Batman: The Dark Knight #1

Dark Knight 1

C-

For most cartoonists, both writing and drawing a story is the norm. It happens all over the indie world, and may in fact be an unbroken law in newspaper strips, the father of today’s comic books. I mean, seriously, can you think of any serialized comic strip not written and drawn by the same person (excluding husband/wife or father/son teams)? It just doesn’t happen. Yet from the very beginning, superhero books instituted that division of labor. Siegel wrote, Shuster drew. Bill Finger wrote, and Bob Kane drew (though that particular example has recently come under some scrutiny). It’s a rare occurrence indeed when a mainstream superhero book is basically created entirely by one person. Yet this week we have a fascinating example of that very phenomenon in David Finch‘s Batman: The Dark Knight #1.

David Finch has been a notable comic artist for roughly a decade and a half. He received major attention for his work with Brian Michael Bendis on New Avengers, as well as on Charlie Huston’s Moon Knight relaunch. Few would deny that he’s a fantastic artist (myself among them); there’s a reason DC currently has Finch providing all their covers for Brightest Day. Ah, but can Finch write? That’s the question which primarily drives my interest in the first issue of Dark Knight.

My answer: well, kind of. It’s not like there’s anything fundamentally wrong with Finch’s script here. It has all the basics: characters, setting, dialog, escalating drama, and fights (that’s what you need for a Batman comic, right?). The conflict which drives this issue is actually fairly interesting, in fact. A childhood friend of Bruce Wayne’s has disappeared. She may be a prostitute, and Killer Croc may be her pimp (?). Bruce goes looking for her and finds more than he bargains for. That’s an able Batman plot, isn’t it?

I do wonder, though, how much Finch actually understands that character of Batman, especially given his new, lighter direction that seems to follow from Grant Morrison‘s recent work with the character. The opening three-page flashback scene that establishes the character of Dawn Golden kind of says it all. Within the first two pages Bruce’s internal monologue makes reference to “the days before my life was shattered forever” (emphasis theirs) and “the next year when I lost my parents forever.” Wait, Bruce Wayne is a troubled orphan? You don’t say. Also bothersome: on page three, Bruce’s playdate friend pins him to the ground after a chase; Bruce responds first by verbalizing “Um… don’t–” and then gazing upon Dawn with newly-awakened sexuality. Of course if this is indeed a year before Bruce’s parents are killed, he’d be in the range of eight to nine years old at the time; the girl probably isn’t much older. So Finch here succeeds in both sexualizing two super-young children and putting Bruce in a vaguely rapey scenario.

Indeed, the opening flashback is painful. The rest of the issue improves a little, as it focuses on Bruce’s procedural detective work, a pretty safe place for Batman writers to go. Still, both Batman’s monologue and dialog seem off. Another disturbing scene: Bruce and Alfred get a little catty over a discussion in the Batcave. This is a sharp contrast to Morrison’s recent work with Alfred, where the wizened old butler seems to be the perfect, comforting voice of reason. I can see where that conception of the character might not be a reader’s cup of tea, either, but some editorial consistency might be nice, no?

Overall, The Dark Knight #1 is not very good. Yes, the art is pretty. That’s to be expected from Finch. The story, though, doesn’t give enough reason to follow the book, and in fact has some fundamental problems with its portrayal of the main character. I had to buy the first issue of this series to see how the writer/artist experiment played out in the hands of Finch, but I shan’t be buying any more.

tags: batman, dark knight, david finch

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