I said some weeks ago that I was “off” superhero comic books. The narratives have become increasingly banal. But I can be sucked in — f’instance, for the New 52's Detective Comics No.35. The art. The drawing on the cover pulled me in: corpses weren’t enough by themselves—in fact, they look so much like zombies that I’d have been turned off were it not for the tiny figure of Batman at the end of the converging perspective lines. Then comes the interior. Spectacular.
From the first two panels on the first page, John Paul Leon has me hooked.
The stunning use of a negative silhouette duplicating the near positive silhouette. Then the sheer pictorial detail in the third panel. Finally, the deeply shadowed face of Bruce Wayne. All promise so far, but Leon’s promise turns pictorially engaging as the story unfolds.
An airliner lands and goes rolling on into airport buildings—which event Leon draws with painstaking attention to every detail. But that’s not all.
Throughout, his chiaroscuro plunges all the action into deep shadow — in the manner of famed Milton Caniff, but more so. Caniff never did black-soaked scenes like these.
But, like Caniff, Leon often gives us a panel with no background at all for sheer contrast. Amid the shadows in the two-page spread nearby, detail still abounds: notice the oxygen masks dangling from the ceiling of the aircraft.
This issue, the first of a two-issue series entitled “Terminal,” is all set-up. The airplane’s crash goes on for pages, moving in slow motion across the “screen,” the disintegrating terminal building coming apart as we watch, almost step-by-step, while the giant aircraft noses its way through the debris as it creates it. Then when the authorities go inside the aircraft to see what happened, Batman joins them. All the passengers are dead. The pilot is dead. The co-pilot is dead. Batman thinks they all died at take-off, eight hours ago. That means, “We have eight hours,” he says cryptically. Eight hours “until we’re all dead.”
And the last page of this issue confirms his verdict: Magnus Magnuson, rogue NGO worker, shows up in a video delivered to the television news, and he pronounces that when Batman and the cops opened the door to the crashed airplane, they “opened a diseased coffin,” and “Gotham International Airport will soon become a cemetery.”
Spook stuff. Not usually my cup of tea. But I’ll be back for more Leon.