Best Shots review - Batman: Black and White #1 "an unusually strong anthology that encapsulates the best of the Bat"

Batman: Black and White #1 art
(Image credit: Greg Smallwood (DC))

The hottest talents in superhero comic books join forces to flex their creative muscles in Batman: Black and White #1, an unusually strong anthology that encapsulates the best of the Bat in gloriously moody monochrome. This new volume of Black and White is an eclectic mix of retold origins, high concept storytelling, and Batman fundamentals that clears the high bar set by its predecessors.

Batman: Black and White #1 credits

Written by J.H. Williams III, James Tynion IV, G. Willow Wilson, Emma Rios, and Paul Dini
Art by Tradd Moore, J.H. Williams III, Greg Smallwood, Emma Rios, and Andy Kubert
Lettering by Clayton Cowles, Todd Klein, Clem Robins, Steve Wands, and Rob Leigh
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

The Batman: Black and White formula remains untouched for this new #1 - five 8-page stories rendered in black and white. It's fun to see artists jump at the chance to flex their shading skills, shown adeptly here by Greg Smallwood in his and G. Willow Wilson's contribution, ‘Metamorphosis'. Conversely, the wonderfully surreal Tradd Moore finds new meaning in the clear whites of James Tynion IV's wild tale, ‘The Demon's Fist.' ‘Weight' by J.H. Williams III offers up a carefully studied history of the Dark Knight with a selection of double-page spreads that border on just showing off. Paul Dini and Andy Kubert opt to give us a masterclass in action with ‘First Flight', the most fulfilling script in this collection but also the story with artwork that takes the least advantage of the format. Finally, Emma Rios' ‘Sisyphus' funnels the creation of the Batman through myth in a story that demands scrutiny through richly detailed and open-paneled pages.

(Image credit: Greg Capullo (DC))

Story-wise, there's a mix of approaches here that each seek to capture the heart of Batman. Paul Dini and G. Willow Wilson give us a traditional narrative with tight little short stories that weave and wind. Wilson's tale shows us the analytical Dark Knight, always calculating the odds and eternally trying to compensate for the unknown. Wilson also spends time ruminating on the differences between man and monster as Batman wrestles with a woman kidnapped by Killer Croc. Paul Dini's ‘First Flight' is a densely packed actioner, chronicling a break-in at the Batcave by an army of ninja Man-Bats. Andy Kubert's linework is dynamic and thrilling. You can see his every brushstroke as he fills in the flat black, while cross-hatched Bat wings add a real sense of weight of their movement. The slight imperfections of the raw scan are present here, untouched by digital color and a little more alive for their omission.

‘Weight' and ‘Sisyphus' are less traditional narratives and more visual poems. While both are focused on the makings of the Batman, JH Williams III is more preoccupied with the now. He leaves the issue with a provocative final page – the all-too-familiar shape of the COVID-19 virus, transitioning into Martha Wayne's infamous pearls. It's on the razor's edge between powerful and hackneyed. He just about gets away with it.

Gothic short stories have a rich history in American Literature, and Emma Rios infuses that particular flavor into ‘Sisyphus.' Richly poetic and teetering on pretentiousness, Rios retells Bruce Wayne's transformation into the Batman through reference to Greek Mythology and horrific visual metaphor. Expertly lettered without balloons or boxes by Steve Wands in a thin and calligraphic font, it all feels very storybook. An absorbing read that demands you to look closely at its detail.

James Tynion IV and Tradd Moore's ‘The Demon's Fist' feels somewhere in between those two extremes. A nameless member of The League of Assassins is tasked by Ra's Al Ghul with a simple mission. Hit the Batman. Once. Narrated by the assassin himself, Tynion IV and Moore reinterpret hand-to-hand combat as a psychedelic ballet. Less interested in the Bat himself and laser-focused on a single moment in time, it offers a different perspective than the other stories in #1.

That said, Tradd Moore's trademark elastic anatomy doesn't quite work as well on Batman as it did for Spidey and the Silver Surfer. However, there is a panel of the Dark Knight in close-up that is gorgeous: Val Kilmer-esque pouting lips and uniquely patterned eyes. The fluidity of action here is masterful - your eyes glide from panel to panel and page to page. Clayton Cowles makes some unique lettering choices here, often abutting the panel from the top or bottom corner. This approach draws the eye to the outer edges of the panel and demands the reader take in the whole of Moore's busy panels of clear white shapes.

Each one of Batman: Black and White #1's stories is a complete and fulfilling tale. It works perfectly as a taster selection of superhero comic books for the ever-elusive new reader, as well as offering something new and fresh to those who read Batman every 2 weeks. Everyone's favorite will be different, and that's the beauty of it. This is an anthology done right.

Get up to speed on the next issue of Batman: Black and White, and all the new Batman comics, graphic novels, and collections.

Oscar Maltby

Oscar Maltby has been writing about comics since 2015. He has also written comic book scripts for the British small press and short fiction for Ahoy Comics. He resides on the South Coast of England but lives in the longbox.