Year of the Artist, Day 229: Norm Breyfogle, Part 3 – So much BATMAN!!!!

by  in Comic News Comment
Year of the Artist, Day 229: Norm Breyfogle, Part 3 – So much BATMAN!!!!

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Norm Breyfogle, and the issues are … well, there’s just so much Batman, I actually separated the post into four parts, just like Our Dread Lord and Master does with Comic Book Legends! Up first: Detective Comics #607, which was published by DC and is cover dated October 1989. Enjoy all the comics!

Breyfogle drew one issue of Detective Comics when Mike W. Barr was writing it, but then, when Alan Grant (and John Wagner, sort of) started writing it, he became the regular penciler and they turned in an amazing run stretching across three titles. You could hang them all on the wall, throw a dart blindfolded, and find a cool one to feature, but long-time readers will know why I chose issue #607, the final part of the four-part “Mudpack” story arc. One word: LOOKER!!!!!

The “Mudpack” (a collection of Clayfaces from DC’s history, with Basil Karlo, the original one, as the ringleader) has messed with Batman’s mind (the female Clayface can change shape, and she looked like Robin for a bit, and then she invaded Batman’s mind … look, it’s comics, all right – these things happen!), and everyone’s favorite, Lia Briggs, has to rescue him. BECAUSE LOOKER IS AWESOME. So she goes into Batman’s head and gets. shit. done. I love the first view we get of yonder Dark Knight – Breyfogle was brilliant at giving Batman a lot of expressions, and his distress here is obvious. The wide eyes and the clenched jaw is wonderful, and who doesn’t love drool? Steve Mitchell inked this, and I wonder how much of the detail is his – Batman’s extremely furrowed brow helps sell his anguish, and the sunburst halo behind his head is nicely done by either Breyfogle, Mitchell, or even Adrienne Roy, who colored this. The hatching on Batman’s face in the final corner of the first page is harsh, which again reflects his torturous mind. I imagine Breyfogle cackling ghoulishly and telling Mitchell and Roy to just put in some weird synapses on the first page on the top of the second page, because the pencil work seems a bit light while the inking and coloring is definitely heavier. Breyfogle wouldn’t be that evil, would he?

On the second page, Looker sees Batman fighting his demons, and we get another tremendous sequence. Breyfogle started drawing monsters much better, and it’s strange that no one ever tried to get him to draw a horror comic. The spot blacks on the monsters in the third “panel,” combined with their large, creepy eyes, make the rest of their details almost incidental. Mitchell’s inks on Batman’s cape are again rough as he wraps it around him, and the heavier lines are a nice contrast to Looker’s power, which lights up the bad guys in “Panel 4,” where Breyfogle/Mitchell use much lighter lines, as we see on the Ventriloquist and Scarface. The page design is nicely done, too, from the negative space in Panel 1 to the way Breyfogle puts Looker on the left side and then begins to rotate around Batman until he’s in the lower right foreground. Then we get the third page, where Lia manages to break Batman out of his cage. Breyfogle and Mitchell do a wonderful job with him in the upper right, showing a stereotypical Batman who is as hard as stone, something Grant and Breyfogle worked to turn around during their run. As Looker’s power works on Bats, we get another very nice expression, “Mystified Batman,” as he comes out of his trance. Breyfogle crooks his mouth a bit as he wonders what the heck happened to him, and his wide, blank eyes might as well be Little Orphan Annie’s. I also love the fact that Breyfogle draws him rubbing his eyes – it’s such a human moment from Batman, and it’s one of those small things that makes this run so excellent.

One thing Grant did a bit more of than other writers (although not as much as this reader would like!) is highlight the fact that Batman is, in fact, a detective, and Breyfogle does a nice job here showing him actually investigating. Just the fact that he packs so much into about half of the page is nice, as Bats reads fingerprints, analyzes champagne, and checks out stuff on the floor. Despite Lia being well in the background in that final panel, Breyfogle draws a good wry face on her when she asks Batman what the verdict is (she is, obviously, unaware that Batman actually met Sherlock Holmes only a few years before this issue came out!). As usual, Breyfogle does nice work with the many faces of Batman, from the wine connoisseur look in Panel 2 to taste-testing Batman in the upper right to “I found some goop” Batman at the bottom of that stack. Breyfogle moves us around the sequence well, too.

