And so arrives the first issue of BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT
-- the new series from writer/artist David Finch (with inks by frequent Jim Lee compatriot Scott Williams) that focuses solely on Bruce Wayne’s Batman digging into the darkest corners of Gotham.
Most fans, I think, are going to eat up every page of this. I liked it a lot, with a few minor reservations.
What’s good here is really, really great. We’ll begin with the art, which recalls Jim Lee in its style but strikes an entirely new level of realism via its energy and grit. To steal a line from HELLBOY, this is the kind of Batman who bumps back when something awful goes bump in the night.
Three minor cosmetic complaints nagged at me. First is Finch’s too-freaky Penguin, who looks like a wet, toothy freak. Second is a new Batmobile (glimpsed briefly in BATMAN: THE RETURN, also drawn by Finch) that reminded me in some ways of a Jim Lee (there’s that comparison again) vehicle in that it’s a wicked piece of art but maybe not all that practical from an engineering standpoint. And finally, for a book called “THE DARK KNIGHT,” the colors by Alex Sinclair are awfully bright. I felt the deeper, darker colors in BATMAN: THE RETURN suited Finch’s pencils a bit better.
Luckily most people aren’t as picky about little things like this as I am, and I’m very confident that Mr. Finch’s name will be one day (and probably much sooner than later) be thrown around as one of the all-time great Batman artists.
The writing is a bit rougher around the edges. Finch had me worried with recent comments about wanting to make Bruce as angry and as vengeful as DC’s editors would allow, but that was either hyperbole or the editors really did tell him to tone it down. There’s a scene with Alfred that felt a little too “been there, done that,” and I often found the dialogue in other scenes to be a little disorganized. Some of the exchanges lacked character and context, which made them feel a bit too abrupt, just as some of the transitions felt a little too random.
That’s not to say that the story isn’t good. I love how Finch turns expectation on its ear in the first few pages (where the bright colors are appropriate) by beginning with a flashback to Bruce’s childhood that introduces a pretty but oddly withdrawn little girl named Dawn Golden. (It’s such a great contrast to the grisly, gory origin of the Bruce-inspiring bat he told with Grant Morrison in THE RETURN.) A few pages later, when Dawn tackles Bruce to the ground and makes him lose grasp of the precious kite his parents gave him, she eyes him with a hunger that injects a very effective shot of darkness into what would otherwise have been an innocent childhood moment. Bruce notices it, too; it’s the kind of moment you never forget, which makes it much easier to understand why he’s so intent on finding her. Some girls you spend your whole life trying to save. But this time, is Bruce already too late?
His search for Dawn brings Killer Croc into his path, resulting in a burly, brawny action scene ended by a truly inspired bit of improvisation and inspiration on Batman’s part. So if you’re looking for some major Bat-badassery in these pages, rest assured you’re going to get plenty of it. A big part of that is how effectively Finch’s writes Bruce’s narration during the fight.
So what happened to Dawn Golden? The mystery isn’t solved yet, but whatever it is, it can’t be good. And Bruce probably isn’t going to like what he finds. Luckily, this Bruce is a towering badass who can give it far better than he’ll get it from even the nastiest monsters Gotham has to offer. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this book progresses and matures, and for Finch to not only write this thing but draw it, too, is a massive amount of work and thought and logistical prowess that separates guys like me who just write about comics from guys like Finch who’ve earned the right to make them for a living. – John Bierly