Whether it’s to celebrate an anniversary or milestone like the massive Detective Comics #1027 or to revel in the holiday spirit with DC’s Very Merry Multiverse, DC has put out a huge number of anthology releases over the last few years. It’s all a part of an ongoing experiment at the publisher to compete with the original graphic novel and manga markets. It was only a matter of time before the crown jewel of DC’s anthology catalog made its return. December’s Batman Black & White #1 was a “return to form” as my colleague David Brooke said in his review. The second issue is no different and the talent featured here plays with the format beautifully.
Batman Black & White #2 opens with a story titled “The Unjust Judge” by Tom King and Mitch Gerads. Like many of King’s works, this story pulls together literary and historical texts to bring a level of grandiosity to what otherwise may seem like an ordinary superhero story. It’s Gerads’ artwork, though, that is particularly evocative. The 9-panel layout of the pages creates a sense of claustrophobia, reflecting that of the priest trapped under the debris of an ongoing church fire. He shows us a clean, controlled Batman juxtaposed against jagged rubble and the chaos of the flames. As always, Gerads’ work is outstanding, particularly his realistic and emotive faces.
In Sophie Campbell’s “All Cats Are Grey”, we see a classic Bat and Cat chase sequence play out a little differently by leaning into the signature black and white style of the anthology. When Catwoman sees a white cat on the snow-topped roofs of Gotham, she notices how the cat can blend in seamlessly with the winter backdrop. Donning a new white suit, Catwoman uses her new camouflage to get the drop on Batman. It’s a silent story, but Campbell’s art is really all you need. It’s the only story in this issue that is purely black and white, and the simple but clever narrative allows the form to follow the function of what Batman Black & White is all about.
“The Spill” is a gorgeous, richly detailed story by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko. When Batman crashes the Batmobile into a canal, he’s struggling to get free of the wreckage and is dropped in on by the Joker. The scenario allows for some fun Joker moments, including a clever deconstruction of the Batman / Joker relationship that has been returned to more often than anyone would like to admit.
Dustin Weaver’s “Dual” will likely be a favorite for readers, and it’s certainly a unique story in this collection. Weaver introduces a new nemesis in the form of the White Bat, an undead Batman clad in an all-white suit and piercing white eyes. Weaver, like Campbell, is using the black and white styling of the book to tell a compelling story about a mysterious anti-Batman.
Weaver’s art is a showstopper. In the first three pages alone, we’re given a full-body look at the White Bat, his interpretation of Batman, and a two-page spread dogfight through Gotham skyscrapers. Without giving away the events of the story, it’s a shame it’s only eight pages long. While I’m not entirely sure there’s a precedent for this, I believe Weaver’s tale is rich enough in concept to expand into a limited series from DC. The cliffhanger raises too many questions for this to be the end!
Finally, David Aja (in his DC debut) brings us “The Devil is in the Detail”, a classic Batman noir story that mixes in a bit of the occult. The twist here is that it is presented as a series of 1940s newspaper comic strips. Black & White is a great showcase of Aja’s style. His color palette is normally limited to begin with, but here he limits himself further by only working with black, white, and two shades of gray. Despite this, every panel feels like a tableau. It’s an economical approach that really works because it is dictated by the form. Not just the form of Batman Black & White, but of newspaper strips as well. Aja lays out a strip with five panels or less, each one significant to evoke the noir feel and progress the plot. It’s brilliant and hopefully the first of many to come for Aja and DC.
A showcase of comics art at its finest, Batman Black & White #2 continues to honor the series’ roots and push into new and exciting places. Additionally, if you can, I highly encourage buying physical versions of this series. There’s a depth to the blacks that are really best seen in print, and that standard monitors or devices may not be able to replicate.
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