COMIC REVIEW: Batman: Death by Design

Batman: Death by Design by Chip Kidd and Dave Taylor is a truly stunning book. Taking much from German expressionalism from the 1930s, the creative team have created something that is a joy to hold.

With DC’s Earth One range and this, they have realised that the future for print copies are graphic novels that are beautiful in their looks. No longer can a publisher get away with something only looking ok. With digital books, the print copy must be glorious and Batman: Death By Design fits this bill in looks.

Scott Synder’s influence on Batman can really be felt even though he has only been writing the character for little under two years. Since his work with the character Dick Grayson in his Black Mirror run, Synder has been building up the threat of the city: that no-one really knows how to treat Gotham. It is a cruel creature that twists and turns for its own selfish reasons often turning the best of us into monsters. Here in Death By Design we discover that what seem like accidents might have something more sinister behind it.

Everything about this book looks like it came out of the 1930s. The cover is a homage to Fritz Lang’s classic Metropolis. This is continued all the way through the book as Gotham is portrayed as a futuristic dystopian world. Batman takes the place of Maria on the front cover with the only difference being that Batman is upside down (just like a Bat). The lettering on the cover looks very much like German film making from the time.

Further special effects inside the book are written in a manner similar to the 1919 film: The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The colours used in the book cleverly build mood and tension. Throughout the book it almost looks like a black and white comic with only a splash of colour running through it. The characters almost look like the colours have been drained out of them. The only character that has any kind of colour is the Joker. His electric green hair stands out, making the reader drawn towards him every time he appears on the page. This makes the Joker stand out even more than he would have. He looks truly deranged, taking inspiration from Frank miller’s Dark Knight Returns depiction of the character with a white suit instead of the trademark purple as well as the original influence for the character’s look, Gwynplaine played by Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs.

This Joker is a horrific image. He will send shivers down your spine yet at the same time you will be delighted when you first see him: he looks that visually impressive.

The colours slowly build closer to the end of the story as if it is coming to a climatic end. They feel like they are almost blinding you. It is as if you have been in the dark and suddenly been shown a lightbulb on at its strongest. The panel structures work well, providing a truly unique feel adds more style to the book. One of the best page turns is where we see a close up of Batman’s eyes as a double spread to then slowly reveal more on the next page turn.

Batman: Death By Design is a stunning book that has tons of style but unfortunately the story does not live up to the way it looks. It is not that the story is bad, anything but, it is just that at the moment there are so many magnificent Bat stories out there that anything that is slightly weaker seems a drop down. At any other time this would seem outstanding, and is still very enjoyable. Unfortunately Scott Snyder manages to pull off the same style but has the substance too.

Batman: Death By Design is worth checking out. it is an incredible achievement technique-wise, illustrating the clever inspirations and what can be done with the medium. Unfortunately with such strong stories out there at the moment it does not manage to rise to the high expectations Bat fans have. This is not to say that it is not better than the vast majority of books out there. Definitely worth checking out.

GS Rating: 4 out of 5

GS Reporter: Luke Halsall

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