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Capes & Cowls: The Greatest Batman Artists EVER

Capes & Cowls: The Greatest Batman Artists EVER

As we begin to say hello to a brand new decade, Word of the Nerd is taking a moment to reflect on the greatest Batman artists of all time. What began as an incredibly daunting task quickly transmogrified into a labor of love. So, with a new year in full swing, get ready for some serious nostalgia “feels” as we count down our favorite Batman artists ever to don the cape and cowl.  

10. Frank Miller

Batman by Frank Miller
Batman by Frank Miller

Frank Miller started it all. He’s regarded as one of the most iconic creators of all time. MIller’s masterful work, The Dark Knight Returns, marks a crucial turning point in Batman’s canon. For the first time ever, Miller showed the world the ugly side of Gotham City: a black mirror reflection of a society on the brink of collapse and the hollowed shell of an aging hero haunted by his inner demons. 

9. Brian Bolland

Batman by Brian Bolland
Batman by Brian Bolland

I’m not sure what the comic book equivalent of a “one-hit wonder” is, so let’s just call it “Brian Bolland.” Back in the mid-eighties, Bolland and author Alan Moore got together to write a little-known book called The Killing Joke; maybe you’ve heard of it? Following an unprecedented wave of popularity, The Killing Joke helped single-handedly launch Bolland into the Batman pantheon. It remains to this day as one of the most ambitious, realistic, and terrifying Batman stories ever drawn.

8. Gary Frank

Batman by Gary Frank
Batman by Gary Frank

Moving on to the man who literally “Rebirthed” the DC Universe: Gary Frank has quickly risen through the DC ranks. Over the past decade, Frank has been responsible for some of the most ambitious pages ever to grace the covers at DC. As you’d imagine, Gary Frank is one of the most sought-after artists working today, kind of like the Kendrick Lamar of the comic book world. Like Kendrick, Frank moves in silence. He surfaces sporadically and periodically to grace us with a cover or a mini-series, the way Kendrick does with a verse. Above all else, Gary Frank is surgical with his artwork, without peer or parallel.

7.  Sean Gordon Murphy

Batman by Sean Gordon Murphy
Batman by Sean Gordon Murphy

Do you enjoy tricked-out, futuristic motorcycles? How about grand, sprawling cityscapes so imaginative that even the world’s greatest architects wouldn’t dare to dream them? If you answered “yes” to either question posed, then Sean Gordon Murphy is the artist for you. When the news first broke that SGM would be penning an arc on Snyder’s then-current All-Star Batman I was thrilled. You can imagine my dismay when the run was cut short before audiences were given more than just a few teaser pages. Thank god Murphy was given the “green light” on Batman: White Knight, something fans had been practically begging for. Finally, Murphy was firmly in the driver’s seat of the Batmobile. Batman: White Knight became an instant classic and the inaugural title launched on DC Black Label.

6. Tim Sale

Batman by Tim Sale
Batman by Tim Sale

Yet another “heavy hitter” on the list, Tim Sale is the man behind some of Batman’s greatest adventures and detective stories. Epics like Batman: Haunted Knight, Dark Victory, and of course, the epitome of all Bat-lore: The Long Halloween. There’s a duality that exists in Sale’s work. On the surface, it can almost come off as simplistic or, dare I say, rudimentary. But after allowing your mind to immerse yourself into the story, you’ll begin to lose yourself in his art form. Shortly thereafter, the depths of Sale’s character renderings reveal their true genius. Sale’s skills are in a category all their own; of all the artists on this list, none are more immediately recognizable than Tim Sale. 

5.  Jim Lee

Batman by Jim Lee
Batman by Jim Lee

That’s right—Jim Lee isn’t my number one choice. He’s not even in my top three, for that matter. Give yourself a moment; take a deep breath and relax. I know many of you will see this as sacrilegious. You’ll call me a contrarian and will likely be armed to the teeth with Bat-facts to refute my placement. To you I say: bring it. This is in no way meant to disrespect or dishonor the greatness that is Jim Lee. In terms of raw, pure talent, I don’t think there’s a person alive who would argue that Jim isn’t the best artist breathing. I’m certainly not attempting to do that. If anything, I’m merely attempting to point out that sometimes, albeit rarely, when it comes to Jim Lee, the Emperor has no clothes. Or, in this case—no cowl. 

4. Bruce Timm

Batman by Bruce Timm
Batman by Bruce Timm

For as long as I live, I will be forever indebted to Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Their revolutionary work on Batman: The Animated Series was my first real introduction to the Dark Knight. Those Saturday mornings spent watching BTAS were the catalyst that sparked my lifelong love affair with Batman. As venerable trendsetters in their own right, Timm and Dini took their cues from Tim Burton. They defied industry standards by painting light colors on dark paper, as opposed to the norm of dark colors on white paper, in order to replicate the gothic aesthetic of the Burton films. Nowadays, the series is considered a cult classic, as well as the first addition into what would later become the DCAU. 

3. Greg Capullo

Batman by Greg Capullo
Batman by Greg Capullo

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s New 52 Batman run was about as good as it gets. Throughout the series, Capullo helped to redefine our perceptions of classic rogues like The Riddler as well as helped introduce readers to chilling Gotham newcomers such as Mr. Bloom. Unquestionably, his greatest work is his “Death of the Family” arc; a pivotal moment in both Batman and Joker’s canon. Capullo stripped The Joker of all his past preconceptions, sculpting him completely anew—as if from his own rib. What resulted was a villain draped in terror, capable of instilling fear with nothing but a glance and a mutilated smile.

2. Jock 

Batman by Jock
Batman by Jock

No artist on this list is as polarizing as Jock. His hard angles and sharp lines can, at times, come off as blunt, giving his work an inherent impressionistic quality. Jock’s artwork requires patience and, more than anything else, a willingness to digest. For those willing to embark on the journey, Jock’s work is nothing short of breathtaking. It’s beautiful, horrifying, hopeful, and redemptive all at once. It also so happens that he draws one of the absolute coolest-looking Batmans of all time. His work on Snyder’s Black Mirror run is monumental; without question, Jock is one of the most daring and unconventional Bat-artists out there. 

1. Tony S. Daniel

Batman by Tony S. Daniel
Batman by Tony S. Daniel

I said recently that for my money, in the past 85-plus years, there has been no greater Bat-artist than Tony S. Daniel. When I close my eyes and I think of Batman, the image I conjure is Tony Daniel’s. His Batman is the perfect balance of fantasy grounded in a foundation of grit and realism. The emotion that his character exudes through his panels is masterful, unequaled, and ever-present. Tony has an unmatched ability to communicate thoughts and ideas through the very subtlest of gestures. He’s an artist who understands the value behind that which is often left unsaid. Above all else, Tony S. Daniel is a champion of the Dark Knight; both a student and a master of the comic book medium. His love for Batman beams, elevating the quality of his work to a level that, as of yet, remains unattainable to his peers. 

 


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