Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT!
The Concept and Characters: Here’s the big question readers would probably have about this series: what makes this comic different from Batman or Batman & Robin or Detective Comics, all of which are hitting the stands around the same time as this series. The answer: David Finch.
Because this is still just a Batman comic — one that tells about the adventures of Bruce Wayne in Gotham City, cape and cowl and gadgets and punching and all.
But David Finch’s take on Batman is a more horror-intense version, with a bigger emphasis on the Gotham City grotesqueries than the other Batman variations. And it’s a series with a name that not only alludes to one of the greatest Batman stories ever told (Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns), but also a movie that a few people probably watched around the planet that one summer (Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight).
It’s also one of the weirdest DC relaunch titles.
Here’s why: DC already has a book called Batman: The Dark Knight, written and drawn by David Finch. And only two issues have come out since it debuted in December of 2010.
So DC is taking a comic that has been the company’s worst offender for meeting the monthly (or even bi-monthly) deadline, and then making that series, after only two issues (though more issues might, maybe, possibly, come out before August is over), part of a line-wide relaunch which guarantees a monthly release schedule. Seems unlikely, right? But that’s what they’re going with here, and I suppose they have a plan to keep it on schedule, and I’ll talk about that in a second.
But since two issues of this series have been released already, and it doesn’t look like the relaunched version will be all that different from what we’ve seen so far, this is one of the few September books that we can predict with almost absolute certainty, as far as content. And if the first two issues are any indication, Batman: The Dark Knight will be the worst of the Batman family comics coming out this fall.
The Creative Team: David Finch was lured away from Marvel and offered an exclusive contract with DC, and, from what we’ve seen, it’s easy to assume that part of the package was a guarantee that he’d get to work on a Batman series. Putting business concerns aside—and really, that’s all based on speculation—what we’ve seen from Finch (as writer and artist of the two issues released so far) is hyper-rendered hammy superhero horror.
Let me put it into context: in the early 1990s, future homerun-baseball-owner Todd McFarlane was given a Spider-Man series to write and draw, and he started it off with an arc called “Torment,” which is notorious for its overwritten, tin-eared narration and heavy-handed storytelling.
Finch’s Batman: The Dark Knight issues are the 2010-2011 equivalent of “Torment,” only Finch goes to all the trouble of drawing every single brick on an alley wall or every single scale on Killer Croc’s skin. That’s his thing. He has the writing chops of a young Todd McFarlane, but he draws like an overly obsessive Jim Lee.
I do think Finch actually does make a lot of sense as a Batman artist, though. As stiff as his drawings can be (because they are so excessively over-rendered), his attention to detail can make for a fascinating mise-en-scene in a comic, particularly one set in Gotham City with a freakish cast of characters. With a great writer, Finch could probably do something quite good with the Batman cast.
The problem here is that Finch isn’t getting help on the writing side, and, in fact, artist Jay Fabok is coming in as an artist to help Finch meet deadlines on the current Batman: The Dark Knight comic and he will stay on the relaunched title in the fall. Fabok hasn’t done a lot of work in the industry yet, but he seems to be another Jim Lee clone, though a less obsessively detailed one than Finch. So it seems the relaunched Batman: The Dark Knight series will have Finch the writer, and sometimes Finch and sometimes Fabok on the art. Not a great combination. Not at all.
Recommendation: Skip it. This series might have some appeal for those who like a kind of gritty camp comic book. One that takes itself so seriously, but is so outrageously simpleminded that it transcends its own solemnity and becomes hilarious in its own way. But as far as Batman comics are concerned, you will have a handful of better choices this fall. Unless you are 12. I can imagine that a 12 year-old would like the gruesome edginess of this comic and wouldn’t mind its dunderheadedness. I think I would have liked it when I was 12. By 13, I would have probably found it a bit silly.
Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.