Monday, July 11, 2016

"Dark Night: A True Batman Story" by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso

Just when you think countless YouTube and podcast interviews gave the whole thing away, Dark Night: A True Batman Story still offers a lot of surprises. It's an excellent graphic novel, but whereas most of the reviews on the internet center around author Paul Dini's traumatic experience getting mugged that is the climax/catalyst of the book, I found what stayed with me was a lot of the rich details of other events described therein. The mugging itself is strong, brutal stuff (he almost died!), but there are other moments that have their own power:

+ You do get a sense that Paul regrets his doomed relationships with vacuous wannabe starlets. He would use his feint connection to Steven Spielberg  (Dini worked for Amblin on "Tiny Toon Adventures") as bait..and they would lead him on with their feminine wiles. Paul's adherence to the time period keeps him from elaborating on his happy marriage to actress/magician Misty Lee, but the reveals about his doomed relationships playing into his struggle with deep depression ( Emmy award statuettes never looked as creepy as they do in the scene depicted in the book ) imply that the mugging became a very sobering, karmic experience in his life, though I don't think he wants to attribute it as a good thing, just a trigger for change.

+ Paul's first collaboration with Bruce Timm was a failed revival of Beany and Cecil produced by John Kricfalusi of Ren and Stimpy fame. I found it cute that the show was a childhood favorite of his. It was the 50's Spongebob Squarepants, kind-of the precursor to Rocky and Bullwinkle in approach, though with jauntier designs...lots of Beatnik jokes.

+ The character of Ivan Ivorybill was clearly a proxy for Woody Woodpecker, which means Paul was offered a chance to work on a TV series revival for the FOX network. I recall it lasted a year, with Billy West as the voice of Woody. It was o.k., but I remember reviewers thought it was staid. It had nice animation, though. The scene Ivan in the hospital was sad. And powerful!

+ I remember that Tiny Toons videogame..and seeing photos of the bubble bath bottles with the plastic heads from the out-of-print book, Batman: Animated. It's all real stuff.

+ Batman does have a lazarus pit in the batcave! It happened in Devin Grayson & Paul Gulacy's Batman: Ra's Al Ghul mini-series from 2005. Batman built it to test if he had the only written copy of the chemical formula to create one.

+ The synopsis of the rejected idea for a Batman: The Animated Series episode where Batman would've encountered Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Death is very intriguing..and it reads like a backdoor pilot for a follow-up book that would tell the tale proper. Why not?

+ It's been pointed out elsewhere, but the depiction of Paul's therapist as a voluptuous vixen hints at his inspiration for Harley Quin's origin as the Joker's therapist. The character of Harley Quin appears briefly toward the end. I'm convinced the use of red and white in the cover design was meant to invoke Harley, since the advance copies that were used to promote the book featured a markedly different design...I don't hate the current look, but it reminds me of a Christmas card design. I prefer the one used for the advance copies.

+ The idea of having fictional characters act as avatars for the protagonist's thought processes was the main draw of the book when it was first announced, but it's not an original concept for a graphic novel. I also read a graphic novel about Agatha Christie's life that features her engaged in dialogues with her series characters. Compared to other scenes in Dark Night, this stuff was a little weak, but there is great moment where Dini seems to be challenging the idea of "Anyone can be Batman" for a moment. I do with other reviewers who have noted that Dini is the best at writing scenes featuring large groups of Batman villains and giving them equal time to shine.

+ Eduardo Risso wouldn't be my first choice for a special project like this ( I really wish this had been the last assignment done by the late Darwyn Cooke, as opposed to all those variant covers ), but Risso comes through with a career-defining effort that is fantastic. He showcases an impressive versatility, able to capture different moments with an array of illustration styles..I think people were expecting a journeyman effort and were genuinely taken aback by what Risso does here.

If you're a fan of Dini's comic book work, I would say this fits nicely on a shelf with Mad Love, Harley and Ivy: The Deluxe Edition and Tales of The Batman: Paul Dini. Oh, wait...that last one doesn't exist..yet. :)

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