Overview: In Batman: Black and White #4, Batman teams up with the Bat-Family and fights criminals Poison Ivy and Two-Face in this collection of five stories.
Editor’s Note: Due to the anthology nature of this collection, we will feature a synopsis and analysis for each short story, rather than breaking up the synopsis and analysis. Spoilers are sure to be revealed.
Story #1: “A Night in the Life of a Bat in Gotham” by writer Joshua Williamson and artist Riley Rossmo
Synopsis: A bat lands near the open window of an apartment where Batman is inside, investigating a double murder. Batman hits the streets, and the bat follows, until it’s netted by a criminal. The criminal is a man who sells villain merchandise and notes that a bat goes for a pretty penny. He also mentions how he murdered the couple Batman was investigating a few panels before.
Batman arrives to break up the crime ring, and the bat helps him in the process. Later, Batman releases the bat in the cave, where Nightwing, Robin, and Batgirl are hanging out. The Bat-Family discusses how sick it is that rich people are buying pet bats as a status symbol, and Batman stresses the importance of bats needing to be free to live with their colonies.
The story ends with Batman noting that each bat in Gotham has its own story to tell.
Analysis: Batman: Black and White #4 opens up with a cute story that serves as both a quick and easily solved caper and a metaphor for all of the bats, in this case the Bat-Family members, roaming Gotham City. Like the bat in the story, they’re constantly under attack, and though they need to roam free, they also need their colony to come in and back them up when need be.
It’s a simple idea, and it resonates well with Riley Rossmo’s art style. Rossmo brings a gleeful, light-hearted expressiveness to the Bat-Family, which feels perfect for a story that centers around an animal watching a member of its colony solve a crime.
Story #2: “The Davenport House” by writer and artist Karl Kerschl
Synopsis: Batman and Robin (Mia ‘Maps’ Mizoguchi) investigate an abandoned house in Gotham’s oldest neighborhood. It’s the Davenport House, and it’s believed to be haunted. Lately, neighbors have been complaining that there have been noises emanating from the house.
As Batman and Robin enter the house, Batman mentions that the former occupant, Lady Davenport, was a wealthy socialite who dabbled in the occult. Right as Batman tells Robin that there are no such things as ghosts, a haunting howl alerts the dynamic duo.
They hustle up the stairs into the attic where they find the ghost of Lady Davenport sitting in a chair. Batman notes that it’s neither an illusion nor a hologram. As he tries to touch Lady Davenport, he’s transported to the past, finding himself at the center of a seance.
While Batman tries to communicate with Robin over the comm, Kay Davenport asks this “spirit of Gotham” where her missing granddaughter has gone. Batman knows the answer, and he tells the family at the seance that Dolly Davenport’s body was never found.
As Batman looks around for clues, he notes the scratches on the floor and similar markings on the arm of Graeme Davenport, a relative at the seance. Batman tells the circle that Graeme murdered Dolly. Just then, Graeme withdraws a revolver and fires upon Kay Davenport, who has threatened to hang him for the murder. He then turns the gun on himself just as Batman is transported back to the present.
Robin tells Batman that he disappeared, then asks what happened. Batman tells Robin to wait outside. He examines a wall where a bullethole lies, finding a hidden door behind some wallpaper. The audience doesn’t see it, but it’s presumed that Dolly’s body is hidden behind the wall.
Analysis: This second story starts out fun with very Batman and Robin-like banter between Bruce Wayne and Maps Mizoguchi. It’s disarming, lowering readers’ guard before this story takes a sudden dark turn once Batman is trapped in a seance. But that might be the point.
Before Batman and Robin encounter the ghost of Kay Davenport, Robin expresses excitement at the prospect that there could be ghosts in Davenport Place. Batman tells her, “There are no such things as ghosts, Robin.”
This line is crucial, as it explains what’s going on in this story and why the sudden turn to darkness and despair. Robin is youthful, excitable, and so full of energy and positivity. Batman is the opposite. Though he doesn’t outwardly express it, he’s weary by what he’s seen as a crime fighter.
Immediately when he’s trapped at the seance, he puts a couple of puzzle pieces together to solve the mystery Kay Davenport was searching for an answer to. Putting this puzzle together, Batman witnesses a murder-suicide, and it’s one he can’t stop, as he’s trapped at the center of the seance.
Back in the present, Batman answers none of Robin’s questions about his disappearance, sending her out of the room, as he uncovers the missing body of Dolly Davenport. There’s much left unsaid in this story, but one can presume that her murder at the hands of her loved one was a grisly, emotional affair. Dolly was a fourteen-year-old girl, one not too far in age from Robin, which makes it even more unsettling to Batman.
By sending Robin away, Batman has protected her from this and judging by her belief in ghosts, Batman has protected Robin from quite a bit of the evil that lurks within Gotham City.
Story #3: “The Green Deal” by writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Nick Bradshaw
Synopsis: Outside Wayne Manor, Poison Ivy hoists the exhumed corpses of Thomas and Martha Wayne from her plants’ vines and calls out to Bruce, demanding that he come out and speak with her. Batman tells her that Bruce isn’t home, then demands to know why she’s been pestering Wayne for weeks.
Poison Ivy says that she wants to use Wayne Industries’ labs to help create a super plant that would reduce carbon emissions, that with Bruce’s help, she could find a way for plants and humans to coexist. Ivy then says that in doing this, she could stop her crusade and finally help Batman fight corporate polluters and villains who are destroying that planet, that together, someday, they could save the world for good.
