Thus far, each of the New 52 titles centering upon Batman has found some hook to make it stand apart. Detective Comics offered us evocative imagery. Batman and Robin focused upon the awkward relationships – working and personal – between Batman and his newest Robin, his own son Damien. And Batman offered us a smooth introduction to the status quo of Gotham City before giving us one hell of a mystery. This begs the question – what does Batman: The Dark Knight offer us that is unique?
Not a lot, I’m sad to say.
The issue splits its’ focus between two acts. In the first, Bruce Wayne delivers a speech about his plans for revitalizing Gotham City after which he is confronted by an GCPD Internal Affairs officer, who is convinced that something shady is going on between Bruce’s “pet bat” and someone high-up in the police department. The conversation is broken up by a young woman named Jaina Hudson, who has “love interest” written all over her. In the second act, Batman is summoned to Arkham Asylum where there’s been some manner of attempted break-out (second time this month!) and the issue ends with Batman staring down Two-Face in a scene that may seem oddly familiar to those who’ve played the Arkham Asylum video game.
If pressed to pick one word to describe this title, I’d be forced to choose “standard”. It’s not a bad book but there’s not a lot here we haven’t seen done before. I was shocked to see that Paul Jenkins was the scripter and co-plotter on this book because I fondly remember his runs on Peter Parker: Spider-Man as being full of twists and turns. This story, such as it is, is as modular as IKEA furniture. Insert Arkham break-out here. Attach love interest here. The one original element – an IA officer investigating the connection between Batman and the GCPD – seems a little nonsensical as EVERYONE knows that Commissioner Gordon turns on the Bat-Signal whenever they need to get Batman’s help. Or does the Bat-Signal no longer exist in the new universe?
Even the artwork by co-plotter David Finch – while technically proficient – is nothing spectacular compared to his previous work. Finch is at his best when he has a lot of open space to work in, where he can put down lots of fine details. We seen signs of this at times but most of the pages have little boxes where Finch’s fine details are lost in the smaller spaces, looking not only cramped but sketchy and dirty. I realize its odd for me to be decrying a lack of splash-pages but Finch really should have played to his strengths.
While not the worst Batman book of the new line (I hold that “honor” goes to Detective Comics), I can’t recommend Batman: The Dark Knight in good conscience to any save the most devout of Bat-Fans. It’s not a bad book but given the talent involved it should be so much better than it ultimately is. Jenkins and Finch have the potential to do something so much bigger and more memorable than what they’ve shown us in this first issue. Hopefully they will improve in the future.