Josh Simmons, writer/artist
This haunting, completely unauthorized take on Batman begins with what may be the best first panel of a comic I’ve seen in the past year: A crazed jumble of a cityscape whose non-Euclidean geometry resembles something out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari threatens to overwhelm the panel borders and spill out all over the reader, while a caption box identifies it, simply and confrontationally, as “Gotham City.” That sets the tone for what follows–a disturbing, uncomfortable response to the Batman concept. What really knocks me out is just how many different levels it works on. It could be a horror comic in about a human monster in the Henry/Buffalo Bill/Leatherface vein. It could be a blackly humorous, satirical pisstake on the Caped Crusader. It could be a vicious assault against the reactionary politics of the superhero. It could be an angry riposte to the ever-grittier direction superhero comics are headed in. It could be an exercise in drawing action and environments. Most amazingly, it could be a great Batman comic, period–Batman’s rooftop and skyscraper milieu is depicted with genuine awe, the physical particulars of his methods are choreographed impeccably (as good as any comic this side of Paul Pope’s Batman Year 100), and the story is totally convincing as an examination of what might happen if Batman, worn down by the weight of years of horror and toil–”I’ve been Batman for a long time,” he repeats–finally snapped. As in his horror graphic novel House, Simmons’ art excels in conveying the way the sheer size of environments both natural and manmade can be frightening, and as his inks shift back and forth from woodcut chunkiness to manic clarity, the effect is practically palpable. The pacing is ruminative but never plodding, lingering just a bit too long, making you feel like something is off but never tipping its hand till the story demands it. Clever bits of business involving Catwoman’s acrobatics and the passing of a nearby plane add pizzaz to an extremely dark affair. Even Simmons’ figures, never his strong suit, have the mitigating factor of masks and costumes working in their favor. And on a meta level, it’s just exciting to watch an artist steal a major corporate icon because he’s got something to say and needs him to say it. This is a hard comic to shake, so thank goodness I have no intentions of trying to do so.