The Batman: Black and White series is such an interesting test of creator skill. It’s the challenge to make an interesting and engaging story with only the smallest window of opportunity, and requires the ability of a creator to maximize every single moment. So in what ways have creators sought to do that here? What story formulas have they relied on?
Joshua Williamson and Riley Rosmo
Williamson and Rosmo deliver a story told from the perspective of one of Gotham’s indigenous bats. It’s a story structure that is often used to deliver readers a new perspective on the stories they’re used to reading. Here, Williamson fails to give any proper new insights though, and thus the use of this structure feels trite.
Williamson also struggles to deliver more than simple, generic dialogue options here, and all around it isn’t his best work.
Rosmo on the other hand displays a really effective hand at guiding a reader through a story with only visual clues. The pages without dialogue actually tend to be the most engaging of the story, as readers are in some ways able to read their own intentions into it. Sadly Rosmo does tend to be a little messy though, and his work can be somewhat hard to follow in the black and white style.
Kerschl immediately throws readers into one of the most interesting ends of Batman’s mythos as readers join him in an investigation into the Occult. It’s a great choice to challenge Batman, and take him out of his assumed position of having the upper hand against criminals. This is in itself an excellent way to reaffirm Batman’s prowess as readers are able to actively see him work through a problem.
In that way, Robin is used excellently in this story. She’s a proxy for readers who’s able to ask Batman questions and provoke insightful answers. Kerschl does make the odd choice of having the story feature an unnamed original Robin, though, which seemed unnecessary.
The art consistently delivers as well. Kerschl’s pencils are dynamic, and bring out emotion in characters which makes the story more engaging. He’s also consistently framing characters in ways that best display their position in the story; Batman consistently cast in shadow, and the ghosts in luminescent brilliance.
Chip Zdarsky and Nick Bradshaw
Zdarksy delivers a story that is uncharacteristically heavy handed. Whether it’s in Zdarsky’s discussion of the climate, or in his portrayal of Batman, the script lacks the nuance of a writer as seasoned and talented as he is.
The story possesses cool moments, and a really fun ending for reader who love ultimate-prepper Batman. But it also contains a pretty strong mischaracterization of Poison Ivy, which can make the first half of the story a slog.
Bradshaw’s art is not suited for the Black and White style. It’s defined by thin lines and intricate details, which often get lost in the intricacy of the work. There are several pages where details aren’t readily apparent and readers’ eyes will have to adjust simply to understand what the image on the page is.
Daniel Warren Johnson
Johnson creates the standout story in this issue. Whether it’s the fact that his art looks incredible in the Black and White style, or the fact that he makes use of almost every panel in the story to tell a meaningful story which fleshes out Bruce as a character, it’s just awesome.
The art here creates a great sense of atmosphere, which fits tremendously well in a Batman comic. Johnson effectively plays with light in such a way that readers are brought more intimately into character moments. Then he designs the cityscape in a way that’s reminiscent of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creator Kevin Eastman. And of course the action is visceral in Johnson’s typical hyper-realistic fashion.
The story beats are what’s so interesting here. Johnson is fleshing out the way Bruce thinks in crime fighting, through a flashback of Alfred teaching Bruce chess. Not only is it incredibly insightful into both Bruce and Alfred’s relationship as well as Bruce’s thought process, but it’s an incredible use of imagery as the fire behind them relays the symbolic passing of knowledge.
Becky Cloonan, Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson
Cloonan plays it simple and safe here, establishing a mystery with a finite number of culprits Batman must investigate to tell the story. It’s a formula that might feel old hat, but pays off wonderfully as she turns it on its head for a somber finale.
Cloonan, like Johnson, effectively uses her time to flesh out Batman as a character and give readers a certain amount of insight they hadn’t had before the story. This is done with a colorful cast of characters that makes the story feel full, and a fun setting readers will be rather familiar with.
Terry and Rachel Dodson’s art is effective here. It’s consistently well drawn, and genuinely beautiful. They also pair quite fittingly with the setting of the story and that seems to elevate their craft. There are times while reading though that readers might find themselves wishing this story was in color, especially those who’ve followed Dodson’s work in the past.
Batman: Black and White #4 is a fun collection of stories that offer small insights into the caped crusader, and definitely has the edge to satisfy that Batman itch if that’s what readers are looking for. It doesn’t hit every ball out of the park, but nothing is horrible, and the good stuff often leans into being great stuff.
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