It feels sometimes that a creator is making work specifically for you.

Work that speaks to you. That captures your interests and tastes so completely that it feels like they’ve somehow tapped your brain. Ed Brubaker is one of those creators for me. Since probably at least Scene of the Crime, he was on my list of creators to follow. Doubly so when he works with Sean Phillips, who inked over Michael Lark’s pencils on that series. Phillips’ own work I’d been following since Kid Eternity with Ann Nocenti.

To me the pair of Brubaker & Phillips is just a dream team.

Work, huh? Still on that missin’ persons case? Lookin’ fer Jack Daniels?”

One of their early collaborations took a step back in time, presenting a Gotham City drenched in film noir overtones, the Elseworlds graphic novel, Batman – Gotham Noir, by Brubaker, Phillips, Dave Stewart, and Bill Oakley.

This iteration of Gotham really isn’t too far removed from the feel and spirit of the mainline DC Universe. Particularly books like Year One. Cast back in 1949, it follows a down-on-his-luck alcoholic James Gordon, set up for the murder of a socialite with ties to very powerful people across Gotham. Gordon dealing poorly with PTSD from the war greatly informs this version of the character and feeds into his downward spiral as a tragic hero.

Ed Brubaker eschews using hard-boiled narration, even though a significant portion of the story is told in flashback, and I think the story works better for it. It’s more immediate and leaves the tale open for a tragic conclusion. While it has the noir elements of a femme fatale, corrupt police and government officials, and organized crime, it never becomes a parody.

Batman - Gotham Noir

A lot of this is definitely down to the art. Sean Phillips and Dave Stewart perfectly capture the ambience of film noir. Phillips’ line art just feels like pulp novel covers and the darkness and grit of old black and white crime films. He achieves it through a mixture of somewhat shaky lines and rich, dark shadows. The muted colours from Stewart further enrich the mood. The solid blues, greenish-yellows, and beiges work well for the atmosphere.

How the character and design of Batman is approached here is fascinating. There’s a question raised as to whether or not he’s even real or just a fabrication of Gordon’s imagination and alcoholism. It’s specifically interesting in how Phillips portrays him, essentially as an amorphous Batman-shaped shadow. Along with a rough and scratchy world balloon from Bill Oakley. The approach is something that kind of presages what will come later in Kill or Be Killed, another situation where we’re not quite sure if an entity is real.

Batman - Gotham Noir

I had to find a way out of this trap and that meant solving this murder.”

Even if you’re not interested in Batman or superheroes, Batman – Gotham Noir from Brubaker, Phillips, Stewart, and Oakley is an excellent crime story. It embraces the conventions of film noir storytelling, adds a bit of a twist, and delivers a compelling thriller. It’s an early entry into the Brubaker & Phillips oeuvre that shows just how amazing this team can be.

Classic Comic Compendium: Batman – Gotham Noir

Batman – Gotham Noir
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colourist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: March 14 2001
Available collected in DC Comics Presents: Gotham Noir and Batman: The Man Who Laughs – Deluxe Edition

Read past entries in the Classic Comic Compendium!