Review: Batman: The Dark Knight: Golden Dawn deluxe hardcover (DC Comics)

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Monday, March 05, 2012

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.

Coming at the cusp of the DC New 52 relaunch, however, Finch and Dark Knight find themselves the inheritors of all sorts of thorny issues.

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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7 comments:

  1. I had quite a few problems with this book. I've got no problems with supernatural elements in Bat stories, but the inclusion was haphazard at best. The first half is kind of a kidnapping tale, but then the mystical elements crop up and everything from the first half is just forgotten. Not to mention Blaze seems to show up out of nowhere for no particular reason, leaves just as suddenly - without us even seeing Batman or Etrigan dispatching her - and is not discussed again. Then, suddenly, when things seemed bleakest, the villain of the piece explodes because Etrigan mumble mumble mumble.

    I'm sure the massive delays and rush to finish it up - I'm pretty sure this was supposed to be six issues, even, which would explain why some things just vanished - played a part in it, but regardless this book was just too heavily flawed for me.

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  2. I wasn't too impressed with the story for this arc, but boy oh boy is the artwork phenomenal! I really didn't see the need for this book pre-new 52 nor do I see the need for it now, though. I figure (with no evidence to support this speculation of course) that Finch must have negotiated a stipulation into his exclusive contract with DC that he get his own Batman title to play with so they created this one for him. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to be that great of a writer/plotter in my opinion (and the addition of Jenkins didn't help me like it any better). I started to get the new-52 incarnation of this title to see if it was any better and was going to drop it after the first arc, but then I saw that another writer was coming on with issue #9 or 10 so I'll stick with it to see how that goes. A good story with Finch's awesome artwork would be great.

    I agree that this first series seemed rushed to finish up, so the arc was probably supposed to be longer than 5 issues. The massive delays didn't help, and he probably had to rush to finish the arc before the Flashpoint changes hit and the new DC universe started.

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  3. Typo in that second-last paragraph; Finch was the artist of Batman: The Return, not the writer.

    I haven't read this story, but I did read the first issue of the New 52's Batman: The Dark Knight, and while the art was nice, the story wasn't enough for me to add it to my "to-buy" list. However, as always, I look forward to your reviews of the New 52 books, to see if maybe some of the series I passed up on are worth a second look.

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  4. I like Finch's artwork too, Wayne -- clean, detailed, and dynamic, though if you want another perspective, Caleb Mozzocco has a well-reasoned criticism of Batman: The Return.

    So far, no one too enthusiastic about the New 52 Dark Knight title ...

    Typo zapped, Mark, thanks.

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  5. I'll be the first, then, to say that "The Dark Knight" post-Flashpoint is better than its predecessor. I concur with dl316bh that the mystical elements made this book feel a bit rushed and haphazard, but I like the New 52 TDK if only because Finch is the sole Batman writer using all the classic rogues (albeit in a creative fashion, while Tony S. Daniel is using only a few of them a bit more conventionally in Detective Comics).

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  6. I haven't even read any of Finch's BTDK run, pre- or post- relaunch, and I was completely unaware of the whole controversy with his Justice League cover until now, but -- isn't the New 52 BTDK the series where there is legit a Playboy Bunny as a villain in the first storyline? In a white Emma Frost-style corset and bunny ears, right on the cover? Oh boy...

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  7. So, this wasn't an early New 52 release as I thought it was, but the title Dark Knight, just prior to the relaunch?
    Okay then.

    Looks neat all in all, much better than I hope at least, from what I can read in your above review.

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