Before we start with anything else I must say that this was my first encounter with artist Dave Taylor which surprised me as I’m a big 2000AD and Batman fan and this is what he is famous for. This may explain my embarrassing guessing over his art later on in the article!
Death by Design is a retro style story set in an unspecified time in Gotham were Bruce Wayne is demolishing his father’s Train Station which is now decayed. The demolition is stopped when a crane almost kills Wayne, leading him as Batman to investigate who wants to keep the station from been destroyed. Is it Garnett Greenside and inventor who’s father built the station, corrupt business man Mr Loar, Cyndia a beautiful conservationist who wants to keep the place up and rebuilt for its historical value or the vigilante Exacto who leaves cryptic warnings and seems to have an agenda of his own. Both Batman and new reporter Richard Frank who was there on the scene and is thrust into this tale have a chance of figuring out who is to blame and will they stay alive long enough to find out?
Right of the bat ( he he!) this book is stunning to look at. It’s an oversized textured book with an amazing picture of an upside Batman in a very retro 50s styled back drop of Gotham. In fact all the art on this book is superb. The retro style works really well and is breathtaking with big splash pages at the start of Batman trying out his new piece of technology which goes a bit pear shaped. The colour is very minimal with black and white and faded colours but with big splashes of certain colours very similar to sin city. The designs for Gotham and the characters are very 50s esc with shiny sharp buildings and the woman are dames and the baddies are pure gangster material.
The best part of this book is the revamping of the Joker who looks much more like his original debut look (based on the Man Who Laughs) and does his crimes for cash rather than the fun of hurting people. Even when he crashes the party on a newly designed glass ceiling and then kidnaps Cyndia at the book’s climax it’s all rather innocent which I found really refreshing. The use of Richard Frank as the newbie stuck in the chaos has been used to great effect before especially in mini series like Marvels and works here too but the actual character of Richard himself is a bit drab. In fact a lot of the other characters are a bit dull to be honest aside from new vigilante Exacto.
Exacto’s attire looks right out the Rocketman movie with a dash of the Beetle’s old costume from the Spider man comics. He justifies murder and is a gentleman vigilante, sending warnings out to innocent bystanders and only punishing the guilty. It’s plainly obvious who he is once you meet some of the other characters in the story but he’s still an interesting character in his own right.
Overall it’s a fun read with an interesting look into Gotham’s past which tie in nicely with the new court of owls story line that’s running in the bat comics at the moment. The 50’s style looks great on the art but not so much on the story which is essentially a mystery tale with a bit of kidnapping in it. The new heroine is just there to be kidnapped and look pretty and aside from the Joker who gets taken out really easy, it’s all bog standard generic crooks so there’s no sense of threat here. Maybe this was the writer’s intention to go with the 50s feel he was creating. Come to think of it women did get kidnapped a heck off a lot in those old Sci-Fi movies! So a great read if a bit basic story wise it may be worth reading just for the art alone. Either way it’s a harmless, fun read and there is nothing wrong with that.