Batman: Black and White vol. 5 (#4) – Various

4 out of 5

I was just remarking on the novelty of Detective Comics #1027 being published in prestige format, and then here we are, the newest volume of Batman: Black and White going prestige as well. I get it, DC: ya classy.

…And following up on my praise of that issue, I might have some similar things to say about this one, which once again rolls out top class talent, producing top-tier work. However, reflecting on how consistently the Bats: B&W series has published such quality stuff, maybe it’s more astounding that these artists and writers aren’t the exceptions, but the rule: there are a lot of impressive folk working for the Big Two.

That said, this issue isn’t quite as good as the Detective Comics celebration, but it’s surely plenty of fun. The length of each story is a bit shorter, which I do think prevents the average tale from having the room to be as bold as Detective’s offerings, but I would also voice my kinda sorta nit with the B&W series, as its progressed: that often, these are just short Batman tales that happen to be in black and white. Very good tales, but the strong visual aesthetic and noir-ish sensibilities that guided some of the earlier entries have faded away somewhat. Perhaps inevitable, with the series becoming more regular and less of an event, but still, it lends the thought to a couple tales here that, like, they probably would be better with color.

Narratively, the book wins out, with 3 out of the 5 stories being really strong, and the other 2 surely entertaining, with a special shoutout to Daniel Warren Johnson for winding the black and white concept into the story itself, figuring his piece around a chessboard. However, his is one of the stories that – perhaps ironically, in his case – seems like it doesn’t necessarily do anything special with the duo-color format. (DWJ’s tale would’ve leant itself to using the chessboard theme visually, but maybe he felt that was too obvious – or maybe it’s actually employed, but in a way I’m not picking it up.) Following on that, despite how amazing Riley Rossmo’s and Nick Bradshaw’s art individually is, their stories (written by Joshua Williamson and Chip Zdarsky, respectively) also don’t really “work” any differently in black and white. But Karl Kerschel’s written / drawn effort is gorgeous, and Beckly Cloonan’s delivers a very solid, “canonical” story, with the Dodsons perfectly suiting their work to the format.

But I’m nitpicking, because, again, these are all top stars, doing some jaw-dropping things. I might be knocking Rossmo, for example, but christ, Riley’s work is unmatched; and Bradshaw’s is super dense and exciting; and Johnson’s energy can’t be beat.