Batman: Black and White #1 Review: A Moody, Rewarding Rumination on DC Comics' Dark Knight

DC Comics readers (either to their delight or chagrin) typically don't have to wait long for a new Batman comic. The company's Caped Crusader is at the center of an ever-growing number of books and stories, with countless more inspired by alternative iterations. With that in mind, a Batman comic really needs to do something special to receive any special attention nowadays—providing some sort of unprecedented angle to the Dark Knight. This week's Batman: Black and White #1, the latest extension of the monochromatic miniseries which began in 1996, largely succeeds in that effort. While the debut issue doesn't entirely hit the mark, it brings an intriguing approach to Batman's mythology, in a way that honors the way he—and comics as a whole—have grown over the past few decades.

Batman: Black and White #1 is an anthology consisting of five short stories, each telling some variation of a moody, standalone tale centered on Bruce Wayne. While the minutia of each story—and the eras of comic storytelling they play off from—are wildly different, there is some interesting commonality between all of them. Each story deals with a different aspect of Batman's reputation, sometimes through the hero's own lens and sometimes through those on his periphery. The stories focusing on the latter prove to be the most profound, whether it's James Tynion IV, Tradd Moore, and Clayton Cowles' "The Demon's Fist", which tracks a fight between Batman and the League of Assassins through the point of view of a random henchman, or Paul Dini, Andy Kubert, and Rob Leigh's "First Flight", which pits Batman against a group of creatures who have him on a very specific kind of pedestal. That being said, there are some worthwhile moments in Batman: Black and White where Bruce himself turns introspective—there's a great monologue about his lifelong struggle for control in J.H. Williams III and Todd Klein's "Weight," G. Willow Wilson, Greg Smallwood, and Clem Robins' "Metamorphosis" approaches his commitment to a crimefighting crusade via an unexpected villain. None of it quite reaches the level of "What Happened to the Caped Crusader?" but it's still starting a modern-day dialogue around Batman that is still engaging.

Another thing that the stories of Batman: Black and White #1 share is the weight of Batman's lore, particularly as his array of appearances in film and countless other media have turned him into an ever-present household name. Regardless of whatever era you regard to be "your" Batman, this issue has something for you—"First Flight" continues the tumultuous storyline between Batman and Talia al Ghul that hit its zenith in the '80s and '90s, while "Metamorphosis" feels like a blend of Darwyn Cooke's Ego and Adam West's Batman. "The Demon's Fist" and Emma Rios and Steve Wands' "Sisyphus" both transcend a definitive era of Batman, but they still carry a specific essence of the character. Meanwhile, "Weight" is a specific outlier to all of this, taking readers on a gorgeously-rendered trip down memory lane, before undeniably (and abruptly) shifting to the present day. The relevance of that story will either charm and resonate readers or feel hokey, but it's definitely a tale that captures our current moment in a way that DC continuity could not.

Of course, part of the schtick in Batman: Black and White is seeing how stories utilize their monochromatic color palette—and they do so in a way that both feels disparate and cohesive. Moore's artwork on "The Demon's Fist" sets the bar high at the start, providing a surreal take on a sequence of events that could have been very predictable, and a rendition of Batman that would be fun to see in a wider storytelling context. Williams' art on "Weight" is a standout in lush splash pages that encompass decades of Batman storytelling with relative ease. Kubert's art on "First Flight" might feel too stark for some, but it uses that feature to its advantage, making each segment of white space feel monumental in some way. Rios' art on "Sisyphus" is almost in its own category, providing visuals that are moody and captivating, but occasionally difficult to make heads or tails of. And Smallwood's art on "Metamorphosis" using the noir color palette to its electric advantage—adding so much expression and emotion and life to even the smallest of expressions or exchanges.

On a lettering level, Batman: Black and White really doesn't have any weak links, as each letterer helps convey the mood of their unique story. That being said, there are examples that rise far above being readable—Leigh's work on "First Flight" feels like a perfect throwback to the 90s, Wands' work on "Sisyphus" creates a gothic, Sandman-like feel, and Robins' work on "Metamorphosis" approaches the timeless.

Batman: Black and White has been around in some form for almost a quarter of a century, and it has spawned similar anthologies surrounding characters like Harley Quinn and Wolverine along the way. That could have very easily made the title's return in 2020 seem insincere—just an attempt to bring even more Batman books to the masses. But if this first issue is any indication, there's something profound lurking in the pages of the series' newest iteration, utilizing an impressive roster of comic talent. Batman: Black and White #1 ruminates on Bruce Wayne in a multifaceted, compelling, and surprisingly fun to read fashion, all while providing plenty of bang for your buck when compared to the average 22-page superhero comic.

Published by DC Comics

On December 8, 2020

Written by Various

Art by Various

Colors by Various

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Letters by Various

Cover by Greg Capullo and Jonathon Glapion