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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!!!!!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!