Overview: In Batman: Black and White #6, Batman grapples with his image, both the hero and the thrill-seeking vigilante that weaponizes fear.
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: “The Second Signal” by writer Brandon Thomas and artist Khary Randolph
Synopsis: On the Hill, an area of Gotham where Batman doesn’t often patrol, two brothers, Michael and Nathan Rook, put the finishing touches on their homemade Bat-signal. They wait for what seems like forever until Batman shows up, much to their surprise.
The Rook brothers tell Batman that someone has been abducting people in their neighborhood. Then, they show Batman a card often used by the Mad Hatter.
Batman tracks down the Mad Hatter, who has been using the Hill as a locale where he can get away with his misdeeds without Batman’s constant eye. While Batman dispatches the mind-controlled residents, Hatter makes his getaway. Fortunately, the Rook brothers are there to trip the Mad Hatter.
Batman tells the boys that the police are on their way. Understandably, the boys doubt it, but Batman ensures that they will come tonight. Before Batman leaves, the boys tell him that he knows where to find a couple of Robins if he needs them.
“Guess I do now,” Batman says. After he’s flown away, the boys celebrate and talk about building their next project — The Batmobile.
Analysis: Batman: Black and White #6 opens with a story that focuses on Batman extending his reach beyond his normal neighborhoods and aiding the underrepresented. It’s a cute caper, wherein two brothers from a technical academy use their smarts to signal Batman to a crime committed by the Mad Hatter. Aside from abducting residents in the Hill, Hatter has abducted the boys’ teacher, who taught them everything they needed to know in order to build their own Bat-signal, which is an endearing touch.
This story has layers, but it’s not too overt about them. We learn that clearly, Batman has overlooked the Hill, as have the police and seemingly any other Gotham figure of authority. If it weren’t for these two brothers, no one would have known that residents of the Hill were going missing, that ordinary citizens were disappearing through the cracks of society. In this way, writer Brandon Thomas and artist Khary Randolph aim a light at the underrepresented in Gotham, and they do it in a way that doesn’t downplay this population or remove them of their strengths or gifts.
This story is smart in that Batman is lured here by the technical genius of two students. He’s pretty much given the answer to the caper and aided when the mastermind, Mad Hatter, tries to book it out of town. Despite throwing all of the punches, Batman is more of a beacon of justice in this vignette, a representation of greater Gotham taking notice. In this way, Batman as a character takes a backseat in lieu of a story about two students signaling the authorities and proving instrumental in stopping a major crime.
The ending, wherein the brothers tell Batman that they’d make great Robins is answered with Batman admitting that, while he didn’t know they would before, he does now. It’s an acknowledgment not only of Batman realizing that these two kids are super smart, but it’s also Batman acknowledging, once more, that he’s overlooked this part of Gotham. In this sense, he’s committed to being a hero for all.
Story #2: “The Abyss” by writer Pierrick Colinet and artist Elsa Charretier
Synopsis: The second story on Batman: Black and White #6 begins with a citizen and a police officer recounting a shared event wherein they encountered Batman battling Man-Bat. The citizen talks about how he would have been safer had Batman not intervened. The police officer, on the other hand, notes the heroic deeds prevalent in Batman.
Midway through, a third eyewitness recounts his connection to the event. After Batman chased Man-Bat out of the building, the two broke through the window of a child who was up reading comic books on his bed. In the child’s comic book, readers see a panel of classic, 60s-style Batman and Robin. The reality for the child, however, is a hideous and grotesque Bat monster pummeling a defeated Kirk Langstrom.
It’s revealed that all three witnesses are recounting their tales to Dr. Hugo Strange, who surmises that the act of inspiring fear prevents rational thought. Strange continues dictating his notes, noting that Batman is like an abused child who has become an abuser. Strange questions how long it’ll be before Batman loses his sanity and becomes the monster he has been fighting all along.
Analysis: The premise of this story seems to be both a commentary on Batman as a hero as well as a critique of where Batman comics have gone in the past few decades. On the surface level, this story is Strange talking about the blurred lines between Batman’s acts of heroics and his violent impulses as a way to satiate a lust for thrill-seeking and power. This, in itself, is a critique of the idea of vigilantism and whether or not it’s ethically responsible or even good for society.
Authors Pierrick Colinet and Elsa Charretier don’t provide an answer to this argument, choosing to leave it open-ended. Rather, they turn their attention to Batman’s journey over the years. When Batman and Man-Bat break through the third eyewitness’s window, the eyewitness is reading a 60s-style Batman comic. At first, the boy expresses joy, as it’s Batman, just like in his comic. That joy devolves into horror as Batman bloodies himself by punching Man-Bat. Clearly, this is a critique of more violent incarnations of Batman that have come about since the 60s.
