‘The Weekly Bat-Signals’ with Shawn Warner, Episode 21

Greetings on this auspicious anniversary of the first appearance of our revered Dark Knight Detective.  The year was 1939, the publication was Detective Comics volume one, number twenty-seven and the co-creators were the brilliant Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Little did these two mild mannered cartoonists know that they had touched eternity with their creation and in so doing they had given a gift to the ages, a hero to save the world from the unimaginative pulp fodder that was taking up more and more space on the newsstands, a character we could relate and aspire to, a Dark Knight to usher in a new kind of crime fighter. Now seventy-five years and a multitude of magnificent musings later, DC Comics has marked the occasion with the release of an elegant, oversized offering comprised of a consortium of collaborators consisting of current and classic creators in Detective Comics number twenty-seven volume two. An anniversary as momentous as this deserves as much fanfare as possible, so as our humble contribution to the celebration this installment of The Weekly Bat Signal is likewise dedicated to that issue of monumental importance, known to comic book fans around the globe simply as Detective twenty-seven.

Let’s begin by stating up front that there is not a single panel of filler in this entire over-sized issue and by that measure it is worth every cent of the $7.99 price tag. Every narrative included in this issue is an ode to a hero, an open letter to a character that has in some deep way touched the life of that creator, who in turn touches the lives of the myriad Bat-Fans and comic book readers in general with their stories. No super hero in the history of comic books can boast the accomplishments that Batman can; his incursion into the public psyche is both permanent and ever-evolving. Through the introduction of new media Batman has found cutting-edge inroads via; film, video games, toys and animation to take us out on patrol with him. Where once we only had the printed comic book adventures to enjoy we now have hand-held devices we can fill with downloaded material featuring the Caped Crusader. However with all of these technological advances and hi-tech gadgetry it is a testament to the comic book industry as an endearing and beloved part of popular culture that it is still the preferred format for these creative geniuses to tell their imaginative tales of The Batman.

This issue very aptly begins with a modern re-imagining of “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate”. No story in the history of Batman has intrigued us more than that of the origin of his nemesis. Brad Meltzer and Bryan Hitch pay homage to that very tale in the opening narrative, however where Bill Finger’s original script was a pretty much straight forward, action-packed crime mystery, heavy on suspense and building to the big reveal that Bruce Wayne and Batman were in point of fact, the same person. Meltzer turns the perspective 180 degrees thus giving us a vastly more inward-looking self-examination of the character. The internal monologue exposes Bruce’s own impetus for donning the cape and cowl while the plot-driven narration progresses the bulk of the exterior narrative.

Bryan Hitch does an excellent job of capturing the urgency of the action. Hitch seems to have differentiated his work here from his usual “Marvel” style we usually see, tempering his hyper-detailed rendering with a softer, somewhat moodier take on the material. Perhaps in homage to the Golden Age era of the original story Hitch went with a more emotive take but whatever his reasons were he nailed the tonal quality of the narrative right up to the final panel cliff hanger. This is a truly tremendous way to start this issue with a great new take on what is arguably the most iconic story in comic book history. Meltzer and Hitch set the bar exceedingly high and prove they are indeed a tough act to follow, fortunately for us, Gregg Hurwitz and Batman artist extraordinaire, Neal Adams are up to the task.

Just last week I rather plainly stated my displeasure with Hurwitz’s take on The Dark Knight, it was my contention that the writer cast Batman in the unflattering light of incompetence however here he is teamed with legendary artist Neal Adams and it is a very different matter entirely. Hurwitz writes Batman through the various eras and incarnations as he and Adams take the Dark Knight on a meta-adventure spanning the decades. This is a multi-layered narrative that examines the evolution of Batman as a character and as a reflection of the social climate of the times. Hurwitz portrays the Caped Crusader as a sort of cultural barometer as Adams cleverly depicts the Dynamic Duo shedding their popular personas, as well as their costumes in reference to the stylistic changes of the times calling to mind such artists as Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan and Frank Miller.

The next story is one of my favorites of the issue, it is written by Peter J. Tomasi with some very imaginative and innovative artwork by Ian Bertram. Bertram is like this amazing amalgamation of Frank Quitely and Dr. Seuss. He has this really pure visionary style that is cartoony yet meticulously detailed as well, his exaggerated and elongated anatomy call to mind the psychedelia of the original Seuss cartoons and his penchant for hyper-detail evokes Quitely and Burnham at their best. Tomasi’s tale of Batman’s future focuses on Bruce’s 75th birthday party thrown by aged versions of Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, Damian and commissioner Barbara Gordon. The party is interrupted with a call to arms and all the party guests are dismissed to handle the disturbance, unbeknownst to them Bruce is no exception. The old man goes out and has a night to remember. This is probably the most light-hearted and fun contribution to the issue. I loved it and can’t wait to see more work from Ian Bertram.

