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Into the Breyfogle-mobile! – Detective Comics #608 & #609

June 24, 2010

I think everyone who has read comics in their life, and more importantly in their youth, latches onto certain artists as forever defining what iconic characters and their supporting casts should look like.  Sometimes the artists are superstars — how many people still associate Jim Lee with the X-Men? — and other times they’re much lesser known.

As I’ve stated before on this blog (ad nauseum, I’m sure, even though this thing has only been going for a few months) I grew up in the 80’s.  That means, of the two big DC icons, I caught the tail end of Curt Swan’s run on Superman and the latter days of Jim Aparo’s work on the Batman books.  Their versions of those characters are imprinted on my brain like a mother hen’s face onto a baby chick’s.  If I live to be a 100 years old they’ll define what those guys should look like, and no matter how wonderful other artists may be, they just won’t be able to compare.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

I caught Bat-fever in 1989 like the rest of the world.  Tim Burton’s film was a mega-hit, and it led me back to comics after a hiatus of some time.  But when I picked up a few issues of Detective Comics in that year, it wasn’t Aparo’s work that greeted me — instead it was Norm Breyfogle’s.  And you know what?  He’s a close second to Aparo for me.  So I hope you’ll bear with me as I take a look at a couple of the issues that he handled, because I really like the guys art on the Bat-titles and wish he was remembered a bit more fondly.

I wrestled with what books to tackle.  I thought about doing the “Mud Pack” arc with all the Clayfaces from Detective #604-#607, but through sheer laziness I decided to delve into the subsequent two-parter, written by Alan Grant and featuring the introduction of Anarky.  Here are the covers:

      

Breyfogle was always wonderful in his use (and sometimes intentional overuse) of perspective, as well as giving Bats a two-dimensionality (if that’s an actual phrase), and I think those covers show a bit of those two facets of his work.

The first issue gives us Batman busting some skulls and introduces Anarky in all his Guy Fawkes-evoking gold mask glory.  We first get to know our red-garbed vigilante in this nicely constructed sequence — I never realized that the panels were arranged in an “A”, his Zorro-esque calling card, until I was readying this post:

And just so you know, the secret of the universe is that “The common man is always right.”  Glad to know that we humans finally have that figured out, though a lot of philosophers are going to be out of work.

Anarky confronts a drug-dealing punk rocker and uses his weapon of choice, a long staff with a taser on the end, to electrocute the guy (his other weapons are a red can of spray paint for his “A” graffiti and his limitless loquacity).  This crime gets the attention of the Caped Crusader, and he ruminates on the situation in this full-page spread (and check out Breyfogle’s sleek Batmobile design):

In this issue we’re also introduced to a Gothamite nuclear family (mother, father, son), the Machins, and we’re led to believe that the tech-savvy Dad may be the man behind the golden mask.

In the second issue Anarky’s rabble rousing is getting out of hand, and Batman is out to put a stop to it.  This leads, of course, to fisticuffs:

Batman senses that something is off:

Anarky uses his taser on Batman and beats cheeks out of there.  Remember the tech-savvy Dad?  Batman tracks Anarky back to the Dad’s office building.  Dad (named Mike, by the way), not in costume, tries to confess that he’s the baddie, but Bats isn’t having any of it.  He throws open a closet and finds a beaten and unmasked Anarky, who is actually the son (Lonnie) of the elder Machin.  Dad had discovered his son’s doings and was just trying to cover for him.  The kid is a smart prodigy, and like Batman was trying to fight crime outside of the law.  Batman still turns him in despite their common vigilantism, and has a debate with Comissioner Gordon about the merits of Anarky’s deeds:

D’oh!  I like Batman’s association of Anarky with Jason Todd — that wound was still fresh at the time of this story, and from my research I gather that there was some thought amongst the editorial staff of making Lonnie/Anarky the new Robin.

I’m not sure if this post has fully conveyed the merits that I find in Breyfogle’s art.  I don’t think that it has, mainly since the imprinted preferences of youth are, as I stated above, very much a personal affair.  Still, I think the gothic, dreamscape-like qualities of Breyfogle’s pencils meshed very well with Batman and his nighttime exploits.  And the design of Anarky was sleek and just a little bit creepy (dark, empty, hollow eyes) — maybe a little to V for Vendetta-y to be classed as original, but still a visually pleasing creation.

