Batman: Noël by Lee Bermejo (of Batman/Deathblow, and Lex Luthor) was released this week after receiving a hearty promotion by DC Comics by taking up the last few pages of each monthly book. A holiday story drawn in the gritty gnarled noir-realism of Gotham City, Noël is a deluxe hardcover book with a Christmas setting.
It’s sure to make its way into the hands of many a comic book collector this holiday season.
A hot talent in the comics industry with a reputation for intensely violent material such as Joker, Bermejo is surprisingly interested in entertaining children. Therefore, Batman: Noël is something of a Christmas Carol for the caped crusader with some surprising substitutions for the three ghosts…
In Noël, Bob is a lower-class guy in Gotham City trying to keep a roof over the head of his boy. To make some extra money he starts working for the Joker. Batman shakes him down and decides to use Bob to lure his arch-nemesis into his Batarang-wielding clutches.
Along the way, though, the Dark Knight is visited by an apparition of his dearly departed partner Robin. And instead of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, it’s Catwoman, Superman and the Joker himself who help Batman see the situation in a different light.
Noël marks the first writing gig for the self-taught artist. Bermejo teamed with scribe Brian Azzarello for the disturbing psychological graphic novel Joker in 2008, and after he finished he wanted to do something in the vein of a children’s book that was naïve and fun, especially for younger Bat-fans.
“It terrifies me when kids walk up to me with Joker at conventions, and I’m like, ‘Who’s letting you buy this?'” Bermejo says. “If you’re going to give your kid a Superman comic or a Batman comic, which one do you think is more suitable? It goes without saying you choose the Superman one.
“My tendency is to do dark stuff,” he adds. “It’s an interesting juxtaposition to do a character like Batman and make it look real and atmospheric and dark, and give people something that maybe isn’t necessarily just that.”
Since Noël was based on A Christmas Carol, there was a certain structure to follow. Bermejo added a blue-collar narrator to tell the story in a very informal way, and found that Batman nicely fit into the main character’s mold. Scrooge doesn’t mind stepping on a few people as a means to an end, and neither does the superhero.
“Very much like the character of Scrooge, as a younger man he was presented as a disturbed but bright fellow — he wasn’t quite that bitter old man. That’s very easily analogous to Batman’s own history,” Bermejo explains.
“In the past 25 years he’s become this very robotic, unstoppable force of will — almost like the Terminator or Robocop. He almost loses humanity to me in that way. That’s what made it interesting to play up that in the book, and juxtapose that with little scenes of him as the Adam West-y Batman to make a subtle statement on, hey, this is Batman right now.”
Bermejo also harked to the ’60s Batman TV show with his Julie Newmar-inspired Catwoman, who’s a little more innocent than the one in modern comics as she reminds Batman of past adventures. Superman acts as a conscience for Batman with recent events, and the Joker appears when the hero sees what could happen if he ends up 6 feetunder before his time.
With the graphic novel, Bermejo wanted to appeal to casual consumers of Batman entertainment, be it the occasional comic reader or movie watcher who maybe doesn’t know exactly how many Robins there have been in Dark Knight history.
At the same time, he’s amazed at how many people know that one of the Robins died on Batman’s watch. “My mother knows that,” Bermejo says. “That’s more part of the canon of Batman that the general public knows about, as well as the ’60s Batman and now the darker, more serious interpretations.
“My hope is that there’s something familiar in it, and there’s also maybe something that can introduce them to that Batman world.”
Via USA Today
In addition to Noël, another Batman product has been generating some buzz from Batfans, the Batman Files. A hardcover edition, the Batman Files analyzes the mythical Batman using newspaper clipping and factual evidence from the comic book world.
When I first heard of this item, I almost swooned and blame my current Batmania on its existence.
The idea of this book is that it’s the personal notes of Bruce Wayne, concocted as somewhat of an instruction manual for his successors in the event of his death or disappearance. Batman Files author Matthew K. Manning keeps the journal entries pretty entertaining, though some come dangerously close to pure Wikipedia-style entries that recap events rather than offer a personalized account of Batman’s history. However, the greater appeal of the book are things like vehicle schematics, newspaper clippings, police reports, Arkham Asylum charts, personal files on the extended Batman family and rogues, and the unique little one-offs – like a business card for Jason Bard, training regimen for Bruce Wayne, or the death certificate of Jason Todd. Who, by the way, died from “Asphyxiation due to smoke.” Officially, at least.
The newspaper clippings and unique items in particular provide a fun and alternative insight into the history of the Dark Knight, though their presentation merely as reprints on the pages of the book leaves something to be desired. Considering there are other coffee table books like this out there that offer similar things with physical recreations of the items mentioned calls into question the book’s overall value. Foldout newspaper clippings, physical business cards, a removable death certificate, etc. would have given the Batman Files a physical value to match the book’s high price point.
While costlier, I would’ve gladly substituted some of the more extraneous inclusions (Batman’s file on Firefly or the lackluster blueprint of Oracle’s Clocktower, for example) to cut down on page count and include more tangible material. To that same point, a bulk of “photographic evidence” is repurposed comic book work (covers included) from iconic stories that we’ve seen dozens of times over. If not going the route of physical elements, at the very least this book could have included all-new original artwork for its many entertaining and original newspaper clippings and case files. Though it’s nice to look back at the many great artists that are included in this book, the collection provides no reference point for where the art is taken from or whose art it is. Likewise, having all-new art by one artist could’ve given this book a little bit of “realism,” so to speak, in that all of the “photographs” would’ve been in the same style to give the impression that they exist in the same world.
To his credit, as he mentions in his afterword saying “every story counts,” Manning includes a great amount of material that fans have a special place for but is often ignored by DC Comics themselves. There’s a fair amount of space devoted to Stephanie Brown in her role as Robin, where that dinosaur in the Batcave came from, and even Batman’s brief (and weird) love affair with Nocturna. More importantly, the Batman Files looks at the history of Batman not from a standpoint of continuity, but from history. Everything “happened.” Manning takes us from the character’s inception – depicting young Bruce’s therapeutic drawings of the bat that frightened him – to the creation of Batman, Incorporated. He presents it as one continuous, uninterrupted lifespan, incorporating the most iconic and important stories of Batman’s long history. While with the DC relaunch has come some revision to that history, the Batman Files is a nice time capsule to remind us that whether or not these stories “count” in continuity, they will always exist for our pure enjoyment and will permanently add to the character’s legacy, regardless of where they fit.
It’s impossible to make reference to all of the smaller easter eggs that this book provides (a personal favorite is a newspaper clipping written by one Alexander Knox), but that’s part of the fun. Chances are, this isn’t a book you’ll read from cover to cover, but one you’ll flip through when it catches your eye at random. I can guarantee this – every time you do, you’ll find something new that’ll make you appreciate the Caped Crusader even more.
(Review via IGN)