In July 2009, my good friend Bill Ramey -- who you all probably know as "Jett" from BATMAN ON FILM
-- and I were standing on the floor of the DC Comics booth at San Diego Comic Con, delivering kudos to artist Lee Bermejo for his remarkable work on the 2008 graphic novel JOKER
. It was during that conversation we first learned that Lee had another Batman project up his sleeve, only this time he’d be handling writing duties in addition to the artwork. It was a long 28 months before I could finally get my hands on that project, but much like a Christopher Nolan Batman film, BATMAN: NOEL
is well worth the wait.
As the title suggests, BATMAN: NOEL is a holiday story, but one that only Batman could deliver. Charles Dickens’ classic, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, it twisted and contorted into something much more fitting for Gotham City and its Dark “Scrooge” Knight.
Upon opening the book, it is immediately apparent that Lee Bermejo has reached yet another level in his art. His gritty, realistic costuming of Batman and assorted Gotham villains looks as great as ever, but the atmosphere around the characters sets Noel apart even from Lee’s outstanding work on Joker. The snowfall and holiday lights are deceptively romantic and inviting, as if a very familiar holiday tale is about to be told. When paired with the hardened crunch of Batman’s boots as he sprints across rooftops, however, the true tone of the story is revealed and it will not be a very flattering look at The Dark Knight.
Bermejo uses an older, much more jaded version of Batman than we have seen in recent years. While this could be seen as a return to “A-Hole Batman” and turn some fans off, what Bermejo is actually offering is a sincere, cautionary tale. Given the walls of isolation Batman builds around himself amidst never-ending battles against two-bit muggers, deadly assassins, homicidal maniacs, and everything in between, it is not difficult to imagine how he could become a very cold veteran who’s lost sight of the hope for a better future that made crime-fighting a worthwhile endeavor in the first place.
Bruce Wayne isn’t like everyone (or anyone) else, but he’s still very human in the sense that it often takes an outside perspective to fully understand what it is one is missing in life and how he or she may have strayed from his or her intended path. In Bruce’s case, that perspective comes from three “visitors” whose identities will not be spoiled in this review. Suffice to say, Batman fans will recognize them immediately and they all suit their respective purpose quite well.
It would be a terrible omission to not mention just how brilliant colorist Barbara Ciardo’s work is in this book. Bermejo’s character models would look great in black and white, but the aforementioned atmosphere could not be achieved without Ciardo. The mix of holiday romanticism with urban realism creates a Batman experience that his both familiar and surreal. Any further attempt to accurately articulate just how wonderful this unique blend is would be futile. To be blunt, the artwork in this book should be seen by any fan of Batman, holiday stories, or anyone else who can appreciate great art.
Like the Dickens’ story it is based on, Noel evolves into a story of redemption. Redemption, that is, before it’s too late. Through the script and the artwork, Bermejo shows Batman descending farther and farther into the abyss that many have always feared would claim him. Bermejo takes the character to new lows, but in doing so, makes Batman’s hard climb out of that darkness all the more admirable.
Only by seeing Batman at his worst can we truly appreciate seeing him at his best.