Batman: Black and White
WB Premiere Motion Comics
Produced and Directed by Ian Kirby from work by: Paul Pope, Paul Grist and Darwyn Cooke; Bruce Timm; Paul Dini and Alex Ross; David Gibbons; Doug Alexander and Rob Haynes; Helly Puckett and Tim Sale; Paul Levitz and Paul Rivoche; Ted McKeever
Voices include: Michael Richard Dobson (Batman/Alfred/various); John Fitzegerald (Commisioner Gordon); Adam Fulton (various) and Janyse Jaud (various)From: DC Comics (origiinally), now available at iTunes
This summer, Warner Bros and DC unveiled a teaser for their upcoming “Watchmen” film in an unusual form: a film that combined static panels with some rudimentary animation to represent the famed first issue of the mid-1980s series.
In our review at the time we called the end product “simultaneously beguiling and repellent,” noting the possibility of the format but criticizing many facets of the execution.
The week before Chrstmas, Warner tried again. Five episodes based on the late Batman Black and White anthology series were released to iTunes at the bargain price of 99¢ each. But the team that brought you Watchmen is nowhere to be found.
Blessedly, under Ian Kirby’s sure hands, this new edition of motion comics is far, far superior. But while the acting, the production, and the direction are all markedly improved, not every one of these ten “comics” benefits from this treatment. In some cases, the animation enhances what were already brilliant source materials. In others, it markedly detracts.
The best entrants in the series come from Bruce Timm and Alex Ross, two very different artists who happen to share an appreciation for the cinematic. Kirby smartly plays up both artists’ strengths, and the end results are magnetic.
Ross’ contribution is the most eerie and effective, primarily because of his penchant for cinematic lighting. Kirby plays this up making Ross’ hyper-realistic pencils crackle in a wholly new, thrilling way. Timm’s art, which was honed in his work on many DC animated series, is beguiling in its simplicity and familiarity, but in Kirby’s hands it becomes something akin to a “lost” Batman Animated adventure. The cleverest notes in the piece— the creep of a smile, the sweep of the villainess’ hair — have the same frisson as the old Fleischer cartoons.
Still: Others in the series are merely adequate: Klaus Janson’s brittle, manic lines are not helped by motion; nor are Paul Pope’s grotesqueries. But Darywn Cooke and Paul Rivoche’s works — which depend so much on grace and timing for their power — aren’t hindered, either.
And, in what is the saddest case — Dave Gibbons’ “Black and White Bandit” — Kirby’s clever use of colour is overshadowed by tight shots on figures he drew to be viewed as if from afar. While there probably wasn’t the budget on this project to get the artists to come in and re-draw scenes, in the future there must be, and sadly this will be exhibit “A.” For one look at the bleeding, wasteful lines attributed to a man known for his taut grace and piercing emotion should be enough to convince any art director.
Is this series worth seeing? Yes. Is it the next generation of comic art? It may well be — but it isn’t yet. But seeing how far Warner has come in six short months makes me wonder just what is next. If this format keeps up the same improvement curve, in six months, iTunes uers will be able to download something truly magic.