Review: “Batman – Noël” (DC Comics, Jolly Jinglings Special)
Welcome back to Jolly Jinglings, the Splintering’s month-long celebration of all things that shake like a bowl full of jelly!
Today we’re going to pick apart Batman: Noël, the graphic novel written and illustrated by Lee Bermejo and published by DC Comics in 2011.
Wait, Batman: Noël… Batmanuel!?
Anyway, using Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as the backdrop, Batman: Noël features the Dark Knight in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge along with a number of Gotham’s supporting cast playing the parts of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.
The story reads more like an illustrated storybook with comic-like interludes, as the narrator tells the story of Scrooge while the action of Batman’s story occurs in tandem with A Christmas Carol as he tracks down the Joker. The split narrative may take you a few pages to get used to, but it’s a unique way to tell the tale and it definitely works. Given that most of you already know the story of A Christmas Carol, it’s hard not to spoil what’s left of what makes
Since Batman is the Scrooge insert, he’s definitely portrayed as the nigh-over the top angry Batman. He’s ill with the flu or pneumonia for the entire book, so he’s spitting, hacking and coughing. In fact, there is a very high ratio of panels with spit coming out of Batman’s mouth throughout Noël. It’s pretty gross.
Since A Christmas Carol is familiar to most readers, Bermejo’s artwork is definitely the main attraction, and he doesn’t disappoint. The wintery atmosphere of Gotham sets the perfect backdrop for the story, and the imagery drags all of the Dickensian melodrama along with it, complete with dreary, snow-capped row houses and a dying Christmas tree decorated with broken beer bottles.
Batman’s design is based on the more realistic, cinematic takes: armored up suit, no eye lenses, and maybe a few too many buckles on his boots. lots of buckles, no lenses. It’s not always my favorite visual take on the Dark Knight, but in the scope of Noël’s narrative, it fits. Batman is an angry and brooding Scrooge, and he’s an imposing sight to behold when he cuts loose.
One of the most striking aspects of the artwork is Bermejo’s unique and dynamic page layouts, which show a lot of unconventional creativity, all the while not sacrificing the pace or readability of the story. Quite a few of the double-page layouts would make exceptional framed pieces on their own, as the connective tissue that ties the panels and images together is often just as interesting as the characters and environments themselves.
Even though all of the bits and pieces fit together well enough, my own enjoyment of Batman: Noël was rather limited, and it’s hard to pinpoint why. Perhaps it’s because I don’t typically enjoy stories that portray Batman as a an ass hole, or perhaps it’s because Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been overexposed as a framework for holiday stores. Everyone’s done it… Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, The Flintstones, Sonic the Hedgehog, Saved by the Bell, the Muppets, and even Batman. Yes, before Noël there was already at least one other comic book interpretation of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol featuring the Dark Knight: 1995’s Batman: Ghosts by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (reprinted in Batman: Haunted Knight). Sure, Bermejo’s take is quite a bit longer and artistically distinct, but it has the same bones. I did recently re-read Haunted Knight for a review not too long ago, so it’s possible that Noël just felt too familiar.
So how much do I recommend Batman: Noël? On artwork grounds, absolutely. On story? If you aren’t burned on interpretations of A Christmas Carol and don’t mind the overly-embittered Batman, then you’ll probably enjoy it. Batman: Noël is certainly an ambitious and well-executed book, but at the end it simply didn’t resonate with me.
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