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Year of the Artist, Day 229: Norm Breyfogle, Part 3 – So much BATMAN!!!!

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Norm Breyfogle, and the issues are … well, there’s just so much Batman, I actually separated the post into four parts, just like Our Dread Lord and Master does with Comic Book Legends! Up first: Detective Comics #607, which was published by DC and is cover dated October 1989. Enjoy all the comics!

Breyfogle drew one issue of Detective Comics when Mike W. Barr was writing it, but then, when Alan Grant (and John Wagner, sort of) started writing it, he became the regular penciler and they turned in an amazing run stretching across three titles. You could hang them all on the wall, throw a dart blindfolded, and find a cool one to feature, but long-time readers will know why I chose issue #607, the final part of the four-part “Mudpack” story arc. One word: LOOKER!!!!!

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The “Mudpack” (a collection of Clayfaces from DC’s history, with Basil Karlo, the original one, as the ringleader) has messed with Batman’s mind (the female Clayface can change shape, and she looked like Robin for a bit, and then she invaded Batman’s mind … look, it’s comics, all right – these things happen!), and everyone’s favorite, Lia Briggs, has to rescue him. BECAUSE LOOKER IS AWESOME. So she goes into Batman’s head and gets. shit. done. I love the first view we get of yonder Dark Knight – Breyfogle was brilliant at giving Batman a lot of expressions, and his distress here is obvious. The wide eyes and the clenched jaw is wonderful, and who doesn’t love drool? Steve Mitchell inked this, and I wonder how much of the detail is his – Batman’s extremely furrowed brow helps sell his anguish, and the sunburst halo behind his head is nicely done by either Breyfogle, Mitchell, or even Adrienne Roy, who colored this. The hatching on Batman’s face in the final corner of the first page is harsh, which again reflects his torturous mind. I imagine Breyfogle cackling ghoulishly and telling Mitchell and Roy to just put in some weird synapses on the first page on the top of the second page, because the pencil work seems a bit light while the inking and coloring is definitely heavier. Breyfogle wouldn’t be that evil, would he?

On the second page, Looker sees Batman fighting his demons, and we get another tremendous sequence. Breyfogle started drawing monsters much better, and it’s strange that no one ever tried to get him to draw a horror comic. The spot blacks on the monsters in the third “panel,” combined with their large, creepy eyes, make the rest of their details almost incidental. Mitchell’s inks on Batman’s cape are again rough as he wraps it around him, and the heavier lines are a nice contrast to Looker’s power, which lights up the bad guys in “Panel 4,” where Breyfogle/Mitchell use much lighter lines, as we see on the Ventriloquist and Scarface. The page design is nicely done, too, from the negative space in Panel 1 to the way Breyfogle puts Looker on the left side and then begins to rotate around Batman until he’s in the lower right foreground. Then we get the third page, where Lia manages to break Batman out of his cage. Breyfogle and Mitchell do a wonderful job with him in the upper right, showing a stereotypical Batman who is as hard as stone, something Grant and Breyfogle worked to turn around during their run. As Looker’s power works on Bats, we get another very nice expression, “Mystified Batman,” as he comes out of his trance. Breyfogle crooks his mouth a bit as he wonders what the heck happened to him, and his wide, blank eyes might as well be Little Orphan Annie’s. I also love the fact that Breyfogle draws him rubbing his eyes – it’s such a human moment from Batman, and it’s one of those small things that makes this run so excellent.

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One thing Grant did a bit more of than other writers (although not as much as this reader would like!) is highlight the fact that Batman is, in fact, a detective, and Breyfogle does a nice job here showing him actually investigating. Just the fact that he packs so much into about half of the page is nice, as Bats reads fingerprints, analyzes champagne, and checks out stuff on the floor. Despite Lia being well in the background in that final panel, Breyfogle draws a good wry face on her when she asks Batman what the verdict is (she is, obviously, unaware that Batman actually met Sherlock Holmes only a few years before this issue came out!). As usual, Breyfogle does nice work with the many faces of Batman, from the wine connoisseur look in Panel 2 to taste-testing Batman in the upper right to “I found some goop” Batman at the bottom of that stack. Breyfogle moves us around the sequence well, too.

