Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Some notes on Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 2—Cycle of Violence

•This is the second volume (as in collection) of the second volume (as in times they've published a comic book with this exact same title) of Batman: The Dark Knight, collecting issues #10-#15 and #0, rearranged so that the zero issue follows the story arc formed by the other issues (as originally published, the "Cycle of Violence" story arc was interrupted by a month for the zero issue, which had to be published during DC's "Zero Month," which happened to fall exactly between the first and second halves of "Cycle of Violence")

•You may recall that The Dark Knight was the new Batman title launched specifically to be a David Finch showcase book. It was to be written and drawn by Finch, and its manifesto was basically "Whatever Finch wanted." That first volume lasted only long enough to fill a single collection (Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 1—Golden Dawn).

Then the book was relaunched along with the rest of the DCU line during the "New 52" reboot, and the book's raison d'etre shifted slightly, so that now Finch would be co-writing the book with the experienced, veteran writer Paul Jenkins. Their short collaboration filled the previously discussed Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 1—Knight Terrors, during which you could actually witness it dissolving by reading the credits for each issue. That storyline was essentially David Finch's "Hush," a guest-star, guest-villain filled story arc in which Batman bounced off of various presumably fun-to-draw characters for the length of an extremely convoluted plot.

With this arc, new writer Gregg Hurwitz teams with David Finch, who is just drawing rather than co-writing or co-plotting, and the focus of the book seems to have shifted again. This arc is a six-issue story arc about The Scarecrow, re-telling his origin amidst a present-day battle with The Batman. It would be followed with a yet-uncollected arc featuring The Mad Hatter. The issues currently on the racks feature Clayface (and new artist Alex Maleev). So apparently at about the one-year point, Dark Knight became a sort of villain showcase book under Hurrwitz's instigation.

•It's actually rather impressive how disconnected this collection is from the one it follows, as Hurwitz dropped all of the Finch/Jenkins sub-plots like they were burning coals. The White Rabbit, whose secret identity was dating Bruce Wayne, has disappeared and is never mentioned again. A sub-plot involving an Internal Affairs investigation of Commissioner Gordon by an over-zealous IA officer? Evaporated. Batman's concerns about pushing the aging Alfred too hard? Gone. There isn't even mention of what Batman just went through, the over-complicated plot by Bane to conquer Gotham City using a super-drug developed and distributed with he help of The Scarecrow, Poison Ivy and The White Rabbit.

•Most impressive of all though is the fact that this story arc is about The Scarecrow, who Batman just fought, defeated and one imagines sent to Arkham Asylum about four issues ago. Is that a record for a recurring Bat-villain to recur? It's gotta be awful close.

•This is the first page of the first issue contained herein (it was the one with this gross cover). Check it out:
That's kind of weird and gross, right?

The guy who sewed his lips shut while singing to himself then approaches a crying little girl who sobs to him to leave her alone and then asks why he's doing this and who he is. He answers, "I'm the Bogeyman," and I thought, for a second, that perhaps this was a new villain with a fear schtick called "The Bogeyman," and that The Scarecrow would show up to come into conflict with him for stepping on his turf, right? That's something that happens in comics more often than you might imagine; villains, like heroes, care a lot about turf and branding and their spheres of influence.

But then he goes ahead and says he's going to teach her about "FEAR" and shoots gas at her, and I got a sinking feeling.

So this is The Scarecrow, now sewing his own lips shut and kidnapping little kids. Awesome.

•We turn the page and see Bruce Wayne hanging out with a lady post-coitus. David Finch draws her to resemble Jaina Hudson, the woman Bruce Wayne was dating in the previous story arc (and who was secretly The White Rabbit), that I assumed it was her. But it's actually a new character (I think; or at least new to this comic), a Ukranian concert pianist named Natalya.
I think it speaks to Finch's lack of fundamental comics making skills (like, you know, character design) that he's tasked with drawing two different girlfriends for Bruce Wayne within the space of a few issues, and the half-English, half-Indian Jaina and the Ukranian Natalya look so similar.

