Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is David Mazzucchelli, and the issue is Batman #405, which was published by DC and is cover dated March 1987. Enjoy!
I don’t mean to piss in your corn flakes, but “Year One” is kind of overrated. I mean, it’s a solid story, but Frank Miller really ladles on the noir clichés, and it really doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know except that Jim Gordon is kind of a douchebag. I like it, and I like reading it, but I doubt if it’s in my Top 20 of Batman stories. Mazzucchelli’s art, however, is really nice, which is handy when I’m writing about the art, and not necessarily the plot!
First of all, yes, Gordon is a bad-ass in this story. Mazzucchelli draws him taking down a crazed, hostage-taking perp with nothing but his moxie, and draws it beautifully, I might add. He’s inking himself in this story, and Richmond Lewis is coloring it, and those of you who know the story (all of you reading this, I should hope) know that Mazzucchelli, just a few years into his career, is already becoming more abstract, and it’s wonderful. For this gritty tale, he uses big chunks of black and thick lines, so we get Gordon ascending the stairs in Panel 1 with the black all around him and the black cat lolling over the steps looking down at him. He appears as a silhouette in Panel 2, hulking over the perp and the kid, and Mazzucchelli, either by design or lucky coincidence, puts his hand over the hostage, almost as if Gordon has already rescued her. In Panel 3, Mazzucchelli uses only a few lines to show Gordon’s hair and face, while the perp has thick, snot-like tears rolling down his cheeks. Instead of a lot of brush work on the page, we get thicker, shorter, and fewer brutal lines, which makes each line have more impact. Mazzucchelli fits the art to Miller’s tough guy tone very well.
This issue features Brucie’s first fight dressed like a giant bat, but why am I telling you this you know all this because everyone who’s ever read a comic has read this story and if you haven’t what are you doing here when you should be reading it?!?!?!?
Okay, where was I? Oh yes, the fight. Yes, Todd Klein’s lettering is weird – who on earth in their right mind thinks that Bruce would use cursive like that, or even think in cursive like that? Bruce Wayne thinks in Soviet-style BLOCK LETTERS, amirite? But Mazzucchelli really lays it out superbly, as Bruce doesn’t quite know what he’s doing and almost kills a punk kid. We begin with Bruce’s view, looking down at the punks, and then he lands on the fire escape and things go to shit. I’m not entirely sure why the kid goes over the railing like that, but it’s a good panel – Mazzucchelli, as we saw above, uses thick blacks on Batman’s cape and to define his hands wrapped in that cape as he lands. Panel 3 shows Batman’s fear, and Mazzucchelli widens the eye slits and opens his mouth, which is a good way to show the panic. As Bruce hangs onto the punk who went over the railing, he has to fend off the other two. On the second page, Mazzucchelli uses even more blacks, including the silhouettes in Panel 4 as the punk bashes Bats over the head with the television. On the first page, Mazzucchelli set up where the kicker is, so by the second page, he can focus in on Bats in Panel 3 as the foot connects with Bruce’s jaw. Mazzucchelli goes above the scene again in Panel 5, so we can get another view of how the participants are now situated, but it also shows the backward kick well and shows the punk kicker and where he is. This makes Panel 7 clearer, as Bats has laid out the one dude with the kick to the ribs and is able to turn and grab the punk kicker. On the third page, he takes out the punk kicker and pulls the flailing dude up. This 2+ page sequence is a masterpiece of motion and design, as Mazzucchelli never loses the plot and he confines himself to a small area but still manages to show all the movements that each character makes. Batman’s cape is very nice, too, as Mazzucchelli, keeping with the “realism” of the comic, doesn’t go nuts with it as we’ve seen so many artists do in the past. In Panel 7 of the second page, it hangs limply on Bruce’s back, which is very unusual but fits perfectly. Of course, the final panel in the sequence is brilliant, too, as Bruce sits down to catch his breath. Once again, Mazzucchelli shows us the view from above, so we see all the punks on the fire escape and Bruce leaning back, head up, thinking about how lucky he is. It’s a terrific ending to a great scene.
