Batman #608 Homage Covers
Potentially Inspired Comic Becomes Inspiration
Batman #608 launched the popular and character-defining 12-issue story arc “Hush” in December 2002, authored by Jeph Loeb, drawn by Jim Lee and colored by Scott Williams. The issue’s popularity commanded a second printing, which features Jim Lee’s now-iconic brooding but protective portrayal of Batman overlooking a dark Gotham City. This powerful cover has inspired future covers across the industry.
Was this cover, however, inspired by Lee’s colleague and business partner (and possible friend), Todd McFarlane? It is difficult to say with any true authority, but the cover for the second printing of Batman #608 resembles a monstrously popular and now highly-collectible and expensive cover of Batman #423, published little more than four years earlier by McFarlane.
Lee without a doubt was familiar with Batman #423 and all that it captures. Batman #423 is clearly a masterful rendering of our favorite caped crusader. Perhaps Lee, inspired by McFarlane, sought to capture some likewise intangible essence of Batman for #608 (as Lee interprets the character).
Although Lee’s cover for Batman #608 shares a few features with McFarlane’s Batman #423, those features are superficial at best. First, both renderings make use of Batman’s billowing cape. Second, Batman is perched in both instances – in #423, he is perched on a natural cliff; in #608, he is perched on a gargoyle common to Gotham high-rise architecture. Third, Batman looks to the left on both covers. At a cursory glance, one might infer that Lee was inspired by McFarlane to create a cover which captures some essence of Batman, and used Batman’s cape, perched location and left-hand gaze. In this case, we might very well be right! Lee might have been inspired in this manner.
But if we study the two covers more closely, we’ll see signficant and (symbolic?) differences between the two presentations of Batman.
McFarlane – red simple background, not at all like night, yellow moon (or sun) which frames the Batman does not cast any shadows. Batman, though poised on a cliff, it is ambiguous. Not clear if the cliff is only a couple of feet high, or hundreds of feet. Batman also enfolds a girl against him in a protective manner, the way an adult would comfort a child. The girl appears to be frightened or saddened to tears. Batman, however, is stoic yet gazes down at the top of the girl’s head.
Lee – dark background, no moon visible, Gotham fills the background, grays and blacks with only a shade of blue for definition. Batman stands with one foot poised atop the gargoyle, resembles the “Captain Morgan” stance we have seen on liquor labels and television commercials. The gargoyle is clearly high in the Gotham sky. Batman, like the Gargoyle beneath him, look downward toward the streets of Gotham. They are colored with the same black and blue-gray tones (except for Batman’s utility belt). Gargoyles, in this case actually a grotesque because it is not a water spout, are intended to both scare (away demons and evil spirits) and protect (by scaring away evil things; gargoyles also protect the structure by draining water away from the roof to the gutters below).
Lee would give Superman a similar treatment for Superman #204 little more than a year later. This puts him in company of the likes of Neal Adams, who also homaged his own work.
Sources: My Modern Met (“Exploring the Fantastic History of Gargoyles in Gothic Architecture“)