishing a task that he’d probably rather fail, a very depressing way to live, no doubt. The unrelenting blackness of the art speaks to all of that, and the somewhat sketchy linework highlights both Batman and Joker’s madness. Which are, of course, the forces that drive this narrative forward.
My favorite piece was Rian Hughes’ “Namtab: Babel Comes to Gotham.” It’s a little hard to describe the plot, but also it’s kind of inconsequential to the enjoyment of the story. There’s a spirit of retro zany comicbook antics in this story that I adored. Hughes employs Tal-Dar, a super obscure alien character from the 60’s, to aide Batman in a fight against language and symbols. Oh, and the whole thing is just futuristic Batman fanfic that Alfred is writing in his downtime, anyway. It’s chaotic, hilarious, meta-textual sci-fi awesomeness, and Hughes’ art is excellent as well. He assembles his panels like puzzles, each one arranged just so to provide the perfect snapshot. And he infuses them with fun in their fullness, pacing, and the attitudes of the characters. The best part of this, though, is how it is at once a perfect Batman story and a totally atypical one. The villain, the tone, and the guest star are all outside of Batman’s usual comfort zones, but it is his quick-thinking detective skills that identify the problem and, in so doing, lead to Tal-Dar’s solution. Without having a character smart enough to figure out what the heck was going on in this story, everyone would’ve quickly been overcome by the threat. It needed an exceptional analytical mind, and was therefore tailor-made for this character. And for this series, comes to think of it.
Finally, there’s “Role Models” by Paul Dini and Stéphane Roux. It starts out as a classic street-level kidnapping case for Batman and Gordon, but then we switch to seeing things from the victim’s point of view as she escapes her captor and cries for help. Batman arrives at the kidnapper’s home moments after the girl has fled, and before he can catch up with her, she stumbles on Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn in the middle of a bank heist. Assuming that they are among Gotham’s many costumed heroes, the young girl asks the villainesses for help, and when the kidnapper arrives, they’re more than happy to oblige. They take him down with ease, but then Batman shows up and says he’s going to take Ivy and Quinn in, too. So Ivy poisons the kidnapper, forcing Batman to take him to the hospital, and the ladies run away, while the girl gleefully shouts, “Good-bye! Thank you!” after them. It’s touching and light, and I always like to see Harley and Ivy team up. Art-wise, Roux is stylistically the most classic comicbook illustrator in this issue, which isn’t a bad thing, just a thing. It makes the girl extra cute and animated, Batman especially stern and muscular, and the kidnapper extra disgusting, all of which work in the narrative’s favor. It never made my jaw drop, but it told its story clearly and efficiently, with a few spots of very strong action.
I hope this book sticks around. There’s really no reason not to read it, except, I guess, for the $4.99 price point. But you get 40 ad-free pages of story for that money, always at least decent if not amazing, and always about Batman and/or his extended cast, one of comics’ greatest collections of characters ever. Support it, everybody, so DC does good things like this more often.