- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

This chronic feature lets me review what’s recently passed by my bloodshot pupils. So pull up a chair, break out the sarcasm filter and welcome to:

Mr. Zad’s Batman comic critique

Batman: Year One

(DC Comics, hardcover, $19.99)

Back in 1986, writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli produced the definitive exploration of the Dark Knight’s early days. The brilliant sequential-art story returns to print in the form of a deluxe hard-bound edition that compiles the four-part miniseries while adding some illustrated bonuses.

Through 96 pages of moody grit, Mr. Miller does an excellent job of revealing the emotional depth and baggage of veteran cop Jim Gordon and his relationship with an adult Bruce Wayne as both battle the Gotham City mob.

Often concentrating on Mr. Gordon and his attempts to stay clean in a corrupt police department, the story eventually settles more on the mysterious caped vigilante who appears from the shadows to help as well as befuddle his friend.

Pages deliver a roller-coaster ride of violence and street justice because of tough-talking bosses and crooked city officials who have no interest in relinquishing their grip on the city. As Bruce begins to assume the mantle of the Batman, after first unsuccessfully testing his combat techniques without a costume, he learns to understand the depth of his mortal powers while juggling his alter ego and dealing with a pesky Catwoman.

It’s no lighthearted, campy tale. Mr. Miller revels in human suffering and redemption, while Mr. Mazzucchelli, his artistic colleague, delivers plenty of panels oozing with earth-tone palettes and blood.

Overall, its just a great story of two men who handle crime fighting in their own engaging style and who will be forever bonded in their crusade to make their city safe.

Extras to this edition concentrate on Mr. Mazzucchelli’s love of the Batman, including a black-and-white sequential-art autobiography about his bonding with the hero, some drawings created during his early years, a “script-to-sketch” comparison and a deconstruction of some of the pages.

On an interesting note, Mr. Miller’s story became the template for the current “Batman Begins” film as screenwriter David Goyer imagined some of the Year One moments to bring the Bat mythos to movie life.

The Art of ‘Batman Begins’: Shadows of the Dark Knight

(Chronicle Books, hardcover, $40)

Readers learn the origins and styles of the latest cinematic ode to the Dark Knight through an oversized, 144-page coffee-table companion that could be called a definitive resource on the subject.

After a brief introduction to Batman’s comic-book beginnings, highlighted by a sextet of panels from Detective Comics No. 27, author Mark Cotta Vaz mixes quotes from director Christopher Nolan and production designer Nathan Crowley with storyboards, concept art, costume designs, models and images from the film to give a quick overview of the noirish adaptation.

Chapters highlighting the new Batmobile and Pantsuit are especially revealing, with detailed text explaining specific weapons and their functions. These make the revelations especially appealing to the hard-core Bat hero fan.

However, the book falls a bit short on substance when compared to other blockbuster-film art books. It is especially paltry when compared to the meticulous character and design breakdowns of “The Art of Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” (Del Ray, $35), which includes an index among its 224 pages.

Batman Cover to Cover: The Greatest Comic Book Covers of the Dark Knight

(DC Comics, hardcover, $39.99)

A reader’s introduction to his favorite Caped Crusader usually comes after he has seen an art masterpiece before opening the first page of his new book.

The pivotal piece of design known as the comic-book cover is celebrated as DC Comics explores the diverse artistry associated with more than 250 Batman-themed art pieces that have graced the coveted page position over the past six decades.

With large, fantastic works by such legends as Bob Kane (Batman, No. 1, 1940), Brian Bolland (Batman: Gotham Knights, No. 15, 2001) and Carmine Infantino (Batman, No. 194, 1968) juxtaposed with short narratives by popular-culture creative forces such as Jim Lee, Jerry Robinson, Adam West, Sheldon Moldoff and Neil Gaiman, readers get some exposure to the cover-art process.

The book also is broken up by chapters that compile covers highlighting the Dark Knight’s brushes with death, his extended family, some fearsome foes, his association with bats and the use of famed Bat gadgets.

A few features include a chronicle of Batman logo designs, a discussion with Neal Adams on the classic 1960s Batman covers and favorite covers selected by Alex Ross and Mark Hamill.

“Batman Cover to Cover” is truly an insightful reference for casual historians as well as a book for fans to drool over, and it lives up to its name by offering a fantastic glimpse into the many prominent faces of the Dark Knight.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail [email protected] or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.


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