Batman: Noel by Lee Bermejo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Batman:Noel is a one-shot graphic novel making its debut for this Holiday season. Essentially, the novel is a re-imagining of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, casting Batman/Bruce Wayne as Scrooge, justifying his willingness to use a man named Bob, a man who is stuck in a dead-end job and chooses to carry packages for the Joker in order to handle the expenses of the medical bills for his son, Tim (see the parallels?). Batman weaves a plan to exploit Bob and use him as bait to bring the Joker out of hiding, despite the fact that this will endanger Tim, as well as Bob. Batman sees this as a valid tactic, because the goal of taking villainy off the streets of his city justifies any method, including risking those he sees as guilty, and their families.
And thus, from the beginning, Bermejo presents the reader with a bitter Batman, a hero lost and consumed in his passion to defeat evil at any cost, including potential harm to innocents. We see a Batman who has permitted his own tragic history to place his soul at risk. We see Scrooge in the Dark Knight, placing his plan in motion on Christmas Eve, because its just another day, a day like any other.
Of course, staying true to the classic story line, Batman is thus visited by three people who attempt to show him where he has gone off track, and who attempt to win him back over to being the hero he once was at this most sacred time of year, the Christmas Holiday. Catwoman appears as the Ghost of Christmas Past, leading Batman to re-live the passion, optimism, and principles that he once held. Superman appears as the Ghost of Christmas Present, gently breaking the Batman’s self-perception of being the respected bringer of justice who is beyond question by permitting him to overhear the true concerns about how he is about to go over the edge that are voiced by Commissioner Gordon and members of his police force. Lastly, the Joker finally appears, drawn in beautifully terrifying and hideous form, as the Ghost of Christmas Future, attacking Batman and leading him to imagine, in an unconscious state, the future as it might play out should he continue down the path that he is traveling. This sequence takes place in a hellish dream state that is in marked contrast to the cool, dark, and foreboding art that makes up the rest of the novel.
Bermejo hints at a love for Dicken’s work in his dedications, and this feels like a expertly-crafted homage to the author he seems to identify as such a huge influence on him. He captures the essence of Dicken’s story here, making it all the more poignant by presenting Scrooge’s tragically flawed nature in one we have come to know as a hero. He encapsulates his story of redemption in a statement from the narrator in the beginning of the novel, a statement that is the thesis of Bermejo’s work here:
“‘Cuz for this story to make sense…for it to mean anything…you have to believe in something. Something very important. You have to believe that people can change.”
This is particularly fascinating as we see Batman drifting in danger of becoming an anti-hero. Bermejo is presenting us with the hero who has always seen every human being, even the worst of villains, as being candidates for redemption , now desperately needing that redemption himself. Watching the Dark Night Detective move through the journey to that redemption is powerful, and complete with a theological statement of re-birth in a striking half-page panel as Batman rises from the grave in which the Joker has left him, returning to a new life and purpose from the death that his bitterness has brought about, resurrected, as it were, to a clearer…and more heroic…purpose.
The art throughout the novel is pristine and brilliant, with floating fonts superimposed over the panels as the unseen narrator moves us through the story. Bermejo’s dialogue shines as much as his overall storyline, making a graphic novel that is difficult to put down.
For any superhero fan, and certainly for any Batman fan, Batman:Noel is an exploration of redemption in the truest Christmas fashion. In fact, if you’re new to graphic novels altogether, this would be a great place to start.