Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Batman: Death by Design by Chip Kidd and Dave Taylor

Chip Kidd is a smart guy who does some great work (many of his cover designs, as collected in Book One; his first novel, The Cheese Monkeys) and who also gets in his own way by being too smart all too often (his second novel, The Listeners; most of the books of comics he's designed, like Bat-Manga!, Jack Cole and Plastic Man, Peanuts). So I was somewhat sanguine coming into Batman: Death by Design; I wasn't sure which Chip Kidd would show up.

But Good Chip Kidd is usually in control when he's telling his own stories -- it's primarily when he's packaging someone else's material that Bad Chip Kidd assumes control -- and so Death by Design, though a bit cluttered with Kidd's enthusiasms and not really, at its core, a Batman story, turns out to be an entertaining graphic novel set in a vaguely mid-century out-of-continuity Gotham City obsessed with architecture. It's a quite wordy book, and Batman isn't nearly as central or important as he usually is in a story with his name and face on the cover -- it could almost serve as a launching point for Exacto, the vigilante architect, if DC or Kidd wanted it to.

I was also amused that one of the primary figures of evil here is the union boss who ruined the old Wayne Central Station of Gotham; who says that those effete New York types are all reflexively leftist? But, in the end, it's the usual thing for an out-of-continuity superhero story: set in a romanticized and simplified version of the creator's favorite past era, with lots of appropriate baubles and gewgaws, only as much characterization as is required to keep the story going, some sturdy superhero-ing, and whatever semi-extraneous enthusiasm the creators bring to it: in this case, mid-century architecture.

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