I write comic book reviews that NOBODY has ever asked for!
This series is strangely confusing to me. I remember it at one point being hugely popular and extremely collectable. A little research shows me that one of the stories was nominated for an Eisner award, the series has been collected into several fairly expensive hardcover editions, and the collected edition is ranked at #13 on IGN's list of the 25 greatest Batman Graphic Novels. Thanks to this series, whenever a comic is given the "DEEEE-Lux" treament, it's usually done in black and white. It seems to be pretty agreed upon as being an innovative work of art and a must have for any serious Batman fan. Plus I still see "Black and White" versions of comic statues every time I visit my local comic shop.
That's a mighty damn fine pedigree for a mini right there. So how come the individual issues are worth less than five bucks? How come I FINALLY found the issue I had been missing all these years (#4) a couple of months ago in a comic shop dollar box? WHY is this influental and pretty much universally-praised comic series Longbox Junk?
So let's leave aside my confusion for the moment and take an objective look at the junk at hand. . .
BATMAN: BLACK AND WHITE (DC)
So what we have here is basically 5 8-page stories by different artists and writers considered to be at the top of the field at the time, with covers and inside covers done by different artists as well. There's quite a bit of variety here, so let's break it on down!
COVER: Jim Lee
Batman is sort of stiff, but well done. I really like the extremely detailed city behind him, though.
INSIDE FRONT COVER: Michael Allred
Not good, not bad. Just sort of average.
INSIDE BACK COVER: Moebius
Nicely done, but a little strange in that Batman's cape literally looks like bat wings.
Ted McKeever Art and Story
The opening story is typical McKeever strangeness. The art isn't bad, except for unmasked faces. . .once again, typical for McKeever. I've never seen him draw a decent face. The story (more of a vignette. . .as are all of these entries) is basically Batman's internal dialogue while doing an autopsy on a murder victim. It's interesting, but some of the writing is borderline. . .with Batman saying things like, "Tell me, dear soul. Is it true that we live only in a dream. . ." It's pretty out of character for Batman. But once again. . .Ted McKeever.
TWO OF A KIND:
Bruce Timm art and story.
This is more of a Two-Face story, with Batman only showing up at the end in the last panel. It involves Harvey Dent being "Cured" and falling in love with his doctor, only to find out she has an evil twin sister, who he ends up killing after she kills his lover out of jealousy, which sends Dent right back to Arkham.
I'd say that this is my favorite story in this issue. It has that awesome, simple Batman: The Animated Series art. It told a simple, clear story with a beginning, middle, and end. I can EASILY see this as being a "lost episode" of BTAS. Very nice!
Joe Kubert art and story
Let it be said up front that I am a HUGE Joe Kubert fan. Unfortunately, I have to be honest and say that this is definitely not his best work by a long shot.
The story is weak, and some of the dialogue is just plain bad. The art (which is usually Kubert's strong point) is extremely disappointing to a Kubert fan such as myself. There ARE some panels that shine and show why he's a legend, but generally the art is not that good, and in a couple of panels it's REALLY bad. . .one in particular looks like an unfinished sketch. This story just made me feel sad, and not because it's a sad story. Moving on. . .
Howard Chaykin art and story.
The story involves Batman tracking down a vigilante who is killing people with bad manners. It's pretty weak.
The art is typical Chaykin. Highly detailed backgrounds, but all the faces look the same. His Batman has a very wide head and just generally looks awkward.
All in all, not good, not bad. I expected better from Chaykin.
THE DEVIL'S TRUMPET:
Archie Goodwin story, Jose Munoz art
I thought this was another really good entry. It's about a jazz trumpeter willing to do anything (including kill) to gain a trumpet that can supposedly make him the best there ever was.
Once again, Batman only shows up in the final page, but this story has an eerie sort of "Crossroads, sellin' your soul to the devil" feel to it that I really liked. The art has a heavily-inked and exaggerated look that fits the supernatural nature of the story quite well.
All in all, I enjoyed this first issue quite a bit. There were some disappointing bits, but there was also a lot of variety. I liked that the stories were so short. . .more vignettes than stories. It showcased quite nicely that Batman is a character that can be interpreted in many ways. Not all of them were to my taste, but that's what's great about anthologies. So despite a few stumbles here and there, I would highly suggest this issue.
