Batman: Noel Review (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, November 12, 2011
I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re going to do an original graphic novel, especially for a well-known character like Batman, the story needs to be extra-special. It shouldn’t just seem like an extended story from a regular comic. With Batman, we’ve had that over the years with books like The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum. And we have it again with Batman: Noel, one of the most unique Batman tales in years. Artist and writer Lee Bermejo gives his take on Charles Dickens’ classic tale “A Christmas Story” and adapts it to fit Batman.
The story is told through the eyes of a child as read to him by his father. Batman takes the role of Scrooge, miserly and ruthless in how he deals with criminals, particularly a small-time hood named Bob who acts as a courier for the Joker and is just trying to make enough money to give his son Tim a nice Christmas. Bermejo paints as depressing a picture with his art as Dickens did with his words of the squalor in which Tim and his father live. Tim’s “Christmas Tree” is a straggly tree branch, totally devoid of any foliage and adorned with a crushed beer can and an old plastic soldier, stuck into a coffee can filled with dirt and rocks. He returns home after a harrowing encounter with Batman, fearing for his life.
As Batman journeys out into the night, he battles a severe cold and encounters his old version of the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future in the forms of Catwoman, Superman, and the Joker. Each encounter teaches him something about his life and how he views the world. The ever-pessimistic Batman has to be shown that there is good in the world, even in those he thinks are beyond hope and beyond help. There’s powerful symbolism in these encounters, particularly with Superman, his complete opposite in terms of how he views the world.
But it is the Joker who inevitably and ironically shows Batman just how the world will turn for the worse if he continues down his current path. Despite his crusade against crime and doing what he believes is right, he is not without his own need for redemption. And so it is up to poor Bob to show not only Batman, but his son Tim, what is a true hero.
Noel is told with only a moderate amount of dialog balloons, with most of the story being told in captions by the narrator. Like Dickens’ original tale it is both moving and heart-warming. Bermejo is one of the most dynamic artists to come along since Alex Ross. As opposed to the standard style of comic art his style is more earthy and realistic looking. The design of Batman’s costume reflects this as well with a design that has a more homemade look to it, heavy on leather as opposed to spandex. Bermejo certainly isn’t a new talent as he’s been around for a good decade but he’s made his mark now on original graphic novels, first as artist on “Joker” in 2008 and now as artist and writer on “Noel”.
Mania Grade: A
Comic: Batman: Noel
Story and Art By: Lee Bermejo
Publisher: DC Comics