Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 1: Knight Terrors hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Batman and Detective Comics titles are stalwarts of the DC Comics line, and Batman and Robin fills the void left by the old Robin solo title. The Batman: The Dark Knight series, however, continues to struggle to find its identity and to justify itself among the Batman line.

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]

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10 comments:

  1. Agreed. I was going to drop The Dark Knight because I didn't care for it when Finch or Jenkins was writing it, but then I heard that a new writer was coming on board so I stuck around. It's still on my "bubble" list, though. I honestly didn't see the point to this series pre-New 52 and I don't see the point to it now. My theory is that in order to lure David Finch away from Marvel, DC had to promise him that he could work on a Batman title, so they created this one especially for him. That's the only reason I can think of for creating this title and then continuing with it.

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  2. Pretty much everything about this book left me cold, but I was especially annoyed by that bit about the Flash "outrunning a toxin". That doesn't even make sense, since his accelerated metabolism would make the drug act faster.

    And now that Finch is about to leave this book (which DC created especially for him, mind you) for Justice League of America, is there a reason not to cancel it other than "it still makes money"?

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  3. There are, from my vantage point, two "reasons" for this title to exist. At the dawn of the New 52, it was the only title using the classic Batman rogues, and it's the only place you can find David Finch's interiors.

    With Finch moving to "Justice League of America" and with the classic Bat-villains appearing in "Detective Comics" (as illustrated by Jay "Finch Lite" Fabok), I can't see this title surviving the cancellations that will accompany the Fourth Wave. I won't be unhappy about having the $3 a month in my wallet (because let's be real, it's going to JLA), but I thought Gregg Hurwitz was doing interesting work updating The Scarecrow.

    But yeah, I don't see this title lasting much longer.

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  4. Yeah, I'm not I actually wanna follow/collect this one. It's a good book, but the dispensable Bat-title amongst many.

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  5. Not that DC has "never" cancelled a Batman book, but it's often been Robin cancelled for Batman and Robin, or Shadow of the Bat cancelled for Gotham Knights, etc. I wouldn't be disappointed, but I would be surprised if Dark Knight was cancelled outright with no replacement.

    Matter of fact, if we lose Batwing and Dark Knight, and then Batman, Incorporated after twelve issues or so, with no replacement -- a Bat-implosion, if you will -- I'd find that very surprising indeed.

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  6. I haven't read Knight Terrors (or Golden Dawn) yet -- waiting for the paperbacks on both.

    If DC is satisfied with the numbers, I can see this book going on without Finch. Hurwitz has just joined the book, after all. If they expect to make more money with the launch of a new #1, I guess they will go the replacement way like CE said. It depends on the new creative team.

    As for Batman Inc., I would be surprised if the book gets cancelled after Morrisons departure. The next creative teamprobably won't be that high profile, so from a business point of view it makes sense to keep the title running.

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  7. Granted, Batman and Robin has survived, even thrived, without Grant Morrison. But I can't see anyone else taking over Batman, Incorporated. I mean, it's really not a "Batman teams up with international heroes" book, it's a weird meta-textural exploration of what it means to be Batman, and I fear another writer would devolve it into "just a team book." Faced with that, I'd as soon see DC let it go, as they did with Gotham Central after Rucka or Starman after Robinson.

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  8. We just got another eason for this book not to get canceled: Ethan Van Sciver will be the new regular artist. Well played, DC.

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  9. Wow. Tells you DC's got that book positioned far more forward than I thought. Van Sciver's art is not my favorite, but it definitely means that one's not biting the dust soon ...

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  10. Sounds like a great new team on DK. I don't always like van Scivers points of view (when he shares them in interviews) and he is a kinda slow penciller, but also a great one. Looking forward to Dark Knight.

    And: http://www.dccomics.com/blog/2012/10/10/announcing-the-new-action-comics-creative-team
    Andy Diggle and Tony Daniel! Very good choices on their own and very good combination also.

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