Like the first issue, we have a series of short, unconnected 8 page vignettes done by various artists and writers. This issue has more actual teams where the first was mostly written and drawn by the same person. Let's take a look, shall we?
COVER: Frank Miller
Very nice! It's Miller's older "Dark Knight", and there's nothing wrong with that.
INSIDE FRONT COVER: Michael Kaluta
Meh. . . Am disappointed.
INSIDE BACK COVER: Tony Salmons
A nice fight scene with a lot of motion to it, but it's also pretty cluttered. Average.
LEGEND: Story and art by Walter Simonson.
A vignette featuring a high-tech Batman in a dystopian future. Amazing hard-edged sci-fi artwork makes up for the lack of a real story. I really liked this one.
MONSTER MAKER: Art by Richard Corben, Story by Jan Strnad.
A gritty, brutal story about how children are turned into gang soldiers in the inner city. Corben's art really sells this very dark vignette. One of my favorite artists of all time and he doesn't disappoint here. Another winner for this issue.
DEAD BOYS EYES: Art and Story by Kent Williams
In this vignette, Batman is drawn into a trap and seriously wounded. As he bleeds out, it turns into a psychedelic journey. Both the art and story on this one were pretty bad. I'd say this one is the worst of the bunch in this issue. It's basically a pretentious piece of crap. Moving along. . .
THE DEVIL'S CHILDREN: Story by Chuck Dixon, Art by Jorge Zaffino
Batman investigates the puzzle of how hitmen everyone thought were dead are still killing people.
Now HERE'S the Batman I love. . .the Dark Knight Detective in a gritty, street-level noir story. The art and writing are both stellar on this story and I found it to be one of my favorites, not only in this issue, but in the entire mini. Worth the price of this issue by itself.
And finally. . .
A BLACK AND WHITE WORLD: Story by Neil Gaiman, Art by Simon Bisley.
What we have here are two superstars imagining what if comics were like movies. . .and it all comes off like incredibly pretentious "Look how clever we are!" mutual ego stroking crap. It really sucks to say that about one of my favorite artists (Gaiman is. . .okay. . .in my book. Not the Comic God some make him out to be), but this vignette is pretty insufferable. Not QUITE as bad as "Dead Boys Eyes", but a very narrow second place. This amount of talent should have come up with something better.
Overall, a pretty good issue. 3 good stories and 2 stinkers out of 5 with one of the top 3 stories of the whole series and a sweet, sweet cover.
5 more 8 page stories by superstar artists and writers. Let's do this!
COVER: Barry Windsor-Smith
I want this cover as a poster! BWS does NOT disappoint.
INSIDE FRONT COVER: P. Craig Russell
Pretty average. I expect more from PCR.
INSIDE BACK COVER: Marc Silvestri
Batman done Image-style. . .HELL YEAH! This portrait of Batman gives the fantastic Windsor-Smith cover a run for it's money.
GOOD EVENING MIDNIGHT: Art and Story by Klaus Jansen
When Batman misses his birthday dinner, Alfred reads a letter to himself from Bruce's father in order to remind himself of why he's needed.
The story is a very nice little character study about Alfred's place in the Bat-Mythos, but the art is pretty uneven. Very nice in places, sloppy and sketchy in others. Still, not a bad little story. Probably the best of this particular issue.
IN DREAMS: Story by Andrew Helfer, Art by Liberatore.
Batman helps a woman heal mental wounds from the past that he was partially responsible for. All in all. . .this story was painfully average. Not bad, not good, just sort of. . .there. It really seems like filler.
HEIST: Art and Story by Matt Wagner
Wagner is one of my favorite comic artists/writers of all time. Unfortunately, this is nowhere near to his best work. It's an utterly average story of Batman foiling the robbery of a mansion. Some of the stellar Batman art Wagner has shown us on things like "Faces" would have made up for the extremely light story, but the art is unusually disappointing. This story just makes me sad thinking about how good it COULD have been.
