Monday, September 14, 2009

Ralph Cosentino's Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight

Curlicue-shaped gusts of wind blow a few stray autumn leaves past an imposing wrought iron gate, framed by two scary, demonic-looking gargoyles. In the background, a huge, dark mansion rises up into the deep blue sky, every window illuminated with yellow light, but no exterior lights playing upon it. Bare, leaf-less black trees point their branches like jagged fingers in the direction of the house, and a large flock of bats flying in an undulating cloud pass over the bright, white full moon in the direction of the house.

The image is stretched across the first two pages of Ralph Cosentino's Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight (Viking; 2008). In a rectangular box in the lower right-hand side of the image floats what looks like a perfectly rectangular scrap of paper. It reads: "Wayne Manor is where most people think I live, but only bats know my true home."

Turn the page and you see that true home. Under a spotlight in the background, a familiar figure with pointy ears and a flowing black, serrated cape sits hunched in front of a massive computer of indeterminate vintage. The big open space looks a little like a sewer, a little like a cave, and a little like an industrial space. Under spotlights are a giant penny, a dinosaur, a Batmobile and Batplane with furious expressions, and suits of armor in glass cases.

This is Cosentino's Batman, and it's an All-Star approach to the character similar to Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's approach to the other most popular superhero in All-Star Superman—a contemporary take which cherry-picks the very best elements from decades worth of different interpretations of the character and synthesizes them into something that is at once modern and relevant, but also classic and iconic.

Obviously, Cosentino's book—shaped, formatted and priced like a kids picture book recommended for ages three and up, but in the medium of comics—is a shorter, less-ambitious and more straightforward story than Morrison and Quitely's 264-page series, but the method and approach are the same.

That story? Simply who Batman is and how he comes to be.

He's summoned from the cave by the Bat-signal, hops in the Batmobile and catches a crook while narrating about himself: "I fight all crime and evil. I am a creature of the night. I am...Batman! This is my story."

A strip of four panels tells of his parents and their death, a splash page introduces Alfred, a strip of three panels covers his training...

...and he tells us a bit about his villains, each of whom is introduced with a one-page splash followed by a series of four panels on the next page showing them in combat with Batman (The Joker, The Penguin, Two-Face and Catwoman, if you're curious).

"There will always be a criminal to stop... A victim to save... A monster to fight...and a crook to catch," Batman says of his life. That really pretty much sums him up, doesn't it?

The villains are mostly patterned after Dick Sprang's versions...Two-Face so much so that in a different context, I might have thought that was a Sprang drawing. Cosentino's design throughout owes an acknowledged debt to Sprang and, to a lesser degree, Bob Kane. Each panel, each page is a bold punch in the face of design, and Cosentino quite deftly references classic Batman images throughout, proving the power of them even while making them his own.

The cover, for example, probably looks awfully familiar. Here's the cover of Detective Comies #27, for comparison's sake:

Inside, there's a similar version of it:

(Sorry about the poor scanning; the line to the left is the border between two pages, as that image is another of the many two-page spreads).

Here are a few more images from Batman's origin sequence, and the original Bob Kane (I think...?) images they're based on:

The book ends with an image parallel to the one it opened with. The flock of bats fly over the moon again, while in the foreground there are two different menacing figures. To the left is a bat-winged gargoyle, and to the right is Batman himself, assuming a gargoyle-like position, and announcing his name again:

Wow. That is, like, and ideal Batman. If this looks like something up your alley, here's some good news: Cosentino has a companion book entitled Superman: The Story of The Man of Steel currently scheduled for release in April.


Anthony Strand said...

Sounds awesome.

karterhol said...

This. Looks. Awesome!!!! (Great site by the way...first time to chime in, but I've been reading for months.)