Review: Lee Bermejo’s “Batman Noël”
So this week at my LCS I picked up a copy of Lee Bermejo’s Batman Noël. I was intrigued to read this book as it had been the 5-6 page filler that DC had been sticking at the back of all its books to make you feel like you got more pages for $2.99 that you actually were getting. So by the time the book hit the shelves I was already sold on the art and was interested in the story. As you start to read the book you quickly learn that the story has a connection with the classic 1843 Charles Dickens, Christmas Carol story with which most of us are familiar with in some form or another. To be honest when I first opened the book I was a little put off by the way that it started, one I was afraid that it was going to be another book similar to the Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo Joker book. Now I liked that graphic but wouldn’t put it on my favorites list, due to the gratuitous rape scene in the Joker book as well as the obvious design of Joker being based heavily on the Heath Ledger and Arkham city characterizations. So I was kind of expecting that gritty almost mass media feeling going in and when I started to read the narration of the book my hopes had kind of dropped even further. This was due to the lettering/font choice and the street narration of words like “Cuz” and “getting the stones” type of phrases that started the book out. But as I read on- WOW, just WOW!! This book has done something to me as a reader that DC has failed to do for quite some time; and that this actually moving me as a reader.
The plot of the book essentially parallels the Charles Dickens classic in that Mr. Scrooge is visited by three ghosts to help him understand the error of his ways and aid him in changing as a person for the better. The story opens with Batman chasing “Bob Cratchit” a low level Gotham criminal who is currently a bag man for the Joker. Batman catches up to Bob and uses him as bait in order to catch the Joker. We learn that Bob has a son Tim (Tiny Tim) who though living in poverty has a hopeful and loving spirit. For him Bob has nothing but love and takes up crime not for kicks but rather as means to care for his loving child. It’s here that you get a bit thrown off by the story narration but not in a bad way. It delivers a sort of M. Night Shyamalan twist for the reader. We come to find that the protagonist in the story is neither Bob himself nor even the Joker as one might expect but rather that the dark and greedy Mr. Scrooge is Batman himself.
Bermejo paints us a Batman obsessed. A Batman who as Bruce Wayne, has so much financially with the means and abilities to help others but fails to do so due to his crusade of justice. We are shown a Batman so obsessed with his goal of justice that his mission has become something akin to a no nonsense corporate strategy. Where he views James Gordon not as a friend but rather as a
valuable asset in the battlefield. We are given a Batman that through his many years of fighting for justice has become a Dark Knight, but rather the wrong kind of Dark. It is a Batman that is willing to put a decent but down and out Bob Cratchit at risk in order to catch the high valued target the Joker. And in response to the question of what will Batman do about Bob’s young boy Tim, if he were to arrest Bob? Batman simply replies “scare him so badly that he would not follow in his father’s footsteps”. We are shown here a truly DARK Knight who believes in simply “Decreasing the surplus criminal population.”
But soon Batman is visited by the Ghost of his former and now dead partner, Jason Todd. The ghost of Robin warns of the visit by three Ghosts. Batman dismisses such a “hallucination” as being brought on by fatigue and a slight case of pneumonia that he is fighting. Batman goes out into the field where his is visited by a ghost from his past in the form of Selina Kyle, the Catwoman. Catwoman has just finished burglarizing an Auction House and meets up with Batman. But Batman only cares if she has valuable information in his mission to capture the Joker. When she admits that she doesn’t Batman quickly dismisses her as playing games with her low level crimes. Catwoman becomes enraged and reminds Batman of his younger days when he would have stopped at nothing to apprehend any criminal and that every crime counted to him. That his passion for justice was far more pure and hopeful then. As she continues to basically wipe the floor with Batman she has basically come to the conclusion that Batman has become too old, too emotionless, passionless, and too dark. Batman missteps on his rooftop chase of her and falls, falls, falls. “For scrooge life was black and white, all business.” As he recovers from his fall off the Gotham rooftops he recalls the murder of his parents and the start of his life’s crusade.
