Old Comics Wednesday: Grant y Alcatena’s BATMAN DE ARKHAM

The Devil take your precious “Batman vs. Bane with Anne Hathaway in skintight fetish gear” summer blockbuster, I’d rather work on my Spanish reading comprehension and look at more of Enrique Alcatena’s lovely artwork.

I like how he draws Batman — it takes extra time and skill to draw a superhero costume with a coherent drapery/fold theory, which is probably why we rarely see this look in the rank & file comics, populated by essentially naked heroes with painted-on costumes.

Nice touch to draw the Scarecrow’s shadow following Dr. Crane around, although it loses its effect every time it’s reused in his scenes.

It’s probably not the best of Quique’s DC Elseworlds one-shots — that would probably be the “Captain Leatherwing” Batman-As-Pirate comic, shark-punching and all — but it’s so satisfying to see the original, long-eared, black-cowl look of the character and to note how Alcatena adjusted his style to accommodate color in the last or next-to-last of the comics he drew for the company. He essentially didn’t, thus making pages that would read just as well in B&W as in color, aside from the occasional colorist effect.

¡Buenos Dias, Comisionado!

Alan Grant’s plot is efficient, or maybe sufficient — this comic doesn’t really have a story to tell as much as it has reasons for Quique to draw the villains and Batman doing cool things. Bruce Wayne is the psychiatrist in charge of Arkham Asylum as it opens in the early 1900s. But he’s also Batman, beating the crap out of his rogues gallery on the streets at night and then treating their psychoses at the Asylum by day with a compassion a few decades ahead of where psychiatry was at that time.

So, plot: Batman meets, beats and/or treats his rogues, then the Joker sprays him with crazymaking gas, then he’s sent to Arkham. He recovers and escapes, then beats up Joker and takes back control of the Asylum. The end.

[A brief aside about Batman and The Dark Knight Rises: I'm truly baffled how anyone gets excited to see a nearly three-hour movie about a traumatized billionaire-heir growing up to be a physically and intellectually perfect man, who then spends the bulk of his time dressed like a bat beating up criminals .... in a gritty, almost documentary-realist style. I don't understand how these "Grim & Gritty/Death To Adam West" Batfans can be so selective in their suspension of disbelief -- in the real world, there's no way Bruce Wayne even reaches the Batman stage of his origin story: If a Bill and Melinda Gates-level couple were murdered in front of their only son, that kid would receive megaloads of therapy surrounded by a platoon of support staff and, if the clichés of child-star life are accurate, probably wouldn't have reached 18 with enough of the Wayne family fortune intact to fund being Batman. I was going to add that the paparazzi and tabloid media would probably follow the kid everywhere, making his globe-trotting training montage impossible -- but then I realized not every son of a murdered parent gets the JFK Jr. treatment. With O.J. in prison, I wonder if Justin Ryan Simpson has been secreting training to go out and avenge his mother's murder by finding her killer, wink wink. Anyway, I really don't get why people want their Batman movies to be slow, dark angstfests that clock in with Oscar-winning-foreign-film runtimes -- the average adult probably has enough leisure time that s/he could watch a Batman movie and an epic-length movie specifically made for adults, instead of the two being mashed into each other, mayostard style. Is it possible that so many supercomics filmmakers really don't understand that Paul Verhoeven was being tongue-in-cheek when he presented Robocop-As-Christ?]

Like his other work, Quique doesn’t use straight six/eight/nine-panel grids in his layouts, focusing on the page as an organic single unit, usually with the background on the margins of his panels relating to a character or the action in the panels, giving the page a wonderful unity that works as metaphor, mise-en-scène and or as a design element. It feels old-fashioned — like the illustrations at the borders of some silent-film intertitles — with the a freshness and a sense of depth you don’t expect from a comic book like this. I don’t know if the panel designs themselves add anything to the overall work — perhaps Quique meant them as visual kicks for the duller pages — but they don’t startle the way they do in his otherworldly fantasies.

The sole harlequin holding up the frame of panels in the above page amazed me — so neatly done but so easy to miss while reading the page; such delicate, precise work for what’s basically a decorative throwaway.

Quique’s Joker is a bit of a mess compared to his Batman; as well executed as it is, it looks like any Joker from the ’70s to the ’90s. Nice gas effect in Noelle Giddings’ coloring, although hiding behind the water tank should only be effective if Batman was just kicked by a horse or something. Why wait until he reaches the top of the ladder if you’re just going to sucker-gas him anyway?

Few things make me laugh as consistently as pictures of Batman laughing. ALWAYS LOL FUNNY. Having incapacitated him with the laughing/crazy gas, Joke lights a bomb and tosses it down a chimney; above, Batman barely escapes intact. It’s an admirable touch that Grant & Quique don’t show the building exploding — panel two says he hears the sound of the explosion from where he is on the ground — drawings of explosions are never particularly impressive, after all.

Again, some nicely subtle coloring effects here. The boy wonder visits post-gassing Bruce in his rubber room, where he hallucinates and makes short but sarcastic remarks.

If you don’t laugh at images of Batman laughing like I do, we can still be friends, but not if you don’t like pages of Batman yelling “Die, Maniac! Die!” to Joker while he burns to death in an old-timey hot-air balloon. The last panel is a great drawing of Batman, although it’s pretty funny to imagine him taking a long moment to “remember the smiling faces of the clowns and the puzzle I have tried to solve all my life: Why do men kill other men?”

So, Batman saves the Joker from his fiery death — he doesn’t even look singed — and vows to cure his madness, even if it takes the rest of his life. Hippocratic Oath, y’all. Only, that’s a pretty disturbed look from Dr. Wayne in the last panel, isn’t it? HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHA indeed.

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  1. [...] Last week’s Alcatena post led to a nice discussion of fold theory, during we encountered this handy tutorial from the Famous Artists School. [...]

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