A dark 'Noel': Batman meets Charles Dickens

Dec 19 2011 - 12:18pm

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Lee Bermejo
Lee Bermejo

"BATMAN: NOEL." By Lee Bermejo. DC Comics. $22.99.

Somewhere out there, there's a version of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" where clerk Bob Cratchit takes an axe to his employer, Scrooge, steals his cashbox and escapes to the Bahamas without his family. The story has been reinterpreted time and time again in stage, screen, animation, book and probably ancient Greek.

Now Batman (aka the Dark Knight) meets Charles Dickens in "Batman: Noel" a graphic novel by artist Lee Bermejo. (For those who read comics only irregularly, a graphic novel is a glossy-papered comic published as a book, dust cover and all.)

The original story penned in 1843 by Charles Dickens was a hit. The story of a stingy old miser who is visited by three ghosts who change his ways, making him into a generous open-handed philanthropist, is a Christmas-time staple.

In "Batman: Noel," Batman -- who also is multimillionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne -- is a grim, menacing character.

He literally terrifies Bob Cratchit when he first meets him doing an odd job as a courier for Batman's blood enemy, The Joker. Batman's take on Cratchit is that he is little better than vermin.

Batman releases him as bait despite the fact that Cratchit will probably die when the Joker arrives.

So the question arises: Has Batman lost his humanity as Scrooge did? Here, the good guy seems as evil as the bad guy.

Back in the batcave, a lonely Batman broods over his dismal life and his dead friends. He watches, via secret camera, the Cratchit abode waiting for the Joker to arrive. He hacks, gags and sniffs as a cold takes over.

Is it the cold medicine that makes him see his deceased partner, Robin, who announces Batman will be visited by three ghosts?

And we're off, to his past -- the fun part of his crime-fighting life with the appearance of a nubile and leather-clad Catwoman; his present -- his friend, Superman, making an appearance; and his possible future -- death at the hands of the Joker and oblivion of his existence. No one cries about the death of Bruce Wayne or Batman.

Of course, "A Christmas Carol" is more than just the story of Scrooge. It's also the story of Bob Cratchit, the oppressed clerk who works endless days so that he can provide for his family.

Here, Cratchit has just one son, Tim, who still has the idealism of youth. He makes a Christmas tree out of a dead abandoned plant, decorates it with ornaments like a broken bottle and a smashed beer can scrounged from a dumpster, and loves his father. It's for Tim's sake that Cratchit was the Joker's courier, and, for Tim, that Cratchit acts the way he does at the end when the Joker arrives.

"Batman: Noel" is more than just Batman roaming around beating up bad guys, and dispensing justice. It's how an embittered man finds a way back to his humanity told through brilliant drawing and very graphic violence.

It's an interesting take on a Christmas classic.

-- Tish Wells

McClatchy Newspapers

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