Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 244: <i>DC Retroactive: Batman - The '90s</i> #1

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 DC Retroactive: Batman - The '90s #1, which was published by DC and is cover dated October 2011. My retailer, Howard Harris, was nice enough to let me borrow this comic for this post. Thanks, Howard! Enjoy!

After years apart, DC brought Grant and Breyfogle back for one of their "Retroactive" gimmicks last year, and honestly, they hadn't lost a step. The biggest difference between the art in this book and the art from their celebrated collaborations is the coloring, with Carlos Badilla using digital paints to make the colors softer and a bit over-rendered. Breyfogle's art has always looked better with a bit more of a stark inking and coloring job, but that's the way it is with modern comics, and we'll just have to deal with it.

Grant returns to the villain he created in his first issue of Detective Comics, the Ventriloquist, who has just been released from jail. This leads into Alfred's little pep talk and Bruce heading out into the night. This is a nicely written page for a few reasons. Alfred's pep talk is a bit schmaltzy, but it stands out in the marketplace of 2011, because Batman has become such a bleak figure that it's nice to see Alfred reminding him of all the good he does. Grant also makes sure that Bruce says "thank you," which is the only thing he says on the page. This is a Batman who cares about his "family" and appreciates that they are there when he's blue. He's a "weird figure of the night," to be sure, but he also has a human side, which too many writers forget about. Grant never did when he wrote the character back in the 1980s/1990s, and he doesn't here. As with many of his original Batman stories, this book is as much about Batman trying to help people as it is about fighting bad guys, and Grant foreshadows that here.

Breyfogle is still a great artist, even if this page doesn't show all his strengths. The establishing shot sets the scene, and then we see Alfred in the foreground in Panel 2, once again highlighting his importance in Bruce Wayne's life. He's clearing another (presumably) uneaten dinner, and his word balloons lead us back to Bruce, sitting in the chair watching the news. You'll note that in this panel and Panel 3, Breyfogle draws Bruce covering his eyes and almost weeping. This is interesting, as Breyfogle is one of the few Batman artists to show a wide range of emotions on the Caped Crusader, including sadness. Bruce is sad and also weary - he covers his eyes, and we can almost read his thoughts: "What do I have to do to keep these guys in jail?" Because Breyfogle humanized Bruce so well, the transformation in Panel 4 to the stoic Batman is more effective - Bruce can be upset so Batman doesn't have to be. The final panel is a nice one - Alfred has a hint of a smile because he knows he's helped Bruce out, and Breyfogle leads us off the page with the Batmobile speeding away out of the cave. This page really gives us a nice sense of how Grant and Breyfogle create a comic book - while we don't see Breyfogle's fluidity, we do understand that Grant and Breyfogle want to show a human Batman and the vagaries of Batman's existence, as villains often get out of jail after Batman puts them away.

I suppose the only criticism you can make is that Breyfogle's art hasn't evolved all that much, as we see from the reprint of Detective #613 in the back of this comic. But we can make the argument that it was so great in the first place, so it doesn't need to evolve! These two guys hadn't worked together for several years, and this book shows that they hadn't missed a step!

So that's our look at four writer/artist duos. I hope you guys enjoyed it. Tomorrow, we're back to random choices, and I'll have another opportunity for you, the readers, to choose the direction we go in October! Meanwhile, here are the archives!

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