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Last Wednesday saw the release of Batman: Death by Design, a new graphic novel by Chip Kidd, writer and publication designer for the project, and artist Dave Taylor. Kidd has a rich background in designing book jackets and graphic novel projects, including Mythology: The DC Comics Art of Alex Ross, Schulz and Peanuts, Jurassic Park, the Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again collection and many more. He also is a novelist and a musician, and even helped write an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Taylor, meanwhile, has been drawing comics for a few decades now, having worked on Force Works, World’s Finest, The Shadow of the Bat, Tongue*Lash and Judge Dredd, among many others
Here’s a description of the plot, as written by CBR’s Jeffrey Renaud in an introduction to an interview with Kidd:
Set in the 1930s, Death by Design explores Gotham as it undergoes one of the most expansive construction booms in the city’s history. Inspired by two real world events — the demolition of the original Pennsylvania Station in 1963 and the fatal construction crane collapses in midtown Manhattan of 2008 — Kidd asks what if, despite the years separating the incidents, they were somehow connected? And what if they happened in Gotham City, during a glorious golden age when a caped crusader protected its streets?
So what did folks think about it? Here are a few opinions from around the ‘net:
Stefan Fergus, Civilian Reader: “Before picking this up, I had only seen one preview page, and I was really intrigued by the style and story – it looked gloomy and atmospheric, which are two things I’ve always associated with Batman. As it turns out, my initial impressions were right on the money, and I’m really glad I bought this – this is a great detective/investigative story, rendered in some truly wonderful artwork. Very impressive.”
Erik Norris, IGN: “Of course, this is a Batman story, so you can expect a fair share of appearances by the Joker and some of Batman’s other rogues in cameo fashion, as well as a new vigilante face that Kidd creates specifically for this tale. There are plenty of explosions and fisticuffs to go around to please your everyday Batman reader, but the political and cultural undertones at work in Death By Design are by far the most fascinating. Unfortunately, Kidd doesn’t get a chance to mine them for all they’re worth over the course of this brisk 104-page tale. Death By Design starts out well enough, but a hasty wrap-up will leave you yearning for more. Likewise, some plot threads get their payoff, while others simply fade away. It’s also worth noting that Kidd frequently falls back on the cliché newscasts tactic to relay heavy bouts of exposition. These moments kill the otherwise quick pacing of the story. From a narrative perspective, Death By Design offers up an enjoyable Batman tale, but not one that you’re going to be fondly reminiscing about in a few years time.”
Comic writer Van Jensen: “The story revolves around the planned demolition of the aging Wayne central station and construction of a new version. But as mysterious disasters plague both projects, Batman has to determine who he’s up against and what they’re after. The book’s biggest weakness is the inclusion of a newspaper architecture critic as a pseudo-protagonist. Once the plot gathers enough momentum to move on its own without the cumbersome narration, the critic is set aside till the book’s end. Kidd would have been better served to pick one of the other many characters at hand and told the story through their eyes.”
Andy Hunsaker, Crave Online: “The scripting from Kidd, primarily known as a graphic designer, is fairly thin, a very basic A to B plot that serves as a vehicle for the architectural curiosities and letting Taylor go all out with his sketchwork – and that is very obviously the reason someone might buy Batman: Death By Design. Black and white with splashes of color here and there, the pencils evoke a noir mood combined with a sense of breathtaking wonder from a time gone by. The characters are strikingly drawn – the Joker’s coloring is a particular eye magnet, even if he’s written as little more than a standard thief. It’s a throwback to a less dour time, when the Dark Knight wasn’t really so dark – in fact, this story is much more about Bruce Wayne than Batman, in particular his role in Gotham’s development, and that’s an angle I can respect and enjoy.”
Chris Lough, Tor.com: “I have to admit personal artistic bias towards Taylor, as well, in that I am a total sucker for pencil-only comic illustration. To be sure, there are inks and colors, but the pages look as if they sprang straight from Taylor’s desk, giving the tale a rough vibrancy that matches perfectly with the nebulous pulp-y, roaring 20s-ish period the story is set in.”
Andrew Asbury, Batman News: “One of the best things about buying a graphic novel has to be all the supplemental material and Death by Design has some really great stuff. As I said, the book’s great strength is its art and the bonus material shows Dave Taylor’s early blue pencil sketches of everything from Batman’s grapple gun, the Batchopper, and even a few early designs of Bruce Wayne. There’s also a brief glimpse at how Chip Kidd scripted the book, which is pretty unique. Since it was his first time writing a comic, Kidd used Quark rather than simply write a traditional screenplay-like script for Taylor to work off of. Each page of the script had the panels already blocked off with the dialogue and action descriptions written within and sometimes these perfect squares were even accompanied by a doodle. It’s fascinating stuff, but with a book as visually powerful as this, I would’ve liked to have seen even more.”