Written and illustrated by Lee Bermejo
When I was still new to comics and only a month or two into the run of the New 52, a preview was playing in the back of most comics out at the time. It was a preview for something called Batman Noel. I almost thought it would be a new monthly series at first, but it couldn’t be. The art was too life-like, too polished and the story was…different. We saw a man running in a dark alley from a specter, we saw the man in fear and then we saw that the person he was running in fear from was Batman himself. Something felt unique about this. Not to say that every other comic is the same, but something about Batman Noel’s preview pages grabbed my attention. Unfortunately it wouldn’t be for over a year until I could finally read it, but if I had to wait two years, or three, or four, five, however many, I would definitely wait for not just a comic, but an idea of this quality.
From the title, you might figure that Batman Noel is a Christmas story, but it’s more of a seasonal thing. It’s about reaching out to those with the coldest hearts during the time of year when everyone remembers the lesser man and peace on Earth and good will towards man seems to be in fashion.
Batman Noel is artist and writer Lee Bermejo’s attempt at adapting the classic tale of redemption that is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Rather than keeping the spirit of Christmas alive, this story is more about teaching the titular hero the spirit of good will towards man. This isn’t a full on, word for word adaptation of the original story, it’s taking the original idea and fitting it to work with the tale of Batman. I think you need to take a few moments to suspend disbelief here when you realize Batman is willing to go that extra mile and put innocent people on the line for the greater hunt, but other than that, you’ve got yourself a masterful little piece of art here.
And that’s what this is, a piece of art. Bermejo’s work is a step above the rest, both when it comes to writing and his drawings. Well, not even just his drawings. Here we have an artist coming at this book from a different standpoint than most. The blocking and framing isn’t what you would expect from a comic book. Pages of panels are rare and the book consists of an abundance two page spreads. Bermejo is in no hurry to rush through the story and it shows. Sometimes we’ll get pages with as little as a single drawing of Batman set against a black background in the middle of an otherwise busy scene. These aren’t meant to be powerful action shots, they’re meant to drive an idea home to the reader.
The art is always photorealistic and you can clearly see Bermejo taking inspiration from the various eras of Batman’s history for many of the characters. When Batman is visited by the three “ghosts” of different eras, we see the various outfits he and his foes wore. We see a modern looking Catwoman in the present and a retro version of her straight out of the 60s in the memories presented by the ghosts. We even get a look at the first rendition of the Batman costume – the one I like to call Shorts.
The writing isn’t pitch-perfect by any means, but that’s okay because this book is more about the art than anything else. The story itself holds up to any test. And it’s not just because this is A Christmas Carol in Batman’s outfit, it’s because Bermejo crafted a genuinely inspiring story with amazing art almost reminiscent of Norman Rockwell. Take away all of the words from this book and you can still follow along with the story. This is coming from someone who often gets confused by the layouts in comics – I had no problems whatsoever when it came to understanding the various page layouts here. The narrative provided through words is split between narration and actually character dialogue. I’d like to see a release of this book one day that removes the dialogue and leaves us with the narration. If you’re like me, you’ll undoubtedly be surprised by who the narrator is revealed to be in the end.
We’re following a narration who speaks in a plain, common man’s voice, it adds character and personality to what might otherwise be a generic life lesson about looking kindly upon your fellow man. This book isn’t meant to make people espouse the concept of a hero needing to be upstanding and courageous, it’s not a slam against dark heroes and yet, it’s more of a guiding hand in the right direction through the common sense of your average person. It’s about knowing that the world isn’t black and white.
Have a very Merry Christmas everyone.