Thursday, 26 July 2012

Batman: Death By Design

Batman: Death By Design
Chip Kidd / Dave Taylor
DC Comics

Currently my life is in risk of Batman overload. I’ve just checked out The Dark Knight Rises, have played through Batman: Arkham City and have been working my way through the straight up Batman of DC’s new 52 (I’m also following Justice League, in which he is naturally a main feature). So what possessed me to get another piece of caped crusader related story telling? Well, in what felt like a good old fashioned type of decision making; because of the front cover.

And I’m glad I took the punt because Death By Design is rather different to all the above. I’ll come to the story based differences in a second, because it is Dave Taylor’s design work that really stands out for me. The Gotham of DbD is a mix of grand Fritz Lang ambition and a 1940s New York. That title stems from the themes of architecture around which the story is woven and that shines through in the wonderful panoramas and details of the buildings – not to mention the scale displayed in some of the panels. It’s an intriguing mix, similar to a Tarrantino trick, where we have what seems to be an olde world setting; women are glamorous like Hollywood starlets and men work in the offices of down and out private detectives, whatever their profession. Yet the Bat-man fits into this, despite his batcave and advanced weaponry.

In fact the only weaponry we see from any adversary is a pistol. Nothing overblown or ridiculous. There are some great action sequences, but they make a show out of the setting, the buildings once more taking centre stage. One section is set in a new nightclub; turns out to be a humongous sheet of glass stationed between the heights of Gotham’s skyscrapers, covered in tables and chairs, waiters and Gotham’s elite. What could go wrong?!

This feeds the story which stands in pleasing contrast to those I mentioned in the first paragraph. It’s refreshing to read a story that doesn’t involve saving the entire world, or the whole city from some unthinkable threat. This is a story about the demolition of Gotham’s central station. There are a few of villains in the piece – one classic – and others classical archetypes but given different spins. The smaller scale of the overall story helps the focus stay on the characters and having them live out their lives in such a beautiful setting I found very rewarding.

It’s perhaps because of reading a fair bit of DCs New 52 that I found this so enjoyable. It’s the detail here that wins through. I have very much enjoyed the recent Night Of The Owls storyline, but reading a few of the different lines at once and seeing the constant ads for other up and coming events can be a bit tiring. It’s an industry at the end of the day and they are churning that stuff out. Death By Design is clearly a labour of love; you can see it in every pencil mark, every carefully constructed detail. If you front cover doesn’t immediately win you over like it did me, just flick through a couple of pages and you’ll get the idea. It feels special, its feels like Art. Excellent.

Dean Freeman

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