"Darker Than Death"
Writer: Bruce Jones
Artist: Ariel Olivetti
Publisher: DC Comics
Plot: Batman's investigation into the disappearance of Lilith's sister leads him to an unusual confrontation with the Penguin. The Penguin gives him the whereabouts of a man named Greasy Lee, and after finding him, Batman is forced to fight the giant. The battle doesn't end well, and Batman makes a gruesome discovery.
Commentary: The problem that I have had with this title is that since the creative team rotates, the book has the same feeling I get reading romance comics from the fifties and sixties. You ever read a collection of romance books from DC or other companies? They're not bad. Some of them are quite good, but when you read a chunk of them together, it becomes apparent that there are three plots and nine different ways to tell them. The same story gets told over and over and over again. Unlike Batman or Detective Comics, where there have been regular writers and artists who have a vested interest in developing the character Legends of the Dark Knight appeals to the creators who have that one Batman story they have always wanted to tell. Unfortunately, as good as those stories and concepts may be, after reading the title for ten, fifteen, now almost twenty years the same story keeps getting told with only the styles being different.
This story is a perfect example of this. All of the beats of a Batman story are there, and I know that no matter how interesting the characters may be, it won't mean anything because the writer and artist won't be there beyond the four to six issues. Look at Bruce's relationship with Lilith. Bruce Jones created a credible love interest for Bruce, and I liked the interplay between the two from the previous issue even though it kind of fell apart at the end. As much as I like the character and as interesting as it is to see Bruce fall for someone and break his rule about not getting involved, I know that Lilith will be gone by the end of the story arc because the editors and Powers That Be will not allow Batman to have a steady girlfriend. It isn't built into the character. You can have all of the Vicki Vales and Julie Madisons and Silver Saint Clouds and Vesper Fairchilds you want. In the end an extended romance just isn't in Batman's cards. Because of this I can't get emotionally involved in the romance because I know it isn't going anywhere.
This is not meant as a criticism of Bruce Jones. I have liked his work in the past and thought that while his stories can be very slow, there is a lot of humanity in his work. The man can get into a character's head and look at those aspects that can be rather horrifying. He may take about five issues to get there, but it you'll see them just the same. There are parts of this issue that I really, really enjoyed, and there were other parts that thoroughly disgusted me, and I'm sure those were Jones' intentions. It's just the plot itself has been done again and again. Jones is doing it well, and he's taking it his own way, but I can't shake the feeling that I have read this before.
Despite this there were some highlights in this issue. The whole scene with the Penguin was fantastic. It was funny, and the dialogue was near perfect. I don't mind Batman having a sadistic sense of humor, and there was an almost Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd feel to the sequence. Bruce Jones also showed that he understands the relationship between Batman and Alfred. I cannot get enough of the banter between those characters. Even the ending where Batman takes on Greasy Lee was solid, and it led to that dark discovery. Unfortunately, as much as I liked these scenes, the overall plot and the fact that I've seen it a hundred different times it keeping me from truly enjoying this story arc.
In The End: I would be remiss if I didn't mention Ariel Olivetti's art. The darkness of the story only worked because of the art. I have been a fan of Ariel's for some time now, and I dig what he has done with Batman. Greasy Lee was only disturbing because of Ariel's art, and he knows how to do characters and situations that are attractive and how to do characters and situations that are gross and disturbing. Who else could make a villain hocking a loogey on Batman as an attack work? The guy spit mucus, or at least what I think is mucus, on the Dark Knight and then got burned in salt water. Now that is impressive.
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