Batman: Dreamland original graphic novella
Writers: Alan Grant & Norm Breyfogle
Artist/Cover artist: Breyfogle
Colors: Noelle C. Giddings
Letters: John Workman
Editor: Dennis O’Neil & Joseph Illidge
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $5.95 US/$9.25 CAN
The two Batman artists who made the greatest impression of me in my 40 years of comics reading have been Jim Aparo and Norm Breyfogle, and one could argue they both offered up the least conventional interpretations of the Dark Knight. I loved Breyfogle’s runs on Detective Comics, Batman and Shadow of the Bat in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, so I was taken aback when I happened upon this prestige-format one-shot from 2000 at a local flea market. It’s an unusual example of the work of the creative team of Alan Grant and Breyfogle for a number of noteworthy reasons. It has its flaws, but it definitely satisfied that part of me that loved this team’s work years ago. After reading it, I completely understood why this was released as a one-shot (though it needn’t have been so expensive), because the premise just wouldn’t have worked in the context of serialized DC Universe comics.
Three scientists in Gotham, all associated with Area 51 in New Mexico, have died, the result of apparent suicides. Prompted by the claims of the latest victim’s daughter, the Batman decides to delve into the case, and he quickly discovers a connection to a lesser-known, reformed member of his rogues gallery. The mystery takes the Dark Knight to Area 51 itself, looking for a mysterious, malicious scientist at the centre of it all. However, he’s not the only one who’s decided to infiltrate the base in search of answers.
It became clear to me fairly quickly why this was released as a one-shot. For it to work, it has to unfold outside of regular continuity. In the story, Batman expresses skepticism about intelligent life beyond our planet. This Batman can’t be a teammate of a Martian or a Kryptonian. The other people populating the story can’t live in a world that’s been saved by a Tamaranian princess or an intergalactic space cop. While there could have been more overt clues as to this story’s unique qualities and its removal from the DC Universe, one is able to deduce as much fairly early on in the book. Now, some online searches reveal this was a sequel to Batman: The Abduction, released two years earlier. I hadn’t read that, but I had no sense that Grant and Breyfogle were picking up from a previous story, and that’s to their credit.
That being said, Dreamland isn’t the most accessible of comics. There’s a passing reference to “Harold” equipping Batman with some tech, and while I recognized the reference to the deformed inventor who once lived in the Batcave, he’s obscure enough of a character to leave a lot of readers out of the loop. The Kook, who plays a key role in the story, was more of a question mark for me. I had a vague sense I’d heard of him before, but I really wasn’t all that certain.
While I understand the need for this story to take place out of continuity, there was no need for the title hero to be portrayed as being so out of character. To get where the plot wants him, Batman overlooks side mysteries and injustices, and leaves victims of mental and physical torture behind. He allows a coverup to unfold and apparently does little to rectify it. I also found Commission Gordon’s portrayal as a clueless and lazy cop – so easily accepting the suicide explanation for the story’s catalyst – to be unfortunate and unnecessary. It would have been easy to write a line or two that showed he knew something was sketchy and that he trusted in his caped ally to get to the bottom of things.
Despite the awkward and occasionally random spasms in the plot, there’s no denying the book looks great. Breyfogle’s Batman is simultaneously lithe and powerful, human and superhuman. The artist’s exaggerated use of the character’s to envelop him in sharp, inhuman shapes never fails to grab the eye. I appreciated the shift from the urban jungle of Gotham to the vast expanse of the New Mexico desert and finally to the claustrophobic confines of a military base.
John Workman’s distinctive and dynamic lettering works incredibly well with Breyfogle’s artwork, especially the sound effects. Noelle Giddings’s colors maintain the Batman’s dar appeal while still allowing for blasts of color to shine through to add to the atmosphere.
I was wondering how I could have overlooked this particular publication, given my appreciation of the writer and artist’s past collaborations. Then I flipped the book over and saw the price. Almost 10 bucks Canadian? While I appreciate the exchange rate with the U.S. dollar at the time was atrocious, even the American cover price here is a lot to ask for this product. 6/10
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