Batman: Death by Design
Writer: Chip Kidd
Artist: Dave Taylor
Cover: Dave Taylor
Publisher: DC Comics
(As per usual, be sure to click on all the images to enjoy them in all their glory.)
Batman: Death by Design is a modern look at a retro Batman. Everything about this comic, from its character and costume designs to its noir-influenced black and white artwork, harkens back to the 1930s and 1940s era of Batman. Even the old school Bat-symbol on our hero’s chest comes straight out of the original comics. The design work for Batman’s gadgets, such as his grapple gun, the Batgyro, another item that will remain unmentioned to avoid spoilers, and even the pouches on his utility belt just serve to give this comic a very retro “film serial” aesthetic.
This story takes place during the formative years of Bruce Wayne’s career as Batman, without rehashing his origins for the umpteenth time. Think of it as a sort of “Batman Year One and a Half” or “Batman Year Two” set in a nondescript year from the Golden Age of Comics. Gotham City is in the midst of expansive construction, in an attempt to make the city into the shining beacon it once was. As head of Wayne Enterprises and Chairman of Gotham Landmarks Commission, Bruce Wayne is handling the philanthropic end of things, from giving speeches to hiring world-renowned architects. Suddenly, problems arise, with faulty constructions, collapsing structures, city-wide casualties, shady business practices, lives being threatened, a new villain and the return of an old favorite. A string of seemingly unconnected catastrophes endanger the entire city, and Batman must use all of his wits, while Bruce Wayne uses his many connections to get to the bottom of this mystery.
The highest amount of praise for this book goes to the absolutely stunning artwork. It’s done in black and white, in PENCIL, with minimalistic lighting effects done in color (like the embers from a cigar, or the sunset pouring in through the blinds). It simply cannot be said enough times, the pencil-drawn black and white imagery with artfully detailed color accents are worth the price of this book alone. The artwork isn’t alone, insofar as points of praise are concerned, though, as there’s plenty more to enjoy in this graphic novel. The book features little nods to the history of the Batman franchise, with glimpses at an old-style batmobile, and the use of Batman’s autogyro (the Batgyro was introduced in Detective Comics #31 in September 1939).
The story’s rather remarkable, as well. The problem Batman is faced with is kept mysterious and just beyond his grasp by the inclusion of multiple suspects. One downside to this tale, however, is the fact that the caper is presented in such a way that the reader figures everything out before Batman does. Dramatic irony is great most of the time, but tends to hamper presentation in this sort of whodunit.
Another tiny complaint stems from the use of one of Batman’s gadgets. Without revealing too much, Batman’s new little handy-dandy toy serves solely as a deus ex machina, and that is just inexcusable. Perhaps it’s done intentionally as a throwback to the adventure serials and retro Batman tales of which this story seems to be evoking memories, but it just doesn’t sit well with this reviewer for some reason.
One other possible point of contention towards this story sparks mixed feelings from this reviewer. Fan-favorite villain Joker features as sort of a side villain in this story. While his inclusion is entertaining and his introduction within this story is superb, he just seems a bit superfluous overall. The fact that it is The Joker is a nice touch for fans of the character, but it doesn’t really do anything for the story. So, while it’s nice that he’s included, Joker could be replaced with practically any other villain and the story would not be altered in any noticeable way. His inclusion is fun, but ultimately pointless; but in regards as to whether or not it’s a bad thing, the jury is still out on that one.
Despite the aforementioned hiccups found in this graphic novel, which are few and quite far between, rest assured, this is a great story and shouldn’t be missed by anyone. It’s a great Batman tale and a great throwback to retro-style adventure stories as a whole. Be sure to check it out as soon as you get the chance. Batman: Death by Design easily deserves a solid 9.5 out of 10.