That David Finch draws pretty pictures is not at issue here. Batman: The Dark Knight: Golden Dawn, the deluxe edition, is a visual feast. From Finch's depiction of Batman's new costume, to Finch's unique take on some of Batman's rogues, to his grotesque supernatural characters, to the sheer scope and detail of Finch's work as presented in this over-sized format, Golden Dawn is a joy to look at.
Finch has been primarily an artist, given Dark Knight to write as part of the DC New 52's controversial trend toward writer/artists. However, almost as soon as Dark Knight was relaunched, Finch ceded writing duties to Paul Jenkins and then Gregg Hurwitz.
Though Finch has had a significant comics career already, his work wasn't known to me prior to his exclusive DC contract. What I saw of his art in the beginning was a now-infamous Justice League cover in which Wonder Woman is smaller and more sexually styled than the other characters, and some Brightest Day covers where the women were again sexually styled and to an extent cookie-cutter copies of one another. This at a time when DC is taking some heat for their portrayal of women.
Not to mention, I'm rather skeptical whether we need another Batman title on top of Batman, Detective, Batman and Robin, and Batman, Inc., especially one that seems to have been created specifically for a creator (which sometimes leads to DC mercilessly prolonging a title long after said creator has gone).
To that end, while I love these deluxe-size books (and that's what got me to pick it up), I went into Dark Knight: Golden Dawn with the following questions and concerns: Could Finch write a good story in this, his lone solely-created volume of Dark Knight? Would the volume have misogynistic or sexually-gratuitous overtones? And could Finch differentiate Dark Knight as something necessary among the glut of Bat-titles?
[Review contains spoilers]
The answer is that Golden Dawn is enjoyable, a good read that, if light, is made weightier due to the strength of Finch's art. I didn't feel that women got a worse shake here than in your average comic book, though Finch does not distinguish himself entirely well on this point. And if Dark Knight were to continue in exactly the same vein in which Finch presents this story, then maybe there is a place for Dark Knight out there, though this is by no means assured.
Dark Knight is my own first full-fledged exposure to Bruce Wayne since he's returned from the dead (the collection of Batman, Inc., which precedes this book, having not yet been released), and in that way it's a lot of fun. Finch's Batman is at the extreme end of angry and obsessed, though that's partially explained in the book, but he's also very cool and tech-savvy a la Grant Morrison's Batman, Inc. Batman.
This is a "classic" Batman story in the sense that it involves mainly Batman, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, a mystery and a couple of rogues. More than a few times I found myself humming the Batman: The Animated Series theme or hearing those actors voices speaking the characters lines, and even the inclusion of Etrigan the Demon here doesn't lessen the book's TAS vibe (even enhances it). Finch's is an accessible Batman story you could give to just about anyone; the denouement comes especially quick, but again the greater part of the story is Finch's art throughout.
Finch can't help that when you tell a "classic" Batman story, the participants will likely make up something of a boy's club. I count, however, seven male actors in this book and just two female ones. One, the demon Blaze, appears if not sexualized then at least half-naked throughout the story (note J. Calafiore drew a clothed Blaze in Secret Six: Darkest House that I thought was considerably scarier than Finch's). The other, the eponymous Dawn Golden, is the book's McGuffin -- appearing only fleetingly, she has been by origin a pawn for various men, and she's ultimately killed at the end.
The book's interior art (covers notwithstanding) doesn't depict overly sexualized poses like Ed Benes's work often does. But story-wise, Finch does not put to rest the concerns that his earlier cover work has raised. Jim Lee, drawing DC's flagship Justice League, is undoubtedly DC's artistic frontman right now, and Finch's art looks uncannily like Lee's. Finch stands to be (perhaps already is) a big deal at DC, but it's for that reason I'm so invested in seeing him go the Lee and not the Benes route.
Golden Dawn is a supernatural Batman tale. Those are a rare-ish breed, and some disfavor them; Batman time-traveling, for instance, is interesting, but it doesn't go to the modern iteration of the character. Finch spares Batman most of the mysticism until right at the end, however, and this is largely in the form of Etrigan; again, hearkening back to the Batman animated series, there's something classic and fun about a Batman/Etrigan team-up. I wouldn't be disappointed in the slightest if Dark Knight were to become the supernatural-horror Batman book; this is what Finch suggested about the book early on, but there's no telling if the new writers will keep it that way. Again, I'd hate to see Finch's talents wasted on what becomes "just another" Batman book.
This first volume of Dark Knight ends with a reprint of Grant Morrison's Batman: The Return issue, drawn by Finch and also included in Batman and Robin Must Die; it's an additional indication of Finch's immediate stardom at DC that the book only mentions Morrison just before the actual issue and not on the credit page, letting Finch shine completely. There's also a nice two-page story from Superman/Batman #75, written and drawn by Finch, that looks at Damian Wayne and Conner Kent as the future Batman and Superman; I appreciated additionally that Finch builds this story off Morrison's future continuity from Time and the Batman.
In essence, time will tell for me in regards to David Finch's work. I'm happy to look at more -- it's a shame, probably, that DC isn't releasing the first DC New 52 volume of Dark Knight in deluxe format -- but we want DC's superstars to reflect the values of where we hope DC will go. Batman: The Dark Knight: Golden Dawn is nice to look at, but I'm not sure yet if it portends good things for DC or not.
[Includes original and variant covers]
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