And a little epilogue on Anarky… I was surprised by the length of the Wikipedia entry on the character.  For a relatively minor Batman villain it was a bit long, and I have to credit that to a lot of subsections crafted by actual anarchists wanting to glom their ideology onto a comic book character.  You know anarchists, right?  They’re the people who, instead of wanting us to be stifled under the yoke of other people’s laws, smother us under the pompous verbosity of other people’s (theirs) opinions.  They annoy me.  I may get dynamite thrown through my window for saying that, or at least a Molotov cocktail.  Oh well.  At least I won’t have to listen to their pretentious bull$#!+ anymore.

And if you are an anarchist reading this, I’m just having some fun with you.  All are welcome here!  And Breyfogle’s cool, right?  Can we at least agree on that?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 24, 2010 9:24 pm

    I’m a big Breyfogle fan myself. His work seemed to me to find the perfect medium between cartoonishness and realism. However, I was not enamored of Alan Grant’s scripts. The whole notion of Batman considering Lonnie/Anarchy as a possible partner was ridiculous. Indeed, I got quite nauseated at the whole “however admirable his goals, his methods leave something to be desired,” nonsense that everybody spouted about him. For Pete’s sake, in the first story it’s strongly indicated that he caused the death of an industrialist whose factory was polluting Gotham River. So now Batman (and Gordon) are considering a murderer as a potential crime-fighter? No way.

    Anarky returned in a Tim Drake story a few years later, and he even had a couple miniseries that were amazingly boring, which may account for his extended entry in Wikipedia. I read somewhere that he was revealed to be the illegitimate son of the Joker.

    • June 24, 2010 10:01 pm

      Points well taken. A lot of what I like about Anarky is Breyfogle’s visual design. That and the fact that I was “present at the creation” for the character, something I can’t say about many Batman villains. I could always take or leave the motivations, though. And I think the “confused kid” factor was what softened Gordon and Bats in their estimations of Anarky’s character. Just a thought.

  2. June 24, 2010 10:28 pm

    To my eye, these sample pages amply indicate why you like Breyfogle. I’d say Mr. Aparo struck a chord with Mr. Breyfogle as strong as he resonated with you. There are many similar stylistic moves, especially in his rendition of Commisioner Gordon.

    Of course, I’m ignorant of the inker in this issue. Perhaps this embellisher was one of Aparo’s partners. This would explain the similarity.

    • June 24, 2010 10:51 pm

      Steve Mitchell was the inker here and he handled those chores on many a Bat-issue from this era, so I’m sure that’s the tie that binds. I’m equally sure that Aparo influenced Breyfogle, though. How could he not have had an impact?

  3. David Morefield permalink
    June 25, 2010 7:57 am

    Recently I’ve been considering binding some of my old comics (they’re currently languishing in hard-to-access longboxes) and I was a little surprised to realize my top two candidates for the process were Grant and Breyfogle’s Batman/Detective runs and Walt Simonson’s Thor. I was always more a “sampler” than a completist, so I was surprised to see I’d stuck with those runs through their entirety.

    I agree with Pat that Norm straddles the line between realism and cartoonishness, and thus between Adams and Sprang, my two favorite bat-artists. I also agree with Blaze that Aparo walked that same line, tipping sometimes more this way, sometimes more the other. By the late 80s, though, Aparo’s style had evolved into something I no longer enjoyed, so Breyfogle’s work (along with an all-too-brief run by Alan Davis on ‘Tec) was the highlight of the era for me.

    I didn’t care much for Anarky for all sorts of reasons, but I did like what Alan and Norm did with the Clayfaces, Mr Zsasz, Ratcatcher and of course The Ventriloquist, who quickly rose to near A-list levels in the Rogue’s Gallery and greater fame on the Animated Series. If you look at the history of Batman, there are few if any periods after that initial burst of creativity in the 40s where so many formidable and useful villains were introduced.

    I stayed with Batman through the Dixon runs — some of which I really liked — and finally sputtered to dead stop with the abominable “Knightfall,” ending a near-20-year run of Batmania. But the last of the true high points was Grant and Breyfogle, IMHO.

    • June 25, 2010 12:40 pm

      The Clayfaces arc (which was where I re-hopped onto the Batman bandwagon as a child) will definitely be going under the Blog into Mystery microscope one of these days.

  4. Varun permalink
    April 28, 2015 12:45 am

    Breyfogle is not only cool, HE IS THE MAN! Ah man, what could have been if Breyfogle were allowed to go wild as a writer/artist on titles like THE DEMON, HELLBLAZER, and GREEN LANTERN. A master of action, fury, and intricacy….if only current comics art from the big two could more often match his technical and storytelling mastery.

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