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Breyfogle’s Batman cape, while not quite as insane as Todd McFarlane’s, is still very stylish, and we see that here in Panel 4, especially. Breyfogle, a bit like McFarlane, makes it seem a bit stiffer than a usual cape would be, but he doesn’t go quite as far as McFarlane, so there’s usually a good sense of movement to the cape, as well. In Panel 4, it sweeps Batman away, as the left side swooshes up like a wave, peaking at his shoulder, and then the right side looks like the wave breaking, which makes the motion of the entire thing seem to pick our hero up and whisk him out the door. It’s very nicely done. Mitchell, I guess, was working overtime on this page, as Basil and the doctor are heavily inked in Panel 2, as they’re in semi-darkness, and once Batman realizes that Dr. Lowell isn’t alone, we get Panel 6, where we get a nice Breyfoglian grimace and a heavily inked Bat-rope spin. The bottom row is designed well – in the very upper left, we see the two silhouettes illuminated by a red moon (???), and the “research” sign leads us down to Bats, who happens to turn at that moment and see that Lowell was lying. He’s going against the grain in Panel 6, but the design of the panel and the fact that Breyfogle pushes Batman to the right while his rope is on the left means that we don’t get caught up and we move easily to the next page. As I noted, Breyfogle often had to get quite a bit into these stories (this four-parter is an anomaly; Grant wrote many one- and two-issue stories in this run), so the page designs are often crucial.

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Basil Karlo turns into a Super-Clayface, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. But he has some fun with it, as we see here. Again, Breyfogle uses the page layout to increase the space he has and to increase tension. Jagged panel borders, while a bit of a gimmick, can make the panels seem to jump a bit instead of flow, so that a chaotic fight scene, for instance, can feel more nerve-wracking. If the page isn’t legible, of course, that’s a detriment, but if it’s not, it’s a pretty cool device. Here, Breyfogle uses an angled border between Panels 1 and 2 to emphasize the A-frame of Basil in Panel 2, which makes him seem taller and more powerful and also helps our eye slide down to the insignificant Batman in the lower right. Batman’s motion in Panel 3 leads us to Panel 4, in which Basil falls backward and Batman becomes more paramount. When Basil “master[s] his new powers” in Panel 5, he’s once again larger, and in Panel 6, we’re back to Batman in trouble. The zig-zag nature of the layout on the bottom part of the page shows the ebb and flow of the fight, with the inherent violence giving it some more verve, but it’s not difficult to read at all. That’s always helpful!

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Another thing that we saw a bit above and see here more clearly is Breyfogle’s use of a large panel with smaller pseudo-panels inside of them, as we see in “Panel 3,” which could easily be three panels itself. The energy emanating from Basil’s face in “Panel 4″ becomes a panel border, separating that section from the other two and “Panel 3″ (with Looker in it) from “Panel 5,” where Batman is about to hit Basil with the chair. I don’t know why Breyfogle did this or why any artist does it – I assume it’s just to shake things up a little, and it’s fine with me as long as, as with anything in art, it’s not a detriment. Perhaps it’s supposed to show the fact that everything is happening very quickly – Looker is feeding him energy, he’s screaming, and Batman is running at him with a chair, getting ready to knock him out the window. I suppose that’s possible. It’s a pretty keen scene, and as with almost all Breyfogle layouts, it’s perfectly legible.

After some years of drawing the regular Batman titles, Breyfogle was tasked to draw the first “official” comic of a series that would provide creators with some neat-o opportunities over the next decade until DC decided that they were far too serious for Batman in the Old West or Batman as a Nazi fighter or Batman as a Viking. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster we never have to worry about those kinds of comics anymore! Go to the next page to see Breyfogle’s art from this new brand of comics!

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27 Comments

Wow. I only have Mudpak 1-3, but this looks incredible!

For years I’ve been wondering what it was that didn’t feel right about Abduction and Dreamland, and you hit the nail on the head: They’re too clean! The manic, sketchy look of Breyfogle’s art was dramatically dulled by inkers who just didn’t understand that you need to let his pencils shine, and that the inks should compliment and not hide them.

That Mudpack arc also had some AMAZING painted pin-ups by Breyfogle. Oh the anguish I went through – do I take them out and put them on the wall? But then it devalues the comic? Oh the dilemma, the dilemma!

I’m not like that now…

tom fitzpatrick

August 17, 2014 at 3:12 pm

“So much Batman”? Not if it’s drawn by Breyfogle! One can never have too much Batman by him!

As for the appearance of H – uh – LOOKER, oh oh, I hear your wife’s calling, Mr. Burgas.

Guess someone’s in the doghouse. he he he

It’s still funny to me that even though I’m a DC fan since the mid-1970s, I missed Breyfogle’s Batman run entirely, and in fact had never heard of him until this very blog featured him a couple years back. I skipped most 1990s comics and knew I didn’t much like Grant’s writing, so it’s not so strange that I didn’t pick them up at the time, but to have been completely oblivious to them–well, that’s a little odd.

