Great Comics Artists Who Redefined Batman
io9 has a nice retrospective of the artists who have defined Batman’s look over the years.
Batman’s appearance is intended to provoke superstitious cowardice among the criminal element of Gotham City — but it’s also become a part of our culture. The bat-ears, cowl and dark silhouette are instantly recognizable. And when you think “superhero,” Bruce Wayne’s cape and cowl are among the most likely images to come to mind.
But there’s no one style of Batman that dominates our culture — he’s changed tremendously over the years, and a handful of artists have put their design stamp on Bruce Wayne. The fact that Batman still rules all our worlds is in large part due to these great artists.”
It is encouraging to see the modern “comics reader” who knows no name but Bruce Timm and perhaps Jim Lee, being educated on the likes of Dick Sprang:
Sure, Bob Kane gets all the credit for creating Batman, but other artists did more to define the Caped Crusader for the ages — chief among them Dick Sprang. Sprang, who started working on Batman when he was just in his early 20s, was one of the main Bat-artists for the first 20 years. And he helped create what many of us consider the “classic” look of Batman — beefy and athletic, with a chunky head and a totally square jaw. As Cloud 109 puts it, “Sprang threw… naturalism out the window and dispensed with a waistline altogether. In Sprang’s Batman, the chest erupts from the utility belt, figures don’t run, they leap and everything seems to inhabit a high octane adrenalin charged world.”
When Julius Schwartz created Batman’s “New Look” in 1964, he turned to Infantino, who was already celebrated for his work on the Flash. Infantino was instrumental in moving the character away from the goofy 1950s storylines, and helping to create a somewhat more realistic look for Batman. And I’m always kind of blown away by Batman’s puffy, expressive lips in Infantino’s drawings. Infantino aimed for sleek lines, in which he tried to “take the drawing out,” although his inker Murphy Anderson usually wound up putting it back in. Infantino’s most famous Batman image shows an intent, muscular Batman, with huge white eyes and noticeable white eyebrows, holding his dark cape over his face, while Robin squats at his feet. Batman is all business, and the slight cartoony touches only accentuate how serious he is about fighting crime.
If Infantino added a bit more realism to Batman as compared to his 1950s camp, then Neal Adams supercharged that realism, adding a lot more sharp edges and a much more dramatic, cinematic style. There’s an amazing sense of composition in some of Adams’ covers, including Batman #244, “The Demon Lives Again,” with a shirtless and apparently impaled Batman lying at Ra’s Al Ghul’s feet. Adams, in an interview, explains why his Batman was better than some of the earlier artists’ attempts: It’s that-most of those guys couldn’t draw that well. But as well as they could draw, they drew this nifty Batman, within the framework of their style and their abilities. I happen to be a slightly better, more accomplished artist. So I would tend to draw a more finished piece. Not because-not because I’m better but because that’s what I do. So it’s just what they did brought forward, and I just left out the stuff in the middle. The crap.
Although it is impossible to take the survey seriously without a single panel of Jim Aparo.
Even if the talents of one or two did lasting damage to the character and mythos, they had an impact. The visual style comes to define the underlying philosophies of the period and will continue to do so as the popular attitudes change towards the underlying work.
Make no mistake, there is no real insight in the survey. io9 displays no ability to see beyond the attitude of the moment towards recent and current DC creative teams. But for those with the capacity to see beyond the fanboy’s devoted repetition of his catechism, the survey is worth a read.