It has been observed that someone’s favorite Batman artist is often determined by when they first began reading comic books. That’s certainly the case for me. There have been numerous talented artists who have rendered the Dark Knight’s adventures over the past eight decades, but two hold a special fondness for me: Jim Aparo and Norm Breyfogle. When I began reading DC Comics regularly in 1989, Aparo was the regular penciler on Batman, and Breyfogle was the penciler on Detective Comics.
Jim Aparo, who had been working in the biz since the late 1960s, was what I refer to as a good, solid artist. His penciling on Batman was of a more traditional bent, but his style perfectly suited the character.
And then there was Norm Breyfogle, the new kid on the block. Breyfogle utilized a very dynamic approach to his storytelling. His artwork in Detective Comics was filled with dramatic, innovative layouts that were possessed of both explosive energy and brooding atmosphere.
Breyfogle had broken into the biz just five years earlier, in 1984, with a pair of contributions to DC’s New Talent Showcase. Two years later, in 1986, Breyfogle penciled several issues of Steven Grant’s series Whisper for First Comics. Following that, Breyfogle first entered the dark, moody world of Gotham City, becoming the regular penciler of Detective Comics with issue #582, cover-dated January 1988.
The following month, with issue #583, Breyfogle was joined on Detective Comics by the talented British writing team of Alan Grant & John Wagner. Issue #584 saw the arrival of the last member of the now-regular creative team, inker Steve Mitchell.
Grant, Wagner & Breyfogle very quickly made their impart on the Bat-mythos, introducing new adversaries the Ratcatcher, the Corrosive Man, and the Ventriloquist & Scarface, the last of whom has become an iconic member of the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery.
Although Wagner soon departed, Grant remained on Detective Comics, penning a series of stories that were expertly illustrated by Breyfogle & Mitchell. With issue #608, Grant & Breyfogle introduced yet another memorable denizen of Gotham City, the radical anti-hero Anarky.
Breyfogle’s depiction of Batman was incredibly dramatic, and is now regarded as one of the iconic interpretations of the character. His Dark Knight was muscular but also lithe, grim & imposing but also human & vulnerable. Breyfogle’s fluid layouts depicted a dark yet dynamic Batman acrobatically swinging across the skyline of Gotham City, massive cape billowing about. It was absolutely incredible. Breyfogle’s depiction of Batman was *the* definitive one for me during my teenage years in the early 1990s.
The team of Grant, Breyfogle & Mitchell remained on Detective Comics until issue #621 (Sept 1990) and which point they were rotated over to the Batman series with issue #455. Their first storyline, “Identity Crisis,” ended with the new Robin, Tim Drake, debuting his brand-new costume. Breyfogle stayed on Batman until #476 (April 1992), at which point he switched over to yet another Bat-title, the new ongoing Batman: Shadow of the Bat.
Although he only drew the first five issues of Shadow of the Bat, this certainly wasn’t the end of Breyfogle’s association with Batman. He would return for the occasional fill-in issue here and there. Breyfogle also worked on several Batman-related graphic novels. Among these was the acclaimed Elseworlds special Batman: Holy Terror written by novelist Alan Brennert.
One of my personal favorite issues from the team of Grant, Breyfogle & Mitchell was “Stone Killer” in Detective Comics #616 (June 1990). In this story Batman faces an eerie supernatural adversary. Breyfogle’s style was perfectly suited for this eerie tale.
Also noteworthy was Detective Comics #627 (March 1991). This was the 600th appearance of Batman in that series. To celebrate, this issue reprinted the first Batman story, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” by Bill Finger & Bob Kane, and a 1969 update of the story by Mike Friedrich, Bob Brown & Joe Giella. Additionally, there were two new interpretations of the story by the then-current Batman creative teams, Marv Wolfman, Jim Aparo & Mike Decarlo, and Alan Grant, Norm Breyfogle & Steve Mitchell. It was interesting to see the same basic plot executed in four very different ways.
Detective Comics #627 concluded with a stunning double-page spread drawn by Breyfogle & Mitchell featuring Batman, his supporting cast, and many members of his rogues gallery.
Beginning in 1993, Breyfogle began working on Prime, which was part of Malibu Comics’ Ultraverse imprint. He drew the first twelve issues, as well as stories for a few of the other Ultraverse titles. Regrettably I did not follow any of these series. At the time the comic book market had a huge glut of product on the shelves, and the Ultraverse unfortunately got lost in the shuffle.
I did finally have an opportunity to see Breyfogle’s work on the character a few years later, when the Prime / Captain America special was published in early 1996. It was an odd but fun story, with wacky artwork by Breyfogle. He appeared to be working in a slightly more cartoony, comedic vein. I definitely enjoyed seeing him draw Captain America, who at the time was my favorite character.
After a short stint on Bloodshot at Valiant, Breyfogle returned to DC. He penciled an Anarky miniseries, reuniting him with the character’s co-creator Alan Grant. In the early 2000s he penciled several issues of the Spectre revival written by J.M. DeMatteis, which featured the then-deceased Hal Jordan adopting the supernatural role of the Wrath of God. For Marvel Comics, Breyfogle drew the 2000 annuals for both Thunderbolts and Avengers, which in turn led to a three issue Hellcat miniseries featuring his artwork.
For a few years after the Spectre ended, Breyfogle unfortunately had some difficulty finding regular assignments in comic books. Fortunately in late 2009 he began receiving work from Archie Comics. Breyfogle was one of the regular artists on the wonderful Life With Archie series written by Paul Kupperberg. Here he was paired up with inker Josef Rubinstein.
Breyfogle’s work for Archie Comics really demonstrated his versatility as an artist. As I previously observed, Breyfogle’s art on Life With Archie was a very nice, effective blending of the company’s house style and his own unique, signature look. He certainly was adept at illustrating the melodramatic soap opera storylines in the “Archie Marries Veronica” segments.
In 2012 Breyfogle once again had an opportunity to return to the world of Batman, illustrating the “10,000 Clowns” story arc and several covers for Batman Beyond. It was a wonderful homecoming for the artist, who seamlessly fit back into Bat-verse, this time giving us his depictions of the dystopian future Gotham City and its denizens introduced in the animated series.
Batman Beyond would unfortunately be Breyfogle’s last major work in comic books. In December 2014 he suffered a stroke, after which he became partially paralyzed. Tragically, as a result Breyfogle was no longer able to draw. Nevertheless he remained connected to the comic book community, regularly communicating with fans via Facebook.
Norm Breyfogle passed away on September 24, 2018. He was only 58 years old. It was a tremendous shock, both to his colleagues, who always spoke very highly of him, and to the generation of fans such as myself who grew up on his amazing artwork.
For me Breyfogle will always remain one of the all-time greatest Batman artists. He will definitely be missed.