“Batman Black and White” #6 wraps up the anthology with five stories showcasing excellent art by Cliff Chiang, Becky Cloonan and Adam Hughes, among others.
In “Clay,” Cliff Chiang draws graceful fight scenes with multiple camera angles, an approach that highlights a young Dick Grayson’s acrobatic, nimble fighting style. From the first page, Chiang’s attention to detail delights the eye with dark folds of school blazers, the shadow side of a balustrade and the curves of the car. He makes the lack of color in “Clay” seem like a gift to the reader and not a limitation. The grand but decayed facade for the Old Monarch Theatre is especially beautiful. The plot of “Clay” explores the theme of molding one’s own image and self-worth vs. vanity. It’s on the obvious side and takes a decided back seat to the art.
“Bruce” by Olly Moss and Becky Cloonan takes a look at Bruce Wayne from the point of view of a one-night stand and is the strongest story in the issue. While Bruce is regularly referred to as a playboy, he spends so much time being Batman that it’s unusually frank to see story in which he spends the night in with a woman. Cloonan’s art is wonderful here. She gets the body language of flirtation and intimacy just right. The angles and interior minimalism of the first page immediately set the mood for Wayne Manor and then Cloonan guides the reader’s eye to delight in specific details as Ms. Price ventures outward, from the “tak tak tak” of her strappy heels to the glitter of chandelier or a spray of roses. The story has a suitably narrow scope but succeeds at spotlighting the divide between glamorous but remote Bruce Wayne and Batman. Moss’ clever cascade of text boxes to creates the final analogy between breaking hearts and breaking noses.
“The Batman: Hiding in Plain Sight” by Dave Taylor begins with a hurried info-dump conversation between Alfred and Batman. Taylor heavily salts all the dialogue and action with a deliberate pile-on cliches and old-timey speech. It’s supposed to be funny and has some charm, but it’s trying too hard and ends up feeling forced and making the story harder to follow. Like the textbox-heavy prose, the art feels cluttered. Taylor’s composition is good, but his style is inconsistent as he changes between different methods of shading. The panel of Batman piloting a plane has a great feathery Gotham cityscape and lovely glass-like concentric rings created by the spinning propellers. When Batman is underground, Taylor’s line becomes moodier and heavier for the shadows and light in the tunnels. It looks great, but he shifts again to a Geof Darrow-like approach in the lab scene. Taylor’s got chops as an artist, but “The Batman: Hiding in Plain Sight” would have worked better if he stuck more closely to one style for one story.
“She Lies at Midnite” by Adam Hughes is a Catwoman story in which Batman is a chump. Here, the Dark Knight is chivalrous, but slow on the uptake and wildly emo and overwrought in affect. He’s the butt of the joke, with the tip-off being when another character greets him with “I thought I smelled leather and self-righteousness.” Batman’s voice also just feels off in phrases like “what sticks in my gut like a shiv.” Characterization aside, the story is further flawed in being front-loaded with too much exposition. That said, Hughes’ artwork has great facial expressions and his use of soft focus lighting and shading is very pretty, especially for city lights and windows.
“To Beat the Bat” by Dave Johnson is a monologue by a smalltime crook. The art is fine, relying heavily on zip-a-tone effects for shading, but can’t compete with the spectacular art in the pages before it. The plot is full of cliches and relies solely on telling instead of showing, except for the surprise ending, which dips into deeper emotions of remorse and fear, ending on a note of despair.
The stories in “Batman Black and White” #6 aren’t memorable for their plotting or prose, but that’s not a surprise given the creative teams, and the Cloonan and Chiang’s artwork alone is worth the cover price.