Tuesday, July 5, 2016

BAB Book Review: Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns Gallery Edition

Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Gallery Edition
Graphitti Designs, May 2016

Doug: Hey, I'm not one to toss about texting lingo, but


Is this a cool book, or what? (Yes, it's a very cool book, as I think you'll see.)

First off, the nuts and bolts of the book, courtesy of the folks at Comic Book Daily --
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Frank Miller Gallery Edition
Includes artwork from Dark Knight Returns 1-4, covers, related art and previously unpublished pieces. Though Graphitti Designs was unable to locate every original from this story, they are pleased to present to fans everywhere the best presentation of the artwork from this historic series ever seen.
Some may see the price and think "no way", and I'd most likely be in that camp as well had I not been earning revenue from the sale of my collection. I pre-ordered this book from Westfield Comics in Wisconsin; I'd done business with them as a subscriber during my college years and was pleased to make their acquaintance once again. They sold me the book in October for $148 (which included S&H), and I waited patiently through two publication delays before getting my mitts on the book on June 9. As you can see from the tale of the tape above, it is big -- way bigger than the average Artist Edition from IDW (though not as large as the twice up John Romita's Amazing Spider-Man or my pre-ordered Jack Kirby's Thor (already delayed and now due to arrive this week)) and weighing in at close to 10 pounds. Not exactly the sort of book one would rest on the lap.

Here are a few of shots of the packaging -- the book's transit appeared to have been smooth. The cardboard "case" is standard for these types of books, as IDW uses the same product. I keep all of my Artist Editions nestled in this original packaging. Note: All images henceforth are photographs -- I'd have gotten a hernia attempting to scan from this monster.

I've also included an image of the inner spine of the book to show the stitching. The craftsmanship is solid, and what's especially nice is that although it's not a "lay flat" book it does not want to close once opened. I could look at it or read from it without having to hold down pages on either side.

Below are shots of the title page, as well as the back cover (just ignore my reflection in that pic). The image of Batman towering over the Gotham City skyline was the cover of the first Warner Books trade paperback (which I owned at one time before a colleague to whom I'd loaned it lost it); it was also a 16"x20" poster, which I also own.

And here, kids, is where the awesomeness begins. Below you'll find a vellum (not sure if that's the exact nature of the material, so I'm going with it anyway) overlay with Frank Miller's original pencils to the cover of The Dark Knight Returns and the finished graphic design that saw publication. You can see how the color version shows through the top sheet. I'll have several more examples of this feature of the book.

I sent all of these images to Karen shortly after I received the book. One of the things she remarked about was her love of the margin notes. Those of you who have read Miller's collaboration with Bill Sienkiewicz, Elektra: Assassin, know that Sienkiewicz repeated certain images, and often. Note below that Miller's bottom left panel is marked for "stat" and is repeated two panels to the right.

As you saw from the product description above, Graphitti Designs could not locate all of the pages. They do, however, include scans of the published pages for the purpose of completion. Below is a common example; however, when a page in question is paired with a vellum overlay the scanned page is full-size to match the size of the overlay. The coordination of the printing and bindery process in this book was meticulously carried forth.

The two pages below are here to show you the creative process of Miller and Klaus Janson. Lots of white-out, stats, etc. The second of these two pages is my favorite vignette in the entire graphic novel. When I first read this page, I knew this wasn't any Batman I'd known. I had a "heck yeah!" moment during that first reading.

Note Miller's signature on the bottom of the page above (enlarged detail below).

The scene below was pretty tense -- love the splash page of Batman with the chest logo blown open to reveal a bullet-proof vest. Note the creative process in the enlarged detail.

In another example of the overlay, you'll find Miller's pencils to the cover of The Dark Knight Triumphant on the left, and Janson's inks on the right.

Another example of white-out, as well as Miller laying out a grid system for the building heights and the lettering. Note the margin call-out to the punctuation in the word balloon. Note also that Janson signed and dated this page -- lucky for whoever owns it!

Two more examples of editing and mark-ups.

Great image on the left, below. Given that Janson signed here, and the page above, both in June of 1986 has me wondering if the same collector owned both pages.