Seth: Well, go get the final part! :)

Erich: Glad I could help! It took me a while to figure it out, too, because for too long I didn’t pay attention to the art as much as I did the story. But once you notice it, it kind of jumps out at you.

Scooby: Yeah, I still have them in the books. I did not want to mess them up!

tom: That’s certainly true. And as long as my wife digs Alexander Skarsgard, I can like Looker! :)

buttler: I remember when you mentioned two years ago that you didn’t know Breyfogle! All the more reason for DC to put out a few omnibuses of his and Grant’s work on the character!

I love when Breyfogle did the crazy expressions on a face in silhouette, like in the first page you posted. It’s one of my favorite trademarks of his.

This post is going to cause me to go dig out my old Batman comics. I really wish I kept them better organized so I could find this stuff without going through 15 different boxes to find it.

A few notes:

Steve Mitchell never added any objects that I hadn’t included in the pencils, and the only notes for coloring I ever included were to point out blood, because otherwise it would typically be colored as if it was NOT blood (fear of the comics code still existed at that time).

I have indeed drawn a few issues of horror comics.

Abduction, scripted by Alan, was my idea, and Alan and i were both aware of the oddity of alien abductions occurring in the alien-rich DC universe. You’re correct that we decided to just not address that oddity.

Halfway through Abduction, when I began to see Hodgkin’s inks, I called my editor Denny O’Neil and asked that I be allowed to finish the rest of the pencils as contour lines with no shadows indicated, because Hodgkins wasn’t following my penciled shadows, anyway. Denny agreed, and it worked fine IMO; there’s no visible difference in the before and after pages.

Eric: I inked Dreamland myself.

I remember having doubts about liking a book inked by Steve Mitchell, i didnt like his work over MacDonnell on Iron Man (the pair dont work fine IMO)

But Mitchell was real god on Breyfogle (Demulder was also a good choise on the first issue)

Norm: Thanks again for stopping by. I always wonder how tight any artist’s pencils are, so that’s interesting about Mitchell’s inking. And the black blood thing always made me chuckle.

I knew you drew a few horror comics, but I’m surprised you never did more!

ollieno: I wasn’t familiar with Mitchell before I saw the art on Detective, and I think he did a fine job. They made a good team.

senormisfortune

August 17, 2014 at 10:34 pm

definitive batman artist.

This is why I love the Internet. Mr Breyfogle joining in and giving information, just great. I like his work, it has a certain dynamic that somehow makes his work very enjoyable.
DC doesn’t do its rich history justice, just thinking about the Legends trades featuring Marshall Rogers, no extras, covers at the end, Marvel’s Omnibus line is offering much more.
And not featuring an important artist like Breyfogle is quite sad.

That is so very cool! Really great stuff.

Great examples today.

I do think Mitchell should get a lot of the credit for the Mudpack story. Breyfogle was a superb layout/breakdowns artist, and his poses (especially of Batman) are incredible. But I think a lot of the quality lifework is Mitchell, especially in Batman’s musculature. When you look at examples of Breyfogle inking himself, particularly on Shadow of the Bat 1-4, everything tends to look much less complete than when Mitchell was finishing his art. I don’t recall seeing Steve Mitchell’s name anywhere else in comics… has he had other notable inking gigs?

Breyfogle’s work on Birth of the Demon does defy the trend of his own inking looking less finished, and I think that’s because he was coloring himself on this story, so he was tasked with truly completing the art knowing no other human hands would touch it, and therefore couldn’t leave any sketchiness to be cleaned up later in the process.

Stray thought: Does anyone else think that second page from the abduction story is a dead ringer for Mike Deodato? Especially the last panel of Batman sitting up on the floor?

So…they gave Batman an anal probe?

Daniel: Mitchell inked Sienkiewicz on Moon Knight just before Sienkiewicz started experimenting like wild. If you look at the post I did on Sienkiewicz for Moon Knight #23, you’ll see some examples of Mitchell inking Sienkiewicz. I guess he inked Iron Man, as ollieno pointed out, but I haven’t read that. He started working in the early 1970s, so he’s done a lot, but from what I can tell, he hasn’t done much recently.

I did think of Deodato when I was looking at The Abduction. They both have some similarities in style, and perhaps the inking highlights it even more.

Why isn’t Norm Breyfogle a bigger name artist?!?!? He is just incredible. I’m glad to see he’s stopped by CBR to read Greg’s analysis & appreciation of his art. It’s cool that Breyfogle was once again recently working on something Batman-related, namely Batman Beyond, which looked awesome. But, then again, Breyfogle excels at everything he does. He was great on Life With Archie, where his work was an amazing blend of his own style and the Archie Comics house style.