Breyfogle’s Batman cape, while not quite as insane as Todd McFarlane’s, is still very stylish, and we see that here in Panel 4, especially. Breyfogle, a bit like McFarlane, makes it seem a bit stiffer than a usual cape would be, but he doesn’t go quite as far as McFarlane, so there’s usually a good sense of movement to the cape, as well. In Panel 4, it sweeps Batman away, as the left side swooshes up like a wave, peaking at his shoulder, and then the right side looks like the wave breaking, which makes the motion of the entire thing seem to pick our hero up and whisk him out the door. It’s very nicely done. Mitchell, I guess, was working overtime on this page, as Basil and the doctor are heavily inked in Panel 2, as they’re in semi-darkness, and once Batman realizes that Dr. Lowell isn’t alone, we get Panel 6, where we get a nice Breyfoglian grimace and a heavily inked Bat-rope spin. The bottom row is designed well – in the very upper left, we see the two silhouettes illuminated by a red moon (???), and the “research” sign leads us down to Bats, who happens to turn at that moment and see that Lowell was lying. He’s going against the grain in Panel 6, but the design of the panel and the fact that Breyfogle pushes Batman to the right while his rope is on the left means that we don’t get caught up and we move easily to the next page. As I noted, Breyfogle often had to get quite a bit into these stories (this four-parter is an anomaly; Grant wrote many one- and two-issue stories in this run), so the page designs are often crucial.

Basil Karlo turns into a Super-Clayface, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. But he has some fun with it, as we see here. Again, Breyfogle uses the page layout to increase the space he has and to increase tension. Jagged panel borders, while a bit of a gimmick, can make the panels seem to jump a bit instead of flow, so that a chaotic fight scene, for instance, can feel more nerve-wracking. If the page isn’t legible, of course, that’s a detriment, but if it’s not, it’s a pretty cool device. Here, Breyfogle uses an angled border between Panels 1 and 2 to emphasize the A-frame of Basil in Panel 2, which makes him seem taller and more powerful and also helps our eye slide down to the insignificant Batman in the lower right. Batman’s motion in Panel 3 leads us to Panel 4, in which Basil falls backward and Batman becomes more paramount. When Basil “master[s] his new powers” in Panel 5, he’s once again larger, and in Panel 6, we’re back to Batman in trouble. The zig-zag nature of the layout on the bottom part of the page shows the ebb and flow of the fight, with the inherent violence giving it some more verve, but it’s not difficult to read at all. That’s always helpful!

Another thing that we saw a bit above and see here more clearly is Breyfogle’s use of a large panel with smaller pseudo-panels inside of them, as we see in “Panel 3,” which could easily be three panels itself. The energy emanating from Basil’s face in “Panel 4” becomes a panel border, separating that section from the other two and “Panel 3” (with Looker in it) from “Panel 5,” where Batman is about to hit Basil with the chair. I don’t know why Breyfogle did this or why any artist does it – I assume it’s just to shake things up a little, and it’s fine with me as long as, as with anything in art, it’s not a detriment. Perhaps it’s supposed to show the fact that everything is happening very quickly – Looker is feeding him energy, he’s screaming, and Batman is running at him with a chair, getting ready to knock him out the window. I suppose that’s possible. It’s a pretty keen scene, and as with almost all Breyfogle layouts, it’s perfectly legible.

After some years of drawing the regular Batman titles, Breyfogle was tasked to draw the first “official” comic of a series that would provide creators with some neat-o opportunities over the next decade until DC decided that they were far too serious for Batman in the Old West or Batman as a Nazi fighter or Batman as a Viking. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster we never have to worry about those kinds of comics anymore! Go to the next page to see Breyfogle’s art from this new brand of comics!

