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Year of the Artist, Day 153: Chris Burnham, Part 5 – Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes!

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Chris Burnham, and the issue is Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! (which should have been issue #10), which was published by DC and is cover dated February 2012. Enjoy!

Burnham’s work with Grant Morrison on Batman Incorporated is tremendous, and it was hard finding a good issue to spotlight. I thought about cheating and doing a bunch, but in the end I settled on issue #10, which finishes up one phase of the book and introduces the end game portion, which, unfortunately, wasn’t as good as this part (I just don’t buy Talia being as crazy as she is, and I don’t think Morrison did a good enough job explaining it). Burnham’s work is great throughout the run, and in this issue, he does some nifty things. So let’s see what we see!

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Burnham’s design work has become very impressive over the course of his career, especially once he started working on Batman Inc. We’ll see that more below, but this page shows some hints of it. Otto Netz’s “parlor” is a madhouse creation, with the zig-zagging lines on the walls disorienting our poor Dark Knight and the giant eye within the web dominating the room. Otto’s weird spider vehicle is an interesting touch – it’s steampunk without being too obvious about it, as it’s a futuristic (as opposed to retro-futuristic, like most steampunk) contraption, but it’s spewing black gouts of smoke into the sleek, clean atmosphere of the control room. Nathan Fairbairn colored this comic, and he’s a good choice, as he doesn’t layer thick, “realistic” colors onto the finished line work, preferring instead to keep it simple and bold, which helps the tone of the fantastic that permeates this part of Morrison’s Batman run. We’ll see more interesting coloring below.

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Burnham is going “full Steranko” on this page, and it’s pretty keen. Along the left side, there’s a Warhol-esque pop art column of Batman, with different coloring choices making him appear differently in each panel. The central image on the page, showing Batman experiencing time as a recursive loop, is tremendous, as Otto is talking to him from different time periods, it seems (and, of course, it’s not even Otto). Burnham shows Batman approaching the control room and leaving it over and over, and notice that in the two times (as in “what time is it?”) we can see, the one in the panel that ostensibly takes place “after” the outer panel has a higher count, and since it’s a countdown, that makes no sense. But that’s what’s great about this page! The choice of Burnham to use zig-zags on the walls makes the background even crazier, as it clashes against itself, and his use of circles throughout this page also ties into the “ouroboros” motif of Leviathan. It’s not exactly subtle, but it’s wildly effective.

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This is a nice change of style, as Burnham goes a bit simplistic, using hard lines with very little hatching, except a bit on Batman, showing that he’s still “real.” He even simplifies Otto’s control room in the final panel, using basic shapes to remind us of the more complex drawings from previous pages. I assume Burnham drew the TV show-style sound effects, which fits in well with the more basic design of the page. Fairbairn does a nice job on the page – the red and purple in the first panel helps make Batman and the dummy pop a bit more, while the final panel relies on Fairbairn’s bright colors to make an impression. It continues the strange pop-art theme that Morrison and Burnham are going for in some of this issue, as well as the fact that Leviathan is trying to mess with our hero’s mind.

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One thing Burnham did in Batman Inc. was use a thinner inking line, which changed as shit got worse in Gotham toward the end of the run (which, I must say, I’m not sure was intentional or a function of him not being able to keep up a monthly book). I enjoyed the fact that he seemed to do different things with the inking based on what was happening on the page, so I like to think it was deliberate. Here we see a bit of that, as Batman checks out “Otto” before El Gaucho bashes him from behind. The skeleton is a bit roughly inked, showing its decrepitude, while Batman is sleeker. In the bottom row, we see that Otto’s control room really isn’t the sleek, pop-art masterpiece that Burnham has been drawing, but a wrecked, dirty, and sad place. Burnham contrasts it with earlier portrayals by adding more hatching and making everything slightly more jagged. The middle panel, where El Gaucho jumps Batman, shows that Burnham is inking things differently based on what’s happening. It’s a quick, violent scene, so he uses long, thin lines bursting outward from the point of impact, which not only creates a sense of the blow but also blurs El Gaucho, so it appears he’s approaching at such a great speed that Batman can’t react. Fairbairn, meanwhile, colors it completely differently than everything around it, making it stand out even more. It’s thought out well.

