From Shrewsbury to Gotham City!
17 Jan 2024

We’ve kept this big secret for a few months now - and we can finally reveal that the new three issue Batman anniversary comic book is stuffed full of (wait for it…) buildings and people from SHREWSBURY! Katy Rink spoke to Batman illustrator Mike Perkins.

Shrewsbury-based comic book artist Mike Perkins has captured his love of his hometown in a new Batman anniversary comic series due to be released later this year. 

The new three-issue Black Label series, titled The Bat-Man: First Knight, and set for release on March 5th, marks the 85th anniversary of DC's iconic superhero, Batman. Illustrated by Mike (Captain America, Amazing Spider-Man, the X-Men, Thor and Swamp Thing) and penned by Dan Jurgens (Superman, Action Comics), the story harks back to Batman’s early days as a vigilante, as the caped-crusader grapples with a string of violent murders. The year is 1939, a time overshadowed by the aftermath of World War I and the looming threat of fascism. 

Batman First Knight cover

The Bat-Man: First Knight three issue DC Black Label series features people and places in Shrewsbury!

The exciting news for Shrewsbury is that Mike has filled the new series with buildings and people from our town! You’ll recognise many locations and faces which have served as references for iconic Gotham City landmarks and characters. Shrewsbury town centre restaurant The Loopy Shrew, the former lunatic asylum Shelton Hospital, Shrewsbury Prison and stately homes Netley Hall and Attingham Park are all recognisable from Mike’s illustrations. 

“Shrewsbury is inspirational,” Mike says. “There are so many different architectural styles here, you can pick and choose whichever area of history you want to utilise. If you try to get all the angles right from your imagination you can't do it. You have to take the reference.”

Shrewsbury prison next to the Batman artwork of the same

Mike's own reference pictures of Shrewsbury Prison shown next to his artwork from The Bat-Man: First Knight

Shelton Hospital masquerades as 'Wayne Manor' and Shrewsbury prison gatehouse is the basis for Gotham's Blackgate penitentiary, whilst the grand entrance to Netley Hall was the inspiration for Mitchell Mansion. Mike has also used shots of libraries at Attingham Park and Blenheim Palace, in Oxfordshire, to inspire the opulent library at Bruce Wayne’s family mansion. 

Local personalities also serve as character references; James Millichamp, Head of Creative Technologies at Shrewsbury High School, appears as a bespectacled rabbi and Jonathan Soden, owner of the Wyle Cop contemporary gallery Soden Collection, is set to feature in the third series: “Apparently, there’s a police officer with my face on him!” he said. 

It clearly tickles Mike to feature his friends: “James (Millichamp) is a big comic book fan,” he says. “I wanted him to have a good role. He’s made the cover of the third issue - now he wants a spin-off!”

James Millichamp next to the comic version of himself

Shrewsbury artist James Millichamp pictured next to the Bat-Man comic book version of himself 

James, an artist himself and winner of the 2023 Belle Vue Arts Festival Art Competition, said: “As an avid reader of comic books and longtime Batman fan, it’s such an honour to be immortalised in print by one of the best artists working in the field. Mike is a true visionary. When he asked me to play a character in his story there was no way I could refuse. It’s so strange to see my face in a Batman story! Mike has really captured my likeness and there is something so surreal but exhilarating in seeing ‘me’ appear alongside the Greatest Detective.”

Another of Mike’s chums, James Fletcher, who appears as a good-hearted pimp in the series, works as logistics admin clerk for Shrewsbury company Evolution Foods: “It’s quite different from my comic doppelganger’s occupation,” he laughs. “I’ve known Mike for almost ten years now, since meeting him at the London Film and Comic Con in 2014. We established that he used to live in Frankwell on the street next to where I live - and we’ve been friends ever since. I’ve seen some of Mike’s artwork for this title so far, it's astonishingly good. The detail put into it elevates the work from ‘just a Batman comic’ - it immerses you in the story. You can almost hear the day to day hustle and bustle in the street scenes alone.” 

Shelton Hospital against the Batman version

Mike borrowed real life references of libraries at Blenheim Palace and Attingham Park as well as the exterior of Shelton Hospital

The new comic series, crafted under DC’s Black Label Prestige Plus imprint (for ages 17+), promises a darker and larger-scale narrative, fitting for the brooding atmosphere of 1930s Gotham City. Perkins’ style, characterised by swirling blacks and greys, encapsulates the sinister ambiance while showcasing Mike’s immense technical skill, evident in the intricate, hand-drawn panels.

It’s clear he’s gone the extra mile for this milestone anniversary comic. He spent half a day researching the tread for Batman's hobnail boots, for an iconic panel showing the superhero smashing through a skylight: “You can fake it, but it looks fake. The references had to be perfect,” Mike says. 

Mike Perkins profile picture

Mike Perkins is enjoying being part of the community in Shrewsbury having returned from Florida USA

After 30 years working on the biggest titles in the comics industry and a spell living abroad in Florida, Mike has thrown himself into life in Shrewsbury - which is also home to fellow comic book illustrator Charlie Adlard (of The Walking Dead) - giving his time generously to local arts events. The annual calendar includes the buzzing art fair DRAWN, the Belle Vue Arts Festival and The Shrewsbury Arts Trail, which saw Salvador Dali sculptures exhibited across the town this summer. Mike is a regular at exhibition previews at contemporary gallery The Soden Collection and is also set to appear at the Shrewsbury Comic Con at Shrewsbury Town Football Club in the spring. 

Netley Hall in the Batman comic

The grand staircase at Netley Hall outside Shrewsbury is the scene of a dreadful murder! 

“Shrewsbury is a very artistic town - you certainly feel that within the spirit of the place,” he says. “It wasn’t like that when I lived here in 1998.  A friend came over from Australia who was thinking of moving back - they said I’d spoken to more people in 20 minutes than I had in 20 years living in Florida! It has a real sense of community.”

There’s only one problem with being such a local celebrity: “The amount of people who’ve asked can you put me in it?!” Mike laughs.