BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT #3
Author: John Bierly
November 25, 2011
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SYNOPSIS: A wave of fear washes across Gotham City as a mysterious toxin radically alters the bodies of its criminals, sending crazed villains into the streets and stretching the resources of the police department. Can Batman and his vigilante partners follow the clues and uncover the perpetrator's real identity? And when one fabled hero is stricken by the poison, the trail will point to the mysterious White Rabbit.

Earlier this week, I sent Jett an email telling him that issue #3 would be the last issue of BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT I'd be able to review for BOF. Comics are expensive, and I just can't justify spending three bucks a month for only 20 pages of a book that's never quite been able to pass the considerable level of muster by which I deem Batman stories worthy of my dollars.

So it only makes sense that writer/artist David Finch and his new co-writer Paul Jenkins would wait until my departure to turn in what's easily the finest issue of this title yet.

I still find this book ridiculous, but it's really beginning to get into its own fun, unique groove. Finch draws the hell out of the first few pages in particular, narratively and then literally unraveling the mystery of the Super Steroid Joker from last issue's cliffhanger in an awesome display of Batman's physical and mental prowess. The two-page title spread is one of the most detailed and horrific explosions of Finch's talent I've ever seen in this book, setting up a final burst of Batman bad-assery that's visually thrilling. But Batman doesn't have time to celebrate his hard-fought victory before finding himself at the mercy of the slinky, violet-eyed White Rabbit, who poses and coos like a WildStorm pinup girl C. 1996. Only some fast thinking (and moving!) by a surprise guest saves him from certain chemical corruption.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Forbes (who fancies himself a lion while yapping like a rabid poodle) engages the cops on the scene in his typical fashion of berating people based on sheer idiocy and ignorance. But he finally gets the epic shake-down that's been coming to him for a long time, and no, it's not the "spanking he'll never forget" that Gordon's been promising him. You'll love who tells him how it's going to be, and you'll love how the message arrives. But I'm still bothered by how inconsistent this guy's arguments are. Gordon's got a signal on the roof, and Batman took command of a SWAT team two issues ago, but Forbes still raves about trying to figure out who on the GCPD is helping Batman. Answer: EVERY COP WHO'S NOT LT. FORBES! It's so asinine.

Bruce Wayne finally has time to have dinner with sexy socialite Jai, whom I've suspected of being the White Rabbit, as does Bruce in typical Batman fashion (which we find out via a fun text message from Alfred, no less).

Bruce and Alfred confer in the cave before the Justice League guest star who saved Batman's life earlier in the issue arrives again to accompany him on a dangerous recon mission, but an outrageously cheap plot device is used to leave Batman on his own to face a non-tension cliffhanger that arrives too randomly and abruptly to keep me remotely interested in how it resolves next month.

And that's why I still feel okay about dropping this title. Even though the writing is getting better, every conversation feels like it's trying a little too hard or not quite hard enough, with no real middle ground that feels natural to me. For example, Bruce tells Alfred that he's "never seen anything remotely this complex," describing a chemical compound he completely, concisely explains to a tee in the next sentence. So why the hyperbole? Plot points (like the Justice Leaguer cameo) remain disposable and frustratingly arbitrary, with little cohesion or focus. The book's tone is certainly more fun than it used to be, but for me, it's still just not enough.

The book looks great thanks to Finch's exemplary pencils, Richard Friend's moody inks, and Jeremy Cox's rich colors, and I will always root for every Batman title to be as good as it can possibly be. Including (and perhaps even especially) this one. I'll still be reviewing Scott Snyder's BATMAN for BOF, and Jett will announce my replacement as THE DARK KNIGHT's reviewer as soon as we find one. This title really is getting better, and I hope it gets to a place that convinces me to part with my $2.99 again. For now, it's not terrible. And if the detail and power of the writing can ever land in the same ballpark as the art, it will certainly earn its keep in the New 52 and beyond. Cheers to Mr. Finch for overcoming its initial scheduling problems and for working so hard to bring us his vision of the enduring power of The Batman. - John Bierly

GRADE: B

John Bierly still can't believe he
gets to write for BOF.
Check out JOHNBIERLY.COM to read about the other things he writes about.

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