Miller and Janson both signed this page. Memorable panel from The Dark Knight Triumphant.

The cover of Hunt the Dark Knight was just plain white, except for the image of Carrie Kelly in the bottom right corner. A graphic designer must have done the Bat logo.

Detail of a single panel, when Bruce and Clark were riding horses and discussing the coming storm. Miller did not care for Janson's inks, so re-inked the image himself. The overlay at right is Miller's version.

I thought this was interesting -- several panels redrawn by Miller. It seemed that as the story wore on he became fussier about the work. For those of us who bought the book as it was released, this might explain the longer and longer delays as the series progressed.

Awesome splash...

Again, enjoy the process. And Miller's tinkering. I'll tell you, looking through this book it struck me how much Miller must feel the same way about this work as George Lucas feels about his original trilogy of Star Wars films. Perfection is an unattainable thing.

Detail. White-out and redrawing. I love seeing stuff like this!

One of the iconic images of the entire series. I thought it would be cooler than it is, but for the most part it looks like Miller and Janson were satisfied the first time. Or, perhaps it's because of the tardiness of the series that there was no reworking here.

Near the end of the book there are several extras. As you may know, all of these original art collections are color scans of the art. That's why you feel as if you're looking at the actual bristol board and it's also why all of the white-out, blue line pencil, and even eraser marks are visible. Near the top you saw that there's no shortage of color images. I was surprised to see this huge fold-out at the back of the book. If you were buying this back in the day, you may recall a large counter display when The Dark Knight Triumphant was released. This is a reproduction of the artwork for that display. Nice touch, Graphitti!

Lastly, here are a couple of other promotionals. On the left is Miller's design for a Dark Knight statue, while on the right is his portion of the cover to 'Mazing Man #12 (June 1986).

I hope you enjoyed the tour. I've been through the entire book three times and just love it. Of the original art reproductions that I own, this is one of the best. Of course, all this may change when the Kirby one arrives in a couple of months. You know I'll keep you informed...


Martinex1 said...

As I told Doug recently, I am mesmerized by Miller and the art team's work here. I like Miller and appreciate his talent but I have not always been a consistent follower. I tended to like his earlier work on Daredevil (like the issue Diug shared recently) over his later work at Marvel and DC. But here I can really see the magnificence in his pencils. The Dark Knight Triumphant's iconic cover is an example of that. I feel his pencils in their raw form make the image much more brutal and savage. The inking there seems so precise and clean to me that it takes something away. And that is not to say anything about Janson, he is extremely talented and I like all of his work in Daredevil with or without Miller. But seeing the original pencils really impressed me on an image that in the past I could take or leave. Great post. Looks like a great book.

Doug said...

Thank you for the comment, Martinex. And while I recognize that this sort of book is not in everyone's wheelhouse either as a collector or financially, I love it. The creative process, particularly with the addition of the vellum overlays, fascinates me. What an addition to my library!

And I should have Jack Kirby's Thor within two weeks, as it ships to retailers tomorrow. Look for more from that soon.


Redartz said...

That is one incredible volume, Doug! Looking at original comic art is fascinating; just to see such editorial and creative measures as you mention. I love original art, sadly it's too pricey now for most collectors. Yet these IDW editions seem to give you everything but the ability to hang it on the wall...can't wait to see your Kirby images...

giantsizegeek said...

Thanks for the detailed review, Doug! Looks amazing. I don't think I will buy it but I can experience this vicariously through you. :-)

Anonymous said...

Whoo nice one Doug! A bit out of my price range but definitely a great review of a master at work! It's wonderful to see how the creative process unfolded when they were making this landmark comic.

- Mike from Trinidad & Tobago.

Richard Bodden said...

I was fortunate to snag this at Comic Con, 184/275, but I was a bit puzzled as to where Frank's signature actually was in the book. Do you have any pictures you can share of the signature that might allow me to find it? thanks.

Doug said...

Hi, Richard, and welcome!

I'd say click on the link below (it's to an image in the original post) and look for Miller's signature -- if you could call it that. More like a flat/stylized F.M.



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