BENT TWIGS: Art and Story by Bill Sienkiewicz
Not only the worst story in this issue, but pretty much the worst in the whole series. Batman gets into a long discussion about parenting with an abusive father. . .and. . .that's it. The art isn't terrible, but the story is yet another pretentious piece of crap that seems to be the hallmark of the worst vignettes in this series. So much dialogue is crammed into tiny panels (15-20 on EACH page) that it's just insufferable. So bad. Moving along. . .
A SLAYING SONG TONIGHT: Art by Teddy Kristiansen, Story by Dennis O'Neal
Here's a perfect example of a mismatched creative team. O'Neal gives us a perfectly fine little story about Batman preventing a mob hit on Christmas by a hitman disguised as Santa. . .But then Kristiansen's exaggerated "Vertigo-Style" artwork makes it almost unreadable. It's a damn shame.
All in all, I found this issue to be a disappointment. There wasn't a single really GOOD story to be found. The only real highlights of the issue were the cover and the Silvestri pin-up on the inside back cover.
All right. . .Last issue.
Let's break it on down!
COVER: Alex Toth
I REALLY like this cover a lot. It's extremely simple, but it's probably my favorite of the four issues.
INSIDE FRONT COVER: Alex Ross
Ross brings his signature hyper-realistic detail to the bat-party! VERY nicely done.
INSIDE BACK COVER: Neal Adams
It's not the best of the bunch, but it's not bad by any means. Definitely old school Adams, and there's nothing wrong with that.
AN INNOCENT GUY: Art and Story by Brian Bolland
An average guy wants to do something bad just ONCE in his life, and he decides it's going to be killing Batman.
This brilliant little character study takes a look at the banality of evil. It's well written and features Bolland's signature amazing artwork. There's nothing not to like about this one. The best of this issue and one of the best of the series.
MONSTERS IN THE CLOSET: Art by Kevin Nowlan, Story by Jan Strnad
In this ultimately forgettable story, Batman takes down a mad scientist who's been creating living abominations. It's not BAD, but it just seems like an excuse to draw a bunch of creepy monsters. It just seems like filler.
HEROES: Art by Gary Gianni, Story by Archie Goodwin
This story takes us back to the ORIGINAL 1930's Batman with gyrocopters, dirigibles, and Nazis trying to kidnap an inventor. The story has a nice twist at the end and amazing artwork. I really liked that the creative team went back to Batman's roots for a gritty pulp adventure. Very nice!
LEAVETAKING: Art by Brian Stelfreeze, Story by Dennis O'Neal
Where "A Slaying Song Tonight" in issue 3 was an example of a creative team mismatch, they get it right this time by pairing O'Neal with an artist who does justice to his story.
I never really knew Stelfreeze as anything other than a cover artist, but his sharp lines and heavy inks are the perfect compliment to O'Neal's story of a wounded Batman hallucinating while he struggles to survive. Another winner for this issue!
And finally. . .
THE THIRD MASK: Art and Story by Katsuhiro Otomo
The closing story in this mini is a bit disappointing. The art is impressive, highly-detailed manga style, but the story itself is confusing with an ending that really makes no sense at all. Maybe it's because it was translated from Japanese. . .maybe it's just pretentious bull$#!t. It's a bit hard to tell. In any case, equal parts good and crap make for an average story.
And there you have it. The final issue of Batman: Black and White. Overall, this issue was probably the most solid of the 4. It had some borderline bad moments, but cover to cover also had some of the best stuff in the series.
Generally speaking, I found this mini to be worth the many praises that have been given to it over the years. Not everything was to my taste, but then again, that's sort of the point of anthologies. . .a little bit of everything for everyone. I'm still confused as to exactly WHY Batman: Black and White is Longbox Junk. . .but despite the lack of monetary value, there's a lot to like in here.
By restraining the creative teams to such a small space (each story is only 8 pages), they were forced to strip each entry down to the core. This makes the good entries shine like sparkly little bat-diamonds and the poor entries likewise exposed for the obvious turds they are. Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad.
Up next. . .
A strange little moment in Dark Horse's Alien franchise. . .Aliens: Stronghold 4 issue mini.
Be there or be square!
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