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So, in the upper left corner, that exploding satellite is supposed to seal the fate of the Outsiders, including Looker. I refuse to believe it. LA-LA-LA-LA-LA I’m not listening to those who say Looker was killed in that explosion LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!!! (I know DC put out a DCnU comic featuring Looker. We shall not speak of that comic. EVER.)

Anyway, this is another cool design. Barbara Gordon goes on-line, and the scene gets all cyber-spacey, with a nice Q*bert stack behind her and the grid showing the (sigh) exploding satellite up in the corner, sectioning it off from the rest of the scene. Oracle’s costume design, especially in the crotch, is a tad unfortunate, but she still looks pretty danged cool. Fairbairn’s colors, again, make the page pop, as he makes Oracle’s costume glow nicely – not too much, in other words – and the red of the background contrasts well with the blue of the ocean in the bottom of the page. Fairbairn doesn’t waste time with nuance – this is Batman saving the day (well, at least he thinks he is), so it’s time to go bold!

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Here’s more nice design work, with the numbers creating a curve up to infinity as Otto stands triumphantly over Batman and El Gaucho bleeds out. Burnham inks things a bit more roughly here, with Batman’s cape full of thick black folds, and Otto looking more desiccated than before. Burnham uses blacks well in that final panel, as he focuses all our attention on Otto’s vile face. Fairbairn, once again, does nice work, with the bright red of El Gaucho’s blood bringing home the horror of his wound and the cool blue of Otto making him more villainous. Batman is the dully colored hero in the center of the madness, which is fitting, as he’s the one to restore sanity. But can he?!?!?

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Looker Looker Looker Looker Looker Looker Looker. Sorry, I just like Looker.

So that’s Chris Burnham, who’s now working on a new book with Morrison that I cannot wait to see (I sure hope it’s better than Happy!). Burnham is a tremendous artist, and as we can see, it appears he’s always getting better. That’s always cool!

Tomorrow I’ll fire up a new artist. Don’t you wish you knew who it is? You won’t find any clues in the archives, but that shouldn’t deter you from taking a look!

8 Comments

tom fitzpatrick

June 2, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Does your wife know that you’re fantasizing about Looker?
You sick pervert – she’s a comic book character!!! ;-)

Woo-hoo! Always glad to see somebody bag on ‘Happy.’

Travis Pelkie

June 3, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Sweet jesus, those National Comics one shots were terrible. The Looker one was probably the best of the bunch (maybe the [kid] Eternity one was ok), and even that was crap.

Yeah, this issue was so fucking cool. First we got Stewart doing that amazing girls school issue, and then Burnham goes all Steranko on us. I think I’m still confused by what was going on, however, but damn, it looks cool!

I think it’s a bit of a dick move that for the Inc. v2 omni, Burnham’s going back and drawing the pages he couldn’t be bothered with the first time around. (Oh, I mean the pages he didn’t have time to do, ahem ahem ahem)

Travis: The new Burnham pages does bug me. It’s not like there were a lot in each issue, and the book wasn’t that tied to new DC continuity, so it could have been a bit late. It wouldn’t have killed anyone.

Yeah, we must never speak of National Comics.

Imraith Nimphais

June 5, 2014 at 8:53 am

It’s very, very subtle but I am getting a Quitely-esquness about his work. That’s certainly not a bad thing as I do like Quitely a lot.

Imraith: I get that too, and while I’m pretty sure it’s not why DC wanted him on the book, it might have a little to do with it.

I wasn’t familiar with Burnham before this, so I assumed it was editorial, but looking at what you’ve posted so far, he obviously has the chops for it. I wonder how we’d view his work if he’d started things out and Quitely followed him?

Man, between Burnham, Quitely and Williams, DC does have (or has had) some really creative artists in their stable. Who does Marvel currently have that would be the equivalent? Forgive my ignorance, but Steranko and Sienkiewicz aren’t doing anything for Marvel anymore are they?

joshschr: The problem with DC is that they don’t really let the artists work in their own style, which is why Quitely and Burnham are doing things for Image these days and Williams is doing a Vertigo book. Marvel has quite a lot of good artists – perhaps only David Aja and maybe Javier Pulido are as creative as those three, but Marvel does let the artists do their thing, which is nice.

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