Wednesday, March 23, 2011

For What It’s Worth #5 – Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #7 (1997)

Nice design work on the cover
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #7 was originally published in 1997. It has a cover price of $3.95. It’s a 52 page story entitled “I Am a Gun” written by James Robinson and drawn by two artists, Steve Yeowell and Russ Heath.

“I Am a Gun” (fantastic title, by the way) is one of those timeless Batman stories that, surprisingly, doesn’t feature any of his prominent rogues. Rather, it’s an inspired tale about Batman using his detective skills to solve a murder. Batman, using a variation of his Matches Malone identity, goes undercover at an air circus to solve the mystery, which is tied into the story of Steve Savage, a World War I fighter pilot. The story is divided into three chapters, with Yeowell drawing the first and third ones and Heath drawing the middle. The middle chapter is a flashback scene (from a biography that Batman reads during the course of his investigation) of Savage’s exploits during the war.

Robinson’s writing is very good in this comic. It’s well-plotted and feels worthy of being an extra-length feature in an annual. Robinson also does a great job of setting up the premise and introducing all the elements for the mystery, including the various characters Batman meets. I also enjoy his characterization of Batman. Here, he’s a hardened and veteran crime fighter, but he’s also emotional and not afraid to smile once in a while. The middle chapter of the comic hearkens back to old-school war comics, and Robinson does a commendable job with helping us empathize with Steve Savage and his larger-than-life exploits and his tragedies and triumphs. (And in a nice shout-out to dedicated fans, Robinson even ties in this character with his Starman series, which is probably what he’s best known for. He also throws in a few references to Hans von Hammer, the Enemy Ace.)

Perhaps best of all, Robinson gives us a story where Batman’s mind helps him accomplish his goals, although the climax still features some pulpy, swashbuckling action.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful art that brings Robinson’s tale to life. Yeowell’s a talented draftsman, and he does everything pretty well. His storytelling is clear, everything looks the way it’s supposed to be, his environments look livable, and his people are great “actors.” Basically, his world looks real. I also like the way he inked his own work. It looks like he used a brush on some parts, and it adds a nice, somber tone to the art.

Russ Heath is a legend, of course, and his section of the comic is amazing. His linework features much thinner inking and certainly looks more like the Golden Age style of artwork, which is perfect for the story. His facial expressions are fantastic, and he really sells all the emotions that Steve Savage experiences in this flashback. Digital Chameleon’s coloring really makes Heath’s work look pretty.

This annual is practically two quality stories that intertwine to make one fantastic adventure. I only paid twenty-five cents for this comic, but for what it’s worth, I honestly wouldn’t have minded paying a dollar more than its normal cover price.

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