Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be looking at four writer/artist duos, as voted on by you, the readers! This week features Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle! Today’s page is from Shadow of the Bat #5, which was published by DC and is cover dated October 1992. Enjoy!
The final time Grant and Breyfogle worked together on a regular Batman book was on Shadow of the Bat, of which they only did the first five issues (Grant continued on the title, but Breyfogle left to go work at Malibu). Issue #5 is a standalone story featuring the Black Spider (who is a black man but dresses in purple and orange, so there’s that), and on the first page, we see Batman finding a letter written to him by the Spider. We don’t know yet that the letter is from the Black Spider, but it is. Grant sets up the issue fairly well, as it’s clear we’re probably going to flashback to the conversation the letter-writer alludes to – he wouldn’t allude to it unless we were going to find out what the Spider is talking about! Grant does something clever on this page – he begins with the corpses (well, we assume they’re corpses because Batman doesn’t seem terribly concerned about waking them up) and ends with the portentous statement by the letter-writer: “By the time you read this, they’ll all be dead.” It seems that Grant is implying that maybe the person who wrote the letter had something to do with their deaths. The Black Spider actually didn’t have anything to do with their deaths, but it’s a nice way to set up a bit of a mystery in the issue. Obviously, it doesn’t last long because we find out quickly what the situation is, but it’s still fairly clever. We also see on this page that Grant has returned once again to one of his favorite Bat-themes, which is drug addiction and its deadly effects. That is a very important part of this story.
Breyfogle gives us a typically nice first page. He shows Batman coming through the window first, and I’m always a sucker for showing parts of the body coming out of shadow, as Batman’s left leg is. The shadows across Batman’s face are done well, too – it’s a somber moment, and Batman can’t escape the darkness. The panel is laid out nicely, too, because Batman is the first thing we see, and while we aren’t looking at the room from his point of view, the way the panel is laid out makes us see him first and then the dead people, almost turning this into a Bat-POV – we’re seeing the victims at the same moment Batman is, and in the same fashion, as our eyes slowly travel from the edge of the sofa by the window to the heads of the corpses. It’s a good way to begin the story and get us into Batman’s head while still showing us a dramatic drawing of our hero coming through the window. Breyfogle draws the needle in the arm of the woman and colorist Adrienne Roy makes sure her lips are deathly white, and while we don’t know what happened to the boy, his placement in the foreground makes him slightly more important than the woman – Grant is subtly implying that addicts’ deaths are less important than the collateral damage they cause. The boy is not an addict, but he’s still dead. Why? We don’t know yet, but his tragedy is worse than the woman’s.
In case we missed the needle, Breyfogle gives us an overhead shot in Panel 2 that shows the spoon and the powder on the woman’s lap. The panel leads us up the woman’s body to Batman’s hand so we don’t miss him picking up the letter. In Panel 3, Breyfogle again does one of the things he does well – shows emotion on Batman’s face. This is not a robotic Caped Crusader, this is one who expresses the grief and other emotions he feels as he patrols the city. Batman hasn’t even read the letter yet, but he already knows it ends in tragedy, because he’s already been confronted with it. In Panel 5, we get another view of the victims, and we see that the boy was eating something – probably cereal – when he died. It’s still unclear why he died, but it’s a good clue left by Grant and Breyfogle. Finally, we get the nice fade to Page 2 with the spider web superimposed on Batman’s cowl – we already know a flashback is coming, so the caption box at the bottom right of the page and the web obscuring Batman’s head are good ways to ease us into it. Of course, Breyfogle uses the web because the Black Spider is a major character in this issue, so it’s both a good device and ties into the larger story.
I’m almost positive this is a sheer coincidence, but I can’t help but notice that Roy colors the room purple and green and the young boy red and green. Does that remind you of any color schemes famous in Batman lore? I really wonder why she chose those particular colors – green shorts, especially, don’t seem too common a color (he’s wearing green pants “earlier” in the issue, but either he changed or Breyfogle forgot and put shorts on him when he died). I’m sure there was no reason, but I did find it fascinating. And while I don’t usually point out the lettering in a comic (I should, I guess, but I don’t), Todd Klein’s cursive is very nice – clean, neat, and legible. In some comics, deviations from the “normal” font turns the letters almost incomprehensible, but Klein is able to do a beautiful cursive script that appears like someone wrote it (even though today, I guess, it would be in print since schools aren’t teaching cursive anymore – don’t get me started on that!!!!) but is easy to read. Well done, Mr. Klein!
Grant and Breyfogle had worked on Batman comics for over four years at this point, and it’s too bad that Breyfogle got a better offer. He’d return to DC later in the decade, though, and get back to work on Batman. Really, Greg? Another Batman book? If you don’t remember it, that’s cool – we’re here to edumacate as well as entertain, so be here tomorrow! Or just go through the archives. Either way, you know.