It's probably asking a little much that he give them, say, mildly different body types or figures, but I don't know, different color hair? Glasses? Something?

•Bruce breaks off his date when the Gotham City Police Department recovers "another" little girl. Apparently the bad guy (whom they don't yet know is The Scarecrow) has been kidnapping little kids off playgrounds and the like, which is certainly different than his usual M.O.

•Here's another example of Finch not being very good:
How does that giant Batman fit into that tiny window? And he manages to get uncontorted fast enough to stomp on that break and bring that car to a complete stop, before it hits the maternity ward of a local hospital, which is in a street-level, glass encased storefront right off of the street, for some reason.

•When we next see Scarecrow, he's wearing a beard of blood from the self-inflicted wounds to his lips. At first I was curious as to why having his lips sewn together didn't seem to effect his speech at all, but then I started wondering why he hadn't bled to death yet.

•Oh hey, is that why Scarecrow's so skinny? Because he shows his mouth shut?

•This story arc offers an all-new, all-different origin for The Scarecrow.

I thought that was kind of funny because not long ago DC released a miniseries entitled Year One: Batman Scarecrow that was a new, retconned version of The Scarecrow's origin story, and, at the time, I thought that was pretty completely unnecessary (though it turned out to be a pretty good comic, thanks largely to the contributions of artist Sean Murphy).

Now here's an even unnecessarier one—er, more unnecessary—origin.

At least in this case, Hurwitz has the excuse of having had a universe-wide continuity reboot between his origin and the previous one (written by Bruce Gordon). While Hurwitz doesn't deal with the first encounter between Batman and Scarecrow, he does deal extensively with Jonathan "The Scarecrow" Crane's childhood.

In this version, his father was a mad scientist studying fear, and using his own son as a guinea pig, which resulted in some pretty serious and extensive child abuse, mostly involving throwing him down a dark trapdoor for long periods of time.

•Hurwitz contrasts these experiences of the child Crane's with those of the child Bruce Wayne, and adds some wrinkles to familiar elements of the "Batman: Year One" origin that don't exactly sit all that well, including a part where young Bruce has his parents leave the showing of The Mark of Zorro early because he was scared of it, and, therefore, his own fear contributed to them being in the wrong place at the wrong time and getting murdered.

•And that is why Scarecrow is apparently capturing kids for subjects now. As his father discovered, the sweat of horrified children has something special in it, and can be used as a potent secret ingredient in fear toxins, I guess.

•My favorite part is when one of the little girls he's collected fear sweat from diagnoses the villain with a severe case of loneliness, and draws him a picture:
Seriously; that's my favorite part of this comic.

•So eventually The Scarecrow captures Batman, strips him down to his cowl (which he can't remove, because Batman's so damn clever he rigged it so his cowl couldn't be removed), subjects Batman to a new fear gas, and there's about an issue's worth of Batman processing his worst fears, which are dramatized much differently than usual here, and in a way that is rather dramatically conveyed, although in a way that is perhaps not the best match for Finch's skill set.

Eventually, Batman manages to escape, just as The Scarecrow goes to get a rather wicked looking scythe, which has a spinal column on the handle.

An incredibly brutal battle ensues, in which Batman gets stabbed rather deeply in his right shoulder blade with the scythe, which then breaks, leaving the blade coming out the other side of his arm.

So Batman shoots him in the face with his grappling hook gun.
Remarkably, no one dies. Batman crawls away with a scythe blade in his shoulder, stumbling through the city until Robin picks him up.

The Scarecrow hangs from his jaw for a while, then rips himself off the ceiling, his jaw almost completely torn off. He rescues his super toxin and his captive, and manages to escape his hideout before it explodes.

•The Scarecrow, his almost severed jaw still bleeding profusely, goes to The Iceberg Lounge, where he interrupts The Penguin in the middle of his destroy-your-whole-world-around-you schtick that Jason Aaron inserted in a one-shot to show how wicked The Penguin could be, and which Hurwitz later made as integral to The Penguin's crime career as umbrellas and birds.

