Monday, September 15, 2008

Top Batman Artists

My recent poll on this blog gave us a clear winner for Batman artists (see? you should vote in these things because I do read them!). Before we hit the winner, I want to look at some of the best Batman artists of all time.

Jim Aparo

Jim took on the role of Batman artist in the late 60's and carried it on until the 80's. Jim's work on the Brave and the Bold gave him the opportunity to not only put his touch on Batman, but to give us his detailed interpretations of other great heroes like Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Hawk & Dove, Deadman, and others. Jim was able to increase the sales figures of the struggling book and have it carry on for several more years before moving into the main Batman title.

There were several notable storylines that happened during Jim's run, including the return of Riddler and perhaps his most famous story, "A Death in the Family". That story brought us the death of Jason Todd at the hands of the Joker (decided by popular phone vote of the fans).

Jim's action-packed artwork was clear and sharp.

Frank Miller

Better known as a writer now rather than an artist, Miller's first take on Batman was the best-selling The Dark Knight Returns. In this one book, Miller took a character whose popularity was starting to wane and slammed him back to the gritty, dark style he had originally been written in during his creation.

This version of Batman was older, and more violent than anything seen up before. Miller's "dirty" art style wasn't the clean lines seen up to that point from other artists.

Miller went back to Batman for a sequel to TDKR, but it was blasted by critics and didn't sell well. Both stories are available together in the "Absolute Dark Knight" and are worth reading just for Frank's daring storytelling.

Bob Kane

Tame and possibly even boring by today's standards, Bob's artwork was what gave us our first look at the Dark Knight Detective. Originally, Kane had designed the hero to have wings, but he eventually moved on to a cape instead.

Bob's original work on the character was brutal for the time. Batman actually killed villains and used a gun in one of his early adventures. Kane moved him away from guns (and gave him an origin to explain why he hated them so much), but for his time Batman was a rough and tough character. Eventually, the addition of Robin lightened the book's stories considerably and gave him more of a cartoonish look.

Jim Lee

Jim Lee stepped in to do a 12 part storyline called "Hush", which brought us--among other things--the return of Jason Todd. Jim's artwork on X-Men and Spawn years earlier made him a clear fan favorite, and the news of his coming to the title brought cheers from fanboys everywhere.

Lee didn't disappoint. He immediately brought sales up for the Caped Crusader while bringing new life to other characters like Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and even Superman.

Lee returned to the character last year, teaming with Frank Miller (this time in the writer's chair) for All-Star Batman & Robin. The title was a mixed bag with fans, who were hesitant to say anything negative about having two of the arguably biggest names in comics on the same title at the same time, but even though the story wasn't worth reading most of the time it did allow us to see Lee's take on the character again.

Alex Ross

Mention "realistic" and you really don't get any better than Alex Ross. Ross may have stepped to the spotlight with his work on Marvels, but it was Kingdom Come that gave fans their first look at his version of Batman.

Ross has never been on a monthly Batman title as anything more than a cover artist, but he's included on this list because he always manages to blow us away with his art anytime he touches the character. His latest monthly run with Batman in it was the Justice miniseries last year, and it's a shame he's not involved in more interior art. Unfortunately, Alex's detailed art style (he regularly uses real models for his character's poses) makes it impossible for him to run with a monthly title for any length of time for interior art, but he does give us covers on a regular basis. He just finished contributing the covers for the Batman R.I.P. storyline.

George Perez

George is more famous for his artwork on Avengers than anything else, but when The Brave & The Bold was brought back last year, George stepped up to the challenge. Batman is still a character in series, though not the title regular he was when the series was last seen.

Perez's artistic style is unique and detailed. When DC and Marvel decided to publish a JLA/Avengers crossover story, George was tapped for the job. Even though it was literally over a decade from when he started to when he was finally allowed to finish, the series was a thing of beauty. The story may not have been that great, but it was gorgeous.

John Byrne

More famous for his run on X-Men with Chris Claremont in the 80's, Byrne drew Batman in the Superman/Batman Generations group of miniseries.

Byrne gave Batman a more muscular (some might say chubby) look than other artists, but no one can fault his ability to draw an action sequence.

Byrne falls into that category of artists who have never worked on a monthly Batman title, but his take on the character has always been memorable. Issues of note are the Generations miniseries (with Superman), and Batman 3-D.

And finally, our poll's hands-down almost-unanimous winner is...

Neal Adams

Neal started working on Batman in the late 60's and revolutionized the way comic books were drawn. His run on Batman has been collected in three hardcover volumes called "Batman Illustrated", and they are worth every cent.

Adams worked on Marvel's X-Men as the title was dying and was unable to save it from moving to reprints for years (before relaunching into the most popular comics title of the 80s). Undaunted, he took a swipe at the popular character of Batman and became the standard by which the character was measured for years. Adams was able to put detail into every drawing that had never been seen before.

The iconic moments for the character during Neal's run are too numerous to mention, but some highlights are Dick Grayson finally going off to college, the introduction of Ras A Ghul, and the return of Man-Bat.

And that's it! The best drawing the best...that's why we love comic books so much.


taylorf21 said...

the fact that you know all this makes you my new hero. Seriously, that's cool. Also, you picked some of my favorite artists, so your cool for that too. The reason I'm flattering you is because I need more info on famous comic artists, do know where i can find that?... and because your awesome

Greg Hyatt said...

Great list. Aparo and Adams are definitely at the top of my list. What about David Mazzucchelli? His Batman manages to straddle the line of realistic and fantastic.

Also-- Perez is a god. I'd read his interpretation of the phone book.

Brian said...

taylorf21, I don't know which artists you're interested in studying, but Google can really help bring in some gold mine websites if you're willing to sift through a few not-so-great ones.

greg, I'll have to check into Mazzucchelli because I've never heard of him before. Sounds great though, and he just might make it into a future list. And I'll agree with you, nobody beats Perez when it comes to versatility.

Anonymous said...

Neal Adams was truly a groundbreaking artist. When comic book art is concerned, I think we can divide it between before and after Neal Adams. Sure, some current artists make some interesting realistic art, but, they are all following Adams' footprints.

Michael Bailey said...

Byrne also drew the first two issues of The Untold Legend of Batman, which was an awesome mini-series from 1980 that told the history of the Pre-Crisis (on Infinite Earths) Batman. I first discovered this mini through the God awful Batman cereal that was released in 1989 along with the movie.

I like Byrne's take on Batman. The first two Generations series. The third one...not so much.

JackSl@ter said...

I enjoyed the list, especially John Byrne, but seriously how could you leave out Don Newton and Dick Giordano? Don Newton was one of the greatest unsung artists in history, in my opinion anyway.

Brian Reaves said...

JackSl@ter, Giordano definitely deserves a spot in a future list. I completely forgot about Newton. I'll have to look up his stuff. Sounds good though.

Jeff Holloway said...

Totally should have had Don Newton as an honorable mention. Like Neal Adams, Newton's Batman was gritty, gothic and human.

Ryan Clay said...

Did I just read that someone doesn't know who David Mazzucchelli is? He's the artist on the acclaimed Batman: Year One and Daredevil (although since this article is several years old, I'm sure that person has now familiarized himself with Mazzucchelli.). What about Alan Davis, Brian Bolland, Carmine Infantino, Norm Breyfogle, Dick Sprang, or Bruce Timm?? Also, I wouldn't include Bob Kane as one of the great Batman artists. His work was simply okay, sometimes crude. I understand you want to acknowledge Kane as creator but keep in mind Bill Finger heavily influenced and helped mold Batman's design. It was very much a collaboration.

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