Feeding a punch card
into the Bat-Computer:
"SMILEX GAS CONFIRMED."
Any entire Batman comic inspired by Hugh Ferriss? Why, yes, I don't mind if I do. I was just talking about Batman's relationship to the architecture of Gotham City when I read Batman: The Court of Owls. I read Ferriss' The Metropolis of Tomorrow last year, but I had used his work to illustrate sessions of my second Oubliette campaign, & I put him on the cover of one of my NaNoWriMo novels, so I've been a fan for some time now. Chip Kidd I mostly know Chip Kidd as a cover designer & because of Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross, which sure is pretty. This goes up there with "pretty books," but I like the narrative weaving through it, though in all honesty it serves more as an excuse to get from one gorgeous scene to the next breath-taking vignette. I've never been aware of Dave Taylor before, but I sure am going to start paying attention to him now.
I had a disagreement with a friend about the lack of flap copy on the book; I think the lack of foreknowledge works to its advantage, that being able to sleuth out the genre & tone of the store through little clues-- Batman has a Flash Gordon sci-fi grappling gun; that combined with the art deco architecture gives a certain vibe-- is rewarding to the reader. She rightly responded that she wasn't sure if this was a comic or an art collection or a series of meditations on the covers or what. A fair point, but I'm also in a soup of context; I'd heard enough buzz & seen enough previews to have an idea. The marketing took care of it, to some degree; even without that, even if you pick it up ten years from now, I think you'll be able to figure it out. Besides, you wouldn't think it was anything beside a graphic novel unless you knew who Chip Kidd was, & if you knew who Chip Kidd was you probably know what Death by Design is, too.
The story is very old fashioned-- delightfully so-- in a way that meshes with the ambiance of the story. The pulp science fiction angle is played up & paired with archaic technology in a nice piece of juxtaposition; holograms & vacuum tubes, giant clocks & stasis fields. Even the Joker is much more of a crook than his modern incarnation-- today's Joker is a serial killer, an unchecked murderer, but Kidd goes back to a Joker who was still very much interested in robbing you. The skillful anachronism weaves into the story, turning the real world outrage of the demolition of Penn Station into a tale of environmentally progressive architecture. Bruce Wayne borrows a page from How I Met Your Mother of all places & falls into an orbit of romantic antagonism with the woman protesting the destruction of historic architecture, while he races against another vigilante to get to the bottom of the mysterious accidents befalling the renovations. & you know, periodically punching the Joker.