In the lettercolumn of Whisper #3, October 1986, First Comics Editorial Director Rick Oliver wrote of Norm Breyfogle and inker John Nyberg "Maybe not exactly household words...yet, but I think they've done a brilliant job and I think they're going to be around for quite a while". John has gone on to become one of the most respected inkers around, often, of course, over Steve Rude. Norm, meanwhile, is now firmly established as the regular artist on the most popular character in comics today: Batman.
That issue of Whisper was, in fact, the sixth Whisper comic. Like Nexus it had jumped from Capital to First. It had already featured heavily stylized art, accompanying Steven Grant's convoluted plots and film noir style of writing. Norm's first cover promised to continue that approach, depicting the title heroine apparently committing hari-kiri, a dead body behind her and a group of shadowy figures standing behind pointing accusatory fingers. Whisper was an enigmatic figure, the stories mysterious and obscure, and Norm's art transmitted that into the visual as well as the scripted aspect of the book. He immediately showed a sense for the dramatic, mixing many tricks of "camera angle" with sudden vivid close-up images, reflecting the mood as well as the storyline.
Norm drew over a year's worth of Whisper, probably the book's best period, before moving onto a different creature of the shadows. Beginning with #579, and then regularly from #582 he has been chronicling the adventures of Batman in the pages of Detective Comics. He joined the book at a difficult time. The "Batman Year Two" four parter, needing three artists to tell it, had just concluded. In the wake of Miller's Dark Knight efforts were being made to put regular and established creative teams on the two monthly Batman titles. The initial choices didn't stay with the books for more than a few months, but firstly with Mike Barr, then with Jo Duffy and finally with the British pairing of Alan Grant and John Wagner, Norm Breyfogle became the book's regular artist, often in tandem with fellow UKCAC guest, inker Steve Mitchell. As with his work on Whisper, he brought a great deal of atmosphere to the book. The Dark Knight, as Batman was now often referred to, once again inhabited a dark and shady world.
He also inhabited a visually exciting world. Panel borders leapt diagonally across pages, following the line of Batman's cape, which in itself seemed to flow and grow as necessary. The sense of movement, especially Batman's athletic motion, was somehow transposed in a movie-like fashion onto the pages of the comic, and single, sudden images were used to create the necessary feel. They're not necessarily realistically proportioned, they don't always flow with the storytelling in the accepted, smooth fashion, but it's because of this that the art works so well. These pictures grab the attention that they're designed to attract but without the telling of the story suffering in any way. The reader is even more immersed in the action and Detective Comics has become an excellent comic of high adventure and difficult choices fashioned around its stars. Appropriately the Batman we encounter therein is as much concerned with the philosophical and moral question (even though he might have to betray his conscience at times) as the crime fighting. It mirrors an artist for whom such questions are equally important.
DC has recently announced that the creative team on Detective Comics is moving onto the Batman title. That should see no significant changes in the style of the stories, and it's a most recognizable style. Happily the move coincides with the meeting of the creative team here at UKCAC, and we look forward to Norm Breyfogle's first visit here.