I’ve been rereading Grant Morrison’s recent DC work lately, for no reason other than the fact that I adore it, and I’ve gotten up to the Black Glove collection of his run on Batman, and in particular the “Club of Heroes” story illustrated by JH Williams III. Back when these issues were first coming out a few years ago, I raved a few times about how this was my Batman, the one that I preferred to the grim-and-gritty urban avenger we’d been getting for so many years. But in rereading them now, I realized that I never raved publically about how terrific the art was in these issues.
If you aren’t familiar with the Club of Heroes, it was a silver age concept originally introduced in Detective Comics #215 in a story entitled “The Batmen of All Nations.”
Published in 1955, in the story Batman got together with a bunch of heroes who were inspired by his example — each with an appropriate bit of localization — and formed “The Batmen of All Nations.”
Later the group was expanded to included Superman and renamed “The Club of Heroes.” (For more about the silver age appearances, and about the similarly-themed “Green Arrows of the World,” check out the rundown I did back in 2007.)
In any event, early in his run on Batman Grant Morrison revisited the concept, reuniting Batman with the former member of the Club of Heroes for a strange weekend.
But as fantastic as the script for the issue was, where the story really shined was in the art of JHW3. The genius of the approach was that each of the different “Batmen” were drawn in the style of a different comic artist. And the styles chosen for each immediately suggested a whole history for the character since we saw them last.
Morrison’s script included all sorts of references to the unseen adventures of the other heroes (including setting up Chekov’s Guns on the wall that wouldn’t be fired until the villains mentioned in those references turned up years later in the pages of Batman and later Batman and Robin). So it was easy to assume that the idea to present the heroes in different styles had been Morrison’s, as well. Not so. In a series of posts on Barbelith Underground a short while later, Williams revealed that the whole thing had been his idea. And more, he generously explained his thinking for the different styles he employed.
Most of the references I had caught, but I’ll confess that a few of them passed me by until Williams pointed them out.
cheif man of bats– sort of a steve rude influence. i wanted something clean and a little goofy retro in this idea and thats what came out first shot. rude’s stuff always has this sort of 50’s 60’s nostalgic feeling to me and i wanted that for this character. but he needed to feel like the feelings you get when you look at those old silver age comics. charming in ways but also a little silly.
raven red– a very loose influence of basic 70’s early 80’s superhro comics with an almost generic quality to the costume. cheesy amd redundent. been there done that sort of feeling when you look at him.
gaucho– chaykin. for that rough around the edges feel and machismo that all of his characters have. his outfit is definitely not based on traditional gaucho clothing. instead i went for the el mariachi desperado films look. again to enhance his macho attiude.
wingman– very loosely based on gibbons from watchmen era. i wanted the costume to look as if this character could’ve existed in the watchman reality. it fits well with his attitude and feelings of being original but not really. sort of an interesting comment since watchmen was a very groundbreaking and original concept but used characters that had existed in a different form previously. make sense?
musketeer– is influenced by mid to late 80’s superhero ideas. maybe a little bit alan davis in there too. hence the simple color techniques with smooth grads for a sense of rendering.
legionary– i wanted to convey the sort of humorous but cynical qualities of some of the comics of the early 90’s. with maybe a little hint of kelly jones exaggeration in the mix. particularly with his death scene.
knight and squire– mcguinness influence. just because i loved the way he handled them previously and i wanted them to sync up to that.
dark ranger– definitely sprouse. i think that influence came out of the early sketch because the character really needed to feel vastly updated and different from his past appearance. and so he needed to feel really modern.
batman and robin– no influence here just me.
How awesome is that? Can’t you just imagine all of those Chris Sprouse-drawn adventures of the Dark Ranger? Or the light-hearted Steve Rude adventures of Chief Man-of-Bats? Or the sexual antics of the Howard Chaykin-drawn Gaucho?
Or, as JHW3 put it:
the whole idea here was to convey characters that have had real history that we haven’t been privy to. they were seen a very long time ago and that was pretty much it really. and grant wrote them as if they’ve been having lives and adventures all along and i wanted to see if i could make them seem as if they had stepped out of their own comics and into this one. so i imagined what those comics might currently look like but none of us have seen or read them. comics from another world? these clubbers needed to have distinct character traits immediately understandable becasue of the way the story moves with them. so i thought it would be an intersting challenge to see what affect ‘styles” would have on their personalities as i drew them. a nice experiment i think, which has produced interesting results. as i drew them i felt as if they were fully realized right away. they came alive.
Whole histories of the characters suggested simply by the choice of a particular artist’s style. Clever stuff.