Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Some notes on Batman: The Dark Knight Vol.1—Knight Terrors

Like Batman Inc, Batman: Dark Knight was a newish Batman title that launched shortly before the New 52 relaunch of the entire line, resulting in there now being two volume ones of the series, distinguishable only the "The New 52!" slug near the title of the second volume one. Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 1: Golden Dawn is the first volume one, while Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 1: Knight Terrors is the second volume one.

I'm not entirely positive how much of the first volume one carries into the second volume one (with Batman Inc, so much did that the second volume one was really more of a volume two). There do seem to be some sub-plots picked up already in process (Like an Internal Affairs officer named Forbes investigating Commissioner James Gordon for illegally colluding with the vigilante Batman, and also going after Bruce Wayne, who post-Batman Inc has announced he's Batman's financier.)

•The majority of this book is drawn and co-plotted by David Finch, scripted and co-plotted by Paul Jenkins and inked by Richard Friend. When Dark Knight was first announced, it was to be a sort of vanity book for Finch, his chance to do whatever he wanted with Batman, as both writer and artist. That lead to scheduling difficulties, and more and more creators came on to help. At present, DC is still publishing the book, but Finch is neither writing nor drawing it any longer.

•First line of the book: "Fear is a cannibal that feeds upon its self." Is that what Paul Jenkins meant when he said DC was "in the toilet right now?"...?

•Good thing Finch was working with a professional and experience writer though; imagine how much worse that line, and the whole goofy, overwrought speech that follows, could have been if the artist wrote it himself.

•Pages 2 and 3 of the first issue is a two-page splash page showing Batman swinging on a Batline over Gotham City, essentially the same basic image that's on the cover, only bigger. Each Finch-drawn issue of the series collected in this volume, it turns out, contains a similar two-page spread of a not terribly significant image (Two-Face punches Batman, Batman punches Superman, Bane punches Batman, etc).

•When the IA officer first confronts Bruce Wayne, he makes fun of the speech that served as narration for the first scene: "I heard your speech tonight, Mr. Wayne," he says. "Would've thought a man of your stature could afford better writers." Well, at least Jenkins realized what crap writing the first few pages of script were...

•Bruce Wayne is called away from a social/philanthropic event by a break-out/riot in Arkham Asylum (Fun fact: This very plot point occurred in the first issues of both Batman and Batman: The Dark September 2011). What's different about this one is that the in-mates are all gigantic and muscley, as if they've been caught in a Gamma bomb blast with Dr. Bruce Banner.

•In the Asylum, we get our first look at the new villain White Rabbit:
Her costume? A mask with bunny ears, a pair of panties with a bunny tail attached, a corset, thigh-high high-heeled boots and long gloves. I'd say she was wearing the uniform of a Playboy bunny, but I'm pretty sure her outfit is even more revealing and less-suited to super-villainy than what Playboy bunnies wear.

•Throughout the riot, Batman is seeking Harvey "Two-Face" Dent, who must be the most dangerous villain still in the Asylum (The Joker had his face skinned off in Detective Comics #1, which was released the same month as this issue). Here's what Two-Face looks like now:

•If you're wondering where all the other Gotham heroes are while hulked-out Arkham inmates are flooding out of the asylum and into the city, the next issue contains a montage checking in with them. Nightwing and Robin are fighting The Ventriloquist I (Who is apparently alive in The New 52U; he uses the corpse of a police officer as a ventriloquist's dummy when Scarface gets damaged). Batgirl is fighting Mr. Zsasz. Batwoman is fighting The Cavalier. And The Birds of Prey are fighting The Clock King, seen here "clocking" Black Canary:
Look, his costume hasn't changed a bit! Is Clock King the only DC character other than Catwoman whose costume was completely un-touched during The New 52 redesign?

Batman, meanwhile, is following a lead to The Joker, who has taken over a train.

•Okay, this doesn't seem very Batman-like at all:
Not only does he not save the dude by Bat-grappling his legs and pulling him down, he doesn't even gesture or say "Down, fool!" or anything.

•Inside the train he finds a hulked-out Joker, which reminds me of one of those Arkham videogame tie-in books I read, wherein The Joker was made gigantic and super-strong on the drug "Titan."

"Eait till the get a load of me," The Joker says, quoting himself from the 1989 Batman movie.

•Nevermind, it wasn't The Joker after all, but Clayface pretending to be The Joker. Just like in "Hush" when we thought that maybe Jason Todd was still alive, but it was actually just Clayface posing as him. This story arc is a lot like "Hush" in that it is full of breif, not-always-necessary appearances by various characters, who seem to be here mostly because Finch wanted to draw them.

•"I've never seen anything this complex," Batman tells Alfred, while analyzing a sample of the mysterious Titan-like chemical. "Its composite structure is based on Scarecrow's fear toxin but it acts differently...instead of sending you into a paralysis of fear, it somehow makes you fearless."

Being a good butler, Alfred bites his tongue and refrains from suggesting Batman google Detective Comics #571, the Mike Barr/Alan Davis classic wherein The Scarecroew develops a toxin that instead of sending you into a paralysis of fear, somehow makes you fearless.

•I probably say this about twice a week now, but this may be the most completely insane thing I've ever seen in a DC comic book:
Alfred brings two ice cream cones to Batman while he's working on the Bat-computer. Cones. Look how weird that is. How did he get them from the kitchen to the Bat-cave without melting? Where the dishes and tray? Batman takes his, but doesn't eat it. Just walks off-panel with it, and is next seen in the cockpit of the Batplane. Where did his ice cream go?

