By Ivan Brandon, Paolo Rivera, Joe Rivera, Keith Giffen, Javier Pulido, Blair Buttler, Chris Weston, Len Wein, Victor Ibanez, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Andrew Robinson
Batman Black and White is among the last testaments of a forgotten super hero storytelling method. With freedom from continuity for five solid issues, this in series has delivered outstandingly creative visions of Batman, all of which would be impossible in a standard, continuity-restricted setting. Moreover, Black and White serves as an answer to the daunting question, “So I want to read Batman, where do I start?” Every story is self contained, spanning across the entire spectrum of Batman’s thematic and generic capabilities. From action and suspense, to gritty horror, to a more classical whimsy style, Black and White affords creators with a freedom to explore the depths of Batman’s character in ways his regular comics prohibit.
What makes Batman such a compelling character, and has made him worth reading for almost a century, is the breadth and variety lending themselves to his character. Issue five is a perfect example of this range: no two stories are exactly alike in theme, style, or setting, and each has its own unique interpretation of the Batman family. By the final page, the reader is gifted insight into a character which is typically only shown through the one, microcosmic, Dark Knight Returns inspired perspective. Thus, the answer to the above question, through the pages of Black and White, becomes “Which interpretation of Batman did you enjoy the most?”
Issue five in particular has one of the widest ranges of Batman interpretations captured in a single comic. Each story simultaneously borrows, captures, and modernizes visions of the entire Batman family from multiple decades of his history. Brandon and Rivera’s Hell Night features a much more driven Batman seen in the 1980s and 90s; Giffen and Pulido’s Cat and Mouse interpretation comes from a more modern, Batman-as-myth bad guy terror, within a classic detective narrative; Butler and Weston’s I Killed the Bat show’s us the very modern, horrific psychosis of an Arkham inmate, which makes Batman’s villains so terrifying; Wein and Ibanez’s Flip Side! tells an excellent classic villain caper; and Palmiotti and Robinson’s Hope shows two overwhelmingly neglected sides of Batman’s character, Bruce Wayne (which in and of itself is a bit of a paradoxical dilemma), and his role as an agent of social justice. Classic seems like a redundancy in these descriptions, but with such a rigid adherence to continuity reliant storytelling, any deviations, especially those as well crafted as the above, any story outside the norm immediately acquires a timeless feel.
Although each story in this issue is outstanding and able to stand on its own merits (especially considering Batman smiles in multiple stories), Hope by Palmiotti and Robinson is the most impressive story among the collection. In a series of subtle and direct ways, Batman and Bruce are shown caring for more aspects of society than criminal justice. Between a comment in passing about a rich benefactor donating clothing to a church, and a more direct sequence of Bruce Wayne vindicating a victim of circumstance, Palmiotti and Robinson show us an interesting and layered Dark Knight. The result is a character that lives in the shadow of his more popular, gritty incarnation. Batman is shown to care not just about keeping crime of the streets, but ensuring the citizens under his protection are afforded fair judgement elevates his position from social overseer to social adjudicator. This transcendence not only gives Batman more depth, it makes him a much more interesting character. His ability to discern true right from wrong, and issue justice accordingly, actively depicts a level of consciousness and intelligence which more heroes should exhibit.
Continuing in the footsteps of excellence, Batman Black and White number five is an outstanding read. Offered as a deviation from the norm, this series should be considered the standard for Batman comics, if not superhero storytelling as a whole. It provides creators with the freedom to explored new or possibly forgotten, territory, keeping Batman fresh, innovative, and stylish. As we get closer to the end of this volume, the foreboding sense of monotony within Batman storytelling looms ever closer. Black and White continually shows what Batman could be, if creativity and imagination were the primary driving factors behind his adventures.