LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT: NORM BREYFOGLE VOL.1
Everyone has “their” Batman artist. For some, the answer is Jim Aparo. Others will always proclaim their love for Neal Adams or Marshall Rogers. For me, my Batman will always be Norm Breyfogle. I was never a huge Batman guy since Marvel Comics had a pretty firm hold on my weekly allowance back in the late ‘80’s. But this was around the time that the Batman movie was exploding in theatres, and the Bat was EVERYWHERE. We all had Batman t-shirts and posters and stickers and Trapper-Keepers and and and … well. Batman was everywhere. So I started reading Detective Comics. And there was the creative team of Alan Grant, John Wagner… and Norm Breyfogle.
The stories in this run tended to be shorter. Many were single or two issue stories; THE MUD PACK story was an epic told in four issues. They were dark and wonderfully twisted stories. The Ventriloquist was introduced by this team: a mob boss who had a scar across his cheek and wielded a tommy gun. Oh, did I mention he was a puppet who got mad when you addressed the mild mannered older gentleman who carried him around, instead of him? Also, the Ventriloquist couldn’t pronounce the letter “B,” so “Batman” always comes out as “Gatman”. That kills me every time.
The sewer-dwelling Ratcatcher and serial killer Cornelius Stirk also made their debut at this time. Horrific villains that fit in perfectly in Batman’s rogue’s gallery next to the Joker and Penguin. And all of this horror was depicted by Breyfogle. His work isn’t the first thing you think of when you hear “super-hero”. He doesn’t draw fashion models like John Byrne, and he doesn’t draw caricatures like Todd McFarlane. His Jim Gordon is a distinguished older gentleman. His Robin is a young kid with a smirk on his face. But when the story leans toward the horrific, his Batman starts to look more like a shadow demon, and the angles and panel perspective starts changing, and this is suddenly the coolest Batman book you’ve ever read. And when you’re done? You go back and page through it again, just looking at the pictures. At least, that’s what I did, back in the late ‘80’s.
When DC released this beautiful hard cover collection of Breyfogle’s work, that’s what I did again. Sure, I reread the whole thing, comparing it to my childhood memories. The Ventriloquist, Ratcatcher, and Stirk were all there waiting for me. And the stories were actually more gory and frightening then I remembered (Bonus!), but what really hit was this: The art was even more striking than I remembered. In an industry of style trends, no one else produced a body of work that looked anything like what Norm Breyfogle did.
So, please. Go track down this book. It’s not just a “Greatest Hits” package of the Grant, Wagner, and Breyfogel’s Batman, but it’s damn good super-hero work that deserves to be talked about.
Side note: A few years back at the local comic con here in St. Paul, I had the mind-bending experience of seeing both Dan Jurgens (my Superman) and Norm Breyfogle (my Batman) sitting near each other. I had just enough cash on me to have commissions done by both of these gentlemen, and they hang on the wall next to each other as THE WORLD’S FINEST.