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 Batman: The Abduction, which was published by DC and is cover dated 1998. Enjoy!
DC used to publish these very nice “deluxe” editions of things that weren’t quite graphic novels but weren’t quite regular single issues. They did it a lot with Batman (I know, because I own a lot of them) and Superman (I own fewer of these, but still some of them), probably because those dudes are, you know, Batman and Superman. And so we got this oddity from Grant and Breyfogle, in which Batman gets abducted by aliens and Alfred, despite knowing that hundreds of alien exist and interact with Earthlings, doubts him. Go screw, Alfred! Obviously, Grant is trying to tell an alien abduction story in a universe where an alien abduction story wouldn’t make sense, so he handwaves away any connection to the vast number of aliens that Bruce Wayne knows personally and concentrates on other things. But that doesn’t mean we can’t check out the first page of this comic!
Grant gives us some purple prose to start the story off, with his repetition of “midnight” and his move from location (“the wooded hills outside Gotham City”) to the more abstract. It’s a portentous beginning, to be sure, and sets the mood fairly well. All we really need to know is the time of day and where we are, and then Grant can lead into the freaky stuff that’s about to happen.
I picked this page partly because it shows, once again, the influence inkers and colorists can have on penciled work. On a superficial level, Breyfogle’s pencils look like Breyfogle’s pencils – the bats above the inset panel are clearly Breyfoglian, and Batman resembles the Breyfogle Batman. The Batmobile is very much like other Breyfogle Batmobile designs, and the integration of the sound effect is also similar to what we’ve seen before. The page layout is well done – the top two caption boxes lead us to the inset panel, where we get a look at a grim and grizzled Batman. He’s not beneath the Batmobile on the page, so our eye moves easily back to the larger panel, where we can check out the Batmobile and follow the sound effect down to the car Batman is pursuing. As we follow the “Roar,” we see the final caption box, so we’re all caught up. The design works to get us to account for all the information on the page.
Notice, though, the influence of inker James A. Hodgkins and colorist Bleyaert Ro Hannin. It’s first evident in the inset panel, where we see a Batman that is far rougher than Breyfogle usually draws him. The scruff on the chin is one thing, but we also get the furrowed brow and the hatching across his cowl. Breyfogle usually doesn’t do that, so I have to believe it’s Hodgkins adding it. Note, too, the stippling in the glow cast by the Batmobile’s headlights. This is another unusual feature of Breyfogle’s art, and again, I wonder if it was Hodgkins’ idea. Hannin makes Breyfogle’s lines softer – in the inset panel, the black overwhelms some of the holding lines, which is unusual in a Breyfogle-drawn comic – and drenches the page in black to make the mood far more noir than we usually get with Breyfogle’s work. Notice the way Hannin uses the colors on the lead car to indicate a bit of wear – the blacks don’t have clear-cut borders; they simply peter out in places, and the small bits of red are jagged and harsh. A lot of this book features much more “realistic” art from Breyfogle, especially in the faces. The unmasked Bruce Wayne, Alfred, and others are given much more definition by Hodgkins and Hannin, which is an interesting look but clashes a bit with the “Breyfogle look,” which tends to be a bit more abstract. It’s a weird comic, art-wise, because these two forces are pulling in opposite directions, and it doesn’t always work.
It’s still fascinating to compare this to other Breyfogle comics. I imagine the nicer paper and higher price tag meant that DC felt the book had to look more, I don’t know, “concrete”? Maybe Breyfogle wanted to work with people who he knew would challenge him? It’s an odd little experiment, and it shows, again, how different art can look based on the inks and colors even if the same person is laying down the foundation.
Tomorrow, Grant and Breyfogle return to one of the characters they created in their long Batman run. You know which comic I’m talking about! But which issue will it be? Don’t look for any clues in the archives!