Batman is soon visited by Superman, the spirit of hope and kindness, the spirit of Christmas present. As Superman the third ghost visits with Batman he shows nothing but compassion for Bruce. Note throughout the interaction he calls Batman Bruce, the man underneath the mask. There is a man, a human under that dark mask of justice. Both he and Superman visit Bob to see if Batman’s bait is working, they visit upon the citizens of Gotham from on high where Superman reminds him that the city is full of decent people living their lives. He reminds Bruce to “Look at your people. Take a second,and look as hard at your lambs as you do your Lions.” They visit upon Commissioner Gordon and the rest of Gotham PD. Where Bruce learns that while he thought Gordon held him in high regard and with respect , Gordon and the rest of the Gotham PD really think of him as a necessary evil and wonder often what they might do if such a liability were to one day go too far. “See it’s like this. Sometimes, when you work in the dirt, it gets tough after a while to clean yourself off. You get used to the filth. You even get to feel comfortable in it. Then you wake up one day and wonder why everyone else thinks you’re DIRTY.”
By the way the art by Bermejo and the coloring done by Barbara Ciardo is amazing on Superman. Together they give Supes that old Christopher Reeves feeling of Superman. The Man of Steel leaps off the pages here but leaps off oozing warmth and compassion, as only a Smallville resident raised by Ma and Pa Kent could.
Batman is flown back to the Batmobile, where it has been booby trapped and explodes. The grim Ghost of Christmas future comes to collect Batman in the form of the Joker. As Batman is dragged off to be buried alive by the Joker he slips in and out of consciousness. He sees visions of the future. A future bleak and grim. A future where Gotham and life continue on without him after his death. Where Gotham is overrun by crime, where the only legacy that Batman left behind was a gang of vigilantes that were as bad as the criminals they fought. A gang whose sole purpose was to “decrease the surplus of the criminal population.” (Reminded me of the Faith story line in the old Legends of the Dark Knight book.) A future is shown where the only other lasting legacy was a gang of Jokers rampaging through Gotham. The visions of the future carry on with Gordon being tried and sentenced to 30 years in jail for harboring and being an accessory to a known vigilante. The future held a vision where Bruce Wayne’s estate was closed and auctioned off without remorse like a simple garage sale for nothing more than a fist full of dollars. Scrooge had been a man that the people feared but not respected. But as he crawled out of his fresh grave Batman made the change. He proved that a person can, if they really want to make a change.
The story closes with the Joker paying Bob a visit to collect his missing money. The Joker threatens Bob’s son, then Batman bursts through the window and struggles with the Joker. Joker’s gun goes flying about and Bob picks it up only to train it on the Joker. Batman talks him out of mudering the Joker. He asks Bob to “show his son what a Hero is.” Bob backs down and The Joker is captured once again. The next morning with a changed Batman and a renewed Bruce Wayne changes are brought throughout Gotham, Bob Cratchit and son are given a Christmas tree fully decorated, windows and heat fixed in the poor home. There is also a Christmas meal given, along with a full job at Wayne Enterprises for Bob Cratchit. Cheer brought to the Gotham PD and Gordon and a reminder that Batman was someone that they could depend on. Someone that they could count on, not only for the here and now but for a lasting legacy.
To be honest this review does not really do this book justice. But I hope it gives you enough insight to want to go and pick up this
book if you haven’t done so yet. It really is a great book. It’s one of those books that you’ll keep on the shelf in your collection and pick up to read again and again. Because Lee Bermejo tackles our modern day Dark Knight that has been shaped by the movies with the gravely Christian Bale voice, and by the Arkham Asylum/City game series in which the word B**ch is repeated over and over again, a Batman that has as of late become a one dimensional dark armored media icon; and he reminds us that there is a man under the mask. Lee reminds us that there is Bruce Wayne fighting the good fight. That our Batman has a legacy of doing good, having human emotions such as hope and compassion, and is fighting his crusade for justice for all the right reasons. Bermejo does such a good job of retelling a classic literary story that has been redone, rehashed, and reshaped so many times over, yet still he manages to make it feel fresh, new, and meaningful. I am always a sucker for a story of redemption, and that is what Noël is, and a good one. Even if your budget is tight go get this book!! Read it enjoy it, remember it. This is a classic and a perfect traditional read for many Christmases to come. What are you still doing reading this…..? Go!! Go get this book!!!
Stats: Story & Art by Lee Bermejo
Colors by: Barbara Ciardo
Letters by: Todd Klein
Publisher: DC Comics (November 8,2011)
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