Axel-In-Charge: Unmasking the "Totally Awesome Hulk"
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The big #200 is tomorrow! But don’t count out today’s featured creator, a fantastic artist with an extraordinary style who can’t get work at the Big Two these days! As always, I explore why he’s great and then posit the old doubleyou-tea-eff to America’s leading comics publishers. Join me, won’t you? And maybe we’ll go visit King Friday or something.
199. Norm Breyfogle
Since the topic of Batman came up, I figured it’d be cool to take a look at the other definitive Batman artist for me, and my personal favorite, Norm Breyfogle. He started his comics career in an issue of DC’s New Talent Showcase (which is a great idea and they need to bring something like that back), and quickly transitioned to drawing back-ups for American Flagg!, and front-ups for Whisper (with Steven Grant) and Marvel Fanfare.
Still, it’s Batman he’s best known for. And it’s clear why: no one draws Batman like Norm Breyfogle. His Batman was fluid, mysterious, seemingly able to shift his form, or become a shadow. Under Breyfogle’s pencil, Batman was incredibly agile and deft in combat. Norm gave Batman a vast range of facial expressions and emotions unhindered by the mask. From shock to fear to disgust to fury to his standard grim poker face to the occasional smirk or smile, Batman seemed to use his facial muscles to the max when Breyfogle was drawing him, unlike other artists. The Dark Knight could become a vengeful maelstrom or on the page, or appear as a guy in a cape. Breyfogle used whatever felt natural to the mood of the scene and to the essence of Batman.His art really came alive on newsprint, where the blacks were allowed to seep into the page and accentuate his amazing pencils. Some artists were hindered by paper quality, but not Norm.
With excellent scripts from Alan Grant, Norm drew my favorite Bat-run of them all. And the bizarre cast of characters, freaks, and villains that popped up during their Detective run were gorgeously portrayed! From the limbless hobo “Legs” to Scarface, the Ventriloquist, Anarky (boy, I love Anarky– he needs to appear more), Ratcatcher, the Clayfaces, Cornelius Stirk, and more, and have each one look unique and interesting. My favorite Grant/Breyfogle creation is most definitely Mr. Zsasz, the lunatic who scars a tally mark into his body with each kill. Breyfogle gave him wild, unnatural eyes, pointed knives with small circles of psychosis as pupils. A truly frightening depiction. I love it.
His layouts were fantastic as well, defying conventions of panel borders and finding new ways to frame images. I’ll let the pages speak for themselves, however. Click to enlarge:
Only Breyfogle could take what amounts to an twelve panel page and put it together like this. It’s fascinating work– this is one of my favorite pages of his.
Remember what I said about Batman transforming on the page? There it is.
Wonderful combat and emotion– Breyfogle strengths.
Batman + Breyfogle = Greatness.
By the mid-90s, Norm was off the Batbooks, and onto creating other series, like Malibu’s Prime and Metaphysique, a book he created, wrote, and drew. He’d return to DC for a couple more Batman comics and a short-lived Anarky ongoing with Alan Grant. Then he skipped to Marvel for a few projects, and back to DC to draw the Spectre for a bit, though. His most recent work was seen at the defunct Speakeasy, drawing Of Bitter Souls. His art is still great.
I’ve read, uh, somewhere, that DC and Marvel won’t hire him back, however, because they’d have to pay him too much! And when offering to drop his page rate for them, they refuse. It sounds crazy. Maybe it is. I would love to see Norm back at the Big Two and drawing some cool comics again. Of course, I love seeing his work anywhere, so I shan’t complain! (He would totally draw a great Martian Manhunter, though. Really.)
I know I focused primarily on his Bat-work here, but trust me, the rest is great too. Don’t believe me? Hit up the links!
My life is now complete for having seen this.
Be here tomorrow for the 200th episode extravaganza, in which I tell you about the greatest comics character ever created. In my humble opinion, of course.
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