When the lead name on a title is the artist’s, I think that it’s pretty certain the work is going to be fairly well bent in that direction (i.e. more a work of art than a piece that is going to focus on narrative). And don’t get me wrong, that’s not always a bad thing. A large portion of what makes comics comics is that visual aspect, and Eduardo Risso does not disappoint on that front. However (and this is usually the case for me in titles like this), I could not help but feel a little under-fulfilled here. In a way it feels like going to a Lichtenstein exhibit/author-reading and having the author be a no-show. You’re happy with what you see, and the story the panels tell, but you cannot help but wonder how much better the experience would have been, had both parties shown up. This is not to cast any disparity on Brian Azzarello’s work; I just thought that his did not meet the bar set by Risso.
All that being said, the artwork is quite stunning at times and there are entire pages that I hardly even notice the somewhat spotty narrative of Batman Noir. Although the comparison may be rather obvious with this style, I don’t think black and white art is too much of a stretch to draw a parallel between Risso’s work here and Miller’s work on Sin City, which is certainly a feat from Risso’s standpoint.
As long as comparisons to Miller’s work are being made, there is also a resemblance between Batman Noir and Batman: Year One. Part of this may have to do with the simple fact that there are slight shifts being made in Noir to the Batman universe, which cast a darker light on Gotham and its vigilante crusader. In fact, I think it could be said that Miller really brought noir to Gotham. Most of the shifts in Batman Noir deal with Batman’s origin, and these are utilized in order to frame Batman in a more flawed light, so that he would be more in line with the protagonists of the noir genre.
This is where my largest beef with this title comes into play. The Batman universe doesn’t really take a whole lot of tuning in order to fall into the noir scope. Perhaps that’s why the Wolverine Noir series felt like a better fit for this noir handle. In Wolverine Noir, the setting was changed in order to capture that noir feel, while it felt like the character of Batman was changed for his noir title. The tragedies of Logan’s life are already pretty well suited for noir, while it felt like Batman needed some tweaking in order to fulfill that same down-and-out detective role. In Wolverine Noir, the primary enjoyment came from seeing familiar figures thrown into a different world, as well as watching how that affected their actions, while Batman Noir works by employing the same setting with slightly different characters. For me, it’s just more fun to see a change in setting and seeing how that affects their life rather than a shift in a character’s past.
Either way, if you’re a fan of Batman, the noir genre, or just crisp, clean artwork, you’re going to want to check out this title.