Mazzucchelli does a great job with the characters in this book, as we see here with Commissioner Loeb and the Falcones. Loeb is a disgusting pig of a man, naturally, but that first panel is really well done – Mazzucchelli uses the thick lines liberally to age him, with the strands of hair on his scalp are something we see all the time on men, but when we combine it with the face, makes Loeb look troll-like. Mazzucchelli uses thick strokes to make his eyebrows unruly, yet another indication that he’s kind of a slob. I don’t know why he has a Mickey Mouse lapel pin, but it’s add enough to work. Mazzucchelli does nice work with the other characters, too – the dude on the left in Panel 5, who is obviously having some issues, is cleaned up by his wife in Panel 2 almost off-handedly, as if she’s completely used to this. Do we know what’s the deal with that dude? Anyway, Mazzucchelli uses a lot of lines on his face, too, aging him well. For the views from farther away, he’s becoming a bit more abstract – in Panel 2, we get black splotches for eyes and mouths, and I love the dour woman between Loeb and Falcone in Panel 5 – Mazzucchelli gives her small smudges under her eyes, and fuller lips, which makes her heaviness even more obvious without being too obnoxious. He’s being a bit more simple with Batman, too, as he’s using solid chunks of black and very thick lines to keep Bruce’s outfit from being too fancy, as this is still so early in the game. Mazzucchelli draws the costume as if it’s something Bruce put together himself, which is fairly clever, especially given the time frame of the story.
Here’s another nice action sequence, as Gordon and Batman cross paths when they rescue a homeless woman about to be crushed by a truck. Again we see the liberal use of blacks, which is smart when it comes to Batman because the silhouettes takes us “away” from the main action briefly, as they’re cut in to the main flow, which is the truck speeding toward the woman. They’re necessary because of the final panel, but not to the point where we need to see every detail, so Mazzucchelli drops them in to remind us that, yes, Batman is on the way! The main action is also dark, but not in silhouette, which is probably a good thing. Mazzucchelli uses those wonderful squiggly lines to indicate wetness on the road, and he wisely uses speed lines in Panel 6 of the first page, as Gordon decides to leap from the car. He’s still being abstract a bit in Panel 1 of the second page, showing us the woman illuminated by the headlights, and giving us a half-swirl for her mouth, two nostrils and a black smudge for her nose, and just some blobs for the eyes. In Panel 2, I wonder if Mazzucchelli used a silhouette to show Gordon jumping onto the truck because the details would have been too hard to figure out. I think that artists sometimes do that, but that’s only because I would if I were drawing it! However, the silhouette works nicely, especially because he uses scratchy lines to show the glow of the headlights. Then we get the dramatic final panel, as Batman flies in and saves the woman’s life. It’s a tremendous drawing – the woman’s pose is well done, as she goes limp and flails backward with her arm while Bats makes sure to wrap his arms around her and bring his legs in so they don’t get clipped by the truck. Gordon is hanging onto the truck somewhat impotently, and Mazzucchelli does a wonderful job implying that he did all he could but it still wasn’t enough. Mazzucchelli doesn’t take any of the panel off, as he gives us twisted metal of the shopping cart and several items inside it getting sprayed across the road as the truck hits it. At the bottom of the page, he still inks in the squiggly lines of the water on the road, again showing how dangerous driving was at that particular moment. This is a tremendous sequence, much like the fight was earlier. The last thing you might notice is how much more fluid Mazzucchelli’s figure work has become. He would never be a slick superhero artist, but on “Born Again” and “Year One,” he proved that he had figured out how to draw very smooth action scenes.
Mazzucchelli quickly decided after “Year One” that he wanted to do less mainstream work, and so he did. Tomorrow we’ll check out one of those less mainstream works, as his art style began to evolve into what it became when he drew the comic that everyone loved. You know the one! Check out some more beloved comics in the archives!
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