The Comic Book Club: Batman: The Dark Knight and Hellboy

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Graeme McMillan and Douglas Wolk talk about the first issues of Batman: The Dark Knight and Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead.

DOUGLAS: I suspect Batman: The Dark Knight #1 may be the first comic of its kind in a long time: an in-continuity ongoing series launched specifically for a single writer/artist to do his thing. The last times DC did that might’ve been John Byrne’s Superman and George Pérez’s Wonder Woman. The differences in both cases, though, were that Byrne and Pérez were legitimately top-of-the-heap star attractions–Finch is popular, but not that popular; that they got to lead the franchise–Finch is clearly following Grant Morrison’s prospectus; and that they were capable of meeting a monthly deadline, which Finch obviously isn’t. The fact that the release date of this first issue was pushed back several times is a dubious sign.

(More on The Comic Book Club: Batman & Robin #16 and Strange Tales II #2)

I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, but this really feels like the closest thing DC is publishing right now to an early-’90s Image comic: it distinctly puts story second to cool over-the-top hyperdetailed visuals of ultra-muscular dudes (and Finch rarely draws his characters’ feet if he can get away with it). Some of them really are cool: that splash image of Batman crouching down in the rain is what Finch gets paid the big bucks for. (Some of them are less so: I would love to see a Batcave scene that involves trophies other than the giant penny, the giant joker and the dinosaur.) But the story is fundamentally really shaky, which I guess is what happens when you turn things over to somebody who’s never written a comic before. Really, having a character whose name is Dawn Golden–and whose father’s name is Aleister, of all things–is pushing it. I’m also kind of surprised that this takes its cues from “Hush” more than from any other comics I can think of: the setup involves a previously unseen childhood friend of Bruce Wayne’s, Killer Croc is involved, Scott Williams is inking…

Honestly, I don’t see why The Dark Knight wasn’t a standalone miniseries a la Batman: Odyssey. Is it going to continue as a fifth ongoing Batman title once Finch is done with it? What’s its premise, other than “the Batman series that David Finch is doing”?

GRAEME: I had an odd reaction to this. The first time I read it, I was pretty much the same as you: It seemed like a flashback to the 1990s, complete with awkward dialogue and a surplus of style over substance. But I re-read it a couple of days later, and felt much more… charitable, I guess, towards it. Yes, the dialogue is weak (gor some reason, the Killer Croc/Batman exchange seems like the worst offender in this to me, although I couldn’t tell you why), but in terms of plot and pacing, I realized that there were actually things that I appreciated and didn’t expect: Starting with a flashback to li’l Bruce Wayne and his first crush, absent any “And that was the day before my parents died” narration? The homeless subplot being placed where it was? Using the police scene as expositionary intro? Maybe I’m just revealing my own prejudices, but all of that was more subtle than I’d been expecting, if not necessarily good. I wondered whether I wouldn’t have enjoyed the book more if Finch had had someone else handle dialogue, a la Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee and other Image folk back in the day.

(More on The Comic Book Club: “Brightest Day” and “Bring the Thunder”)

As to what this series is for… Good question. The cynical answer is “a way to lure Finch from Marvel,” but beyond that, I’m not entirely sure. I’m interested to see from future solicits that Finch won’t be the only artist on the series – Andy Clarke is drawing the second story arc (written by Finch), it seems – so it seems as if DC is placing an awful lot of trust in Finch-as-writer, instead of Finch-as-artist-and-nobody-cares-about-the-story. If interviews are to be believed, this’ll be the “supernatural Batman book,” which could be interesting, if done properly? You can’t tell that from this first issue, but I’m trusting that things will shake out in that direction fairly quickly.

DOUGLAS: I don’t know that “supernatural Batman” is an avenue that can yield a lot. I also don’t know that Finch is the guy to do it–his artwork is all about dazzlement and detail, not the mystery that you’d think supernatural stuff would be about. Batman often seems more interesting to me when it’s about the suggestion of the supernatural: flaming skeletons and demonic laughter and so on…

GRAEME: Also worth noting: This is the only non-Morrison BRUCE WAYNE Batman book. Detective, Batman, JLA, Batman and Robin – they’re all starring Dick Grayson under the cowl. Maybe that’s another point of this book: Giving the original Bat more presence on the racks on a (fairly) regular basis?

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