Batman: Black and White volume 1

By Ted McKeever, Bruce Timm, Klaus Janson, Archie Goodwin & Gary Gianni, Katsuhiro Otomo, Joe Kubert, Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, José Muñoz, Jan Strnad & Richard Corben, Kent Williams, Chuck Dixon & Jorge Zaffino, Neil Gaiman & Simon Bisley, Andrew Helfer & Liberatore, Bill Sienkiewicz, Matt Wagner, Dennis O’Neil & Teddy Kristiansen, Brian Bolland, Kevin Nowlan, Brian Stelfreeze, Michael Allred, Moebius, Michael Kaluta, Tony Salmons, P. Craig Russell, Marc Silvestri, Alex Ross, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1589-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

Batman is a creature of the night. Batman is the world’s greatest detective, escapologist and master of disguise. Batman fights criminals, mad men and bad women, aliens and monsters. Batman is all this and more. In a world of fabulous eerily distorted hues and constantly shifting blinding colour (mostly red) he sees in black and white… and now so will you…

As recapped in a sagacious Introduction, in the early 1990s Batman: Black and White was originally envisioned as an experimental limited series, with editors Marl Chiarello & Scott Peterson inviting the world’s greatest comics creators – whether new to the character or long-time veterans – to tell “their” story of the Gotham Gangbuster. They would be free of all continuity constraints but operating under the sole proviso that the result should be designed to work in stark monochrome.

Results were astounding, challenging and inevitably, multi-award winning. If you are any sort of Bat-fan or aficionado of the art form there will be something in this wonderful tome to blow your socks off. Just don’t read it in front of your Nan – she spent hours knitting them.

Here is a spectacular showing from some of our world’s greatest talents, producing short complete tales without benefit or hindrance of colour. Moreover, the experiment was such a success that despite some company resistance to its very concept, the miniseries won much acclaim and many awards. Its success led to a regular black-&-white “out-continuity” slot in monthly anthology comic Gotham Knights. Those stories were collected in two subsequent B:BAW volumes. The experiment even evolved a subgenre of monochrome books starring many four-colour superstars from different companies: most of them exploiting the cultural label of “Noir”…

The groundbreaking enigmatic variations open with Ted McKeever’s ‘Perpetual Mourning’ wherein a quiet visit to the morgue opens a small dark window into the hero’s mind after which a panoply of assorted treats unfold, ranging from Archie Goodwin & Gary Gianni’s period piece ‘Heroes’ to poignant Good Evening, Midnight’ written & illustrated by Klaus Janson with the hero scrutinised by the one who knows him best.

Steeped in the animated show’s trappings, Bruce Timm’s tragic ‘Two of a Kind’ interrogates Harvey Dent and Two Face’s life whereas just plain wild and weird declamatory epics The Third Mask’ (by Katsuhiro Otomo) and Joe Kubert’s deeply symbolic ‘The Hunt’ are highly personal takes from major league creators showing why The Batman continues to grip public consciousness in almost any permutation or milieu.

As much thematic metaphor as artistic exercise, stories were not restricted to current DC continuity, but encouraged exploration of the character via impressionistic, personal forays such as ‘Petty Crimes’ by Howard Chaykin, with Archie Goodwin returning to script eerily memorable Jazz thriller ‘The Devil’s Trumpet’ for the astounding stylist José Muñoz.

Walter Simonson crafts future science myth ‘Legend’ whilst Jan Strnad & Richard Corben collaborate on bleak urban fable ‘Monster Maker’, even as Kent Williams revisits the night the Waynes died in ‘Dead Boys Eyes’, whilst Chuck Dixon & Jorge Zaffino’s ‘The Devil’s Children’ examines GCPD’s unique attitude to the Gotham Guardian…

Neil Gaiman & Simon Bisley’s ‘A Black and White World’ is arguably the weakest entry in the book, relying on “Fourth Wall cleverness” rather than actual plot, whereas Andrew Helfer & Liberatore’s insightful kidnap tale ‘In Dreams’ delivers a powerful punch, as does Matt Wagner’s fabulously stylish action romp ‘Heist’, before ‘Bent Twig’ delivers intense whimsy and deep, challenging philosophical questioning from Bill Sienkiewicz – and all shrouded under an ostensibly seasonal theme.

The same setting plays ‘A Slaying Song Tonight’ by Dennis O’Neil & Teddy Kristiansen, whilst Brian Bolland produces the beautifully disturbing ‘An Innocent Guy’. Strnad encores by scripting ‘Monsters in the Closet’ for forensically brilliant Kevin Nowlan, as does O’Neil for Brian Stelfreeze in chilling y introspective ‘Leavetaking’.

Chiarello’s Introduction explains how the project began and acknowledges its conceptual debt to Archie Goodwin’s tenure as writer/editor of Eerie and Warren Publication’s other groundbreaking monochrome magazines, but the collection is also superbly supplemented with background and developmental material, pin-ups and sketch pages from the likes of Michael Allred, Moebius, Michael Kaluta, Tony Salmons, P. Craig Russell, Marc Silvestri, Alex Ross and Neal Adams.

These are uncompromising visions of The Dark Knight that reshaped the medium, returning noir style and themes by offering mayhem in moody monochrome. They are Batman at his most primal and should be on every fan’s radar…
© 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.