Rating: 4/5 – Gotham City Takes Center Stage in This Batman Period Piece.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Shawn Hoklas.
The story found in Batman Death by Design is one that puts Gotham City, along with it’s architecture and it’s personality before the adventures and heroics of Batman. The story feels more like a novel, with Batman as a supporting character. Author and graphic designer Chip Kidd, who is best known for his work designing hundreds of popular book projects but who’s also a huge fan of Batman, takes on writing the character in a one-hundred plus page original graphic novel released in May 2012. Not only does Kidd write an engaging story, but the artwork by Dave Taylor contributes to this unique take on Batman and his world.
Death by Design is set in a Gotham City from the 1930’s and it looks and feels that way. From the way people are dressed to the technology and look of Gotham City, it’s clearly of that time. In the opening, Kidd describes that the inspiration behind this story, besides his love of Batman was two things; the demolition of New York City’s Penn Station in the 1960s as well as the New York construction crane collapses of 2008, and that inspiration is felt throughout the book. We do see a crane collapse and we also see the destruction of “Gotham’s” Penn Station, that being Wayne Central Station. As these two events unfold, we also have a mystery of a missing architect, a new vigilante on the scene called Exacto, and a potential love interest that has ties to everyone involved. At times the story feels like it takes on too much when you add in Batman, as the scenes without Batman are the most enjoyable parts of the story. The architectural history and story beats involving the city are the strongest part in the story, while the scenes involving Batman himself are solid, but not necessarily riveting. With this being Kidd’s first writing gig in comics, there are also times that the story feels jumbled as panels within the same page jump from one scene to another without clarity. This doesn’t happen too often, but it happened enough for me to notice, and at times happened to the point where it took away from Dave Taylor’s amazing art.
Taylor talks about his art on this book being a three step process. Blue line pencil to begin, followed by graphite pencil, and then straight to colors. You can see the pencils throughout giving this book a distinct look. Taylor also talked about how what he drew, he kept. There was no eraser used so the lines you see are the original, unaltered lines after the blue line layouts. At times the art may lose a bit of consistency, but it feels natural and you can see the process and there’s something endearing to the work when you realize the mistakes are right there in front of you. There are some great pages within as Taylor does an amazing job giving Gotham and the world it’s authentic 1930’s feel, and the architecture in the book is beautiful to behold, especially a scene that involves “the ceiling” which is a glass floor nightclub that suspends between four Gotham skyscrapers. Taylor does an amazing job considering all one-hundred pages are drawn and colored by him. His Batman fits right into the timeframe of the story, as does his interpretation of the Joker who stands out visually, making up for his somewhat unimaginative portrayal of this classic villain in the writing.
Overall, Death by Design is a strong period piece that portrays Gotham City as a viable and important character, even more so than Batman. As a “Batman” story it’s not as memorable, but it’s still a strong and entertaining story that defines the world Batman lives in.
Reviewed by: Shawn Hoklas
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