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01/06/2003: Gotham Noir

So I've read "Gotham Noir" recently. It's a Batman Elseworlds story, 64 pages, written by Ed Brubaker, artwork by Sean Phillips, and it first came out a while ago, 2001 I think, so it's not new. I've liked the Elseworlds concept since I first encountered it, though I didn't know it had a label then. The first Elseworld story I read was a German edition of "Gotham by Gaslight," I think it was in 1990, and the German publisher didn't distinguish Elseworlds titles from the regular Batman series. Back then I didn't think that there was a system to Batman continuity, since all I had read were a couple of graphic novels by artists I liked, and I more saw it as a vaguely connected universe with common themes and characters, definitely not as a continuing story development (much in the way one reads fanfic for something, where a lot of things are similar while others are not, and the stories don't really have much to do with each other). And honestly I still have no clue about Batman continuity and I don't really care much, but I assume that there is a bit more of a system to it, even though I'm not aware of it.

Anyway, I guess I like Elseworlds in particular (though in truth I haven't read that many, since I don't read much superhero stuff) because I like AUs in general, but with comics titles they have the additional advantage that if you, like me, don't read a lot of a series, you avoid the continuity maze from the start and don't have to worry about missing things when you pick up a comic.

But while I can really recommend the aforementioned "Gotham by Gaslight" (not at least for the artwork, which I like a lot), "Gotham Noir" left me cold. I'm not entirely sure why. The basic idea to bring Batman back to its noir 1940s detective pulp roots is great. I like that time and the style, and I also think it suits Batman very well. Also that the focus isn't on Batman/Bruce Wayne but on James Gordon could have been interesting. But --

While the premise that Gordon isn't commissioner, but had been forced to leave his job as a cop in the wake of a scandal and is now a drunk private eye, with a failed marriage and still haunted by memories of WWII, worked for me, and I could even more or less see the rest of the characters, the plot that evolved from that premise was very flat. Okay, so it was supposed to be like a pulp magazine plot, still it doesn't have to be like a handful of cliched building blocks thrown together: Gordon is framed for murder, the city government is of course corrupt, and at the root is the "dark secret" which is of course (how could it be anything else?) some child molestation story. Yawn.

I think what made me far less tolerant for these cliches than usual was that Batman came across as about as three dimensional as the graphic representation Phillips chose, which was to depict Batman only as a black silhouette with white slits for the eyes. I mean, even if Gordon is the focus, in a Batman comic there should be at least a bit more to Batman than an ink blotch.

BTW, the artwork as a whole didn't really work for me, not just the Silhouette!Batman. It's hard to pin down, since the artwork isn't bad or incompetent, but to me it came across as very static. Especially in the action sequences. And though sometimes such choice can work, somehow here for me it didn't. Also I think that the coloring which uses in parts the typical airbrush-type color nuances, that are so common nowadays, instead of single colors, doesn't work that well with the more stark b/w brush style.

I like some of Ed Brubaker's other stuff -- in particular "The Fall" which he did with Jason Lutes, though that may also be because of Jason Lutes, whose comics "Jar of Fools" and "Berlin" I like a lot -- but "Gotham Noir" didn't impress me. Certainly not the worst Batman I've ever read, but not really good either.

Posted by RatC @ 02:12 AM CET
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