07 July 2013

The Batman ’66 Comic: Retro on the Digital Edge

I wasn’t a big fan of the 1960s Batman television show while growing up. I caught a few episodes, and, though I didn’t recognize the deliberate camp, I caught enough to sense that someone might be having a laugh at my expense.

So my response to the new Batman 66 comic isn’t colored by nostalgia—not by nostalgia for Adam West, that is. On the other hand, I can’t deny liking the return of straightforward heroes v. villain action, bright colors, and clear action from artist Jonathan Case. Writer Jeff Parker’s recreation of the Dynamic Duo’s earnest dialogue is just fine as well.

I recommend reading this comic in its digital form. There are some awkward signs that it’s been prepared for both digital and print publication (word balloons in different sizes, panels that look overly enlarged). But the digital version from ComiXology offers a lot that the print version won’t.

I previously wrote about the digital techniques that DC was touting, asking whether they’d amount to anything more than sound effects over the artwork or what Thrillbent was already doing. They do.

Yes, there are big sound effects popping up over the artwork. Yes, like Thrillbent’s stories Batman 66 adds balloons to panels, adds panels to pages, recolors art, or changes backgrounds while leaving other parts of the screen intact—something print comics can’t do. But the ComiXology platform also lets Batman 66 slide from one panel to the next.

And this story really milks those digital tricks. The first installment of Batman 66 is 95 screens. Some of those screens have multiple panels, some the same panel you just saw with a new detail. But that’s over 90 times something new has popped up in front of your eyes. And Parker’s story is just halfway done. [CORRECTION: Actually just one-third done.]

Even with those new digital tricks, however, the comic looks old-fashioned—on purpose. Case told the New York Post: “I wanted it to scream ‘retro’, so I'm doing some things to emulate old comics (mis-registration, screen tones, and punchy colors).” You can see some of those techniques, looking like mistakes, in his portrait of Robin above.

As a sign of Case’s attention to detail, look at Robin’s legs. While Mike and Laura Allred’s cover for the print edition (not part of the first digital bundle) colors Robin’s legs the same pink as his bare arms, Case shows him in the pallid tights that Burt Ward wore.

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