Friday, February 22, 2013

Batman: Death by Design by Chip Kidd and Dave Taylor

Chip Kidd and Dave Taylor are the formidable writer/artist duo behind a new Batman graphic novel. The line between good and evil is sometimes murky in Death by Design. Bruce Wayne is on the side of modern progress vs. the preservation of historic architecture. Wayne's love interest, Cyndia Syl, is determined to save the very building Wayne wants to replace with something entirely new. The plot is propelled by a host of interesting characters: a corrupt building trade boss, a famous architect who has gone missing, an upstart vigilante who calls himself Exacto, a sharp young news reporter, and one of Batman's traditional foes, the Joker.

The internationally acclaimed architect who has the won the design competition for Wayne's new project provides comic relief. Kem Roomhaus "claims that he is often frightened of his own genius; while several notable critics have claimed that there's actually nothing to be scared of."

Kidd's narrative box style is pure crime noir: "Elliot Osbourne. Editor-in-chief of The Gazette, for as long as anyone can remember. Two Pulitzers. Seen it all and corrected the spelling. Cut him, he bleeds ink."

Detail: super-
serious hero
beta tests new
Taylor's refined artwork strikes just the right match for Kidd's deadpan humour. I found myself studying every image. The texture of pencil across paper. The many shades of the graphite medium, from softest dove to charcoal to velvety black. Pure black and stark white are used sparingly, to maximum effect. Restrained spots of pastel colour are are exactly enough to lift the art to a sublime level. Taylor's attention to details is exquisite; in a newsroom full of people, for example, even those farthest away are sketched with care.

There are a few hey-what-happened-there gaps in the storyline that I'll happily overlook because this book gives me so much pleasure overall. Do I need to add that I highly recommend it?

Kidd playfully gets literal with the idea of a glass ceiling.
A new nightclub opens in Gotham, made entirely of glass,
suspended far above street level. Taylor echoes the concept,
floating six panels across the top of the two-page spread.
Subtle touches of blue and orange make it glow.

Readalikes with outstanding artwork: The Richard Stark's Parker series (Darwyn Cooke), starting with The Hunter, have a similar retro film noir feel; Batwoman: Elegy (Rucka and Williams) and Batwoman: Hydrology (Williams and Blackman) for more superhero adventure in Gotham; and maybe Asterios Polyp (David Mazzucchelli), if it was the architecture angle that really caught your interest. If it is Dave Taylor's pencil work in particular that wowed, you will also want to look at Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck.

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