•The Penguin has built an admittedly cool-looking airship with which The Scarecrow can distribute his new super fear gas during the Gotham City Christmas Parade (During his first appearance in the Batman: The Animated Series, the episode "Nothing To Fear," The Scarecrow also seeks to distribute his gas en masse via blimp; I'm not sure if Hurwitz's using that scheme here is a nod to the show, or if the fact it's now turned up in two such different places means it has its origins in a much older comic book that predates both of these uses). The whole city's going nuts, rioting and suchlike, and there doesn't seem to be any antidote, since the only person who has ever metabolized this particular super-toxin is Batman.

•This is a nice place to pause and remind ourselves not to think about Batman comics as being things that necessarily take place in, say, the Batman line of comics, or in the DC Universe.

Like, right now I'm reading another Batman collection called Batman: Night of the Owls, in which the Court of Owls unleash an army of assassins on Gotham City, and Alfred sends out a "Calling all Bats, Calling all Bats!" signal that has Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin, Red Hood and The Outlaws, The Birds of Prey and I don't know, maybe even Red Robin and the Teen Titans (I haven't finished it yet).

This seems like a good time to maybe call in some former sidekicks doesn't it? Or your pals in The Justice League? Superman and/or Green Lantern could suck up all that gas and down that ship lickety-split.

It was a little harder to try to read this particular comic while making that mental act of recontextualizing the setting, however, because in the story arc immediately preceding this one Batman called on The Justice League to help him deal with a break out of Arkham Asylum, but here he goes solo.

•His plan doesn't really make a lot of sense to me, but then, I'm not a doctor. It involves hooking tubes into his arms and then flying the Batplane over Gotham City, dusting it in a cloud of his own blood (presumably incredibly diluted and mixed with, you know, stuff) to serve as a makeshift cure for the toxin.

Once a cloud of Batman blood lands on the fear-crazed populace, they go back to normal.

•When Batman gets better and the GCPD are able to find The Scarecrow, Batman kicks in the door to apprehend his foe, who collapses at the site of him. Perhaps he's scared, perhaps he feels defeated because the little girl who drew him the picture and understood his loneliness helped lead the cops to him, or perhaps it's simply because of blood loss: He's still pouring blood from that grappling-hook wound to his face and, before having his jaw nearly torn off, he spent most of the arc bleeding from his own self-inflicted needle wounds.

In addition to their use of fear as a weapon and their conquering their childhood fears by wearing costumes, that's another thing Batman and The Scarecrow have in common: The ability to survive incredible amounts of blood loss.

•The zero issue is written by Hurwitz, and drawn by a trio of different artists. Mico Suayan and Juan Jose Ryp penciled it, and Vicente Cifuentes inked at least half of it (with one of the pencil artists presumably inking their own work).

•It opens with a pretty neat image, of pearls falling all over Gotham City like rain in a rain storm, in young Bruce Wayne's imagination.

•This is the story of young Bruce's childhood investigation of his parents' murder, and his confrontation as an angry 18-year-old with their killer, who is once again Joe Chill.

Whether or not Bruce Wayne/Batman would ever discover the identity of his parents' killer and/or confront the killer has changed a few times over the years, and been a surprisingly heated point of debate, with some arguing that not knowing is a prime motivator for Batman to continue fighting crime, as any criminal he apprehends may be the one who started him on this path.

I think he confronted Joe Chill back in the Silver Age, that was written out of continuity during Denny O'Neil's tenure as Batman editor, and Grant Morrison restored it during his run. Obviously, in New 52 continuity, teenage Wayne did find Joe Chill, and even considers shooting him to death(as in Batman Begins), but opts not to.

•It was weird spending so long—although it was just 20 pages—with Bruce Wayne as a child in Gotham City. I guess I never really considered what happened between the few weeks after his parents' murder and his going to walk the world; I assumed he left Gotham almost immediately to start studying and training, but, according to this, he was in Gotham City at least through high school graduation.


Akilles said...

This is hilarious. And facepalm-worthy.

It makes sense that his blood can cure anything. I mean, he`s the Batman!
Jesus Christ...

Michael Hoskin said...


JohnF said...

This sure looks terrible.