"Death by Design": In Chip Kidd’s New Batman Comic, Gotham’s Architecture Sets Off the Bat Signal

An illustration, by Dave Taylor, from "Batman: Death by Design"
(© DC Comics)

Author and designer Chip Kidd's first Batman comic, slated to hit stores on May 30, reveals its architecture-centric plot in its title: "Death by Design." "Gotham City is undergoing one of the most expansive construction booms in its history," reads the novel's synopsis. "The most prestigious architects from across the globe have buildings in various phases of completion all over town." Kidd sets the stage for a series of architectural catastrophes, inexplicable explosions and collapses that send chairman of Gotham's Landmarks Commission Bruce Wayne sprinting for his cape and armor.

Kidd is certainly not the first comic book author to profess an interest in architecture. A more recent issue of Daredevil finds its titular hero perched beneath New York's High Line, while the Avengers Mansion, home to "Earth's Mightiest Heroes," is evidently inspired by the one-block-wide stone mansion that houses The Frick Collection. But Kidd's Batman novel sources its twists and turns directly from the real Gotham's built landscape: "I started thinking about living and working in New York, and one of the great tragedies was the destruction of the original Pennsylvania Station in 1963, because it was a beautiful building needlessly torn down," he told iO9. "And there were these Manhattan crane collapses in the spring of 2008. I thought, 'How could these two things possibly be related?' Batman is very much about architecture, as he uses the buildings as transportation and defense."

In Kidd's comic, architecture becomes both ally and damsel in distress. Readers will find the Caped Crusader struggling to save Wayne Central Station, which has been callously marked for demolition while the graphic novel's token femme, Cyndia Cyrl, spearheads an appeal for its preservation. Meanwhile, Batman’s latest nemesis, Exacto, is "a Batman villain as architectural critic," joked Kidd. His ominous warnings about structurally unsound buildings mysteriously always precede their collapse. Is Gotham plagued with corruption, foul play, or just flawed construction? The city is left to sort through the rubble, while Batman swoops in to investigate, navigating a landscape of jagged skyscrapers and crooked developers.

In tandem with Kidd's plot, illustrator Dave Taylor gives a strong nod to architecture’s distinctive visual culture, referencing architect Hugh Ferriss's charcoaled visions of Manhattan and sets from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" in his panels. After a sneak peek of the book, Comics Alliance writer Andy Khouri describes an especially impressive double-page spread depicting a magnificent glass-floored nightclub suspended in the space between four skyscrapers. Taylor's conspicuous architectural references conjure a dated but timeless "metropolis of tomorrow" and portray the city of Gotham as nothing less than sublime.

As both Kidd and Taylor illustrate so well, a city in the midst of a building boom is an ideal setting for a superhero saga. A rising metropolis is witness to the clashing egos of architects, the profit-hungry schemes of developers, and the oft-ignored appeals of the community. Citizens can do little but watch as the future is being built (or demolished) before their very eyes. It seems that in these times, only a caped superhero can deliver justice.

Click the slide show to see pages from "Batman: Death by Design."