Batman tells her that this idyllic vision wouldn’t happen the way Ivy pitches it. He says that people will always cut and burn and that Ivy will always be there to stop them from bending the planet to their will. He notes that she didn’t just show up to Wayne Manor to talk. With her are plants that can be used to torture, as well as plants that release toxins that could drive someone mad, or, in a worst-case scenario, turn someone into a zombie.
Batman then blows up Ivy’s little garden outside of Wayne Manor, telling her that he has his own plan to save the world.
Analysis: The art in this story is intense. Nick Bradshaw uses every centimeter of space to cultivate an elaborate jungle of a garden surrounding Ivy, and it’s absolutely incredible. The art is arguably the best in the entire issue, with two full-page spreads showing off some of the most intricately detailed pieces in this issue.
While the art alone is worth high marks on this short Poison Ivy tale, the story is an interesting one that helps define why Ivy is a villain. Though her goals are different from every other rogue, her crusade is absolute, which makes it dangerous. Batman convincingly tells Ivy that she’s lying to herself if she believes she can stop and allow people to encroach on plants in her “saved” world. Ivy will never stop, and her disconnect from humanity has too long fomented a lack of understanding or empathy for humans. Simply put, it’s a great character study of one of Batman’s villains that often rides the line between villain and anti-hero.
Story #4: “Checkmate” by writer and artist Daniel Warren Johnson
Synopsis: Two goons beat on a captured Batman when Two-Face comes marching into the room. Two-Face asks what the deal is, and one of the goons delightedly tells the boss that they’ve captured Batman.
Two-Face berates the goons, noting that Batman is only captured when he wants to be, and now these henchmen have brought Batman into their lair.
Years ago, Alfred Pennyworth teaches a young Bruce Wayne the game of chess. Bruce asks different ways one can master the game, and Alfred tells him that true mastery of the game is about wits, and it comes from memorizing the many different situations one could be in and being prepared for each situation.
In the present, Batman escapes his bonds and beats on the goons. He remembers Alfred’s words encouraging him to improvise as well as to learn the habits and strategies of his opponents. As Two-Face rushes out of the building, the Batmobile hits him.
After Two-Face is dropped off at GCPD, Bruce heads home and finds a chessboard in Wayne Manor with a note on it. The note says, “Checkmate. -A.” Batman notes that he learned from the best.
Analysis: This short story is definitely meant to tug at the heartstrings of long-time Batman readers, as it’s another caper wrapped in a lesson from Alfred (who is deceased in current continuity). In this story, Batman reflects on lessons he learned on how to master chess from Alfred and applies those lessons to his many adventures in Gotham City.
The story is simple and straightforward, and it’s effective. Much of the effectiveness is due to Daniel Warren Johnson’s overwhelming sense of darkness and solitude in his penciling. There is no Bat-Family, and that parting shot with Batman at the chessboard is of a small, lone crimefighter standing in a vast, empty space.
It’s a bittersweet reminder of what Alfred has meant to Batman over the years, and it resonates well.
Story #5: “The Fool’s Journey” by writer Becky Cloonan and artist Terry Dodson
Synopsis: At Haly’s Circus, years ago, Batman investigates the murder of Madame Fortuna. She was stabbed to death, but before she died, she laid out tarot cards that Batman uses as clues to question people in the circus.
Batman first questions a clown (“The Fool” card), which leads him to Samson (“The Strongman” card). Samson was Fortuna’s fiance before she broke it off with him, and Batman suspects his anger problem as a reason, judging by the ripped poster of the Flying Graysons.
Batman then turns to the Graysons (“The Lovers” card) and finds out that they overheard Fortuna arguing with Mr. Haly about someone named Zucco. A young Dick Grayson, still a baby, watches from the background.
Mr. Haly (“The Emperor” card) tells Batman that he fired Fortuna after a heated argument that very morning. Boss Zucco has Haly backed up against a wall, so he has no choice but to accept Zucco as a partner, which Fortuna didn’t like.
Batman tells Commissioner Gordon that it was suicide. Fortuna spelled out “Sorry” in blood droplets on the cards, with each card spelling out a different letter. He tells Gordon that she felt alone.
Gordon laments that her death wasn’t a murder because at least then there would be someone to hold accountable. Batman then tells Gordon that one can’t replace grief with anger. Standing alone now, Batman notes that sometimes there are no answers and that if one manages to find one, it might not satisfy the hunger.
Analysis: Becky Cloonan and Terry Dodson create a moody thriller that has all the makings of a classic, Noir-inspired detective story. Very quickly, we’re introduced to a whole cast of characters who all have connections to the victim, in one way or another. Some of them are suspicious, like Samson the Strongman, but there isn’t time to explore this any further, unfortunately. Batman quickly follows the trail and deduces that Madame Fortuna committed suicide after breaking up her engagement and losing her job.
There’s an echo in this story, something that connects to the brief panel of a baby Richard Grayson, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s buried in this idea of irreplaceable grief, of how there are oftentimes no good answers in life. Gordon’s lamentation about a lack of someone to hold responsible resonate with this idea, suggesting that if there was, maybe the Flying Graysons would never be murdered.
This isn’t the most exciting story in Batman: Black And White #4, and it isn’t meant to be. Cloonan and Dodson have given readers a riddle. Or perhaps a meditation? It’s hard to tell, but it definitely makes this story the most impacting one of the bunch, as readers will most likely ruminate on this the longest.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with a copy of this comic for review purposes. You can find this comic digitally and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue either through Comixology or Amazon.