No one ever said Batman isn’t versatile, but the fact that DC uses so many different artists – and different styles – to draw the same character speaks volumes of just how sound he is, in whatever form he’s in. Batman’s currently the lead character in nine monthly comics this month, and he’s a supporting character in a variety of team books and spin-off titles – and that’s not counting the recent animated series, live-action movies and toy lines. But with all those iterations and costume changes between time periods and universes, he’s still Batman – and the artist’s drawing him love it.“Batman is a character who can withstand a wide variety of interpretations,” says David Finch, former artist on Batman: The Dark Knight and current artist of Justice League of America. “I think his ‘New 52’ look makes for a Batman who truly is worldwide.”
As Finch said, with the advent of the ‘New 52’ in August 2011 Batman and many other heroes in the DCU took on a more armored approach with lines and seams denoting an added realism to the costuming and protection a modern hero would need. Although the costuming has had its share of detractors, it’s something that generally the artists involved drawing Batman for DC have enjoyed.
“I've always liked a more armored and military version of Batman, and always wanted to draw him as a urban soldier,” says artist Rafael Albuquerque, who’s illustrated back-ups for Batman and Legends of the Dark Knight. “”That makes completely sense for me, and I think the ‘New 52’ design approaches that a bit more than the old costume.”Long-time DC artist Cully Hamner is the one responsible for crafting the modern incarnation of Batman, who worked hand-in-hand with DC Co-Publisher/chief artist Jim Lee to finalize the look of the Dark Detective. But be that as it may, DC has allowed for artists to provide their own tweaks to the costumes in his individual books as long as it keeps relatively close to the primary design.
“I studied the Cully Hamner design turnaround extensively as well as the way Jim Lee, Tony Daniel, David Finch, Pat Gleason, and Greg Capullo each interpreted it in their first few issues,” says Batman Inc. artist Chris Burnham. “Jim and Tony draw a lot of techno lines and seem to adjust their precise positions & shapes to compliment the action & anatomy of each panel; Greg and Pat draw fewer lines but are more consistent with their placement; and David doesn't seem to draw the lines at all. I started out somewhere between the Lee/Daniel and Gleason/Capullo interpretations and have been steadily simplifying it over the last few issues. Enough lines to add some visual interest but not so many that it becomes drudgerous to remember where everything goes or impossible to keep everything in its proper place when Batman is twisting and turning.”Burnham stands apart from his other current colleagues drawing Batman in that he’s been drawing the character since there were two Batmen – back when Dick Grayson was still Batman in prior to ‘New 52.’ And drawing too different Batmen on the same page has provided a very focused understanding of what Bruce Wayne brings to the Batman costume, and also what the advent of the “New 52” design has done to simplify his work.
“During the first volume of Batman Inc. we had two Batmen running around and I consequently had to spend a fair amount of mental energy keeping BruceBat taller and beefier than DickBat,” reveals Burnham. “I've only got one Batman to deal with these days, so if he gains or loses twenty pounds from panel to panel it's not a huge disaster. He's the only guy with the ears and the cape, so you're not going to mix him up with anyone. The other big change is that I don't have to use my goldarned ellipse templates to draw Batman's chest emblem anymore. David Finch is a buddy of mine, but I cursed his name every single time I had to draw that thing. You position one of those ellipses a hair off and suddenly the emblem is digging into his chest instead of popping out. Good riddance!”By luck or by choice, Batman is enjoying having many of DC’s top artists drawing him in various books, from the aforementioned Albuquerque, Finch and Burnham to Greg Capullo, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Alex Maleev, Ethan Van Sciver, Dustin Nguyen and others. And in a way it’s become an informal clique of artists who reference each other’s work despite living and working thousands of miles apart.
“I follow all of the other Bat artists very closely and absolutely, yes, it does affect the way I draw my book,” Finch tells Newsarama. “I have to say though, I feel like the biggest impact they've had on me has just been forcing me to desperately try to keep up!”
Finch isn’t shy about naming names in terms of his standout Batman colleagues at DC.
“Greg Capullo is old school. He's dedicated and outrageously talented. His work has such an impact visually, but he can draw quiet moments better than everyone else too. I live in abject fear of his talent,” Finch points out. “Tony Daniel is another artist who has so much range, but his art really packs a hell of a punch. He's a great writer too, and you can see that sensibility in his work. Chris Burnham is just crazy! He packs in so much detail and there are so many nuances going on with his pages that I could stare at them for hours and still find something new. And I have to mention Jay Fabok, who's on Detective Comics with John Layman. He's a newer name in this business but he's doing beautiful work.”
Burnham, the youngest artist in the informal Bat-artists clique, agrees with Finch but isn’t above some playful competition.
“Those guys definitely keep me on my toes. We're each trying our damnedest to make the best-looking Bat-book on the stands every month. It's a friendly competition, but it's definitely a competition!,” the artist admits. “I love those guys, but that doesn't mean I don't want to see them cry in shame!”
Competition or not, the diversity of artists that DC and Batman enjoy now really speaks to an overlooked liberty that comics has of different interpretations of characters sitting side-by-side on comic shelves these days. For instance, if you go into your comic shop this week you’ll see not only “New 52” Batman titles, but also the Batman: Lil Gotham title, the futuristic Batman Beyond Unlimited title as well as recent collections of other renditions of the Dark Knight.
“At the end of the day,” Burnham tells Newsarama succinctly,” Batman is the same guy with a slightly different set of squiggles on his uniform.”