Next up is Batman: Holy Terror, which was published by DC and is cover dated [August] 1991. This was the first “Elseworlds” comic, after DC published the proto-Elseworlds Gotham by Gaslight and realized that people might like reading about their favorite characters in unusual situations. Who knew? This time, Breyfogle is back to inking himself, so let’s see what we see!

This is the first page of the book, and it shows that Breyfogle probably had some extra time to work on this, as he’s much more detailed in the work. One complaint that one could have about Breyfogle’s work is that he occasionally leaves out backgrounds completely, as we saw a few days ago and, if you read his Batman work, you can also see. When he needs to, he takes the time to draw in the backgrounds, but he doesn’t always do it, and presumably it was simply to stay on course. It doesn’t necessarily hurt the books, but it’s occasionally distracting. When he has some more time to do it – and I assume he had longer to draw this, as it’s a long book that stands completely alone – we can see that he’s just as good at backgrounds as he is at figure work. On the left side, his use of Benday dots adds some darkness and roughness to the top of the tower, which is contrasted with the lower half, with the finely carved figures and cherubic capitals of the columns. Breyfogle uses the shadows well here to imply a Christian state somewhat steeped in darkness, as this world is (Alan Brennert’s script is perfectly fine, but subtle it is not). Breyfogle places a cathedral in the background, with the Victorian-style Gotham around it, and while the deep back is simply lined in, in the foreground we get a good look at the solidity of the Cromwellian world in which the book occurs. He remembers to put the cross in the blue field on the American flag, which is a nice touch. Lovern Kindzierski colored this book, and we get some nice blue/orange complements on this page, framing the brown and green of the more mundane parts of the city well.

Bruce Wayne is ordained, but then he gets to work trying to find his parents’ killer, who of course is involved in the government. I just like the way Breyfogle inks this page, man! The spot blacks in Panel 1 show Bruce’s mindset quite well, but the thick blacks dripping from his robes are also very nice – they show his chaotic state of mind and also his contempt for what the religious government did to his family. In Panel 2, Breyfogle doesn’t show his eyes – he hatches a shadow across his face, as Bruce feels a “twinge of conscience” from using another man’s password (I love that in 1991, readers probably would get the connection to the real DCU with “Bishop Caspian,” but if this book were written today, hardly anyone would remember him). Then, in Panel 4, Bruce enters the cave, and Breyfogle again uses thick lines to show the light flashing around the darkness, while he inks the walls of the cave heavily as well. Earlier in his career, Breyfogle used thinner lines and, even when he was inking himself, tended to stick to more concrete line work (with a few exceptions, as we saw on Whisper yesterday). As he got more confident, he began to be a bit more impressionistic, which was an interesting shift.

Batman discovers that the world’s superhumans are locked up (scientists led by “Dr. Erdel” are trying to replicate their powers), and here he meets Barry Allen. This is all pencil work, and it’s interesting to compare it to today’s more computer effects work. Breyfogle draws in the lines of Barry’s arm in Panel 1, using few of them and light ones at that, while either he or Kindzierski uses white ink to show the motion of the arm well. In Panel 2, we get more lines, both showing Barry’s “ghost” hand moving away from the glass and the horizontal lines showing the speed of the hand bouncing off the glass. Breyfogle again uses heavier lines when Barry flies backward and slams into the well. Today, of course, the motion of Barry’s arm and hand in Panels 1 and 2 would be done digitally, and this is one place where it might have worked better. I’ve mentioned that Barry’s speed is a place where computer effects seem to fit, and these two panels are a bit awkwardly drawn, as if Breyfogle and Kindzierski weren’t quite sure how to make the speed look “realistic.” As we’ll see, when Barry runs, it’s better, but here, it’s a bit odd-looking. Perhaps special effects would have alleviated that!

Once again, we see the nice inking work on this page. Breyfogle uses thick lines on the smoke that overcomes Zatanna, which makes it seem more toxic than if the inking had been finer. He places Erdel at the end of the panel, focusing our attention on him in the same way that Bruce and Barry are looking at him, and then transitions to a nice, rage-filled drawing of Barry. The thick lines on Barry’s face and hand emphasize his anger, while Kindzierski wisely makes the radiating lines around him red, which also emphasizes his emotion. Breyfogle’s command of the page is obvious here – he knows exactly where he wants us to look, and makes us go there no matter what it is.

