Written by: Lee Bermejo. Art by: Lee Bermejo. Published by: DC Comics.
A downtrodden man struggles to provide for his son Tim. A wealthy, embittered capitalist retreats from the warmth of society. Later, a colleague and three spiritual figures visits the wealthy, lonely man, intending to show him the error of his ways. In Lee Bermejo’s Batman: Noël, the artist-turned-writer gives a respectful tribute to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, casting an alternate look at the Caped Crusader as a Scrooge-esque figure, with Gotham rogues and allies like The Joker, Superman, Catwoman and Jason Todd inhabiting the familiar roles of Dickens’ beloved narrative.
It’s a gimmick, but a brilliant one. The concept of A Christmas Carol pastiche is old-hat for cinema and television, but the implementation of the classic Christmas tale onto the world of Gotham gives the city (and its inhabitants) a distinct feeling. Many writers and artists have taken a stab at making the familiar architecture of Gotham seem unique and original, but the tone struck by Bermejo’s highly expressive, moody artwork gives the city a fairytale-like quality, enhancing the moral-driven quality of the story. Wayne Manor, for instance, is a cold and unfeeling location: the Batcave is a low-contrast environment of cool blues and blacks, given visual respite only with the reddish glow of the monitors, whilst the interiors of the family environment invoke a visual warmth unexpected in the heart of Gotham. This is a respite from the often ultra-violent depiction of DC’s most crime-ridden city.
The story’s depiction of Batman is cold and seemingly unfeeling. Not the hyper-violent fascist of Frank Miller or the more morally complicated depiction of Jeph Loeb, Bermejo’s Batman a deliberately flat reading of the character. Batman’s dialogue is task-driven, with curt vernacular designed to exhibit authority over others and dehumanise his enemies.
In terms of the character’s depiction, this approach recalls the episode of The New Batman Adventures ‘Old Wound’. That episode outlined the events which led to the falling out between Nightwing and Batman, with the more compassionate Robin disconcerted with the violent tactics of his partner. Similarly, this graphic novel highlights the broader social idea of the function of the criminal justice system. What is the role of the crime-stopper? Is it to provide retribution or allow for rehabilitation? The incorporation of illegal surveillance is not an accident, with Bermejo (like Christopher Nolan and his co-writers on The Dark Knight) drawing parallels between the American Government’s intrusion upon private lives and Bruce’s own morally ambiguous conduct.
In form, the graphic novel also nods to Brian Azzarello’s Lex Luthor: Man of Steel and Joker, two other attempts to deconstruct familiar figures within the DC universe by playing with perspective (Bermejo served as illustrator on those works).
Batman: Noël is a simple, emotionally effective exploration of crime and forgiveness. It’s just a simple moral fable, told with a great deal of heart and obvious affection.
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