To say that Batman: The Animated Series – The Phantom City Creative Collection is a masterpiece would be an understatement. It is purely and simply breathtakingly stunning.
Batman: The Animated Series. Oh. My. GOD!!!!
Some books find themselves added to my collection for reading and having in my library because of what they are about. Some are there because I go back to them now and again for research purposes. There are those that I find to be almost perfect and I will reread them at some stage. But then some are there because of what they are about. What they contain. And some for the sheer brilliance, they hold within their pages. These are the ones that I constantly go back to. To read and reread with alarming regularity, and are some of my most treasured volumes.
Any book by the legendary J.W Rinzler is bound to take pride of place in my collection. The same goes for ‘Die Hard: The Ultimate Visual History‘ by James Mottram, ‘Back To The Future: The Ultimate Visual History‘ by Michael Klastorin and Randal Atamaniuk is another that joins those ranks. ‘Taking Shape: Developing Halloween From Script To Scream‘ by Dustin McNeill and Travis Mullins is one that I’m always rereading and checking up on my facts. But there is a new addition to my collection that has joined that illustrious list. Step forward Justin Erickson from Phantom City Creative. He has developed and produced a book that not only called to me but has taken my breath away.
Batman: The Animated Series – The Phantom City Creative Collection | by Justin Erickson and Paul Dini
‘Batman: The Animated Series: The Phantom City Creative Collection‘ is a thing of absolute beauty. A book dedicated to arguably the best ‘Batman‘ series ever created. In fact, it could be said that the show is the best of the entire franchise featuring the caped crusader throughout his eighty-odd years since he was created.
The book features a stunning image of Batman looking mean and ready for action on the front cover, the perfect image to grab the eye. It is unmistakable. As we enter the book itself, we are greeted with another stunning image, this time of the Gotham City skyline itself before we move on and discover Batman once again, this time swinging from the rope contained in his grappling gun. And then, we turn the page to be given what can be considered the royal seal of approval.
Paul Dini himself has contributed the foreword to the book. Dini is a legend, one of the driving forces behind the incredible ‘Batman: The Animated Series‘. And as such, is so highly regarded that anything from his mouth regarding the creation HAS to be heard and listened to. In his foreword, Dini speaks about his pride and joy back in 1991 when he was asked to bring the character back to the small screen in an animated show that would slot in along the Tim Burton film (Batman Returns was a year away), making the character darker, more brooding and one that the fans could get behind.
What he created was quite simply a revelation. Not only did he manage at times to match Burton’s gritty, dark version, Dini and his team surpassed it. Being a Batman fan himself, Dini feels proud that what he created thirty years ago still inspires artists to this day.
Dini praises Justin Erickson for his work here in the book. The artist has taken some of Dini’s classic openings for the show’s episodes and made them into movie-style posters. Dini compares one of Erickson’s designs to something that the legendary Saul Bass would create back in his heyday, a true compliment indeed. We turn the page and are given a photograph of Erickson himself. Posing with Paige Reynolds at the Mondo Batman: The Animated Series Poster Show opening alongside an interview with the artist himself.
During his interview for his marvelous creation, he speaks about his first memory of Batman and how, although he knew of the Adam West version of the character, he was already aware of him through comic books. How ‘Heart Of Ice‘ struck a chord with him and everything to do with the work he has created and about the influences he has put into the magnificent work he displays throughout the pages.
MASK OF THE PHANTASM
We start with ‘Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm‘ and what a start. We are granted a full-page photo of his alternate poster for the animated film, one of the best adaptations of the character ever committed to film. Whereas the original was mainly blues on the page, here we see one that fits Batman better, all dark and gothic. Just what the character embodies.
The addition of the four main characters on the bottom of the poster, just above the credits is a throwback to older poster designs from the 1970s and 1980s and is a welcome touch. The various stages of its design and creation are detailed on the opposite page, giving the reader an in-depth look at how it was made. We turn over and are awarded a second different poster design, this one more in line with the animated style of the film. This design looks totally different but strikes the reader just the same.
We now come to the posters section and are completely blown away by the two-page spread that greets us. It depicts Batman standing on a rooftop with Gotham City and its hovering police vehicles overhead while the Bat-Signal is lighting up the night sky. A wonderful piece of art, one that deserves to be printed onto an art canvas and displayed in anyone’s home.
We move along and find a poster for the episode ‘The Cat And The Claw‘. Here we have a classic poster design for the episode, Catwoman looks out at us with a huge grin on her face, in full costume clutching a diamond necklace that just happens to have a jeweled Bat symbol attached to the bottom of it. A perfect design for the lady criminal. ‘On Leather Wings‘ is up next and again, the poster is a fantastic classic design remnant of the movie posters of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. The Man-Bat takes center stage here with Batman himself featured in a smaller capacity and located below his nemesis.
