I finally read Peter Milligan's "Dark Knight, Dark City" from story Batman #452-454 in the form of the recent DC Comics Presents: Batman volume, and to add to the chorus of voices praising this story, I definitely recommend it.
Batman: The Black Mirror are also sure to enjoy.
For what I expect, in retrospect, from comics from the early 1990s, the three-part "Dark Knight, Dark City" is surprisingly violent. Equally surprising is that Milligan's villain in the piece is the Riddler; even Batman remarks at one point that he thought he and the Riddler's antagonism was built on respect and one-upsmanship, and not on the Riddler trying to kill Batman. Or, at least, the Riddler puts Batman in increasingly dangerous and grotesque situations, not the least of which is when Batman is forced to give a tracheotomy to a newborn baby. The concept is gross enough on its own, and Milligan keeps building the levels of macabre to the story's conclusion.
What we learn in the end is that the Riddler's actually being controlled by a ghostly bat who died, along with a young woman, in a botched eighteenth century demon-raising. Batman's trials, though bloody, weren't meant to kill him, but rather to prepare him through rites for releasing the girl and the bat's spirits. It's here that Milligan's work and Morrison's derivative diverge; the bat-ghost here is not the demon Barbatos (rather, perhaps, just a large bat), and Batman and the ghosts part on friendly terms, whereas in Morrison's Batman and Robin Must Die, the bat is Barbatos (slash-Darkseid's Hyper Adapter weapon) and he merges with Simon Hurt toward the mayhem found in Batman RIP and The Return of Bruce Wayne.
The difference robs neither good story of their impact; indeed "Dark City" is a kind of ghost story told 'round the campfire, which ends pleasantly enough even if it's rather scary getting there. Part of what's scary is the ghost-bat's presence, which haunts Batman throughout the book in a "someone's watching me" sort of way. The bat's corpse has been in Gotham long enough that it's seeped into the soil -- the bat is Gotham, in essence -- and this leads Batman to wonder if some corruption in the city itself lead to his parent's murder and Batman's creation.
It is part and parcel, exactly, of the same kind of corruption of Gotham that Scott Snyder begins to establish in Black Mirror and continues into his New 52 Batman book; it'd be a kick, frankly, if Snyder (who's taken over from Morrison, in my mind, as the "lead writer" of the Batman titles) might also give "Dark City" a direct acknowledgment in one of his stories as well, as Morrison did.
Artist Kieron Dwyer's work seems familiar to me, though looking back I can't claim to have seen it in more than just a half-dozen or so Superman issues. It nicely evokes for me, however, the Batman style of the early 1990s, not unlike Jim Aparo's -- the characters are clear, present in the panel, not distorted in any way like artists portray the characters today; I neither favor one nor the other, but there's something refreshing about the character clear on the page, in the vein also of artists like Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway. Dwyer's depiction lends itself to the characterization of Batman at the time, as a public superhero fairly familiar to the police; this Batman, with yellow bat-shield, is more often on the page and visible than he is hidden in the shadows.
This DC Comics Presents edition also contains the one-shot Detective Comics #633, in which an addled Bruce Wayne seems to be the only one who remembers he used to be Batman -- even with another Batman running around. With art by Tom Mandrake, the story has an equally Hitchcock-ian feel as "Dark City." I couldn't guess the ending, which is a point for Milligan; there's a double-dream sequence that I found confusing that maybe lowered my estimation of the story a bit, but another reader might not have the same issue and love it.
There are no covers included in this DC Comics Presents volume; I haven't read many of them so I'm not sure if this is common, but it felt like a significant omission to me. I won't go into my love/hate relationship with DC Comics Presents here, but this was a way in which I felt the volume could have been improved and lacked as a collection.
As the original "Dark Knight, Dark City" issues are hard to track down, however, that shouldn't stop the reader from picking up this book. I've enjoyed what little I've read of Peter Milligan's work (namely his Infinity, Inc. relaunch) and DC Comics Presents: Batman: Dark Knight, Dark City was a story that actually lived up to all the hype I've heard about it; I thoroughly enjoyed it. Milligan has at this point already come and gone from the DC New 52 Justice League Dark, but I look forward to reading something scary from him nonetheless and his additional work that follows.
Up next: the Collected Editions review of the final pre-Flashpoint Batman and Robin collection, Dark Knight vs. White Knight. Don't miss it!