On the next page, we can see that Breyfogle can do Barry’s speed quite well, but this is a more “traditional” pose for our hero, so long lines extending to infinity always work well. Barry becomes a panel border, too, separating the two faces of Erdel as he appeals to our hero and then, sadly, kills him (well, he seems sad, but he’s still a douchebag, so he’s probably not too upset). Both Erdels are well done – Breyfogle uses thick hatching in Panel 1, as Erdel attempts to reason with Barry and he’s more confident and in charge, and then when he kills Barry, we get a downturned face, making his forehead larger and his chin and jaw weaker. He looks like someone who is depressed, even though he’s a monster. The heavy lines on Barry’s body are nicely done, too, as they contrast with the “flash effect” that turns his wake into a blur. When Barry turns into a pyre, Breyfogle really does nice work. The second Barry shows anguish as he realizes things are not too great, and then he instinctively lowers his head to protect himself as he catches on fire. The inking become rougher and more abstract as he goes from human being to human torch, and in the final shot, Breyfogle uses blacks to hollow out his eyes and mouth, making him look less human but still anguished as he calls Iris’s name and dies. It’s a horrific and haunting image, and Breyfogle does a very good job with it.

Brennert really lays it on thick when Bruce finds Superman, dead from Kryptonite poisoning and tied up like some kind of … wait, I know that image from somewhere … it’ll come to me! Erdel, shooting at Bruce, gets a ricocheted bullet for his trouble, and Bruce thinks, “A fitting end for his kind!” … or he should, but he only does so in my imagination. As usual, the movement across the page is well done, as we see Batman first, leaping out of the way as Erdel shoots at him, and we can almost see the gun move until it’s pointing at Superman, at which point the ricochet kills Erdel. He falls to the right, which leads us down to the nice image in the center of the page. Breyfogle creates Superman and the contraption he’s hanging from with nothing but vertical lines, allowing Kindzierski to color it pink and give it an eerie presence, while in the foreground, Bruce stands over Erdel, in contrast to the messianic Superman. Breyfogle uses almost all blacks to create Bruce, but the swoop of his cape is nicely done. The curve takes us to Erdel’s body, where the blood is bright red, standing in stark contrast to Bruce’s darkness and even the pink in the background. As I’ve noted before, Breyfogle loves giving Batman facial expressions that we don’t normally get with him, so in the final panel, he opens his eyes and gives him a small smile as he takes comfort from Superman’s existence. Again, this book is wildly unsubtle, but that’s a nice drawing of a man who’s found some measure of peace. If only I could remember what Superman’s predicament reminded me of …

Breyfogle moved on, and so shall we, as our next Batman project is one he not only inked, but colored himself. Stay strapped in and join me on the next page!

Here we find Batman: Birth of the Demon, which was published by DC and is cover dated [December] 1992. These scans are from the trade, a new printing of which came out in March 2012. This is the origin story of Ra’s al Ghul, written by his creator, Denny O’Neil, and colored beautifully by Breyfogle. Onward!

Here’s a nice example of what we can expect from the book. Breyfogle’s angular line work is softened a bit by the coloring, for which he occasionally uses paints but also, for the most part, almost look like colored pencils. A lot of this book looks it was colored directly from pencils, but I don’t know enough about it to say for sure. Breyfogle does some beautiful work in the big panel in the center – Ra’s’s green cloak isn’t as bright as in Panel 2 because of the dust kicked up by the two horses, but that splash of color stands out on the brown page. In the background, Runce, the prince, runs down an old woman, and Breyfogle uses thick lines on the horse to show its speed but also to blur it a bit in the dust from the desert. On the ground, the woman lies under the horse’s hoofs, and the smoke billows up, with darker lines in the front and lighter ones in the back, with more horizontal lines blending it with the rest of the page. Breyfogle’s motion lines are guoache, it appears, and that’s not a bad look, as he uses so many darker lines to show the dust and dirt that using white inks helps the motion lines stand out a bit more. But this is but a taste!

