Comics Everyone Should Read: Batman: Gotham Noir
BATMAN: GOTHAM NOIR
Written: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Dave Stewart
This week Sean Phillips was kind enough to spare some of his free time to talk with The Comic Lounge and so I wanted to highlight one of his most overlooked titles. It’s hard to talk about Sean Phillips without mentioning Ed Brubaker, so of course this elseworlds one shot features both creators. Phillips and Brubaker first worked together in 1999 with Scene of the Crime and have continued a very successful partnership since then. Batman: Gotham Noir was originally published in 2011, so well into the partnership and it shows as it’s a bit reminiscent of Fatale which coincidentally features all three creators and was initially released a few short months later.
This one-shot is a re-imagining of Batman and the rest of the main players in a post WWII Gotham that leans heavily into the noir style that Brubaker and Phillips are known for. It really comes as no surprise that the combination of Sean Phillips and Dave Stewart, both highly acclaimed and respected artists, results in art that perfectly catches the tone that the writing and story strive for. The story focuses on a grizzled washed up Jim Gordon with a drinking problem that gets thrust into a murder mystery and Phillips’ figure work excels and with a story that mostly features heavily dialogue focused scenes where conveying emotion is key to the storytelling. While Gordon is drawn in his disheveled state, there’s a sharp contrast to how the femme fatale (it wouldn’t be a Brubaker crime story without one, right?) that kicks off the plot, Selena Kyle, is drawn that very much reminds me of Jo from the Image series Fatale. Dave Stewart’s colors of course are superb and expertly used, the color palette consists of the muted colors one would expect with a noir tone but are vibrant when necessary. In particular the way Batman is portrayed stands out as he’s mostly a shadowy figure that works very well to sell the idea that his main weapon is the fear he instills in the criminals he’s stopping.
Ultimately the one-shot is not quite up to the level of quality that we expect from Brubaker and Phillips, most likely due to the length they had to work with. I’ve compared this to Fatale a couple of times so far and that is a series that ultimately spanned 24 issues. The noir elements and re-imagining of the Batman characters are a bit more ham fisted and on the nose but with only 64 pages to work with, there really wasn’t the possibility to have the nuance and character development that we get with Criminal or Kill or Be Killed. I do think this could have made for a great ongoing and possibly even a small pocket of elseworlds series at DC where we see Barbara Gordon grow up and see what a noir 50's Batgirl would look like. While it’s not quite at the same level of some of Brubaker and Phillips’ other series, I really think it’s an issue worth reading.