The Art of the Batman (James Field) – Book Review

A few weeks on the from the release of the Matt Reeves directed The Batman, a tie-in coffee table-style book celebrating the design of the film comes from author James Field.  The Art of the Batman is not merely a collection of photos and concept art, but a thorough look at the work from conception to realisation.

We begin with a thoughtful foreword from Reeves himself, in which he succinctly describes his introduction to the character of Batman, before moving swiftly on to the nature of his interest in the property and to the goals of this book in highlighting the work of the many people – most of them namechecked – in leading the various departments that brought the design elements of the film to life.  The author’s introduction follows, heavily quoting Reeves, as he explains how the project came to be.  Our introduction to this work is completed by a who’s who of relevant cast and crew, along with a map of the islands of Gotham.

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The main meat of the book comprises seven chapters: Vengeance, Justice, Honor, Retribution, Power, Despair and Hope.  Each is a thoughtful mixture of essay, concept art, set photos, design sketches and even 3D renders, based in each case around a theme.  Vengeance focuses on Batman himself, and the accoutrement he uses in the film.  We get a section on The Batman as a project – the ideas behind not setting it as a pure origin story, a little on Robert Pattinson, his casting, and his background with the character, then we are straight into design concepts.

As suspected by those well versed in the comic book versions of the character, Batman: Year One proves an immediate influence, with the first sketch shown from David Mazzuchelli, artist on that Frank Miller tale of Batman’ origin.  We hear from creatives on the thinking behind a leather cowl, the logic behind the gauntlets, the practical uses of the bat-symbol, and why it is designed the way it is.  This is very detailed, as by the time we get to the Batmobile – the conception of which is equally engaging in discussion – we are already 47 pages into the book. In fact, The Batman himself (and his immediate world, including Alfred) is more than a third of the over 230-page work.

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The creatives are not afraid to compare their design decisions to those of Christopher Nolan’s team on the Dark Knight Trilogy.  All of this is illustrated with truly gorgeous concept art, matching some of the very best historical examples from the likes of Ralph McQuarrie on the original Star Wars.  The drive for realism has led to a genuine sense that the designers have sought to employ real world physics into the hand drawn designs we seen, all heavily annotated with handwritten notes explaining their thinking, and sometimes augmented by pop-out text that gives extra points of trivia or quotes from those involved.

The highlight of the Vengeance chapter (apart from the Batsuit) is discussion of Wayne Tower and the Batcave.  There is an entire logic as to why the cave looks as it does, and why – as eagle-eyed viewers may have noted – that is a disused train line: Reeves can tell us how and why it is there, and why it is in disuse.  Wayne Tower is designed beautifully but underpinned by the concept that this is a man with a disdain for the trappings of wealth.

Justice focuses on the Riddler, with a healthy dose of testimony from Paul Dano, a full discussion of character history, conception in this film, and the code language invented for his riddles.  Honor discusses Jeffrey Wright’s Commissioner Gordon.  As a side note it is interesting that the concept art for the character features Wright as he looked as Felix Leiter in No Time to Die – bald, for a start.  Retribution deals with Selina Kyle, and again heavily references the prose influences of Year One and The Long Halloween.

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Power looks at Carmine Falcone and The Penguin, and here we see the Influence of the previously cited works, and The Godfather in seeing how the mob world was designed.  Despair deals with Gotham, and openly references the influence of Liverpool both on design and location choices.  There is also interesting discussion of how the world was rendered in VR to allow Reeves to have a virtual walk around his fictional city.

Finally, we have Hope, the shortest chapter talking of the Batman’s journey and where he finds himself as a character at the end of the film.  These artwork books are usually pleasant items for a quick flick-through for fans looking for some behind the scenes photos and concept art.  The Art of the Batman demonstrates the same care as the feature film it is covering, in providing a thoughtful and detailed look at the thinking and work that went into the project, illustrated by some of the most gorgeous art anyone could wish for.  It is book that inspires a need to watch the film again.  Recommended.

The Art of the Batman is out on 28th April from Abrams Books.

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