The Dark Knight Rises is getting ready to go before the lens, and Christopher Nolan is keeping everything as hush-hush as possible in regards to the storyline. While we can’t completely rule out that Hush won’t appear, the Intardwebz is firmly behind Doctor Hugo Strange and the Doug Moench Legends of the Dark Knight: Prey storyline as the inspiration for the movie. As the anticipation for the film grows, what better time to examine the story arc than now?
BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #11
Writer: Doug Moench
Artist: Paul Gulacy
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Steve Oliff
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $1.85 (1990)
Purchased Price: $1.99 (2010)
Previously in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight: Batman is still in the early stages of his crime fighting career. He’s made a friend in Jim Gordon, but is still a mystery that frightens those who would commit crimes. But like anything the public doesn’t know everything about, there are those that distrust the motives behind the vigilante who takes the form of the bat…
THEY NEVER SHOULD HAVE CANCELED LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, or Batman: LoDK as many fondly remember, was a series that was designed to tell early stories of Batman as he rose from fighting street criminals to the all-powerful, all-knowing, crime fighter that can bring anyone down if given ten minutes to prepare. The hook worked for a while until major Batman cross-over events spilled into the series and general interest in the book dwindled to the point that Those in Charge thought it best to retire Legends of the Dark Knight and replace it with Batman: Confidential – a series that was designed to tell early stories of Batman as he rose from fighting street criminals to the all-powerful, all-knowing crime fighter that can bring anyone down if given ten minutes to prepare.
This particular arc takes place between the events of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and Batman Confidential #1. During the many internal monologues from the various characters, we learn that Batman is still in the process of building his Batmobile, Gordon points out that Batman recently jumped from a bridge to save his son, and Gordon hasn’t yet been promoted to Commissioner. Considering this book is a psychological look at what makes Batman tick – at least from the point of view of the central villain Hugo Strange, the inner thoughts of the characters works perfectly in giving the reader a taste of where everyone stands emotionally. Here we get to see Gordon in a conflict with himself; on the one hand he knows Batman is his greatest ally, yet he knows it is his duty to bring the vigilante in for breaking the law. We also see the divided nature of Bruce Wayne and Batman; one wants to believe what others say about him, while the other doesn’t want to believe anyone can understand what drives and motivates him to do the things he does.
While one might think an issue filled with thought boxes would be boring, it really isn’t. It’s fascinating to see the though process, and leaves little room for chit-chat between characters, which causes the issue to come off as a crime movie from 1971 – which probably isn’t too far off base considering the ever shifting DC timeline.
Then there is Hugo Strange. Strange first appears post Zero Hour as a guest on a local talk show where he delivers a very quick but almost spot on analysis of Batman. While it appears to be a casual analysis, it is enough to get the Mayor to immediately create a task force (headed by Gordon) to bring Batman down, and to hire Dr. Strange (not THAT Doctor Strange), as a consultant to help figure out who is really under the mask. It’s only later that it is revealed that Strange is so obsessed with the Dark Knight that he not only has developed a in-depth character profile, but he’s made and wears his own Batsuit like it is some kind of sexual fetish. It’s one of many really brilliant moments in this issue that is all about character development. There is another brilliant moment in this first issue where Moench shows that Gordon knows more about Batman than he lets on, which ties back nicely to his speculation about Bruce Wayne from Year One.
The one totally new character introduced in this series is Sergeant Max Cort, who has his own obsession with Batman who he has tried and failed to capture Batman several times. He ends up being Gordon’s second in command of the Batman Task Force because he’s A) clean enough to do what Gordon asks, B) driven enough to do whatever it takes to bring Batman down, and C) just dumb enough to consistently fail. But as we see, there is a method to Cort’s madness, and though we don’t see it here, it is clear he will play a major role in the rest of this story.
I can’t remember everything that Doug Moench has written over the years, but this first issue is a fine example of quality writing that develops characters quickly and decisively, while giving the reader plenty of reason to pause and reflect on what is going on.
IT REMINDS ME OF WATCHMEN
It’s been nearly 20 years since I’ve read Prey, and save for the occasional cover, I haven’t popped open the bagged and boarded issues to check out the interior art by Paul Gulacy. Cracking the spine on this book was a real treat as I was instantly flooded with panel after panel of detailed art. I’ve often lamented that I hate artists who take the easy route by simply filling the background with a color wash or gradient and calling it good. Here Gulacy takes the time to draw a detailed lounge, a cramped police office, a sweaty gym, and streets that seem to go on forever, and actually look like they’ve been around for 150 years. While I’m not completely sold on Gulacy’s facial work – the eyes and noses look off sometimes, I quickly find myself longing for more art like this in my modern comics.
The thing that really made me take notice of the art in this issue was the coloring by Steve Oliff. From the very first page there is a very distinct Watchmen vibe. The clashing colors, the way characters are completely shaded with a single color representing the environmental light, and the often muted tones throughout. Granted, some of this might be a result of the paper this issue was printed on, but it looks and feels like a product from the time.
BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT (IF YOU CAN FIND IT)
As an opening chapter to a major plot line featuring a new take on an old villain, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #11 is a must buy and a must read for anyone who can get their hands on the issue. From the brilliant character moments, the grounded storyline, and wonderful art, this issue nails it. Without a doubt, this issue is a perfect example of why they should never have canceled Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight as the issue earns a well earned 5 out of 5 Stars.