One of my favorite books is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The original cover of the novel is as memorable as the book itself. Artist Francis Cugat’s stark blue painting, featuring a pair of female eyes with one single tear running down an unseen cheek and the bright lights of an amusement park, was completed before Fitzgerald finished writing the novel but he worked the eyes into the book. At a couple of points in the book, the characters pass a billboard for Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, an optometrist if I remember correctly. The haunting eyes watch over Long Island, NY and the events of the book– always watching and never judging.
Frank Quitely and Alex Sinclair’s cover to Batman and Robin #2 captures the same kind of feeling as Cugat’s painting from almost 90 years ago does, tossing in both a pop and a noir feeling to the image. Like Cugat’s mostly unseen model, a spectral Batman looks down over Gotham City, protecting and but also judging. Where the optometrist’s billboard is silent and inactive in the story, Batman of course is very active in Grant Morrison’s story. Sinclair’s solid blue background and bluish hue to the foreground recall the colors of Cugat’s cover, even mimicking the bright lights of Cugat’s amusement park in the large neon signs of Gotham City. I even just noticed that one of the billboards even features a single eye, watching over the streets of Gotham City.
The hand lying in on the foreground, revealing a non-existent domino (there’s no “12” in dominoes) raises all kinds of questions; who does the hand belong to? What happened to him? Where does the domino chip come from and why isn’t it a standard chip? As far as I can see, there’s no domino in the issue but I believe one was referenced in the first issue. There’s danger in this cover, and that’s even reflected in Quitely and Sinclair’s city scape, which seems strangely lurid. Maybe it’s the colors or maybe it’s the giant green dollar sign, but there’s an implication that something seedy is going on, something that requires Batman’s attention.
Then there’s the interesting question of which Batman is this? Is this the current Batman Dick Grayson surveying the town and the evil that he’s inherited or could it be the spirit of Bruce Wayne, in a symbolic way still guarding his city. The answer probably is not as important as the idea of Gotham City being watched.
I don’t know why Quitely and Sinclair would try to recreate Cugat’s cover for Batman and Robin. Maybe Dick Grayson will be like Gatsby‘s Nick Carraway, more influenced and controlled by those around him than controlling himself. Maybe it’s just coincidence that the two covers have similar elements and nothing of Fitzgerald’s story ties into Morrison’s tale. Either way, both pieces of cover art are haunting, suggesting an ever-present watcher who sees all of the corruption and sin that exists in the world.