Batman Death by Design is a fantastic original Graphic Novel by Chipp Kidd and Dave Taylor that I am sad not to see on on any of the TOP 10 Batman Graphic Novels Lists.
Death by Design is on my personal TOP 10 Batman Graphic Novels list, and I’m scratching my head trying to figure out why more people are not into it.
It is easily one of the best Batman graphic novels ever published. The story is entertaining and not derivative of any other stories in 75+ years of Batman fiction.
That alone makes it interesting.
It is not easy to come up with a new story for a character who has been around so long in monthly publication.
The book was published in 2012, and the cover boasts the bold copy “New York Times Bestseller” which doesn’t mean a hell of a lot in today’s overcrowded market of print and digital products.
The reviews on Amazon are mixed, and some of the reviews leave me wondering whether the reviewers actually read the book at all.
But that is Amazon reviews for you.
Perceptual learning is the process of learning improved skills of perception
Booze, Brains and Batman
Professional wine tasters are able to taste much finer flavors, and make finer distinctions in the wine they taste, or the wine they may drink at home.
Wine tasters develop new neural networks in their brains allowing for a more sophisticated sense of taste, they are able to make more subtle distinctions in flavors that a non-wine taster would be incapable of perceiving.
The wine tasters have enhanced their perceptual learning through direct experience. Of course this applies to any field of perceptual or experiential learning in life. I used the wine tasting example as a snobbish cliche.
That “perceptual learning” quote does sound bloody ridiculous and obvious, but it is an important distinction, the kind of small detail that a wine taster, or perhaps the ever obsessive Batman might pay attention to.
Do people who have no appreciation for black and white cinematography, classic pulp adventure heroes and architecture get the same perceptual enjoyment as people who DO appreciate those topics?
I wonder if at least some of people who read Death by Design will fully understand its brilliance.
Good art asks more of us than just viewing it. We need to perceive it. We need to feel it. We may need to grow and evolve to even appreciate and understand it, it means educating yourself on why something is good, even if you don’t understand it.
We are told the Mona Lisa is “good” art. But I don’t appreciate the Mona Lisa painting, nor understand it, my perceptual intelligence is just not up to the task.
Art is a funny thing, and very subjective. But I don’t know, I love to read voraciously – not just comics but mainly non-fiction books on a variety of topics. I love art, all kinds of art. I know nothing about architecture whatsoever, but I appreciate the aesthetic beauty of old buildings, especially ones that have a history to them, or are particularly beautiful.
I enjoy black and white cinematography, photography and original comic art before it is inked or coloured or cleaned up for print. Their is a raw primal beauty to a pencil sketch that you don’t get with a digitally manipulated image.
I feel that black and white cinema is a very pure art form, and not many people are very good at it in the modern era, as it is not so popular since color cinema came along.
Batman: Death by Design combines the loves of architecture, black and white pencil sketches and pulp-era Batman detective stories into one cohesive whole that is far more than the sum of its parts.
The story in Death by Design involves the usual rampant corruption in Gotham City. This time the focus is on old buildings that while beautiful and historic, were built illegally with inferior materials, below safety standards, or what would be reasonably termed an acceptable quality of building materials and quality of construction.
The Batman investigates who made those dodgy buildings and why, the story is a very mellow pacing, and takes place in the 1940s. The art, clothing and buildings reflect the era Batman was conceived in.
The advantage is that the book is created by a talented artist – Dave Taylor who gives us the best of modern comic book art, but shown through a 1940s filter. The pacing of the book is one of a film, and not a comic book.
Long establishing shots, close ups and more are used so well within the book that you won’t even notice, as you will be immersed in the story. Death by Design really pulls you into its world, and that is a good thing, you WANT that in fiction.
You want to lose yourself in the story, forget the real world for a while and be carried away by the plot.
Death by Design has a real feeling of going at its own pace, and you get a chance to really settle in to the world, and you don’t always get to do that in comics.
It is a real luxury we typically get from people like Allan Moore, Grant Morrison or Neil Gaiman – whose imaginary worlds seem more real than some real world places, thus is their resonant collective power.
The book reminds me of the pacing in films by my favorite director – Akira Kurosawa (director of Seven Samurai), who took his sweet time telling any story, the average length being a wandering three hours. Akira Kurosawa was not just a director but an auteur – like James Cameron or Ridley Scott – who was obsessively involved in every stage of film production from initial concept to execution and post production.
Often in comic books you rush through a twenty to thirty page story like Jack Bauer mowing down terrorist threats in 24, blindly charging into the next chapter of the story to see what happens next. I love 24, but you burn through them like you burn through monthly comics, and it just never FEELS satisfying, you want satisfaction, but instead get the buzz of never ending stimulation. Like eating junk food compared to a good home cooked meal, it is just not the same.
In Batman: Death by Design we get a story completed in around 100 leisurely pages. Chipp Kidd and Dave Taylor establish a decent prologue, main story, epilogue etc and it never feels rushed. It is a book you deliberately read at a slower pace because the art is unbelievably gorgeous, the scans here really don’t do it justice.
Death by Design is one of most aesthetically pleasing Batman books I have ever read, and I have read a lot of Batman stories. But judging by comments I have read online (other than comments by professional reviewers and writers) I get the impression that the book may have a niche audience as the average reader of the monthly Batman comics is just not likely to appreciate the book.
It is hard to see how nice the art is, from the scans I made of the print version. But take a look at the close up lift-out panel I have zoomed in on above this paragraph, of Batman at his bank of monitors in the Batcave.
The level of detail and polish is just stunning. There is not a wasted panel in this book, no sketch has been rushed, each has been labored over like individual frames in a film. Each panel is beautiful and meaningful. I would very much like to see more of Dave Taylor’s art.
I particularly enjoy modern artists who are able to evoke something of the pulp era Batman such as Dave Taylor, Darwyn Cooke or Dave Bullock without sliding into nostalgia. You may be looking at the old version of Batman, but with fresh new eyes. It is like seeing Batman for the first very first time, and that is a good thing.
I LOVE this book, it is bloody brilliant
But perhaps it is TOO clever for the average Batman reader, perhaps it is too artsy-fartsy. A few years down the track, no doubt some of those readers will mature in their tastes, tired of crappy gimmick stories where nothing of any real consequence happens – they may come to appreciate the book and wonder how they looked past it.
But some people will never be into it, and that is fine. Not every story is for every person. We all have our personal tastes. I’ve read the book in both digital and print formats, and it looks beautiful in both. But overall I prefer the printed version, as the art just shines when you see it on the page, and you can hold it close enough to see all the details, without having to zoom in like you would in the digital version.
You may feel that my comments here make me come across as a pretentious wanker, and well… that doesn’t bother me, because I know that most readers will not bother reading this brilliant original graphic novel. Feel free to prove me wrong.
Because most of the time we don’t want something new and different, we want more of the same. More superhero battles, cheap deaths, lazy plots and generic characters to rotate in and out of monthly books giving the illusion of change, but never really changing anything.
So to the few who read this post and say “Wow, that is a beautiful book”, I promise you will not regret reading it. The story is good, the art is amazing, I’m already reading it for the third time this year when I decided to write this post, because I just love this Batman book, and more people ought to be reading it.