By: Chip Kidd (story), Dave Taylor (art)
The Story: Batman faces his greatest villain of all time: Building Permits!
The Review: Chip Kidd is an awesome novelist. His novels Cheese Monkeys and The Learners are two of my recent favorite novels of the last decade or so. So when seeing that he wrote an original Batman graphic novel, I felt both excited and hesitant. It would be the same reaction I’d have if Michael Chabon decided to write a Spider-Man OGN. It sounds like it should be cool, but it could be a case of a popular literary author trying to be edgy. As someone who teaches this genre and has to explain to people that comics and graphic novels have as much merit as prose or poetry, yes, every time an author of critically acclaimed novels decides to write a superhero comic, the genre gets cred points (by the way, Davis Liss, I owe you a beer sometime). But the question is if they really have anything new to bring to the character.
In Death By Design, Chip Kidd tells a great Batman story. It’s a wonderful read that is well worth the purchase. But it really isn’t anything new. This isn’t Long Halloween or Killing Joke. It’s just a perfectly good but not quite great Batman tale. Is it different? Well, basing the mystery on architecture is certainly different, but there was nothing about the story that said it needed to be a Batman story. As well written as it was, it is a little forgettable at the end. None of the characters are very unique either, even the ones created for the story… Looking at just the writing, it’s not the most exactly revolutionary Batman story ever told.
Fortunately, where the story is a bit standard for Batman, the art is really something we have never seen before. It’s part Film Noir, part Steampunk, part Newspaper sketch. Dave Taylor makes an otherwise tame Batman story surprisingly distinctive. Without it, Death by Design is just OK. And even with this unique style, the action scenes are clear and engaging (There’s a nice sized panel of Batman bursting through a glass clock tower that is just incredible). The only gripes I have, and it’s not that they aren’t well drawn, it’s just choices Taylor made, is 1) why does Exacto look so much like Nite Owl? Is Alan Moore going to have a bitch fest over that? And 2) Everything is hand drawn except for one very out of place computer generated font design that took me out of the story. There were also a few points where the muted colors could have been a little more muted, but not enough for me to care. Overall, this is definitely a graphic novel to buy for the art moreso than the story.
Ultimately, this was also nicely put together. The printed cover has a threadbare like quality to it, and the insides scream 1920′s advertising. What is cool is that the publication design was by Chip Kidd himself.