Review: Batman Black & White #4

“A Night in the Life of a Bat in Gotham”, “The Davenport House”, “The Green Deal”, “Checkmate”, “The Fool’s Journey”
Writers: Joshua Williamson, Karl Kerschl, Chip Zdarsky, Daniel Warren Johnson, Becky Cloonan
Artists: Riley Rossmo, Karl Kerschl, Nick Bradshaw, Daniel Warren Johnson, Terry Todson, Rachel Dodson
Letterers: Deron Bennett, Steve Wands, Aditya Bidikar, Rus Wodton, Becca Carey
Review by Kevin M. Gallagher, Jr

Minor spoilers ahead.

Batman: Black & White #4 is a strong return for the anthology series, after the previous issue. It’s not perfect, though my issues mainly lean towards some of the art, which is in the eye of the beholder. Each story is extremely well written and has a solid plot; unless something doesn’t align with your tastes, you’ll have a good time.

“A Night in the Life of a Bat in Gotham”

While this, for me, was the weakest story in Batman: Black & White #4, it’s still very fun, and cute. It’s a big old metaphor for the life that Batman and his Bat-Family live. The bats of Gotham, both the literal bats and the vigilantes, are constantly under attack, and while they roam free from one another, they still need to their colony (family) in times of need.

Joshua Williamson may have spent a lot of time in Central City with The Flash, but he’s no stranger to Batman. I can’t overstate how this was such a fun story to open up this issue with enough. I do think Williamson may be better suited to a title like Batgirl, or something lighter than what a Batman story usually is, but I’d love to see more of his voice in the Bat-Family.

I normally love Riley Rossmo’s art, and it does match the tone of this story extremely well. I do think there is something lost when it’s not in color, though. This is the first story in this series that seems to be lacking due to being presented in black and white, but it’s not jarring enough to take away from the story.

“The Davenport House”

For me this is easily the best story in Batman Black & White #4 (if not the series thus far), The Davenport House is a part light-horror and a part detective story. Batman and, making her debut as Robin from Gotham Academy, Mia “Maps” Mizoguchi, investigate a house that’s believed to be haunted. As expected, Batman doesn’t believe in ghosts, even when a ghostly howl echoes through the house. This story is too good for me to say anything else, you must read it unspoiled!

I am admittedly unfamiliar with Karl Kerschl, but I’m in love. The Davenport House is a perfect 10. Kerschl tells a tight 8-page horror-detective story with amazing art. It’s fun, dark, and heartbreaking all at once. I haven’t been this excited about a comic story since Hope Larson’s run on Batgirl. I need more of these incarnations of Batman and Robin. I don’t want Joker, The Riddler, or any of the other rogues. I want Bruce and Maps to solve supernatural crime. In the meantime, I’ll be diving into Gotham Academy because I can’t get enough of Karl Kerschl.

“The Green Deal”

A close second best for Batman Black & White #4, The Green Deal features Poison Ivy trying to get the attention of Bruce Wayne to help save the world. Her process is very misguided, having exhumed the corpses of Thomas and Martha (how Batman kept his composure, I will never know). Her intentions are in the right place; she wants to fight corporate polluters and villains who are destroying the planet. With Bruce’s environment-friendly businesses, Ivy hopes to use a super plan that would help reduce carbon emissions. Batman of course sees through this.

Chip Zdarsky gives us an excellent story that hits on environmental issues. He shows that are two very different paths to tackle those issues. But it’s the lines he feeds Batman that are ::chef’s kiss::

Your plants will take hold, but people will still cut, will still try to bend the world to their will.

When Ivy asks The Dark Knight about a plan to save the world, Zdarsky offers what may be the single best line of dialogue of the last year:

Ivy… what makes you think I don’t already have one?

Nick Bradshaw’s art is interesting. It resembles some of the unique art in past issues. I’m not usually a fan of that, but there’s something about Bradshaw’s lines. I love how Ivy and her plants are in a different style than Batman (and the villains in Ivy’s vision of her and Bats working together) that make him really pop. Just because Batman pops doesn’t mean Ivy doesn’t stand out. Bradshaw’s detail with Ivy and her plants are magnificent.

“Checkmate”

Checkmate aims to tug on your heartstrings with the flashback of Bruce learning chess from Alfred as a child. In the present, two of Two-Face’s goons have captured Batman and give him a good beating. When the former DA arrives on the scene, he’s not too happy because he knows that Batman is only there because he wants to be. What really makes this story work is the connection to the past, where Alfred is explaining what makes one a master chess player.

Daniel Warren Johnson crafts a very beautiful story, linking Bruce’s past to his present. While I don’t really care for the story happening set in the now, the story from his past really sets this on the right track. Johnson also takes on art duty here, which just didn’t really sit right with me. His final panel is easily the best, and the detail is all there; but something about it just doesn’t work for me.

“The Fool’s Journey”

The best part of Batman Black & White is that we’ve seen a lot of detective noir stories. The Fool’s Journey is the latest to join this line-up. It’s a great story to go out on with a simple twist ending. Even better is the setting, Haley’s Circus, where we get a cute scene that cameos a baby Dick Grayson. The true joy is getting to see Batman do detective work, it’s something that will never get old.

Becky Cloonan’s story ranks up there with the best of them. She writes Batman as the great detective he’s meant to be. It was an excellent story to finish Batman Black & White #4 on, as it delivers another wonderful message:

Sometimes there are no answers, and the ones you do manager to find…? They will never satisfy you.

Terry and Rachel Dodson’s art is at its best when our hero is the focal point of their panels. The rest of their work is good too, but there’s something about the faces that is a tad off-putting. Batman’s cowl saved Bruce Wayne and even Gordon was saved by the mustache!

Conclusion

Overall, Batman Black & White #4 is a near-perfect issue. Three of the five stories are total home runs, with the other two only being held back by the art; though if the art hits your eyes differently, this could be just your cup of tea. It’s great to see so many unique voices bringing something to The Dark Knight, and that the series didn’t peak too soon.

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