REVIEW: Batman: The Dark Knight #1

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Batman: The Dark Knight #1 variant cover art by David Finch

After a lot of hype and a lot delays, DC Comics’ newest Bat-title, Batman: The Dark Knight, arrived at comic book stores yesterday. Helmed by artist, David Finch, this title is the latest in a string of Batman books written by creators better known for drawing comics than writing them. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the debut of Image Comics almost twenty years ago. As you’ll see, it isn’t a bad thing in this case, but it’s a rather bold direction for the publisher to take with their flagship character.

PTB: First things first, this book is gorgeous. David Finch arguably delivers some of his finest work for this issue (as you’d expect) and I can’t find any fault with the interior. He’s working along with inker Scott Williams who’s one of the top talents in comics and colorist Alex Sinclair. Only Finch is credited for the cover art, and while it’s stunning, it might be a little too heavy for my tastes. The variants, including another image by Finch, are far more appealing.

KevinMLD: Agreed. Except for a few nitpicks such as Harvey Bullock’s appearance seeming just a little off and a strange panel featuring Finch’s Batmobile, it’s a beautiful book. Everything I could have hoped for visually.

PTB: The artwork here is clean and a style that I really enjoy, but with only Batman as the lead character I think I prefer a book like Finch’s X-Men: Second Coming #1. More characters, more color and more light just make that book more appealing to me, and the fact that it’s the X-Men.

KevinMLD: Maybe, but I think this is way more accessible to the average reader though, since you only need to really follow one character, Batman. The multitude of characters that you like about the Second Coming book can be off-putting even to someone not used to following the X-Men books.

Batman: The Dark Knight #1 regular cover art by David Finch

PTB: That’s a fair point, but the variety is more appealing to me artistically. A solo title, particularly one starring Batman, does make it easier to just jump in. For Finch’s first foray into writing (at least that we’ve seen), the book is well put together. It’s an interesting plot, the dialogue works and isn’t overdone (a la All-Star Batman and Robin’s “I’m the god damned Batman”), and I think I might be back for issue #2.

KevinMLD: It definitely exceeded my admittedly low expectations. I haven’t been quiet about the fact that I thought it was a mistake to not assign Finch to a book with a major writer. Having said that, there are some really nice, genuinely Batman moments here; particularly Bruce’s conversation with Alfred and Bruce’s fake antidote for Killer Croc’s venom. I’m not a fan of the insinuation that Croc is suddenly a rapist and selling women into slavery though. This isn’t in line with previous versions of the character, though admittedly DC has never really known what to do with the character.

PTB: This book was over a month late from its original solicited date, and I’m afraid the schedule on this title is going to be hamstrung worse than Croc was. Do you think that fear of these kinds of delays had any affect on sales of individual issues before the book even started?

KevinMLD: Personally as a reader, I just don’t care how the books sells. Secret Six, for example, doesn’t sell nearly as well as it should, but it’s still one of the best books on the market. Also, I don’t think any book has ever been later than All-Star Batman and Robin and that comic sold like crazy whenever it was published. I’m pretty sure David Finch doesn’t hold the same clout with readers as Jim Lee and Frank Miller though… at least not yet. Having said all that, I suspect this title will turn into a mini-series or Finch will only be on it for one arc.

PTB: Those are very likely outcomes. It was nice to see that the book is couched in current Bat-continuity with references to Bruce Wayne being out of practice as Batman, Dick Grayson patrolling the streets of Gotham, and Bruce’s international interests. Having so many titles dedicated to one character can be problematic for some fans, but it sounds like there’s something for everyone out there right now.

KevinMLD: There really is. The Bat-titles each have their own flavor. I also definitely appreciated the fact that this book was clearly in continuity. I wasn’t sure that was going to be the case.

PTB: The character that most of the plot revolves around is a childhood friend and romantic interest of Bruce Wayne’s named Dawn Golden. I’m assuming this is a new character?

KevinMLD: Yep. As far as I know this is a new character with a dark past. But the childhood scene with the kite is another example of a strongly written scene by Finch.

PTB: Finch handled the obligatory nod to Bruce’s tragic childhood really well in that scene as well without showing Martha and Thomas Wayne at all.

KevinMLD: Finch mentioning the Waynes going away for the Summer before they died and how that prepared Bruce to deal with their deaths was a really touching moment.

PTB: What about this drug, Venom, is that a new concept here as well?

Batman: The Dark Knight #1 variant cover art by Andy Clarke

KevinMLD: I’m surprised you’re not familiar with Venom as it is the drug that powers (or powered) Bane. It has its roots in a Legends of the Dark Knight story from the early 1990’s (also called Venom) that saw Batman strung out on it prior to the debut of Bane. I haven’t read that story in fifteen years, but at the time I thought it was really strong.

PTB: I’m sure I knew all about Venom at the time, but I didn’t recognize the name here. We see Killer Croc in the early moments of Batman’s investigation into Dawn’s disappearance, but what is happening to the hobos on the streets of Gotham?

KevinMLD: Honestly, I have no idea. I hope this is a deliberately unclear panel, because if not, it’s terrible.

PTB: The big reveal that closes out issue #1 is the involvement of The Penguin, but I was confused at his look here. That last panel could have just as easily been The Joker.

KevinMLD: I also originally mistook that last panel for the Joker. It bears a strong resemblance to Jim Lee’s version of the Joker.

PTB: The ad for Batman Europa really drew attention Finch’s similarities to Jim Lee, and the fact that Scott Williams is inking here probably adds to it. That is in no way a bad thing, but the art is clearly why this book is being published.

KevinMLD: This is absolutely true and the heart of why I was so concerned about there not being a well established writer assigned to this book. When I was a little kid I would buy books based on art. Mostly when Image was starting, but those titles burned me so badly, it’s been years since I picked a comic up for art alone.

PTB: I hate to keep working from the presumption that Finch’s writing would be subpar because it’s such an unknown quantity, but I think readers will find this is a great read all around.

KevinMLD: I definitely feel like it’s a book that I can recommend checking out. That doesn’t mean Finch will be able to deliver a full solid story arc, but this is a way better than expected start.

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