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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 242: Batman: The Abduction

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be looking at four writer/artist duos, as voted on by you, the readers! This week features Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle! Today’s page is from Batman: The Abduction, which was published by DC and is cover dated 1998. Enjoy!

DC used to publish these very nice “deluxe” editions of things that weren’t quite graphic novels but weren’t quite regular single issues. They did it a lot with Batman (I know, because I own a lot of them) and Superman (I own fewer of these, but still some of them), probably because those dudes are, you know, Batman and Superman. And so we got this oddity from Grant and Breyfogle, in which Batman gets abducted by aliens and Alfred, despite knowing that hundreds of alien exist and interact with Earthlings, doubts him. Go screw, Alfred! Obviously, Grant is trying to tell an alien abduction story in a universe where an alien abduction story wouldn’t make sense, so he handwaves away any connection to the vast number of aliens that Bruce Wayne knows personally and concentrates on other things. But that doesn’t mean we can’t check out the first page of this comic!

Grant gives us some purple prose to start the story off, with his repetition of “midnight” and his move from location (“the wooded hills outside Gotham City”) to the more abstract. It’s a portentous beginning, to be sure, and sets the mood fairly well. All we really need to know is the time of day and where we are, and then Grant can lead into the freaky stuff that’s about to happen.

I picked this page partly because it shows, once again, the influence inkers and colorists can have on penciled work. On a superficial level, Breyfogle’s pencils look like Breyfogle’s pencils – the bats above the inset panel are clearly Breyfoglian, and Batman resembles the Breyfogle Batman. The Batmobile is very much like other Breyfogle Batmobile designs, and the integration of the sound effect is also similar to what we’ve seen before. The page layout is well done – the top two caption boxes lead us to the inset panel, where we get a look at a grim and grizzled Batman. He’s not beneath the Batmobile on the page, so our eye moves easily back to the larger panel, where we can check out the Batmobile and follow the sound effect down to the car Batman is pursuing. As we follow the “Roar,” we see the final caption box, so we’re all caught up. The design works to get us to account for all the information on the page.

Notice, though, the influence of inker James A. Hodgkins and colorist Bleyaert Ro Hannin. It’s first evident in the inset panel, where we see a Batman that is far rougher than Breyfogle usually draws him. The scruff on the chin is one thing, but we also get the furrowed brow and the hatching across his cowl. Breyfogle usually doesn’t do that, so I have to believe it’s Hodgkins adding it. Note, too, the stippling in the glow cast by the Batmobile’s headlights. This is another unusual feature of Breyfogle’s art, and again, I wonder if it was Hodgkins’ idea. Hannin makes Breyfogle’s lines softer – in the inset panel, the black overwhelms some of the holding lines, which is unusual in a Breyfogle-drawn comic – and drenches the page in black to make the mood far more noir than we usually get with Breyfogle’s work. Notice the way Hannin uses the colors on the lead car to indicate a bit of wear – the blacks don’t have clear-cut borders; they simply peter out in places, and the small bits of red are jagged and harsh. A lot of this book features much more “realistic” art from Breyfogle, especially in the faces. The unmasked Bruce Wayne, Alfred, and others are given much more definition by Hodgkins and Hannin, which is an interesting look but clashes a bit with the “Breyfogle look,” which tends to be a bit more abstract. It’s a weird comic, art-wise, because these two forces are pulling in opposite directions, and it doesn’t always work.

It’s still fascinating to compare this to other Breyfogle comics. I imagine the nicer paper and higher price tag meant that DC felt the book had to look more, I don’t know, “concrete”? Maybe Breyfogle wanted to work with people who he knew would challenge him? It’s an odd little experiment, and it shows, again, how different art can look based on the inks and colors even if the same person is laying down the foundation.

Tomorrow, Grant and Breyfogle return to one of the characters they created in their long Batman run. You know which comic I’m talking about! But which issue will it be? Don’t look for any clues in the archives!

