Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sometimes, we blog about comics that are great. Sometimes, about comics that are terrible and fun to pick apart and make fun of. Every so often, we blog about a comic we're honestly confused by, or can't sort out how we feel about. Like today's book! Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #207, "Darker than Death, part one of five" Written by Bruce Jones, art by Ariel Olivetti.

I should mention off the top, I have mixed feelings about the creators. Ariel Olivetti has done a number of books I enjoyed--like the Last Avengers Story, or DC's 2005 Space Ghost--but I thought he had really changed his art style. That's on me, I was actually thinking of Angel Medina. My bad, there; I wasn't even remotely close on that one. Bruce Jones has had a pretty long career, but I mainly remember him for the 2006 Warlord relaunch, which had some good ideas but spiralled in and caught fire by the last issue.

The story opens with an unseen narrator musing about Gotham City, and that intangible something it's missing. "Got the best shows, best food...hands down the best crime." But Gotham doesn't have the music, like New York or San Francisco or L.A. Nobody writes songs about Gotham, since nobody writes songs about hopelessness, utter defeat, or "the inward decay of the soul." That's a clever bit of a cheat: there isn't a lot of musical accompaniment in the medium of comics, so yeah, there wouldn't be a lot of songs there. Except for this one, obviously:

Well...that might be about hopelessness, utter defeat, and/or the inward decay of the soul, maybe.

Of course it's Batman narrating, which is a little unusual since it's odd to hear Batman thinking about music, and it's a little blase for him to be doing so while stopping an attempted robbery-slash-gangrape of a prostitute. But, it's a stiflingly hot summer night in Gotham, and Bats may be just a wee bit burnt out. Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce doesn't even get out of costume, to brood with a drink by the fire. Alfred suggests a change of scene: an invitation to an engagement party, thrown by the Billingsworths. That's a suitably fancy-pants sounding name. Bruce says he doesn't even know them, but Alfred pushes him on.

At the Billingsworths, a still-broody Bruce is checking out a painting of a 'woodland nymph,' when he meets the family. The younger Billingsworth, Conrad, can't find his fiance Janie for the announcement; and Bruce volunteers to help find her: "Eight million souls stumbling through a city-wide blackout, and Conrad Billingsworth can't find one fiancee. Moral there somewhere." Bruce's internal monologing is taking a Rorschach-style turn, there; but as he checks out the backyard, he stumbles across an attractive young woman, skinny-dipping in a pond. Somewhat surprisingly, even to himself, Bruce is a bit tongue-tied.

Although he thought the woman was Janie, it's actually her older sister, Lilith. Sterner and less attractive because of it, Janie shows up to yell at her for spoiling her big night. Bruce helps Lilith out of the water, then waits for her to change; politely averting his gaze. Not feeling dressed for the occasion, Lilith asks Bruce for a lift home, and he obliges, having driven himself for a change. (Alfred is as much as Bruce's dad, so imagine a date with your dad driving you...) Things move right along from there.

Bruce sleeps with Lilith pretty quickly, and the narration goes back to that 'darker than death' business. It's kind of about the gloomy silence of Gotham City, metaphorically, I guess; but it also reads like Bruce is going to sleep like a log after this...but the next morning comes all too soon, and with it Conrad, looking for Janie, who's gone missing. Conrad didn't want to go to the cops yet, and when Bruce correctly points out the cops won't look for someone who hasn't been missing 24 hours yet; Lilith gets pissed at both of them and throws them out.
Who says 'bedded,' anyway?

As Batman, Bruce starts investigating, or at least cracking a few skulls looking for leads. He also knows full well it's a bad idea to be personally involved in a case, but presses on nonetheless. Eventually, he calls Lilith, who calls him both 'darling' and 'sweetheart' in two panels, which somehow strikes me as a warning sign; but she's interrupted by a knock at the door and a mysterious package. Bruce screams at her not to open it, and she totally does, and the call drops.

Still as Batman, Bruce races to Lilith's, where he finds her unconscious. The package contained a severed woman's finger, with a large ring...

So, the pros of this issue? Well, I do like the art, even though it's a bit murky and dark in spots; which I suspect is intentional. Jones also brings out a very Bruce Batman--he's a man that dresses up like a bat, not a Batman that occasionaly pretends to be a spoiled playboy. Thus, he's more human than in many an issue, and his depression seems more relatable. He's at a point where beating up the worst scum of the city doesn't do it for him anymore. There's also a bit of ambiguity: Bruce could be looking for a real connection with Lilith, or he could just be having sex with a somewhat-damaged girl.

The cons? There's a subplot page with the Billingworths' help that's a bit clunky and I suspect might be a red herring. Since this is Legends of the Dark Knight and not one of the open-ended Batman books, we're pretty sure from the start Lilith isn't going to be a longer term love interest like Silver St. Cloud or Vesper Fairchild. OK, she doesn't seem a likely candidate for that anyway.

I have the next issue, but not the rest of the five-issue story. I'm keeping my eyes open, though, and giving this one a little more rope, to see how it plays out...

1 comment:

Dale Bagwell said...

Poor Bruce just has no fucking luck with the ladies huh? No wonder people used to think he was gay.