COMICS: The Batman Chronicles (#10)

The Batman Chronicles (#10)
D.C. Comics

I ndependent comics, while often wonderful, seem to have followed the course of "alternative" music. Amid the coolness quotient attached to reading these offbeat titles, the genre has lost some measure of its indie flavor--in other words, its quality. However, one positive side effect of this phenomenon is that many mainstream comic companies have diversified their storylines to give them an indie-oriented twist. And while this trend can be read as an obvious attempt to go where the money is, the fact remains that no major publisher has co-opted the alt-comic aesthetic more intelligently than DC Comics (e.g. Sandman, The Invisibles), which has scored another well-deserved hit with The Batman Chronicles.

This quarterly anthology starring the Dark Knight features some of the smartest and most beautifully drawn stories produced above ground. "To See the Batman," written by Bob Gale (who co-scripted the Back to the Future films) and illustrated by comic-art god Bill Sienkiewicz (whose work wouldn't seem out of place in the Louvre), is certain to satisfy indie lovers with a hankering for superheroes. The story itself isn't even about the Batman, but an adolescent whose longing to see the Caped Crusader prompts him to leave his suburban home for a twilight subway ride into Gotham.

Told from the perspective of this acne-covered "hero" and written to resemble an illustrated book (as opposed to the standard comic-book panel format), this short tale reads something like "Encyclopedia Brown Goes to the Ghetto." Besides capturing the thrill of a sheltered kid's encounter with the mean streets, Gale and Sienkiewicz have managed to bring the mainstream itself into a grittier neighborhood. And, in so doing, they've restored the Batman's place at the head of the comic-book table.

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