Chip Kidd loves Batman.
As an award-winning designer, novelist, diehard comic book, and "Bat" fan, Kidd has written and/or designed several books on superheroes, including: "Batman: Animated," "Shazam! The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal," "Jack Cole and Plastic Man," "Rough Justice," "Batman Collected," "Bat Manga!". You can see from this list that Batman is a recurring subject for Kidd. So now, as he makes his first foray into writing a graphic novel, it's no surprise that it stars the Caped Crusader.
Batman: Death by Design, written by Kidd and illustrated by Dave Taylor, is an iconic tribute to the Dark Knight and his city Gotham. Reimagined in the 1930s, it has the look and feel of a classic film from that period. It helps that the art by Taylor is primarily in black and white with only the slightest hints of color.
The story has philanthropist Bruce Wayne financing the demolition and rebuilding of Wayne Central transit station. He runs into trouble with a crooked union boss, Bart Loar (whom I believe is a sly wink to old time actor Bert "Cowardly Lion" Lahr) and another mysterious masked avenger, Exacto. Throw in a nosy reporter, a lovely socialite, a young architect, and of course the Joker – who supplies his usual chaos at just the wrong moments – and you have a high-adventure mystery.
The story is a classic Batman tale. Kidd is very comfortable writing the Dark Knight and weaves an intriguing mystery. He showcases Bruce Wayne and his caped alter ago, leaving no room for his usual supporting cast (Robin, Commissioner Gordon) except for his faithful butler Alfred. Kidd emphasizes Batman’s silent costar – his beloved Gotham City – tying it even closer to the character and his history. His father’s legacy, the train station, its demolition, and reconstruction make this a personal quest for the caped crusader.
The art by Taylor deserves praise as well. He has drawn and rendered in very tight pencils that give a realistic look to the characters and settings. Taylor captures the time period with close attention to the clothes, vehicles, and even the smallest piece of bric-a-brac. His character design is wonderful, each having their own distinct facial features, expressions, and attire. Taylor’s take on the Joker is unique and fits perfectly into the time period.
Chip Kidd loves Batman, if you do too this book will be a special treat.
Rich Clabaugh is a Monitor staff artist.