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Friday, January 02, 2009

The Black Glove -- The three issues comprising "The Black Glove" storyline by Grant Morrison and JH Williams are three of the best issues of Batman since, at least, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli cranked out Batman: Year One fifteen or twenty years ago.

Over the course of the three issues, Morrison and Williams play with Batman's decades-long mythology, creating an eerie and nuanced murder mystery that is visually stunning, the equal -- perhaps even superior -- to Williams's work on Promethea with writer Alan Moore. "The Black Glove" as a story is pure superhero comic book magic.

Unfortunately, DC turned what could have been an elegant hardcover collection into a massive failure by padding it out with four thematically dissonant and visually incompetent issues (another storyline entirely) drawn by Tony Daniel. It sounds like sour grapes, but having paid real money for the book (half the cover price, yes, thank you Borders Bucks, but still, some of my cash was involved in the transaction), I'd like to spend the rest of this review telling you how I would have preferred DC to present the good material from this volume:

* Option #1: Ideally, The Black Glove's three sublime issues would have been presented in a standalone hardcover, preferably oversized, anywhere between the dimensions of the new deluxe JLA hardcovers and Kramers Ergot #7 would be fine with me. Thicker paper, a sketchbook section, interviews and essays could have padded it out if the three issues worth of material weren't enough.

* Option #2: Less ideally, the second half-plus of the book (which were wasted on the Daniel-drawn issues) could have been blank. "Draw your own sequel!" That would have been less desirable than Option #1, but still preferable to what we got.

Well, I'm out of options. Most important to note, though, is this: I would have been much happier paying full price for this volume if it just contained the Williams-drawn Black Glove story-arc and nothing else. It would have been a better value for the money. Pairing it up, as DC does here, with the four-issue Daniel-drawn storyline implies quite strongly that not only are these two stories thematically compatible, but roughly equal in quality. They are neither. "The Black Glove" is superb superhero storytelling, among the best things Morrison has ever written, or Williams has ever drawn. The other stuff -- over half the book, I'm very sorry to say -- is perhaps competently written, but drawn by an artist -- Tony Daniel -- who can draw a comic book but has yet to demonstrate the slightest bit of artistry in anything I have ever seen him draw. Note, for example, a panel in which someone has the barrel of what is supposed to be a gun pressed against their head; the "barrel" is a generically-drawn cylinder resembling a Thermos more than the barrel of a gun.

In sum, JH Williams is an artist working in comics, who always gives more than is required by any assignment he receives. Daniel is a subpar superhero illustrator whose work suggests a lack of artistic training or inspiration, and whose inclusion in what could have been a prestigious and elegant volume results, rather, in an infuriating and narratively incoherent overall package. If no other point gets through here, at least know that I seriously thought about whether the book would be improved by using an X-Acto knife to slice out Daniel's pages. The fact that that thought seriously spent time in my mind is what caused me to write this review.



Blogger Cole Moore Odell said...

The best option would have been to supplement the Morrison/Williams story with reprints of the original Club of Heroes material from the 1950s issues of Detective and World's Finest--since one of the points of Morrison's run on Batman is to show the effect of every era and style of Batman story actually happening to the same character. This is how Marvel presented the Agents of Atlas min-series collection, with a bunch of 1950s reprints for context.

05 January, 2009 13:00  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

That's absolutely brilliant, Cole. Thanks for thinking it through a little more than I obviously did! And happy new year!

05 January, 2009 13:03  
Blogger David Uzumeri said...

Arguments about Daniel's artistic talent (or lack thereof) aside, the second half of the book is hardly a completely different story; Morrison's whole run on Batman was a continuous tale, and this book is simply the middle of a much longer arc (bookended by Batman & Son and Batman R.I.P.). So while the choice of Daniel as artist for the book is highly up for debate, I'm not sure sealing off this arc from the rest of the run would have been the most honest way to collect it, either.

05 January, 2009 16:16  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

I totally disagree, David, which is why I used the term "thematically dissonant." I understand that Morrison's entire run is meant to be one long meta-story, and in that sense of course they are connected. But the tone, authorial intent and ultimate thrill of the three Black Glove issues are complete absent in the four Daniel-drawn issues, and in retrospect, I think Cole's suggestion of including the original Club of Heroes material is not only the only obvious proper presentation of the material, but one that would have resulted in a prestigious volume for the ages instead of a, yes, "thematically dissonant" mess of a package.

05 January, 2009 16:23  
Blogger David Uzumeri said...

Ah, sorry, in that case I misunderstood. Thematically dissonant, absolutely agreed, and it's a pretty jarring mid-hardcover shock.

05 January, 2009 16:31  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Thanks, David. Maybe I should have been clearer...and spent less time complaining about Daniel's art, although I stand by those feelings 100 percent. :-)

05 January, 2009 16:33  
Blogger Cole Moore Odell said...

Having missed the boat on The Black Glove, DC ought to publish a reprint collection "key" to Morrison's run, presenting the major golden, silver and bronze age stories that he references: Club of Heroes, Robin Dies at Dawn, the one with the three cops as replacement Batmen, at Bat-Mite story, etc. They could call it Batman: The Black Casebook, even do it as a series.

05 January, 2009 22:28  
Blogger David Uzumeri said...

They happen to be doing *exactly* that. Just far too late, which is pretty standard for DC's slug-like collected editions department.

Writers: France Herron, Edmond Hamilton, Bill Finger
Artists: Dick Sprang, Charles Paris, Sheldon Moldoff, Stan Kaye
Collects: Stories from BATMAN #113, 134, 156 and 162, DETECTIVE COMICS #215, 235 and 267 and WORLD'S FINEST COMICS #89
$17.99 US, 144 pages

10 January, 2009 23:12  

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