Francesco Francavilla brings us the next story which sadly is the shortest story included, sadly because it is so beautifully written and rendered. The narrative harkens back to Scott Snyder’s “The Black Mirror”, it is wonderfully moody and dark which plays exactly to Francavilla’s strengths. His stunning use of panel layout and imaginative page composition make this one of the most visually unique pieces in the issue despite its rather short length.

Another legend from the hallowed halls of Bat history is Mike Barr who teams up with artist Guillem March to bring us this “It’s A Wonderful Life-esque” tale of Batman’s possible future. The plot centers one the theoretical outcome of Bruce’s life had his parents not been murdered. It offers a gloomy dystopian take on Gotham City and several less-than happy endings for central Batman supporting cast members. Barr’s script is poignant and prophetic as it examines Gotham’s need for the Dark Knight and its potential toward urban decay without him. March has a kinetic storytelling style that lends itself to this type of narrative perfectly, using collage-like page design that resembles posters as much as sequential art. It is very much a graphic design heavy approach that works quite well in this instance. His expressive facial rendering and dynamic posing of characters add a dimension of emotional weight to Barr’s script.

Series regulars John Layman and Jason Fabok offer up the next story which is the first part of the multi-title crossover Gothtopia story arc, it is the only full length story of the issue and really left me ready for the next part. Layman is such a precise and technically astute storyteller. The story is based in a Gotham that is pristine and virtually crime-free, beyond a recent rash of inexplicable suicides, it is an idyllic and serene place to live. However just beneath the surface of this misleading façade beats the heart of a sleeping monster, the real Gotham City, that for whatever reason Batman can only snatch glimpses of. He is aided in his war on crime by Catbird, a melding of Catwoman and Robin named Selena who seems to know more than she is letting on about Batman’s misconceptions. The rest of the Birds of Prey are there as well but a more shiny-happy version complete with gleaming costumes and avian-themed monikers.

Fabok’s art is dynamic and slick. His character designs are dramatic as is his storytelling approach. I really like his take on Gotham City and Wayne Manor as they appear in their more idealize state with blossoming hedgerows and graffiti-free buildings. Layman’s take on Batman’s most nefarious villains as upstanding members of Gotham’s society is extremely entertaining. The narrative is predominately set up but does so in a really satisfying manner; it is well paced and engrossing leaving you wanting the next part immediately.

The final story is written by Batman scribe Scott Snyder with artwork by his collaborator on “The Wake”, the brilliant Sean Murphy. The narrative is based on the premise that Batman is more of an occupation to be filled in approximately 27 year increments by suitable candidates. The story ties into the concept set forth by Paul Pope and is slated to be explored further by Snyder at a later point in time. This short work is indicative of the kind of stories to potentially be told based on this innovative concept.

Sean Murphy is one of the best artists working today bar none. His visceral style conveys a sense of primal urgency and dramatic importance that just screams off the page. He is an ideal collaborator for Snyder who often delves into darker, more esoteric subject matter. Although this is one of the shorter works in the issue it is without a doubt one the most poignant and thought-provoking.

Interspersed between the stories are pin-ups by such illustrious creators as Mike Allred, Graham Nolan, Kelley Jones, Pat Gleason and Jock. All of these are stunning examples of the kind of dramatic poses the Dark Knight is famous for and the kind of work the character inspires from top notch talent. Overall this celebratory issue is a first rate tribute to the greatest super hero of all time. Detective Comics #27, volume 2 brings together a wide-ranging assemblage of comic book luminaries to present a versatile assortment of tales reaching from the dark, emotional depths to the light-hearted, almost humorous take on an aging Caped Crusader, virtually every style, tone and era is covered in this mega-sized anniversary issue. I loved every page of this monstrous volume and found the kickoff of Gothtopia to be the icing on the cake. This is definitely the book that no true Bat-Fan left their local comic book store without.

Well that’s going to do it for this 21st installment of The Weekly Bat Signals as always I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed bringing it to you. If so, we meet here every week, same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel. See you here next week Gothamites.

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ShawnWarner-bio-pic1-crop

Shawn is an aspiring writer/ artist who has been reading, collecting and living comic books for over 30 years. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, their son, lots of cats, dogs and other various finned and furry friends.

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