Review: Batman: One Dark Knight hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Among Batman Black Label books that swiftly come to mind — Batman: Last Knight on Earth, Batman: Three Jokers, even Batman: DamnedBatman: One Dark Knight feels the least of these. Undoubtedly a large part of this book is for the purpose of having another Batman book out there with Jock’s art in it, not an unworthy goal by any means, but the plot was perhaps secondary.

And it isn’t even that One Dark Knight is poorly written, because it’s not. There’s the semblance of a good mystery that reveals itself in the end. For a Batman traditionalist, this is a self-contained tale anchored by Batman, Alfred, and Commissioner Gordon, the kind of thing that would be worthwhile for a Batman movie fan. There’s enough overlap between the styles of Jock and Andrea Sorrentino that it feels One Dark Knight could sit comfortably on the shelf with the equally movie-friendly Batman: The Imposter, even as they present considerably different Batmen.

But as opposed to the strong authorial voice of Scott Snyder’s Batman: Last Knight on Earth, the callbacks inherent in Geoff John’s Batman: Three Jokers, and the new Bat-world-building of Mattson Tomlin’s Imposter, I was less able to point to a specific vision or something being said about Batman in Jock’s One Dark Knight. The book’s “classic Batman” approach might as easily be its selling point as its downfall, a book that works in the traditional Batman formula but fails to rise above it.

If anything — and here even I’ll suggest I might be reading too much into it — there’s a little bit in terms of the colors Jock uses and the sparsest of homages that suggests to me a way in which One Dark Knight might be further understood.

[Review contains spoilers for Batman: One Dark Knight and Suicide Squad: Get Joker!]

Starting at the end, what we come to find after Batman’s long trek across Gotham carrying the rogue villain EMP is that much of this was a setup. Some five years earlier, EMP’s last super-explosion killed the family of Rita Vasquez, head of Gotham’s prison bureau. Though I’m not sure Vasquez necessarily meant for EMP to escape in a transfer from Arkham Asylum to Blackgate Prison, she does indeed use the opportunity to grab EMP’s son and try to cause EMP to kill him.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

I liked that the story came down to Batman versus just an everyday bad-intentioned person, as well as the final twist that Batman was hip to it all and recorded Vasquez' confession for Gordon. Jock seems rather made for drawing Gotham’s crumbling architecture, and there’s a variety of great shots in the end of Batman battling marauding gangs and facing off against Vasquez at the gaping maw of a broken bridge.

At the same time, I felt rather dropped in the middle of the story. Especially given that One Dark Knight is set against “Batman-classic,” elements outside the norm like EMP not just being a “regular rogue” but rather being the controversial leader of a street gang weren’t intuitive and took some pages to be understood. In the final chapter, too, Jock has a sequence where Killer Croc can apparently create zombies, a change that seems especially incongruous again against a “normal” Batman backdrop.

Ultimately One Dark Knight is a lot of Batman running away from gangsters with guns, mostly indistinguishable one to the next; the strength of the premise — how Batman might change his Batman-ing in the absence of electricity — wasn’t examined enough for my liking. I would say, however, that the book’s unrelenting, street-level violence put me very much in mind of the classic Jim Starlin/Bernie Wrightson miniseries Batman: The Cult, and a Batman logo from the Starlin era among Jock’s sketchbook cemented that impression.

I notice too that, despite the black-only Bat-symbol on Batman’s chest here, his costume is devoutly gray and blue, even with etched blue eyebrows. Batman’s first full appearance in the first chapter, impossibly large cape billowing, seems a clear riff on Todd McFarlane’s cover to Batman #423, from Starlin’s run1. If indeed there’s something to understand about One Dark Knight, a “Jock was trying to do this,” I wonder if One Dark Knight is meant as a tribute to that “DC Comics Aren’t Just for Kids” Starlin era, roughly after Max Allan Collins and before “Death in the Family.” There’s not much more to suggest it here, but that blue and gray costume sure is striking.

Among my reading the DC Black Label books, I’ve noted a few titles with events that fall under the old Elseworlds parlance of “shouldn’t exist.” The Joker brutally beating Amanda Waller with shades of Killing Joke in Suicide Squad: Get Joker is one instance, which surely would have raised some (more?) eyebrows if allowed to “actually happen” in the mainstream DCU.

So too here, we see Gordon abandon popular character (and sometime Question) Renee Montoya, and then Vasquez leaves her to die what promises to be a horrific death. (Frankly I’m surprised the editorial team allowed it even in a non-continuity book.) Whether Black Label granting creators such license with the characters is a good thing is debatable; at least, the moment is among the most shocking and affecting of One Dark Knight overall.



Artist vehicle? Pastiche of Batman in the 1980s? A “just so” back-to-roots Batman story? It’s hard to say what Batman: One Dark Knight really is. Jock’s gritty Gotham is certainly appealing, but among a glut of continuity and non-continuity Bat-books, I’m not sure this one necessarily rises above the pile.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketchbook]

  1. Separately there's a Dark Knight Returns callout a few pages later.  ↩


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