Breyfogle, obviously, is drawing in the same style, but the small details are much better on this project, partly because Breyfogle kept learning and partly, I imagine, that he had some time to do it, like he did on Holy Terror. In Panel 1, he uses blacks very well at the bottom of the bed and to bleed the shadow away as the light gets stronger. It’s a beautiful effect. The brush work in the wall of the fortress makes it look more like sandstone, which fits the desert motif of the book. On the ground in that final panel, Breyfogle uses lighter shadows to show how the torch on the wall is throwing light onto the gate. He uses nice, burnished blacks on Sora as she watches Ra’s ride off, as her back is in darkness and her front is facing the flame. The night dust is painted with very light blue, reflecting the moonlight that streams down. Of course, Breyfogle goes with an yellow/blue complementary palette, because that does work very well, and it’s even better when it doesn’t show up that often.

This is a tremendous page, as Breyfogle sends Ra’s out into the desert during the night, so we get moonlight on the dunes. Breyfogle uses thin white lines to blur the moonlight as it streams through the clouds, and then we get to the stunning brushwork in the oasis, where he uses green paint to suggest plants and black to create the scraggly trees. Then we get the even more amazing brushwork on the dunes, as he uses long, sinewy strokes of black to create rippled sand. Down in Panel 2, we get more beautiful work on the palm tree behind Ra’s. Even the horse, which keeps staring at the reader and freaking him or her out, is nicely done. As good as Breyfogle is at the action in this book and others, this kind of delicate work is staggering.

We get some more gorgeous coloring work from Breyfogle, as the ruler’s palace burns and Ra’s gets revenge. Like we saw with the smoke in Holy Terror, Breyfogle uses thick lines on it to make it feel more powerful, except here he uses paints instead of inked lines. The luminescence of the flames is amazing, staining the clouds orange and then yellow as the smoke moves farther away from it, and illuminating the sides of the dome on which the fire burns. On this side, Breyfogle uses his clear line work to show all the little details of a Muslim palace, but he doesn’t make it too ornate, which fits the desert aesthetic of the comic. I love that he spattered red paint on the lower left of the page, as there are plenty of dead bodies on the page but Breyfogle doesn’t show any of them bleeding – he just flicks the paint over the drawing to imply the gallons of blood that have been spilled. It’s a neat effect.

Of course, Ra’s goes into the Lazarus Pit in this story, and here is one of the times when he comes out. Breyfogle does insanity pretty well, and he does so here, as Ra’s crouches, his eye too wide open and his grin too severe. Breyfogle makes his hair hang limply over his face, completing the frightening scene. As he stands and shakes, Breyfogle does what he did with Barry Allen in Holy Terror – hollows out his eyes and mouth with black so that he looks even more empty. It’s not Batman behind him, but it’s still a pretty cool image, isn’t it? Breyfogle again uses white paint around Ra’s, making his insanity stand out against the dark sky, and the mist from the pit is curling off of him beautifully. In both panels, Breyfogle simply colors in the ooze from the pit dripping off of Ra’s, which makes it look far creepier. Breyfogle’s color choices in this book are really nice.

Of course Batman fights Ra’s, and of course it’s on a stormy night! I don’t have much to say about this page except that it’s stunning. Breyfogle’s paints, with the lightning coming down and the Lazarus Pit exploding in a riot of green and yellow, with Ra’s, Bruce, and Talia standing in the foreground as rain that looks like a meteor shower comes down around them, are brilliant. Soak it all in, people!

This wasn’t the final time Breyfogle would draw Batman, but it might be the best work he did on a Batman-related book. Still, on the next page, we’ll take a look at an unusual project, one on which he was inked by someone who clashed a bit with his style. The results are odd, to say the least. One more page, everyone! You can handle it!

For the final Batman book today, I want to check out Batman: The Abduction, which was published by DC and is cover dated [April] 1998. Alan Grant was back working with Breyfogle, and we get a bizarre alien abduction story. As I mentioned when I featured the first page of this book two years ago, Grant kind of handwaves away the fact that aliens exist and interact with Earth heroes quite often in the DCU just so he can tell an alien abduction story that happens to star Batman. But that’s neither here nor there. We’re all about the artwork here!

