Friday, January 23, 2009

Comic Review: Batman: Jazz

Batman: Jazz
DC Comics
(1995)

Batman Jazz Comic Book [Midnite Media]Batman Jazz Comic Book [Midnite Media]Batman Jazz Comic Book [Midnite Media]

Written by Gerard Jones
Illustrated by Mark Badger

There's nothing quite like a good Batman story, a delicate mix of super-heroics, gritty realism, and pulp fiction detective work. And there's nothing quite like old-school hipsterism, either, the likes of Jack Kerouac, hepcats, and antiquated slang. So when the two worlds come together in this three-issue miniseries, the results should have proved spectacular.

Old Bats, out patrolling the streets of Gotham, hears the wild sounds of Hot Jazz and he follows it to the park where an old man named Willie Little is blowing the sax. Soon enough, the old jazzman is attacked by three zoot-suited poseurs in paper mache masks, and Batman is determined to discover why. He learns that Willie Little is, in actuality, Blue Byrd, a world-famous musician who supposedly died 40 years ago (not to mention an obvious stand-in figure for the legendary Charlie 'Bird' Parker). In seeking out Byrd's attackers, Batman learns a thing or two about heart, a thing or two about soul, a thing or two about jazz, and yes, even a thing or two about himself.

Which is all fine and good, really. The writing was enjoyable, especially the philosophical ramblings about masks and identity, and the subterranean pontifications on jazz. That said, now the downfall of the series: the art was so rough and muddied that at times it was impossible to tell what I was even looking at. I'm assuming that it was "inspired" by the look of The Dark Knight Returns, but it didn't work here, nor would it fit here if it did. The muddy style seems instead to be hiding a lack of talent. And while I can appreciate the jazz-cat stereotypes in more laughable ventures (Mr. Beat, for example), it simply has no place in Gotham.

Still, while it will never be a defining Batman story, it is well worth reading for the Geek-Beat crowd.

Speaking of Batman's connection to jazz, it's interesting to note that that late, great Neal Hefti, a composer who wrote and arranged for Count Basie and Frank Sinatra, also penned the viral "Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Batman!" theme song for the campy Adam West television show.

--J/Metro

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