Thanks for this post and series Greg!

I think the Mudpack series was biweekly (or was that Shadow of the Bat 1-4) so that could explain some lesser detailing of the backgrounds.

I am with you on Looker. She is a grossly under-rated character.

Breyfogle does a great job with her in these pages. Her visual hook of having her eyes light up when she is using her telepathic/telekinetic powers is used to nice effect. He fixes her major costuming issue by covering both her legs. Her wry expressions really convey her personality nicely.

Oh … and his Batman ok, too.

Umm…didn’t Looker lose her powers in Outsiders #28, Vol. 1 (published in 1988) and didn’t get her powers back until she was bitten by a vampire in Outsiders #1, Vol. 2 (published in 1993)?

How did she have her powers in a comic published in 1989 (and wasn’t a flashback story)?

Ben: It’s a traveshamockery, that’s what it is!

Dean: I’m just bummed she wasn’t more involved in the story!

FuryOfFirestorm: I remember reading a few things on-line about the problem with Looker in this arc, but no one ever really mentioned what it was. That must have been it! I hadn’t read Outsiders at this point (and I still don’t own that issue), so I never knew she was supposed to be powerless. I guess we just have to accept that it was a screw-up by someone – Grant, sure, but also whatever editor was responsible for that. I don’t care, because we got a cool Looker story!!!! :)

I’ll admit it took me a little while to warm to Breyfogle’s art, because of the cartoony leanings. However, it quickly became apparent that his storytelling was great. Then, I started to realize that he was very much in the vein of Jim Aparo, who I thought was one of the most consistently great Batman artists, ever. The cartoony elements allow the action to flow well and add a nice touch to the more horrific elements, when they appear in stories. I particularly enjoyed his work on Batman: Holy Terror.

And if Norm pops in again, I got to meet you briefly at a small convention, outside St. Louis and it was a very pleasant, if brief chat. No slight to you; but Mike Grell was there and I had been wanting to meet him for years, so I spent the bulk of my time at his table.

This is an odd selection of Batman comics. I don’t think I’ve even heard of two of the stories (I’ve certainly heard of Birth of the Demon and proudly own all issues of Mud Pack) I half expected one part of The Last Arkham to show up. It’s a very underrated Arkham story that’s been over-looked in light of the Arkham madness surrounding the recent game series.

FuryOfFirestorm: Uh, wizards?!

” I love that he spattered red paint on the lower left of the page, as there are plenty of dead bodies on the page but Breyfogle doesn’t show any of them bleeding – he just flicks the paint over the drawing to imply the gallons of blood that have been spilled.”

Wrong. First, about a third of the bodies are clearly shown bleeding. Second, the spattered red paint is bloody sand or dust being carried by a gust of wind. If you pay attention, you’ll see the lines meant to represent the wind.

akkadiannumen: Yeah. you’re right. I disagree on one point – I don’t think any of the bodies are shown bleeding, but the wind is pretty clear. Oh well. That’s why we have comments – to catch all my mistakes!

You picked a great sample of Breyfogle’s work here because it came out during those months where Batman and comics were in the American zeitgeist in a major way . As big a pop culture phenomenon as Batman is today The hype leading up to Tim burton’s film was through the roof and there was an electricity in the air surrounding the character and comics like I’ve never felt since.

Norm Breyfogle and Jim Aparo were the two artists delivering monthly Batman comics at the time and god bless Jim Aparo, I loved his work but he represented the “old school” during a time when the largely teenage/young adult audience for comics wanted change. We were steeped in MTV culture, fashion and graffiti influenced visual art and wanted individual expression not cookie cutter nostalgia. Whether consciously or not with his style of drawing and storytelling approach Norm hit that nerve.

As to why norm was not a bigger name during the era of the superstar artist even though his work had that “it’ factor I’m thinking it’s because DC did not promote their books on the names of the artists the same way Marvel did at the time. Dc was much more conservative and maybe they were looking for a more mature audience base. Norm was one of my favorite artists and still is.

Norm Breyfogle is my favourite Batman artist, and his cartoony and impresisonistic style is yet to be topped !
I think his best work (aside from Birth of the Demon) are the Anarky issues (Tec 608 and 609) and Batman 457 in which Batman finally realises that Tim is suitable to be Robin and we see Tim’s costue for the first time in a brilliant splash page.
(Apologies if the Batman issue number is incorrect. I am at work and unable to verify)

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