I wrote this last year for my graphic novel class.
Four Batmans, One Cape
Over the last week and a half I have read four different Batman Comics: Batman 32, Batman 241 (The Rainbow Batman), Batman 395 (The Case of the Waiting Graves), and A Tale of Batman – Gotham by Gaslight. I enjoyed reading all of them and I believe it has helped my understanding of the character Batman, as well as, the history of Comics. I have never read a Batman comic before last week but I have already met many Batmans from watching TV and movies. Each Batman comic I read possessed an individual story, environmental design, character design and movement style.
In Batman 32, Batman is the most simply drawn of the four comic books. He is all cape and ears rendered in his traditional blue black costume. He is more shape than form driven in his depiction. In the panels he seems to move from one iconic pose to another. The world he inhabits isn’t one of rigid perspective but of a fairy tale landscape perhaps imagined in a dream or a children’s book. In Batman 241, Batman has become more muscular and less ethereal. Sculpted and heroic is the Batman in 395, the muscles in his calves, thighs and chest are clearly defined as if drawn by Michelangelo.
In Gotham by Gaslight we see much more of Bruce Wayne than Batman. Bruce is a big muscular guy. When he sits in prison I am struck at how beefy he looks even in his striped suit. I am sure nothing bad will happen to him. In Batman 32, we never see or hear about Bruce Wayne and only inhabit the world of the Batman.
A Tale of Batman – Gotham by Gaslight begins in world of dreams with the comic opening in a monochrome palette with Batman recounting his parents’ murder to Freud. Like Batman 32, nature is more important than architecture is this first scene. But in contrast to Batman 32, we leave the dream world and move into a world of wide shots filled with complex color, architecture and traditional perspective drawing.
In Batman 395, Batman 32 and the beginning of Tale of Batman, Batman finds himself outside of Gotham City. 395 takes place in Mexico, 32 in Hungary and Tale of Batman in Vienna and London. The worlds of these three Batman comics are filled with horror or horrible creatures. In contrast, Rainbow Batman is much lighter fare reminiscent of the wisecracking live action TV Batman and Robin.
Rainbow Batman is text heavy and filled with perspective following architecture. Rainbow Batman’s world is not a moody world of fairy tale. His Gotham is crowded and chaotic with most scenes happening in the daytime (or night lit as if it were day). Rainbow Batman like his world is not as dark and mysterious as the Batman in we meet in Batman 32.
Only Rainbow Batman works with his sidekick Robin. Batman 395 has Robin in the issue but his story is separate from Batman’s. So far in my reading Batman with a sidekick is less serious than Batman, the loner.
A Tale of Batman has the most sophisticated paneling using different color stories, camera angles and innovative use of text. Batman 32, 241 and 395 make use mainly of two and three panels across. In general, the later the Batman the more interesting the paneling is.
My favorite of the Batman comics so far are Batman by Gaslight because of its exquisite artwork and interesting Freudian/Jack the Ripper story and Rainbow Batman for its downright campiness. I understand these two stories are at the most extreme ends of the Batman arc. One celebrating a Batman who takes himself oh so seriously conversing with Freud later accused of being Jack the Ripper and the other changing his costume more than Madonna in an 80s concert including a black and white target and a multi-color cape and tight ensemble. But that is the fun of Batman just like in the films he ranges from Clooney to Keaton, Kilmer to West, and of course Christian Bale in the heavy handed 3D Dark Knight. Because no matter how serious or silly, as David Cronenberg said, 'It's still Batman running around in a stupid cape.'