Death by Design is a two-issue one-shot that has the Dark Knight solving a
mystery in a 1940’s-era Gotham. I’m a sucker for a self-contained Batman book,
so this has been on my list since it was published back in 2012.
The first thing to note is the fantastic art direction. Dave Taylor sticks to
pencils with limited color for highlights like the Joker’s hair, the glow of
computer terminals, and (my favorite) the light pollution from street-level
Gotham. It’s really accessible, but it still makes for some very moody panels.
Disappointingly, although for a book focused on architecture, there’s very
little detail in the cityscapes.
This rendition of Batman is decidedly old-school. His cheeky, taunting dialogue
evokes Adam West and sounds almost more like Spider-Man at times. It also turns
on a time to melodrama. He has a repertoire of absurd gadgetry, from a
Bat-copter, to an impact neutralizer, and even a micro-ionized-reactor-powered
grapple-tron. It’s only fitting that the police refer to him as “the Bat-Man.”
Unfortunately, the throwback extends to one of the harmful tropes of the era.
We’re given a glimpse into the female lead’s thoughts for two panels, where
only minutes after meeting Bruce Wayne, she not only lists the reasons she’s
attracted to the guy but also expresses a motherly concern for his apparent
The story itself is similarly disappointing. It’s just too short to support a
mystery, much less meaningful characterization. And novelty isn’t too much to
ask from a two-issue story set in this universe–take Ego for instance, or
heck, even most of the stories from the Black and White volumes have more
depth. Maybe if a writer was really committed to the nostalgic aesthetic, they
might embrace superficiality as part of their goal. I don’t know who that’d
serve, though. Death by Design is all flash and no substance, and Batman can