HEART OF ICE
We feel cold as we turn over and come across the design for ‘Heart Of Ice‘. This one doesn’t need Batman in it at all and so he doesn’t appear. What we are presented with is something chilling in the form of an oversized, upright type of snowglobe which features Mr. Freeze’s face. And at the top, his ill-fated bride in a ballerina pose at the bottom with frost and snowflakes coming off the icy villain’s face dropping gently onto his bride below.
Another image that astounds us is the design for ‘Joker’s Favor‘. The crown prince of crime appears in his purple coat and hat with an unfortunate victim clutching onto the brim in desperation. ‘Pretty Poison‘ brings us, Poison Ivy, in a wonderfully colorful poster that depicts the villainess sitting atop a rose, dressed in her familiar costume with a scowl on her face.
‘Nothing To Fear‘ is simple but at the same time, chilling to the bone. Simply, it depicts the Scarecrow’s face taking up the entire page with a figure of Batman falling from his mouth. ‘I’ve Got Batman In My Basement‘ is a design on the ‘Gotham Junior Detective Tales‘ covers. Here the poster features Batman lying prone, on his back at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Two young children staring incredulously at him while at the top of the stairs, featured in shadow, the unmistakable figure of The Penguin looks down on the entire scene.
‘Christmas With The Joker‘ is an episode that is almost pure perfection. And it is represented here with a simple but effective poster. One that features our beloved clown prince of crime with a Santa hat on his head, holly on his snood, and laughing maniacally. ‘The Laughing Fish‘ is in a similar vein. Here we see the Joker wearing a fisherman’s yellow hat while clutching a fish that has the same crazed eyes and grin as the master villain.
We arrive at a poster for ‘Harley And Ivy‘. In a poster that reminds the reader of ‘Thelma And Louise‘ in the way it is presented. And with The Joker and the Batmobile in hot pursuit, we finally get our first look at Harley. All dressed up in her harlequin outfit, wide grim on her face, standing up in the car with arms raised to the sky in pure joy while Ivy drives with a contented half-smile on her face. Harley makes another appearance in the poster for ‘Harlequinade‘. Here, we see her once again clad in her full harlequin outfit. This time sitting astride a bomb clutching a large pop gun.
Not to be outdone. ‘Bane‘ shows us the strongman clutching Batman’s cape and cowl in his oversized fist, thrusting it towards us in seeming victory. Other versions of this are printed on a smaller scale on the opposite page where we also find a different poster. This time featuring Bane’s hands ripping Batman’s cowl in two, neatly down the middle.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
These are but a handful of what we will discover during the Poster section. But we move on now and arrive at the Soundtrack Designs part of the book. As we enter the section, we are greeted with several different designs for the Main Credits and End Credits single. Four of the designs are extremely similar but the ones that catch the eye are two which feature yellow backgrounds. One with an image of Batman flying through the sky. The other simply featuring Batman himself standing tall and looking out at the reader.
But the one that draws the reader in is the single that is shaped in the Bat logo itself. A wonderful design all around but one can’t help but wonder how you exactly manage to play it? Following this, we come across the ‘Batman: The Animated Series 8xLP Box Set Vol.1‘. Simply, the cover is of Gotham City behind which, the Bat logo is featured prominently. With this set, we will be rewarded with a set of mugshot cards. These feature The Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, Killer Croc, and my beloved Harley Quinn. The various designs for the sleeve for each episode are presented to us here too. Many of which are of the main designs created by Justin Erickson.
‘Batman: The Animated Series 8xLP Box Set Volume 2‘ features the interior of the Batcave in blue, with Batman and Robin walking away from us. While the Bat logo is once again prevalent, this time in blue. This time, however, we are rewarded with the Heroes Of Gotham cards. These cards feature Batman, Robin, Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Dent, Detective Bullock, and Officer Montoya. And finally, one of Batman and Robin together.
The first card of each set is pristine and unaltered but the rest of them have been defaced. I’ll leave you to discover who by but it isn’t too hard to guess! Once more, we are given the sleeves for every album and again, they are the various designs by Erickson. As we marvel at these wonderful creations, we realize that our time with Batman and the rest of the Gotham City residents is at an end. And thus, we close the book.
To say that the book is a masterpiece would be an understatement. It is purely and simply breathtakingly stunning. The effort that has gone into each design cannot ever be underestimated. They are truly works of art. Any one of them could so easily be enlarged and presented on canvas. Or in a frame to be hung in an art gallery or someone’s home.
Justin Erickson deserves all the credit there is for his sterling work on these pieces. They draw the eye to every detail, everything that each design contains. And to have them all presented to us in this incredible book is a joy in itself. There are many different types of books out there but this one stands tall amongst them all. The Bat-signal may shine bright in the sky but Justin Erickson’s work here shines a light all of its own.
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Carl Roberts is the News Editor of The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!