I woke up one morning and had a dream... Could I own every single issue of Detective Comics, Batman and all of the other subtitles in the Gotham universe?
Insane? Stupid? Inspired?
This can only end in obsession and financial chaos.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Completed Series: Batman: The Dark Knight

This was a series that was supposed to be an ongoing new title released in late 2010. It got through to Issue 5 (before the New-52, kicked in and restarted the title), by Summer 2011. The title showed me a lot of promise, it was, what is rare in modern comic books, a sole creators take on a one of the main comic book characters in the business. And to underline the point, the title, 'The Dark Knight', invoked that it was building upon the legacy of the movie, of Frank Miller's DKR, and picking up where the the old anthology title 'Legends of the Dark Knight'.

Basically, guys when I ordered this first issue from my comic book shop, I was expecting a quality experience, sadly I got a strange experience.

Shall we get the bad points of this series out of the way first...

The biggest and most frustrating thing about this run, and this was compounded by the lateness of the books (which I can only assume, occurred when Finch found out that the New-52 was on it's way, therefore making the bigger stor arc unfinished) is that it is very incomplete. There is a longer narrative at play here. The story is going somewhere and that it feels that it may take a long time getting there. While the first five issues finish an arc, there are a lot of plot points that needed to be completed. And this is, for a completest, really frustrating. I know that this isn't really Finch's fault, and for all I know he is finishing it in the New-52 title (although, away from the Batman Incorporated back-drop), it just annoyed me, that's all.

The second problem I had with this title, and this was a major thing I had when reading other Batman work of the same era, is the dour and hopelessness of it all. Batman, staggers from one death to another. People get maimed, killed and manipulated, and Batman- a hero, which I think is best used as preventing all of the above, cannot do anything to stop it. After going through the five issue debut story, I was thoroughly depressed. And if I am being overly critical, there is an element of a greatest hits compilation of previous Batman stories, but I suppose this is also a strength which I will be discussed about later on...

As for the criticism that this book is too light on substance, and too over the top. With way too much grandstanding, well remember guys what I am reading here is a comic book. Maybe this is the teenage boy in me, but I am not expecting Asterios Polyp, From Hell or Love and Rockets here, should I want an uncomplicated superhero comic, this'll do. Maybe that's what Finch was planning?

There are two cool things about the title and these are David Finch himself.

The writing is promising, he sets up the various long-term storyline (An over ambitious cop, threatening Jim Gordon's status in GCPD. Why would somebody be paid to steal the Batmobile? Where's street-based venom coming from?), as I'm frustrated by the titles end may be interpreted by my curiosity as to how the minor plot points being untied. The story is told very simply, and to be honest that's a good thing. Finch's Batman has a distinct voice, the use of Bruce Waynes internal dialogue when reminiscing about his younger life before his parents murder is excellent. Finch, by and large nails it and any new reader to Batman would easily understand what is going on.

And the art! I'm one of those rare breed of fans that don't really prefer one style over another. Being brought up on 2000AD where you'd get Arthur Ranson photo-realism one minute, Anthony Williams cartoony-zaniness the next, and then Simon Bisley spray-painting anarchy the next... I say this, because some of the reviews I've seen about the individual issues were scathing about Finch's 'Image-Art'. I'm used to appreciating any artists endeavour, as long as it works with the narrative, I'm pretty cool about it any style. For me, Finch's style of work is awesome, especially in his characterization of the classic characters, and backs this all up with a Gotham City he is trying to create. He's totally excellent at making Batman broody in a rainstorm.

As an introduction to other villains, new readers will realise Penguin, is unbelievable horrible to see. And that is a good thing. Killer Croc is mean, nasty, monstrous bastard, and that is a good thing too. Finch draws Ragman and The Demon, whom appear in later issues are also brilliantly done (and the moment where a demon exits through the Ragman's mouth is up there with my favourite bits of the book). Yes, there is a bit of self indulgence by David Finch, and there is an element of 'look what I can draw', but it's his book, and I suppose he can do what he likes.

And this was why I was finding the book strange...

Batman: The Dark Knight probably was frankly, aimed at the wrong part of the comic audience and suffers terribly for it. This should have been an Ultimate Marvel-style title, a great introduction for new (and definately, younger readers). It should've been presented well away from then-main Batman/DCU continuity, where Finch wouldn't have to include elements of the Batman Incorporated thing, I think the story would have been better for it. Crucially, though, it ought to have been aimed squarely at a new, younger audience. An audience that wasn't going to look at it and pick flaws in it, and find the other best bits of other Batman books (by that I mean, the use of re-introduction of superdrug Venom, Demonic possessions, ambitious public officials, and young brats stealing bits of Batman's car etc, etc) as tributes. An audience that wasn't likely to complain that Image-Art is sooo last century. An audience who would think that this was 'fresh'.

If DC had been boldly inclined, they could have used this title as a way to get a younger audience onto the character. Perhaps even use this title as the core book instead of the cartoony 'Batman and Robin Adventures' entry level books. Hell, the way the book serialisation is episodically structure (with one more character being introduced every issue) would be great for a younger audience. And the art would make younger readers think 'wow', just like I did when I first saw Bisley's 'Judgement on Gotham'.

True, the general tone of the book would have to be made more optimistic (although the tone for all the Bat-Book in 2012 were downright horrible). Yes, Batman would have saved the gal, all arm breaking sequences would have to be removed. Yes, more emphasis on hero, less on thuglike behaviour. In short, I just think that most impressionable teens would love this book solely for the art, all the while slowly get an education about Gotham City without having to look at Wikipeadia every five minutes. But hey, I'm not a DCU editor, I'm a collector.

For me, as a guy who will probably read more Batman that most human beings, this is simply okay. It's just that 'The Dark Knight' wasn't written for me. I mean it was supposed to be, but it shouldn't have been. Which is a damn, damn, shame.