11 Comments

Yeah, this was written as if it was supposed to be in continuity, but also written as if the existence of aliens accepted on the DC Earth as much as it is accepted on our Earth. You know, despite the fact that all the doubters in the story personally know aliens, and the most famous superhero in the world is an alien, and their world has been attacked by aliens dozens, if not hundreds, of times. A typical alien abduction story just doesn’t work with Batman, unless you set him in a universe where there hasn’t been any contact with aliens. Which takes out a ton of the other heroes and villains. Which at that point you might as well just not make it a Batman comic.

Man, you own a lot of comics with a “portentous beginning”. Or else you just use the phrase a lot :)

Is the inker James Hodgkins here the man now signing his work as Jimmy Broxton, who worked with Paul Cornell on Knight and Squire and the most recent issue of Saucer Country? I know I heard that that artist is using a new name, but I can’t remember for sure if it’s Hodgkins that is/was him.

“Midnight. When the kitties are sleeping.”

Travis: Nope, it’s just that so many beginnings ARE portentous!!!!! Don’t you sass at me, sir. I’m posting every day for a year, and I ran out of adjectives in the middle of February!

I’m almost positive that’s Jimmy Broxton, yes. Unless there were two James Hodgkinses working in comics, but what are the odds of that?

My kitties sleep all day so they can wander around getting into trouble at midnight!

I just couldn’t remember for sure if it was Hodgkins that was the one that did the name change or if it was some other name I wasn’t remembering right. Guess I wuz right!

Greg Burgas: His Thesaurus stops at P!

Do those cats wander around at midnight now and forever?

No, wait, I can make that one joke better.

Greg Burgas: He only gets up to P in his thesaurus!

Carry on.

I LOVEDLOVEDLOVED all those prestige format specials Dc used to give us regularly. Still have all of the Batman ones, and a nice sampling of the rest. In the early ’90s, some of the Batman and superman ones even got some newsstand distribution, so I got to pick those up at a slightly reduced price at stores like Walmart.

I remembered this being an Elseworlds story, but i took it off the shelf and checked, and it’s not. So many of those specials were Elseworlds, I guess I just assumed this one was as well, since everyone in it was agnostic about alien life. I do remember not being 100% happy with the art; we weren’t getting much Breayfogle Batman at that point, and this felt like a bit of a missed opportunity since he wasn’t paired with a more compatible inker, or inking his own pencils. Still a nice-looking book, though. I enjoyed it and its follow-up, “Dreamland,” well enough.

Wonder why this one wasn’t labeled an Elseworlds. Had the label become a sales anathema to DC by that point?

There’s a lot of great Elseworlds out there–the 1995 Annuals included–but the label became so overused as so much product was churned out that eventually you stopped taking it seriously.

Huh, never heard of this one.

DC should just maintain a side continuity for Batman wherein he is the only superhero, but otherwise everything in Gotham is exactly the same. Just so they can tell stories like this without everyone going “hey, wait a minute…”

Greg, would you happen to have a complete checklist of all the Batman comics that Grant and Breyfogle produced together? I have a large chunk, but between all of the title swapping and one-shots I’m sure I’ve missed a bunch and a list would help me out considerably when I decide to track ‘em down.

Chris M.: I don’t know if you’re still checking this thread; I missed your comment so I didn’t respond, sorry! I don’t actually have a checklist, mainly because I own so many of their comics. They did Detective together for #583-594 and #601-621 (I think that was the last one; it may have been #622); Batman from #458 to #476 with, I think, three issues missing (in the early #470s or late #460s); Shadow of the Bat #1-5 and #13; The Abduction and Dreamland, two prestige format books, and the DC Retroactive book from 2011. I think that’s it. I’m completely sure of the first batch and when they returned to Detective, but not when they finished; I’m completely sure of #458 as their first issue of Batman; and I’m completely sure about the Shadow of the Bat and the three one-shots. I’d check out the Grand Comics Database to see if #621 or 622 was their last issue of Detective and to see when they ended their run on Batman and which three issues in the middle (the covers aren’t by Breyfogle, so they’re not hard to miss) they didn’t do. I hope this helps, if you’re still reading!

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