Art and Artifice
Jim Lee Batman 2006
Question: Is that a self-portrait of Jim Lee there by the boot?
Jim Lee and Frank Miller
Batman and Robin #1, 2, 3 and 4
DC Comics 2005-2006
Art by Jim Lee, Story by Frank Miller, inks by Scott Williams, colors by Alex Sinclair
"You want fries with that?"
Dynamic artwork depicting swinging figures and extreme human expression are the highlights of the illustration work for Jim Lee's and Frank Miller's relatively light take on the origin of Robin and his meeting with Batman. There have been four issues thus far and Miller is taking his time to spread out the tale - e.g., in issue one Dick Grayson and Batman hop into the Batmobile and head for the Batcave, in issue four they finally arrive. Side stories concerning Vicki Vale (who is hurt in issue one and is still suffering in issue four) and Black Canary (who beats a bar-full of toughs into bloody submission) fill out this origin story of the beginning of the dynamic duo.
Nicely rendered backgrounds are treated almost like movie-matte shots, with the figures brought into foreground, often intense close-ups telegraphing the human emotions at play.
The story features the kind of storytelling where heightened superhuman action hammers home the superhuman plot. Within the confines of the convention, both Miller's story and Lee's artwork are quite well-done, but neither seem innovative in this series, aside from the glacier progression of the plot. Considering the ossification of the Batman origin mythology, retold relentlessly since 1939, maybe Miller's approach is the one real innovation possible.
Miller's tale has the actual demise of Dick Grayson's parents by being gunfire versus acid on the ropes of the original 1940 tale. Also, Miller casts Vicki Vale as a self-absorbed thrill-seeker with a penchant for promenading in her lingerie, but with a toughness that comes into play as a maternal protector when the bereaved Dick Grayson is abducted by corrupt police. Miller employs repeating phrases - - Robin saying "they're always there for me" as a way to emphasis the break that comes with that phrase is no longer true. The technique is repeated with Vicki Vale saying "I'm having a date with Bruce Wayne" to show her excitement at achieving an obsessional social climb. It's a simple way to underline the stories plot points that is effective.
Jim Lee uses a lot of shadow to depict the world of Bruce Wayne, and figure anatomy is a major point of the story, expressing the character's emotional state and power, even Vicki Vale who is shown as cheesecake with ambition and heart. Facial work is not as detail oriented, and a certain formula comes through in head shapes. But the boyishness of Dick Grayson is expertly shown, and goes a great deal toward pressing home the tragedy of becoming an orphan, an obvious echoed reflection of Miller's Batman/Bruce Wayne.
The colors by Alex Sinclair are very well done. Note how he uses a blue shade for highlights on the injured, going into shock Vicki Vale on the page from issue two shown below.
Miller and Lee update the original Black Canary character, a bargirl working in a sleezy leering factory of booze (incidentally, a bar called the "black Canary") that ends in rage and broken body parts (will Lee and Miller bring in the florist shop from the original Black Canary tales? I don't know).
A particular element of many Miller tales is the volcano explosion of rage by the put-upon heroes. A certain moral point is hammered home (figuratively and litterly) when Black Canary force feeds an aggresive bar patron his wedding ring, a comeuppance for having crudely whispered in her ear. By comparison he is let off easy, though, as his partner in lechery has a major amount of bridgework from his mouth removed in a single violent kick (the results of groping the hero/barmaid/victim).
At present this is an open-ended series.
DC Comics has a page on the series .
[Click on the images below for enlargements.]
Written by Erik Weems ©2005-2006
Artwork is by Jim Lee, Copyright DC Comics