Breyfogle is inked by James Hodgkins on this book (Hodgkins now goes by the name Jimmy Broxton, in case you’re wondering) and colored by Bleyaert Ro Hannin, who is actually credited as “computer colorist.” This was after Doug Moench and Kelley Jones made Batman’s costume a bit blacker, and the colors on this reflect that change a bit. As we can see from this page, this is a very dark book – either Breyfogle’s spot blacks are abundant or Hodgkins adds them in. Notice how dark Alfred’s face is in Panel 2 – the inks are very thick on his eyebrows and around his eyes and mouth. In Panel 3, Bruce’s forehead is very dark, with the hatching spreading out across the skin, while Hodgkins (or Breyfogle, possibly) gives him stubble, which isn’t unprecedented in Batman annals but is unusual. Notice the food in the final panel – Hodgkins uses a very sturdy line, which adds heft to the fruit. We’ll see more of this kind of work.

Batman keeps flashing back to his “abduction,” and Breyfogle illustrates it pretty nicely, using wavy lines as panel borders, while Hodgkins uses slightly lighter lines to ink the “smoke” or whatever that is rising around our hero. He comes out of it, but misses the bad guys, and we see once again the very dark tone of the book. We get a lot of blacks on Batman and in his environment, and even the green that Hannin uses to show the “abduction” is somewhat muted. Some parts of the book, as we’ll see, are brighter, but too much is like this, which doesn’t do it many favors.

This is Bruce’s recollection of his abduction, and it’s a good page. Breyfogle’s influence is dampened a bit, even though we get his nice Batmobile at the bottom of the page. I imagine that he drew a kind of template, while Hodgkins inked all the tiny lines in to blur the image, unless Hannin did something on the computer. This is the most “digital”-looking of the pages, so I’m wondering if this is mostly due to Hannin. I’m glad the rest of the book isn’t done in this style, but it works for this weird page of Batman getting taken by aliens.

I’m not going to explain what’s going on here (it involves drugs, to say the least), but look at how Hodgkins inks Breyfogle. He uses a sturdy line, which works against Breyfogle’s looser style – everyone we’ve seen inking Breyfogle, including when he does it himself, tends to use a bit of a lighter line and let Breyfogle’s manic energy come through. On this comic, Hodgkins works against that a bit, which grounds the artwork a little, but doesn’t always work too well. Obviously, here the energy isn’t as necessary, as it’s a bunch of heads, but the no-nonsense inking is a bit jarring with Breyfogle’s pencils. The background is pretty cool, though.

Breyfogle can still lay out a fight scene, of course, as this fight with Blockbuster shows. Batman kicks Blockbuster across the chin in Panel 1 (the darkness of his costume and the darkness of the coloring make it tough to see his pose, which is the slightest bit wonky, but we’ll forgive it!), and then he ducks the palm tree in Panel 2 … almost, as the fabric on his back opens up. From that position, he’s able to kick Blockbuster in the face, but the bad guy spins and smacks him in the back again, this time full-on. The only confusing part is the transition from Panel 3 to Panel 4 – did Blockbuster spin completely around and catch him on the turn? He couldn’t pull the palm back and swing it in that manner in the time it would take Batman to fly past him. It’s weird. Still, I like that Breyfogle breaks the panel border in the final panel, as Batman is struck so violently he’s thrown past the panel border. We see once again the thick inks on Blockbuster and on the palm tree, which doesn’t clash as much against Breyfogle’s frantic pencils when there’s fighting to be done! It’s still a weird mix.

So that’s a cross-section of Breyfogle’s work on Batman comics. I apologize for going on and on, but as you can tell, I really like Breyfogle’s Batman work! I promise that tomorrow I’ll get back to one comic per post, but I’m not sure what that is yet. This was like writing up four days, and I’m still not as far ahead as I’d like to be (I wrote this post on this past Tuesday and Wednesday, for instance), but I need a break for a bit. So I’ll check out the choices and fire another one up for you to read tomorrow! In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the archives!