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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Detective Comics Annual 7. Chuck Dixon (Writer), Alcatena (Art), David Horning (Colours), Starking/Comicraft (Letters). DC Comics (1994)

This is a fantastic Batman story pretending not to be a Batman story at all. As an Elseworlds story the cast are removed from the mainstream continuity and put into a different context. Batman is an English pirate captain, Leatherwing, he preys on the ships and treasure of the Spanish and Portuguese in the Caribbean. He hides his identity under a bat like mask. Robin is a street urchin who stows away on the Flying Fox, Leatherwing's ship. The Joker is the Laughing Man and Catwoman is Capitana Felina. The Laughing Man and Capitana Felina hatch a plot to discover the location of Leatherwing's treasure. The plot is cleverly unfurled and the conclusion nicely surprising.
Over time with any long running franchise the underlying formula gets shopworn and somewhat tired. The formula's restrictions become restrictive instead of creatively provoking as the delicate balance between commercial necessity and creativity become skewed to commercial dominance. In the right hands the formula retains its power and it is the eternal possibility of renewal that lies in the heart of genre fandom.
The creative team on this book dust off the Batman formula with wit, creativity and compelling energy to reveal it in all its glory. They achieve a remarkable feat, they have created a first rate pirate story that is also a glowing Batman story. Neither aspect is compromised at the expense of the other. Chuck Dixon understand so comprehensively the nature of the Batman formula that he can play with it with startling confidence, changing it as required so that Leatherwing is and critically is not Batman at the same time, the same aplies to the rest of the Batman cast. Each are recognisably the character from the mainstream continuity, they are also very much the singular characters in this story.
Alceatena's art is astonishing, the cast are bursting with energy and life, a cast of distinct individuals who clash with each other with glorious energy and rage. These are the pirate visuals no film budget could ever hope to realise. They look exactly as they should, they are as romantically outrageous as they need to be to give the story a sense of swashbuckling reality. The panel borders are a detail that sets off the depth of the care and attention lavished on the story. David Horning's colours along with Starkings lettering's are a pleasure, they wrap the art and the story in vivid clothes, they give the story the flourish is calls for.
This is an undiluted comics pleasure, it would not work in any other medium. That comics are not this good more often is a pity, that they are this good at all is the glory of the medium and the joy of being a fan.

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