The art in this story is unique, as artist Elsa Charretier is a French cartoonist. Her style carries over well in showcasing both a fun and a heroic Batman, as well as a horrific, monstrous Batman. Charretier uses shadows and shading especially well to drive home the macabre.
Story #3: “Opening Moves” by writer and artist Nick Derington
Synopsis: Batman rushes through Gotham in search of an abducted boy. The boy is being held by the Chessman Blanc King and Queen. Batman fights through pawns, knights, bishops, and rooks to get to the king and queen. When he arrives, we find out that they’re holding a boy belonging to the Chessman Noir hostage.
Batman battles the king and queen, but he falls. Before the Chessmen Blanc can finish Batman off, the Chessman Noir break-in. A battle ensues between both sides of the chessboard, and Batman uses the maelstrom to get the kid to safety. He’s too late. The boy stabs Batman, then chooses to join his fellow Chessmen Noir in killing the Chessmen Blanc.
Analysis: The art in the third story of Batman: Black and White #6 is absolutely gorgeous. This is another story in this issue that uses the whole “black and white” theme to its fullest with incredible shading, as well as playing on the idea of black and white with two rival chess-themed gangs.
The story is one of failure for Batman, as he can’t stop the fight between white and black, and he fails to save the boy in the end. There seems to be a theme of Batman coming in too late to “save the day” in this story, but the idea lacks the punch to drive home a point. Unlike the last story, this one hints at a critique of Batman, but it says even less, existing in this shadowy gray fog.
Story #4: “Like Monsters of the Deep” by writer John Arcudi and artist James Harren
Synopsis: Women are disappearing in Gotham City, and Batman watches from the rooftop as Clayface (Basil Karlo), disguised as a woman, is trafficked. Inside the facility where the women are being held, Clayface transforms into his monstrous self and attacks the ringleader, a man by the name of Strasser.
Batman intervenes and orders Clayface to stand down. Clayface refuses, saying that he worked with Strasser once before, back when he was just an actor. Clayface confesses his guilt for being complicit in Strasser’s crimes, in turning the other cheek because of all of the money thrown his way.
Batman freezes Clayface before Clayface can kill Strasser. Strasser asks Batman to break him free, but Batman tells the ringleader that the fire department is on their way and perhaps they’ll bring an ax.
Analysis: This is a grim tale of revenge and guilt. Clayface takes central focus in this vignette, and he’s choosing to murder a criminal he now has power over because of the guilt Clayface feels at ignoring the criminal’s actions back when he was an employee.
It’s a very adult-oriented Batman tale, and it’s one where Batman rightly intervenes to prevent another crime. What’s interesting about this tale is what’s left unsaid. Back when he was Basil Karlo, Clayface looked the other way, despite hearing murmurs of Strasser’s deeds. He was happy to continue earning money and making deals. Stripped away from that life, Clayface suddenly finds himself overwhelmed with guilt, and it’s so overpowering, that he’s willing to commit murder in order to try and wash away that guilt.
The subtext is interesting in that Clayface finds some semblance of ethics when his good life is gone and has no chance of ever returning. From his perspective, he sees his condition as Clayface as some sort of penance for looking the other way in another life. Batman makes no judgments, only intervening when one crime is about to beget another.
Story #5: “A Thousand Words” by writer Scott Snyder and artists John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson
Synopsis: A photographer nicknamed “Shutterbat” reflects on his life as a man who spent years taking photos of Batman in action and selling them to different outlets. He considers the different perspectives taken on Batman over the years, from the glowing image of heroism to the negative perceptions of a vigilante taking matters into his own hands.
Shutterbat is at the twilight of his years, and he resolves himself to ask Batman how the Caped Crusader sees himself. While awaiting Batman atop the GCPD, Shutterbat falls. Batman swoops in to save him, and Shutterbat awakens at home in bed.
He didn’t get to ask Batman his questions, but Batman left a photo for Shutterbat. It was the first photo Shutterbat ever took of Batman, one glowing with a hopefulness of trying something new and bold for a better tomorrow.
Analysis: The final story in Batman: Black and White #6 is less of a story and more of a wrap-up of the issue as a whole. The past four vignettes were depictions of Batman’s failures and shortcomings, whether by him overlooking a particular neighborhood or by him failing to save the day. This one incorporates all those ideas through different perspectives various news outlets took with Shutterbat’s photos over the years.
It’s a fantastic idea, especially as a way to end this issue, and this story synthesizes all those feelings by “going back to the beginning” with Shutterbat’s original photo. This original photo showcases an idea of a better tomorrow, of a brighter future ahead. It’s shed of all of the deep analysis of every action or inaction Batman has taken in his career. Instead, it’s solely focused on the idea of Batman, of what Batman could be and what Batman wants to be, and that’s a beautiful thing.
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.