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Monday, September 16, 2019

Batman Black and White's "Legend" - a Review

Batman Black and White #2 (July 1996)
Walter Simonson

When I ran the appreciation post on Walter Simonson back in July, I remarked "... count me among those who appreciate his art and style, and then follow up such a comment with "it's not always for me". I can't always put my finger on it, but when I can, my "complaints" would usually center around the looseness of his style. I'm more in the "tight realism" crowd - if that's a crowd." Today's venture into the Batman Black and White hardcover collection drops us into the second issue in the series. Simonson batted lead-off, and I think you'll find that he was an effective table-setter.

100-Word Review:
In a future Gotham City, we open with a mother telling her child a bedtime story. She hearkens back to the days when Gotham was dark, both in temperament and outlook. Crime ruled the streets; the nights exuded evil. Into that mire rose a champion, the Batman. He was larger than life - powerful, benevolent, a man of subterfuge and efficiency when it came to meting out justice to those outside the law - his law. When the black became white, there was no longer a need for Batman - so he melted away, to rise again when needed. This pristine Gotham of the future? It needs him now.
This was a fun story - only 8 pages, but wow!

The Good: When a comic is thought-provoking beyond the mere experience of reading and interpretation of the words and pictures, we're now talking "literature". Simonson's short story here gave me that feeling. I was reminded of Frank Miller's take on police states in The Dark Knight Returns #2, when the streets became patrolled by youth wearing the symbol of the Bat. In this far-flung future, it's a Black Hand that runs things. I wonder how different it is? Is control... well, control? Where is freedom, in either case, when the rules are made for us? One has to wonder, with the Batman's reemergence, how society will be shaped thereafter. Will it be by Batman's standards?

Simonson started us off with a utopian view - clean lines, and he accomplishes the tone he's after by using very light blacks - even the shading is accomplished with lines rather than pools of ink. It's really clean as the story begins - almost sanitized. And as the mother goes into her narrative on how the Batman fought the darkness of man and waged his full-on war against crime, the art becomes darker, the shadows emerge. When we first meet the Batman, he is a White Knight. Simonson's lighting gives us a bright Batman, but as the action begins, light sources change - Batman becomes ensconced in the familiar black tones, cloaked in shadows. The light then becomes his motion, or in some cases the flash of his weapons. When we're brought back to the "present", the images are again sanitized... until the camera pulls back and we see why the city is so clean. Then, the blacks that emerge are in the forms of the Black Hand which rules the day, and the newly-arrived Batman. Will he rule the nights again?

We're left wondering if this was "our" Batman, or some sort of Elseworlds Batman. We don't know how far in the future the story is set, but there's a strange dichotomy between the outfits worn by Batman and the trenchcoats and hats sported by the story's thugs. My take is the flashbacks are to a time slightly distant from our own, so perhaps this is Bruce Wayne; could be Dick Grayson wearing he mantle of the Bat. See what I mean? I'm dwelling on the particulars of the story, which I often don't do. My utility for comics is generally in the reading experience, but this one is sticking with me!

The Bad: I have no knocks on the story or art. If you haven't figured it out, I really liked it. I've liked all three tales I've read so far (as I write this, which is actually at the end of June) from the hardcover collection of the 1996 Batman Black and White series. While I was buying new comics back when this came out, for some unknown reason I didn't pick it up. I'm happy to have it now, however, as it's just great.

The Ugly: Not too much here, aside from my continued dwelling on the sliding scale of justice, rule of law, "altruism", force, "right", "wrong", etc. We as a nation, and even broader as people, often feel like our voices are not heard, like our rights are infringed upon, that our needs are not being met. That's day-to-day in this life sometimes, isn't it? This story has made me think of such things. So while that's ugly, the reflection is good.



  1. Glad you reviewed this story, Doug; and glad that you liked it. It's one of my favorites from the "Batman"Black and White" volumes. Which are great, by the way, for reading anytime you wish some fine comics without having to devote time for a six-issue story arc (free advice for all you reading Doug's fine column today). Each tale in the "Black and White" series is a stand-alone; essentially an anthology of short stories. And I loooooove anthologies!

    You mentioned your preference for 'realistic' art styles. I too love that, but also greatly enjoy a more freeform approach such as Simonson's. Perhaps it's the old 'addition by reduction' thing; the fewer lines there are the more critical each one becomes. Well, Walter makes each one count. And as you note, the use of light and dark tones to sort of frame and identify the story really works.

    A great story; and a satisfying ending. The first time I read this it caught me a bit by surprise; the mother telling her child a bedtime story at the beginning seemed pretty innocuous. It's only at the end, when she closes the door with a tear in her eye, that you begin to realize all isn't perhaps as it should be. So, that final page gives an effective counterpoint of hope to the subtle pain of the preceding page. Nice story, and another fine review!

    1. Simonson shows throughout this little story what a technical master he is. The varying camera angles, foreshortening, details in the backgrounds... this is a tour de force.


    2. "This little story"
      Yes, its an object lesson in what can be done with eight pages Doug, the complete opposite of "decompressed" storytelling. You don't need an Elseworlds Ultimate Future Batman Year One: Legend miniseries or whatever (plus sequels) to drag out the idea at length...


    3. Just say what you gotta say!

      100% agree, Sean. No "writing for the trade paperback" here - just solid storytelling.


  2. Incidentally, sorry for my overuse of the word 'fine' above. I'm still sleepy and my vocabulary apparently hasn't waken up yet...

  3. Oh, yeah! Simonson strikes again!
    I've never read this story, but I have no problem believing all of your praise for it - the samples look great.


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