This more than attempting to write a scene of Batman sitting down may be why Jenkins was hounded off the title, although I'd have to see the script. It may be that Jenkins just wrote about Alfred bringing in ice cream, and it may be Finch's fault for drawing ice cream in waffle cones instead of in rich-people silver cups with long spoons.

•And finally, The Scarecrow appears...
...quoting a Sandman ad from 20 years ago...
but it's okay, as that ad was quoting T.S. Eliot.

•"Why don't you ask Batman for help?" Forbes snidely asks Gordon over the phone, when the latter complains about what dire straights the city is in. "I told you, I don't know what you're--" Gordon starts.

But there is a big spotlight on top of Gotham City Police Department Headquarters that creates a Bat-symbol on the night sky over Gotham City, commonly referred to as "The Bat Signal," because it is meant to signal Batman for help.

That's a pretty good clue that there's some form of collusion between the city police and Batman, right?

•The sixth issue is where the creative team starts to see some fiddling, and they'll all fal away (at least temporarily) before the end of this collection. In this issue, Paul Jenkins is credited as sole writer and Finch loses his "co-plotter" credit, while Joe Harris gets a credit for "dialogue assist."

•The seventh issue is called "The Final Curtain," and turns out to be the end of a story arc...although none of the conflicts really see resolution, beyond the defeat of one of the second or third villains to claim to be the mastermind behind everything (See? It's "Hush"-like). Jenkins and Finch both return in the creative capacities they held at the beginning of the book.

•Bane's Venom now basically turns him into the Hulk. In addition to making him so big that he's got several feet in height on Batman and his fists are the size of Batman's head, he can also leap several stories high.

•Bane talks about taking over the city by releasing all the maniacs in Arkham, which is basically the plot of Knightfall, only here instead of giving them firearms upon release, he's given them the Scarecrow/Venom toxin that make them fearless and turn into Hulks.

•He also mentions having broken Batman's back, which one might think would mean "Knightfall," "Knightquest: The Search," "Knightquest: The Crusade" and "KnightsEnd" are all still in-continuity, except they rather explicitly can't be, as you'd have to subtract Barbara Gordon from them, rearrange Robin's costume and—I assume—completely remove Jean-Paul Valley/Azrael/Batman II from the proceedings, which was kind of the whole point of the exercise.

In other words, like most of the stuff kept in-continuity, some of the events of that storyline are considered in-continuity, but not how they happened, and not the stories/comics themselves, so it's another example of a big DC event (Superman's death, Blackest Night, etc) that still happened, but differently than readers think it did, and how it differed exactly is known only to some folks behind the scenes at DC, if they choose to think about it enough to know it anyway.

Which is that "Worst Of Both Worlds" aspect of the New 52 I find most frustrating; it's not a real reboot, and it's not not a reboot, it's just a whole bunch of stuff changed seemingly arbitrarily and at random; a series of universe-wide retcons that punish both new readers for their lack of knowledge and long-time readers for their knowledge, while rendering the whole backlist suspect. Indvidual trades can be enjoyed on their own, but shouldn't be thought of as part of a bigger, wider story, which is, of course, the main selling point of the DC universe line of comics.

•Batman ends his battle with Bane by throwing a Venom antitdote into his mouth and then shoulder-blocking him off a cliff to the land spine-first on the rocks far below, where he's carried off to sea by the waves. Batman doesn't lift a finger or shoot a grappling hook to prevent Bane's likely death.
Meanwhile, the super-fast Flash, standing right next to Batman at the time the Dark Knight attempts to murder his enemey, makes no move to, like, run at super-speed down the cliff, create an aircurrent to slows Bane's fall and then kicking the living shit out of him at super-speed and run him to a prison cell before Bane even realized he was falling.

•Issue #8 is a fill-in issue, written by Joe Harris and drawn and co-plotted by Ed Benes. Perhaps it's the inking by Rob Hunter and Jack Purcell, or that Benes provided less-full pencils than usual, but this is the best Benes art I can recall reading. Batman looks human in his physique, and there aren't any women in it. Maybe Benes should always and only draw Batman comics, as the best Benes art I've ever seen from him has always appeared in Batman comics. That, or work with Hunter and Purcell all the time?

•At first it seems a continuation of the story that I guess ended in the previous issue, as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum appear in it and are they are both giant, Hulk-like brutes now instead of the diminutive little round fellows they were before, but, as it turns out, that's just how they are in The New 52.

•It's mainly an inconsequential done-in-one, with the main narrative progression involving Gordon's conflict with Forbes (Here, he has to see a psychiatrist).

•The final issue of the collection is another fill-in, or perhaps the start of a new writer's arc, but it's a tie-in to "The Night of the Owls" crossover with the main Batman title, so as good a place as any for a fill-in. That writer is Judd Winick.

•An undead-ish Talon assassin for the Court of Owls makes an assassination attempt and, while he suceeds, he gets pretty fucked-up in the process (getting tasered and shot in the forehead with a handgun), before Batman shows up and kicks him out a window that's so high that when he hits the pavement he liquifies and goes "SPLORCH." He must have some crazy regenerative powers, because by the time Batman gets to the street, the Talon is pretty much reconstittued and has fled, evading capture by the World's Greatest Detective.


David said...

Clayface pretending to be Joker was actually a major plot twist in the Batman:Arkham City videogame.

Akilles said...

Benes should always work with those two.

SallyP said...

Urgh. I don't think I'll be picking this up. Thanks for taking the bullet, Caleb!