Norm Breyfogle wasn’t just the Batman artist for a generation of comic-book fans who grew up reading the adventures of the Dark Knight in the late 1980s and early ’90s. He was one of the greatest Batman artists of all time.
Breyfogle died Monday at 58, leaving behind a legacy of art that has stood the test of time in the eyes and hearts of many fans who consider his Batman art to be one of a kind. And he left a lasting impact in other ways, too: Breyfogle suffered a stroke in 2014 that highlighted the fact that many creative legends in the comic industry are freelancers who don’t have access to health insurance. Many fans and industry veterans reached out to assist Breyfogle after he asked for help with his medical bills through an online fundraiser.
When Batman fever struck at the movies in 1989 with Tim Burton’s “Batman,” it was Breyfogle’s instantly recognizable art that welcomed new fans who were looking to start reading the comics. Breyfogle’s artistic style, much like Burton’s film, was enhanced by always keeping Batman in the shadows, with uniquely drawn capes that almost seemed alive as they flowed in the wind. His Caped Crusader was lean, mean and intimidating, but when the cowl came off, he drew a dapper, suave and sophisticated Bruce Wayne that was charming enough to give off the illusion he could never be Batman.
Most of Breyfogle’s six years drawing Batman were split between the hero’s two flagship titles, “Detective Comics” and “Batman.” During his time on “Detective Comics,” Breyfogle’s darker and suspenseful style gave the series an edge and helped bring DC Comics’ Batman artwork into the ’90s. (He started at the title in 1987.) Breyfogle’s art served as a passing of the torch of sorts: He represented a new generation of Batman artists after the fan-favorite ’70s and ’80s artistic run of legendary artist Jim Aparo.
But perhaps Breyfogle’s most memorable contribution to DC Comics was his work on “Batman.” It was there that he was the first artist to draw Tim Drake, the third Robin the Boy Wonder, in his brand-new, revolutionary and still-popular revamped ’90s suit, in the final panel of “Batman” No. 457. Standing out were Breyfogle’s stylized “R” on Robin’s chest, which was no longer contained by a black circle but this time was flowing outside of the edges of an angled black oval. The new suit was accentuated by darker colors, a cape that was now black and yellow, and more-intense greens. Perhaps the most memorable part of that panel was the original Robin suit, worn by the deceased Jason Todd (who eventually returns to life years later as the Red Hood), hanging on display in a glass panel, showing the similarities and differences between the Robins of the past and the Robin of the future.
Breyfogle’s cover for “Batman” No. 465, the issue that debuted Drake’s first official night out as Robin, is the definitive image of the Dynamic Duo/Tim Drake era.
Breyfogle worked for other publishers, dabbled in creator-owned projects and did a lot more than just his work in Gotham City. But his time drawing Batman was career-defining and established him as a legend of the industry that will not soon be forgotten.