Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Things you won't find in the library, but might want to check out anyway

The following is a review/general retrospective on Batman: Dead White by John Shirley

Oh, the irony of finding a graphic novel in the non-traditional sense. To explain, years ago when I was still new to the world of Batman and the like, I was attempting to imagine what a graphic novel was. At first, I thought it meant a graphic, violent, or more mature book. Later, I was corrected as I discovered that graphic meant images as in comic books, although, the former could still apply save for the classic book motif. Now, I consider myself to be quite Bat-savvy, but can honestly say I’ve never stumbled upon an actual book that centered on Batman with the exception of The Dark Knight’s script/book adaptation. Why it’s ironic is simple. It is graphic, violent, and all other things I had first imagined a “graphic” novel to be without actually being a graphic novel.
Batman is a very special character for me. He holds a lot of nostalgia from my days reveling in the genius that was Batman: The Animated Series to my first Batman graphic novel, Batman: Year One by Frank Miller (first graphic novel was actually the two Batman/Spider-Man crossovers), to my first live-action Batman film, Batman Begins. I look forward to any medium that features the Caped Crusader or mentions him in the very least. My interest has opened the doors to other works that I would have previously given no second thought. He’s a fascinating character with a wealth of layers to explore, an iconic rogues gallery, and so much more including how he interacts with other heroes, creating another dimension of intrigue. He possesses qualities that others can strive for, determination, willpower, bravery, and resourcefulness in any situation. Of course, it’d be ludicrous to ever compare to a fictional character, yet it’s what the character embodies that truly matters and makes an impact.
Batman: Dead White is an interesting and can be a very quick read. It takes place earlier in the Bat’s career and attempts to tie itself in with the Nolan-verse. The novel introduces a new and original villain, White Eyes, a white supremacist with thoughts of conspiracies within the government being controlled by “lesser” races. As such, there is quite a bit of profanity, racial slurs, swearing, etc. so it is clearly not intended for the Batmites. For the most part, I felt myself rushing through sections to get to the next since the novel jumps around, focusing on other characters and their storylines. Simply put, I didn’t have much invested with them and I wanted to get back to the title character, Batman. A minor thug, a father and son, and others attempt to flesh out the storyline and stretch out the length considerably. However, the thug’s chapter did generate some interest since Batman was involved and it was refreshing to see the encounter from the criminal’s perspective. There are some moments that I did care for; particularly the interactions between Gordon and Batman, Batman dealing with other government officials, and the last chapter that ties up some loose ends concerning a mostly forgotten hired gun.
In terms of writing, it was more of an inconsistent thing for me. There’d be some examples of a solid narrative with combat scenes that were a joy to imagine. However, there was weirdness. One paragraph noted that a flurry of bullets was dangerously close to hitting his crotch. I’m not kidding. It really used that sort of terminology. It jerked me out of the book even if it did provide some mild amusement, especially with the next sentence about Alfred’s dreams almost being shattered concerning seeing little Waynes running around the manor. There are more instances of just bizarre choices in the writing that took me out of it completely.
The most integral part of any attempt to do a story with an already iconic character is how he’s handled. Is this Batman more brutal or passive? Is his athletic prowess going to be emphasized? How about gadgets and tech? Do his detective skills come into play? What kind of style of costume? What about his build? Is he a stockier, bulkier Batman or leaner and more agile? How experienced is he? The choices are endless with a vigilante with decades of history behind him. This Batman is supposedly early in his career, aforementioned, and still trying to settle into his methods. There’s a lot of emphasis on his tech that I enjoyed because it showcased his ingenuity. For the most part, Batman seems to be in control of any situation he encounters and manages to adapt if things go awry. There’s a brief love story thrown in and some self doubt which hinders him and seems awkward. The first half was better than the last half. Every storyline is tied up nicely, almost too nicely at times. To wrap it all up, it’s a decent book that seems to forget it’s a Batman book when it meanders to other characters. There are inconsistencies. I enjoyed parts, although a lot of those parts were few and far between. It held my attention long enough to finish it which, admittedly, isn’t too difficult. I’d recommend others over this, but it’s not bad for my first graphic but not graphic novel. If you truly want my opinion, go pick up the box sets for Batman: TAS, and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, and, if you want some literature, Knighfall Part One: Broken Bat, or do a search for Batman graphic novels and it’s guaranteed that a few top ten lists will pop up. Dead White provides a nice distraction until the first volume of The Question's acclaimed series by Denny O’Neil arrives in my mail, nothing more.

Retrospective/review by Alisa Heskin

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