It’s been almost eight years since DC Comics released its last Secret Files And Origins one-shot, but that changes with this week’s Batman: Secret Files #1, a new single-issue anthology featuring an outstanding line-up of creators telling short stories about the Dark Knight. The Batman creative team of Tom King, Mikel Janín, and Jordie Bellaire kicks things off with a tale about Batman’s vulnerability; then, the scope expands outward to look at different aspects of Batman’s life, his city, and his partnerships. Other creators involved include Ram V, Jorge Fornés, Matt Wilson, Jill Thompson, Trish Mulvihill, Tom Taylor, and Brad Walker, a starry assortment of veterans and rising stars that make this an especially rewarding book.
“One” features the DC Comics debut of pop-culture writer Cheryl Lynn Eaton, working with artist Elena Casagrande and colorist Jordie Bellaire (who writes a story in Secret Files and colors three others) to explore Batman’s impact on an oft-forgotten Gotham neighborhood. “I had two strong desires when tackling the project,” says Eaton. “The first was the desire to represent my childhood home and give voice to a group of people who are often neglected in superhero tales. It’s surprising that with the wealth of vigilantes and street-level characters so enamored by mainstream audiences that there are so few stories rooted in the portions of our cities requiring the most aid. The day is saved by tackling a villain who is robbing a prestigious bank or holding a tourist trap hostage, but crime doesn’t stop at Midtown. Those residing on the other side of the track or freeway need care and protection too.”
“The second desire was to create a callback to an important work within the DC universe—Batman: The Hill by Priest and Shawn Martinbrough. The Hill is an important part of Batman’s lore and a section of Gotham that I would love to see have a larger impact upon the DC universe today. Can Batman be a champion of the poverty-stricken Hill when he is so far removed from day-to-day life within it? Can Jim Gordon be certain that he has stamped out police corruption at the street level when dangerous Arkham escapees demand his attention? Those are the questions that fascinate me.”
“Because I am so focused on culture when writing about comics, it becomes a part of the scripting process,” says Eaton. “What history does a character carry within him? How does that shape the way he speaks? His motives? However, writing about comics hasn’t had an impact on how I collaborate, but reading about comics most certainly has! It has been extraordinarily useful to read what pencilers and colorists have to say about creating comics, to know in advance what collaborators find helpful (or a hindrance).”
When it comes to the visual qualities that define Batman and his world, Casagrande follows two tenets: “The first one for me is absolutely the darkness: Batman has his own inner one—and he lives in an outside one, too—so it’s essential to express this. Visually speaking, it’s about using black-and-white spaces to their advantage. The second quality is about two fundamental presences, Batman and Gotham. My goal is to render to the reader Batman’s strength and the fear it instills, not only through his body but also with shadows on and from him. And Gotham has this kind of gritty atmosphere that is so interesting to work on and play with.”
“I love Cheryl’s attention to the visual kind of panel I should use for every character the reader would see during the story,” says Casagrande. “Not to mention the countdown with the number of the panels for every page! So with Gordon I used a rigid grid, rich in details, but constant and regular, until we see Yeselle, who breaks down the grid. In the page after you’ll see a very dynamic composition when she’s by herself and then finally a mix grid with Lucius, who is a kind of borderline here, so we have a balance of order and a bit of unusual panels. I deeply appreciated Cheryl as writer. She cares about the visual aspect and plays with it in a very smart and funny way!”
The preview pages below spotlight this creative team’s strong sense of collaboration, with Casagrande and Bellaire breaking down the emotional beats of the script with total clarity. The shot of a silhouetted Yeselle looking down from a rooftop shows how effectively Casagrande uses shadows to inform the character’s fear, and that layout shift when Batman confronts the young woman dramatically changes the rhythm of the art to add energy and tension to their interaction. There’s a lot to admire in these pages, and Secret Files is a treasure trove for both long-time fans and those who want to learn more about DC’s most popular hero.