Tuesday, June 12, 2012

That's Montgomery Cliff, honey! Chip Kidd's unique "casting" in "Batman: Death by Design"

DC, you're at it again!  Hot on the heels of your possible Katana series comes ace designer Chip Kidd's graphic novel Batman:  Death by Design, and I feel like Michael Corleone.  A wimpy, geeky, not very threatening Michael Corleone.  DC.  Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.  Or maybe I'm Sal Tessio.


Can you get me off the hook, DC, for old times' sake?

DC (shakes head)
Can't do it, Sally.

Tell Didio it was only Cassandra Cain.  I always liked him.

(DC gangsters lead him away to a comic book shop)

As a failed graphic designer, I've always had an attraction to Chip Kidd's work with book cover design.  I wanted to do that myself for the longest time, but the highest level I could achieve was designing the alumni magazine for a forestry school.  It's not false modesty.  I'm a decent enough illustrator, but I don't have the talent or the discipline for Kidd-level design.  If he'd merely designed this book I'd have been intrigued enough to check it out the next time I'm in Tokyo.  But his role as writer really adds some interest.

That's not what has me jazzed about this book, though.  It's not the story, which sounds smart;  DC's got a lot of these architecturally-based Bat-stories these days and that's usually an approach that hooks me because architecture is endlessly fascinating.  But no.  And it's not the artwork by Dave Taylor, which looks spectacular-- at least in the image accompanying the PW article about it.  It's not even that I truly prefer stand-alone graphic novels to monthly continuity and would prefer it if DC got out of the magazine business altogether and published books like this exclusively.  It's none of that junk.  It's something stranger and more personal.

What has me almost trembling with excitement and the determination to buy this book despite my on-going love-hate relationship with DC? This quote:

Okay, what if Fritz Lang was making a Batman movie in the ‘30s and had a huge budget and could cast Montgomery Clift and Grace Kelly in the starring roles?

Montgomery Clift's life has held a strange fascination for me for as long as I can remember.  It's such a tragic story, one of those things that just got stuck in my head at an early age, possibly from having seen Judgment at Nuremberg one day when I was home sick from elementary school.

Then the Clash mocked him and REM eulogized him in songs, which sent me into my deep research mode, a strange state where I'd mole my way into the reference section of whatever library happened to be handy and doggedly track down whatever facts I needed to know.  Kind of like a junkie looking for a hit.  Seriously.  When I become curious about something I'm that intense and the need is almost the same as an addiction.  These days I do the same thing on the Internet, only it's a constant processing of information.  And I remember this crap.  As a result, I can, in the same conversation, adequately discuss pre-dreadnaught battleships and then tell you more than you want to know about the NBC television series C.P.O. Sharkey starring Don Rickles, Harrison Page and Richard X. Slattery.

I learned all about Clift, his early successes, his avoidance of the Hollywood scene, the supposed rivalry with fellow method actor Marlon Brando, his disfiguring car crash and subsequent decline, his friendship with Elizabeth Taylor, his early death.  So Montgomery Clift is an exhibit in the Rod Serling's Night Gallery of my mind.  So is Grace Kelly.  And Richard X. Slattery, for that matter.

In the forward to one of his Batman books, Neal Adams once cast Ted Danson as Batman.  Tim Burton bizarrely yet successfully gave us Michael Keaton in the cape and cowl.  I think Adam West's biggest role was as a guy who dies in the opening reel of Robinson Crusoe on Mars before he took the role.  But Montgomery Clift?  That's pretty darned original.

All this by way of telling you I want to see Montgomery Clift as Batman.

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