An Essay of Jim Steranko’s “The Dark Knight: No Time For Death” by Troy R. Kinunen

This pen & ink composition, titled by the owner, “The Dark Knight: No Time For Death” is a 10”x 14” pen and ink rendering by the legendary artist Jim Steranko. The piece is a fascinating arrangement of style, composition, and object selection.

When viewing a piece like this, the quality of the finished product cannot be judged solely by the amount of time the artist spends with pencil and ink. It is the advanced planning which is just as important to the creation of a masterpiece. For this artwork, the choice of symbols to be represented, the size of the main character, the presence and absence of light, and the positioning of the objects were carefully arranged to tell a story that had many possible interpretations.

It was my goal to illustrate the influence that an artist can have on a piece, and how that influence may have roots in classical or historic themes and object. To accomplish this, the author has inserted images showing a portion of Steranko’s work, i.e., a sundial, and an image of an actual object.

In no way am I stating that Steranko borrowed any references for his work, or that he would even agree with my interpretations of the objects and their relation to the piece. What is a fact is that Steranko did choose objects that on their surface may appear not to belong or be out of order, but in fact, may be the foundation for the concept of the art.

In my opinion by the study of its components, the piece is an allegory, or metaphor representing the real life issues of death and time and Batman’s resolve to conquer, or at least postpone both.

The work features the immediately recognizable shadowy image of Batman drawn in classic Steranko style. Upon review, it is the details that tell the story. Steranko cleverly introduced a sundial, a colony of bats, the full moon, a sprawling vine of thorns, and a cemetery to help tell a story. When discussing the piece, Steranko remarked, “This work is proof that much of my imagery can be thought provoking—and a real challenge to the intellect.” I couldn’t agree more.

You can’t take this depiction of Steranko’s Batman, the Dark Knight, literally. Not offered with an official title, I have dubbed the piece, “The Dark Knight: No Time For Death”.  The name was granted after a review and understanding of the objects and their arrangements which could be seen when viewing the main Batman figure.

The piece does boast the traditional skill and style of Jim Steranko. Some trade mark Steranko traits are seen in the piece, such as the use of the moon, fluttering bats, and heavy ink lines and the introduction of light which creates the form of the main character and is emphasized on the cape, top of cowl, and illuminated skulls. A sundial on marble base serves as a secondary visual focal point and introduced one of Steranko’s most distinguishing stylistic trademarks, the use of surrealism.

Presence of the Moon

The moon has been a celebrated component of art and literature for centuries. The moon was referenced in Genesis 1:16, “the greater light to rule the day, and the less light to rule the night. Batman is the creature of the night, someone that embraces the cover of the moon. The moon may also be the cause of the evil which must be battled.  Moonlight was thought to cause madness or lunacy.   The three skulls are highlighted by the moonlight, and may be visual representations of his fallen foes lunacy.

 

The gray wolf is often depicted solitarily hollowing at the moon. Batman too stands alone in the glow of the lunar light and accepts his responsibility to fight the moon’s evil influence.

 

Introduction of a Colony of Bats

In Central and South America, the oldest depictions of bats in art were clay statues of the Mayan bat god, “Camazotz”, or death bat. In Steranko’s depiction, the bats almost appear to be controlled by Batman, and do not appear to be a threat. But, as the Mayan’s considered them representations of death, Batman has control, and in doing so, controls death.

 

Use of the Sundial

A prominent feature of the composition is the presence of a sundial, a device for telling the time of the day by the position of the sun. Steranko detailed the bat-a-rang shaped ghomon (a Greek word literally meaning “one that knows or examines”) as the part of the sundial that casts the shadow.

Casting of shadows comes into play as the absence and presence of light create the shadowy silhouette of the Batman character/figure, with heavy emphasis on the flowing capes and its detailed scallops and fins. Batman’s gauntlets were detailed in a similar manner.

With the presence of the moon, it is obvious there is an absence of the sun which would be needed for the sundial to function. Why was it included? There is no need for the sun, as Batman is a creature of the night and functions much like the Greek Sun dial, he is “one that knows or examines.” He is a metaphor of the sun dial and has no need for its rays to function.

 

Use of Three Skeletons

Batman’s head is glancing down, possibly to view the three skulls on pikes. Three is a symbolic number and represents:

  1. First number that forms a geometrical figure, the triangle
  2. Considered the number of harmony, wisdom and understanding
  3. Represents Past, Present, and Future
  4. Birth, Life, and Death
  5. Number of the Divine, Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  6. In mythology, the hero is often given three choices or three tests, and they overcome difficulties and challenges on the third try.

The heads are skeletons, meaning death has long ago overtaken their original physical form. Batman has outwitted three assailants and lives to fight another day. Batman has conquered life over death, good over evil.

Outside of the Cemetery Doors

Batman stands in front of a gated cemetery. The details of the “bow & picket” style fence were drawn in detail. The cemetery door is open, inviting Batman to come in, but by pure resolve, he remains among the living on the outside of the gate. He is refusing the invitation by death and defeat to join the downfallen. The cemetery is also seen in the background, with the caped crusaders back turned to the tombstones and iron fencing. Batman is literally “turning his back” on death.

 

 

 

 

Bat-A-Rang and Gnomon Symbolism

Batman is drawn using his right hand to hold a bat-a-rang with blades identical to the one which forms the gonomon. A thicket of thorns has wrapped itself around the base of the sundial with two twists growing on the gnomon blade. Thickets are associated with over-growth, lack of maintenance much like a section of once cleared earth which has taken back the land to its original natural form. To me, this symbolizes the taking back of time, or returning something back to its original state.

The thorns attack the sundial, the symbolism of time. Thorns are also symbolic of Christ “Crown of Thorns”. Although Batman has not been overcome by the thorns, he is willing to sacrifice himself for mankind.

As “one who knows or examines”, Batman is not affected by the stoppage or attack on time, as he is eternal. The bat-a-rang that he carries, also being approached by the wandering, growing thorny vine, is the powerful tool of which the gnomon was patterned, will provide him with an independent tool to continue to know or examine.

Does the vine of thorns represent the stoppage of time? There is no need for a clock when you are dead. But, Batman does not accept that fate, and used his own Bat-A-Rang to create his own gnomon and sundial. By holding it in his own hand separate from the pictures marble base, he controls sundial, serving as the symbol of his fate.

Has Batman conquered evil and brought civilization and humanity back to an original state of good? But much like a weed, it is an almost impossible struggle to win, as another threat, or thorny weed, is always there to take its place. Batman is unaffected by attacks on time, although is he is always near the threat of danger.

If the definition of a good piece of art is to inspire and create thought, then this Steranko piece is a real masterpiece. I am proud to add it to my family’s collection.

Regards,

Troy R. Kinunen

troy@mearsonline.com