I’ve always fixated on the story and dialogue in comic books rather than the art. I appreciate the art, and I recognize what it’s doing to support (or detract from) the issue. But the art seldom captivates me, drives me to turn the page, and becomes the thing I most remember. Batman 41 proved a beautiful exception to my usual reading experience.
The issue starts with Bruce and Selina in bed. Bruce can hear Ivy in his head, so he makes a mad dash for the cave (punching out a batarang armed Alfred on the way). Selina tries to stop him from injecting himself (with something unknown), so Bruce injects her and then himself. The pair passes out and then wake up back in bed in costume. Ivy is speaking to them through Alfred. To make a long story short, Ivy has taken over everyone on Earth.
Writing-wise Batman 41 is basically talking heads talking at each other. That isn’t a criticism. Tom King sets up the stakes of the new story arc perfectly, injects a couple comedic moments—such as Batman going to punch out Ivy-washed Alfred only to punch Flash. King pens a story where Ivy liberally expounds on her goals (which are basically brainwashed world peace where everyone is happy and loves her) for almost half the issue while Bruce interjects only periodically. One thing I didn’t understand in the writing: the formula Bruce used to save himself and Selina is called out by Ivy as a purely defensive one—it can’t undo her control. But if that’s the case, how did it work on Selina who seemed to be under Ivy’s control while she was trying to wrench the hypodermic out of Bruce’s hands?
That King has written an issue virtually devoid of action is unimportant because what drives Batman 41 is Mikel Janin’s art and June Chung’s colors. The issue frequently cuts to Ivy’s location in a DC equivalent of Central Park. Compared with the spare design of Bruce’s bedroom (where most of the issue takes place) the outdoor scenes which have fewer straight lines and right angles have a more organic look to them; the use of many shades of green—perhaps every shade of green—adds a bright, lively feel that stately Wayne Manor lacks.
The contrasts don’t end at the backgrounds. Bruce and Selina appear briefly without clothes and then in costume. When undressed they’re in the dark—the colors muted. When in costume they themselves are dark. And regardless of how he’s dressed, Bruce is always drawn contemplative, stern, angry. Janin doesn’t given Bruce an ounce of softness throughout the issue. Meanwhle Ivy is drawn as a soft, understated, ordinary woman in a sun dress throughout much of the issue. Chung’s colors—especially the use of red in Ivy’s hair—elevate her to something out of a dream. The balance of understated dreaminess is maintained even as Ivy’s nature citadel grows and her sun dress is replaced by a skintight supervillain outfit. And all of these depictions of Ivy are contrasts to how Bruce and Selina appear.
It’s also noteworthy that Batman 41 sets Ivy up in a positive light. In addition to the way she’s drawn and colored, the issue’s layout and design reinforces this idea. She appears frequently in one page splashes—one of which focuses just on her face framed by the field of her flowing red hair. Late in the issue she gets a two page spread where she’s sitting on a throne amidst a field of plants she’s grown. So while Ivy is a villain, Batman 41 wants readers to know she’s a compassionate, beautiful, soft villain.
Art, colors, design—three things that push Batman 41 far above the average when it comes to comic books. And there happens to be great writing here as well. But as graphic literature Batman 41 is one of the best issues I’ve read in a long time.
"Everyone Loves Ivy" part 1
Tom King - Script / Mikel Janin - Art / June Chung - Color / Clayton Cowles - Letters