Year of the Artist, Day 14: Mike Mignola, Part 4 – Gotham by Gaslight
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Mike Mignola, and the issue is Gotham by Gaslight, which was published by DC and is cover dated February 1989. Enjoy!
Someone at DC (Mark Waid, who edited this?) must have liked Mignola’s depiction of Batman, because they grabbed him to illustrate the very first “Elseworlds” story, so brand-new it wasn’t even labeled as an Elseworlds story (that would have to wait until Holy Terror, which came out two years later). For the low, low price of $3.95, you could get Batman versus Jack the Ripper, a story really begging to be told. This was the first time I had ever seen Mignola’s interior work (he did draw the cover of the first comic I ever bought, though!), and it blew me away. So what was I doing not getting Hellboy five years later? Beats me. It was 1994, and I didn’t pre-order books. Maybe I just missed it because I was too busy reading the Phalanx Covenant. That shit was tight!
Brian Augustyn’s story is pretty cool, although this might be one of the first instances where we see that everything in the known universe can be connected to Bruce Wayne in some way, a trend I don’t love. Mignola drew this, with P. Craig Russell (?!?!?) on inks and David Hornung on colors. If you don’t recognize John Workman’s letters by now, you shouldn’t be reading a comic book blog. Sheesh, people. But let’s check this sucker out!
Augustyn gets the Wayne death scene out of the way quickly, as he shows it on the first two pages. Let’s check out the second of those pages:
We see the influence of Russell’s thinner line on Mignola’s thick pencils, as no faces in this book are as dark and chunky as some of them were in Cosmic Odyssey (which, as we saw, wasn’t Mignola on inks, but Carlos Garzon). The anger lines on Thomas Wayne are thinner, while the darkness around the gunman’s eyes isn’t as thick as we might expect from Mignola. Obviously, Mignola is using even more blacks as he continues to move in that direction, so we get that scary panel of Bruce’s silhouette about to get a bullet and, of course, the bats. Mignola, again, understands how to make horror effective, which is by not focusing on it so clearly, so this page works as a series of jump cuts between Thomas, Martha, and the gunman, until the bats swarm. Note the somewhat sloppy hatching on this page. I wonder if Mignola and Russell did that because it’s a memory and so it’s a bit unclear. It’s not characteristic of the rest of the art in the book, so I have to think it’s deliberate.
I don’t know if DC editors knew about Mignola’s love of a High Victorian Era aesthetic in 1988, but if they didn’t, this book must have just been serendipitous (or maybe it sparked his love of a High Victorian Era aesthetic?). Either way, he gets to draw a nice Wayne Manor, which is full of classical sculptures and not much else, it appears. Bruce wears the high collar of the late Victorian Era, with a cravat and nice waistcoat, while Alfred wears a white bow tie. This is the first time we see the Batman outfit, and while we don’t see the differences from the modern costume, it still looks menacing. The Victorian folk were fond of black, of course, which fits in well with Mignola’s preferences. He and Russell drench the page in black, which makes Wayne Manor, even during the day, far less comforting than we might think. Even if Bruce hasn’t lived in it years, you’d think Alfred would open the curtains every once in a while. Note, too, that even as Mignola slowly becomes more abstract, he still draws faces very carefully. That, of course, would change.
Batman makes his entrance, and it’s pretty cool. As is becoming customary with Mignola, we get a silhouette of Batman etched with just the smallest bit of blue to give him a bit of definition. In Panel 1, the bad guys are also darkened – we don’t see the faces of the two on the left. This is a fairly common artistic trick today, but outside of Keith Giffen comics, I don’t know how common it was 25 years ago. Mignola continues the motif in the final panel, where the bad guy and the cabinet into which Batman chucks him are mostly black. Hornung uses yellow as the dominant color on this page, based on the light from the gaslight, but I wonder if it’s a subtle hint about Batman’s yellow oval, which is absent from this book. It makes the small amount of blue in Batman’s costume stand out quite well, and it works very well in that final panel, giving us just enough light to show the violent meeting of bad guy and cabinet. I don’t know if Hornung used computer coloring on this – it might be too early for that – but the coloring on Panel 1 is a bit messed up. Hornung wants to make the glass shards stand out in the inky blackness of the window, but he has to patch black with yellow lines over Mignola/Russell’s darker inks, and it makes Batman’s entrance look a bit sillier than it should. It probably would have been more effective to simply let Batman in the window remain black with the dark blue behind him and keep the shards on the outside of the window border, but that’s the way it is!
More black from Mignola, as we get a good look at nighttime Gotham. The use of the newspapers is a cliché, but that’s because it’s effective, and Mignola’s drawings are the kinds of things you’d see when people are terrified and trying to describe what they’ve seen. We get a good look at Batman’s mask in Panel 1, and it’s a good look, because it definitely seems like something a person would be able to put together in 1889. Mainly, I want to point out the lazy smoke rising above the city and the scraps of trash floating along on the breeze. While these two things are what you’d expect to see in a city, the fact that Mignola would use these clichés to such good effect in his later artwork is pretty keen, because in this book, he’s just messing around with them a bit.
More impressive storytelling from Mignola. Despite the blackness, we see Batman on the left of Panel 1, leading us to the word balloon as the Ripper’s latest victim screams, and then everything pushing us from left to right in Panel 2. Panel 3 shows us the victim’s eyes, and this is one of those panels that makes it clear why Mignola began liking black so much. When he needs to show something dramatic, it really pops out from the inky darkness around it, and the woman’s eyes in that panel are amazing. Interestingly enough, on the page this looks darker than on the computer (a problem comics still haven’t solved), so the following panel is difficult to discern, but it’s still effective when you see the silhouette of Batman leaping to the rescue. In Panel 5, we get another good drawing, as Hornung’s bright red blood stands out very well against the silhouette of the Ripper. This makes the link between the Ripper and his victim, seen in Panel 7, more obvious and horrifying. The blackness of the panel with the victim makes her eyes, which were alive but scared in Panel 3, pop as well, and we see that the life has left them. Mignola’s use of black pays dividends, as this page is far scarier than if he drew in more details. We also see his somewhat thick Batman. This is an unusual tic in his drawing – Batman often seems a bit fatter than we’d expect. It’s weird.
After being sent to prison for being the Ripper, Bruce figures it all out, escapes from prison, and tracks the bad guy down. Then we get a superbly staged chase, which ends with Batman chasing down the Ripper on this motherfucking horse. This is one of the most epic drawings of Batman ever, and because it’s Mignola, we don’t even get to see a lot of Batman! But just soak that in – in Panel 2, he again drenches the Ripper’s face in black (this time it’s because he wants to keep his identity secret), but he makes the teeth white, just indicating enough of the Ripper’s rage and madness. In the final panel, we get the moon anchoring the drawing, linking the Ripper to Batman, as the whip and the hat frame it on one side, while the branches of the trees frame it on the other. Throughout this chase, Mignola has been showing bits and pieces of the Ripper getting more and more desperate, so even though we don’t see his face, the fact that he turns his head and his hat flies off is enough for us to know how terrified he now is. We don’t need to see the characters’ faces to know what they look like. Hornung doesn’t get a lot of chances to show off with his colors in this book, but he smudges the browns in the lower right to imply the earth getting kicked up in a frenzy. It’s a nice touch.
Gotham by Gaslight is another nice step on the way toward the Mignola we all know and love now. It’s also a very good read. What will we see tomorrow? You might think you know, but maybe you don’t! It’s so exciting! It’s our final day of Mignola, so you can probably guess that it’s “Mature Mignola,” but what will it be? Can you find a clue in the archives? Probably not, but that shouldn’t stop you from checking them out!