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A Review of Batman: Noël

November 13, 2011

Articles, Arts & Literature, Reviews

by Todd Vinson:

DC Comic’s Batman: Noël is the collaborative creation of Lee Bermejo (story and art), Barbara Ciardo (color), and Todd Klein (letters). It is also Bermejo’s first solo attempt as a writer and artist. As if this first solo project isn’t challenge enough, in this story, he merges Batman with the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. Given Bermejo’s success as artist for the best-seller, Joker, he has “great expectations” to live up to in Batman: Noël! OK, I promise the rest of my review will be free of lame Dickens jokes!

When I first learned that Batman: Noël was based on A Christmas Carol, I was disappointed. The last thing we need is another re-telling of the Dickens story, only with Batman characters simply playing the roles. It would be a shame if some of you choose not to read this graphic novel because of that expectation. It’s wrong. But that is the risk that Bermejo and DC Comics take with the concept.

This story parallels the Dickens story in key areas, but it is not a Christmas story (although it is set on Christmas Eve). It’s more of a twisted bed-time tale narrated by a rough-around-the-edges character we don’t know and aren’t sure we trust.

The desire or ability to change is Batman: Noël’s underlying premise. Before the narrator begins his story, he asks the readers to make him a promise. He says, “…for this story to make sense… for it to mean anything… you have to believe in something. You have to believe people can change.

The story has plenty of deviations from Dickens. For example, this Bob Cratchit is a desperate coward. He acts as if his son is both the reason he lives and works, and the reason his life is so difficult. He curses his son out of frustration. He hides when his son is in real danger, and he fears both the Joker and Batman. Not exactly the lovable Bob Cratchit we’ve come to know and love. Scrooge is also not exactly who we think he is, or who we think he should be.

There are unlikable characters in Batman: Noël, including at times the title character. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens writes about three visitors, the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Bermejo uses that idea to explore Batman’s history and possibly his future. Batman is forced to come to terms with major tragedies of his life, like the brutal murder of his parents and the death of Robin, whose uniform still hangs in the bat cave as an eerie reminder of his death.

As he ages, Batman is forced to come to terms with his legacy. He is shown how far he’s drifted from his birth as a crime fighter, and he must decide if it’s worth a path correction, or if it’s simply too late. One of the interesting departures from Dickens is that in Batman: Noël, it’s never clear if there is a third visitor.

Batman’s condition is so low that the ghost of Christmas future may be nothing more Batman’s haunted alter-ego escorting him to his final resting place. The graphic novel includes guest stars in the roles of ghosts. Thankfully, they serve a purpose. They link to the Bat’s past, who he is, who he is not and may never be.

The trust (or lack of trust) for the narrator adds a layer of interest to the story. I found myself wanting to know more than the narrator’s identity. I wanted to know if I could trust him as the story unfolded. After all, he grew up on Gotham’s bad side, and is an element of his environment.

Speaking of the environment, the setting is deeply dystopian. It is dark, grimy industrial Victorian-looking Gotham City at its darkest and best. Every scene is beautifully drawn and colored. Gotham’s gray buildings and dark city streets remind me of another Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but only in the way Pottersville exists when George Bailey doesn’t.

Except that movie has a perfectly utopian happy ending. Batman graphic novels are much more realistic.

The artwork is incredible. I think the layout, graphics and coloring are so strong that it has a tendency to overpower the story. The story is not weak; the artwork is that impressive. The lettering gives it a children’s story feel, which I think works with the “bed time story” theme. As I said, there are a few nice surprises and deviations from the classic, thankfully. That is necessary, given the well-known story it is based on.

Get to work on your next solo project, Lee! I’m waiting…

_________________________________________

Todd Vinson, contributing columnist for DarkMedia, is an artist, writer, engineer, and mapper of edges! His blog, Mapping the Edge, explores the fringes of creativity. No artistic media is off limits.

Click here to purchase Batman: Noël on Amazon.com, and click here for DarkMedia’s featured interview with the man himself, Lee Bermejo.

(All reviews are the exclusive property of DarkMedia, and its contributors, and may not be reproduced or shared without permission, excepting links to the interview.)

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  1. Thing of the Week (Review of Graphic Novel Batman: Noël) « Mapping the Edge - November 13, 2011

    […] https://darkmediacity.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/a-review-of-batman-noel/ […]

  2. “I want the things I do to feel unique and personal… If people can tell the difference between my interpretation and another’s I feel like I’ve done my job.” -Lee Bermejo | DarkMediaMagazine - November 17, 2011

    […] purchase Batman: Noël on Amazon.com, click here – and click here to read DarkMedia’s official […]

  3. Batman Noël | myFedora's Blog - November 21, 2011

    […] out DC Comics.  For more thorough reviews, check out USA Today, IGN and fellow WordPress blog Dark Media City. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in […]

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