Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas haunt ‘Batman Noel’

As the new original graphic novel “Batman Noel” opens, Gotham City’s dark knight is tracking a petty criminal named Bob through the snowy streets on Christmas Eve.

Bob is just trying to scrape by, running errands for the Joker so he can provide for his sick son. But while Joker seems the obvious “Scrooge” in this retelling of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” it is Batman who ends up being visited by specters. Indeed, in Bob’s world, Batman’s alter ego Bruce Wayne is the penny-pincher who begrudgingly gives him Christmas day off.

This version of the Batman is a weary veteran, emotionally scarred by his war on crime. He has lost his compassion for the victims he once swore to protect, focusing instead on winning the war at any cost. He has isolated himself from his friends and distanced himself from the common people of his city. All he cares about is the bottom line, and he will sacrifice anyone to achieve his ends — even the safety of a sickly child.

The story of “Batman Noel” (hardcover, 112 pages, $22.99) uses “A Christmas Carol” as the bones for a desperate adventure tale exploring what it means to be a hero. Batman must come to terms with his past, present and future as he battles villains from the campy 1960s to the dark and brooding menaces of today.

Download a preview of the book here.

It’s a familiar trope to longtime comic book readers to see their heroes involved in holiday-themed adventures, but this goes one better. “Batman Noel” gives readers a realistic variation on the Dark Knight (the designs are very similar to the current movie incarnation), as well as his enemies and allies from different eras of his career. Robin, Catwoman, Superman and Joker make appearances, filling roles similar to characters in Dickens’ tale.

This fast-paced and beautifully illustrated book was written and drawn by Lee Bermejo, who also illustrated the best-selling “Joker” graphic novel with writer Brian Azzarello in 2008. His Superman story in “Wednesday Comics” was serialized in USA Today.

The story doesn’t require an encyclopedic knowledge of the characters, and it doesn’t get bogged down by their negative aspects. There’s more gravy than grave about it, Dickens might say. Rather, it’s a good introduction to one man’s interpretation of the icons, a story anyone with passing interest in comics will enjoy, and a real gift for a true fan.
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