Thursday, October 04, 2012
Cynically, one notes that the Dark Knight title emerged pre-Flashpoint just as excitement ramped up for the Dark Knight Rises movie. To some extent, Dark Knight has seemed a title in search of content, meant perhaps to survive solely on its own name recognition. Still, it had a promising first outing with the collection Golden Dawn, which spotlighted writer/artist David Finch and suggested Dark Knight's focus might be on Batman's more supernatural adventures.
With the DC Comics New 52 Batman: The Dark Knight: Knight Terrors, however, writer Paul Jenkins comes on, and while Finch remains as artist, the book's focus changes again. Knight Terrors echoes very subtly Devin Grayson's old Gotham Knights series, a team book for people who don't like team books, one that portrays Batman in the context of his teammates and allies. It also has aspects of what Gotham Knights later became, a villain spotlight book.
This is good, and Knight Terrors starts strong, but it falters in the end with a poor solution to the book's mystery and some badly-written characters. That the Knight Terrors collection then ends with a "Night of the Owls" crossover issue, months before DC releases the main Night of the Owls collection, only adds to the unevenness of the volume.
[Review contains spoilers]
A mystery villain frees all the inmates from Arkham Asylum, and gets them hopped up on a wonder-drug that gives them extra strength and rage. Summarized like that, it's not hard to guess the identity of Paul Jenkins's culprit, and indeed there's a good amount of the Knight Terrors story, in total, that takes from the earlier Knightfall. But Knight Terrors is not so much about story as it is letting artist David Finch go wild, drawing a good cross-section of Batman's foes (as with Jim Lee on Batman: Hush) and in distorted, super-muscular form, to boot.
But it's not just Batman's rogues that Finch gets to draw -- just about every major member of the Batman family receives a cameo in Knight Terrors, and some of Batman's Justice League teammates actually appear quite prominently. In this way, Dark Knight does offer something distinctive from the other Bat-titles; it's not a Justice League book per se, but this is the book that just so happens to feature the adventures where Batman gets by with a little help from his friends.
Finch's Flash Barry Allen is especially striking -- he makes the New 52 stripes on Barry's costume hum -- and overall Finch's art and his depiction of the wider DC Universe largely sell Knight Terrors, especially when things get rough.
That roughness is Jenkins's revelation that Bane is the mastermind behind the Arkham prison break, further evidence that Dark Knight's intention is to be the book most familiar to viewers of Christopher Nolan's movies (as when Superman's costume changed to reflect the Superman Returns movie version after in the "One Year Later" event). Enticing movie viewers to become comics fans isn't the worst thing, but Jenkins's Bane is neither so compelling as Nolan's nor as Chuck Dixon's original. In Bane's incessant bellowing here about his hate for Batman and plans to take over Gotham City, Jenkins has reduced the villain to his lowest common denominator. Jenkins's Bane is a hulking behemoth with a predilection for breaking people over his knee, without the intelligence or particular code of honor that drove his original appearances and his role in Gail Simone's Secret Six and elsewhere.
More's the pity, because in Jenkins's use of the Scarecrow, Two-Face, Commissioner Gordon and Alfred, even the intentionally over-sexualized White Rabbit character, Knight Terrors begins rather well, and the sole sore spot is when Bane emerges toward the end.
Finch, Jenkins, and later writer Joe Harris -- who contributes a one-off story toward the end of the book with artist Ed Benes -- do all gets points for continuing Commissioner Gordon's conflict with Gotham Internal Affairs detective Forbes throughout the book. This storyline, begun in Finch's pre-Flashpoint book Golden Dawn, could easily have been a victim of the reboot, but the fact that Jenkins picks it up, and even guest-writer Harris, is impressive. Gordon has faced conflict in his department before, but Forbes seems unrelenting, and the strain it puts on the relationship between Gordon, Batman, and Batman's supposed supporter Bruce Wayne is a great triangle. If this story continues with Dark Knight's next new writer, Gregg Hurwitz, all the better.
The final chapter of Knight Terrors is a single "Night of the Owls" crossover story by Judd Winick with art by Finch. The story spoils a little of "Night of the Owls," not a lot, and readers might decide to read it or save it depending on what knowledge they have of "Night of the Owls" already. The story itself is a profile of one of the Owls' Talon warriors, an "aside" apparently that takes place between the pages of Batman Vol. 2: City of Owls proper. It is strange for DC to release a "Night of the Owls" issue in a New 52 Volume 1, when "Night of the Owls" doesn't reach the Bat-family until the Volume 2s, but perhaps this was to lump Winick and Harris's stories with Jenkins's so that the next Dark Knight collection could be Hurwitz's own.
Fans, specifically, of the DC New 52 Justice League may want to give Batman: The Dark Knight: Knight Terrors a look, because what really sells the main story is its role as a Batman-focused Justice League story. Otherwise, Dark Knight is overall well done about to the point where Bane comes in, and aptly drawn by David Finch throughout, but until Dark Knight offers a little bit more, it's still the book Bat-fans can cut if they're looking to trim their buying list.
[Includes original covers, penciled pages by David Finch]
Some guest reviews next week while I flip through this here Absolute edition ... back soon!