Debriefing #35 ‘Legends of the Dark Knight Vol. 1 (2012)’

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Legends of the Dark Knight Vol 1 (2012)
Writers: Damon Lindelof, B. Clay Moore, Steve Niles, T. J. Fixman, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Jeff Parker
Artists: Jeff Lemire, Ben Templesmith, Trevor Harisine, Christopher Mitten, Phil Hester, Gabriel Hardman

Edgar: Here is a very interesting project for us to discuss as a debrief: a collection of one-shots written by a host of talented writers (not all of them typically related to the domain of comics and graphic novels) as well as a bevy of different artists to brings these tales to life on the page. For the most part since we’ve started this project James, we’ve reviewed large volumes that featured stories spanning multiple issues. Perhaps the only time we discussed a series of one-shots, if memory serves, was when we read the very first collection of Batman stories in Batman Chronicles volume 1.  I’d like to start off by knowing what your sentiments are with one-shot issues in general, their strengths and weaknesses, and then slide into your thoughts on this particular collection.

James: In terms of this overall project, I thought this was a nice change of pace. We’ve tackled a lot of works that can be dense and intimidating and it’s nice to take on something that it a bit more discreet and contained in scope. Even more than the Batman Chronicles, these stories are brief. I think the strength of that is each story has to hook us quickly and it has to do something interesting or different to stand out. I think in this collection we see a book brimming with all sorts of ideas about the Batman character. What they sacrifice in depth of exploration of those ideas, is made up in some memorable and distinct stories. Did you feel the same way or did the brevity make most of these stories quickly leave your mind after reading them?

E: I’m happy to say most of the stories lingered in my mind in the days following my time spent with the book. In fact, I read the volume a couple weeks ago and just recently went back to read some of the stories again, not necessarily to refresh my memory (although that helped) but purely because I enjoyed them. I’m particularly happy to be writing this because I tend to be quite ambivalent towards one-shots. Just this week I read a collection of shorts about the Ninja Turtles released for their 30th anniversary and I thought they were mostly terrible. I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to this collection in the sense that, in their expediency, they successfully hook the reader with a great plot idea that is swiftly and admirably dealt with, and I think some really do take some neat looks at who Bruce Wayne/Batman is and how he functions. I appreciate that some writers and artists can pull that off in barely a dozen pages. I feel we need to tackle one of the biggest, non-comic-book name of the bunch, Damon Lindelof. What did you make of his effort?

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J: I’ll be honest, it’s a story I like reading in the moment, but after the fact I find it a bit troubling. It’s built around Bruce bragging that he has no weakness and taking a bet with Alfred about it. It’s cool where the story goes from there, it gives us a dramatic moment, but I think it’s almost a bit mean-spirited. I don’t think the story is meant to be that way, but it’s almost like Lindelof wants to put Batman/Bruce in the most unflattering light and then give him a beating. Therefore, the story soured a bit in my mind. I absolutely love the idea, but I think it might suffer from being too short. It’s the one story where I wish it showed Batman/Bruce growing as a character, but instead it’s just a payoff for a bet between Bruce and Alfred. Did you have a similar problem or did it work for you?

E: Heh, I don’t have exactly the same problem but I still can’t claim this a flawless piece of work. First of all, I don’t exactly have a problem with the punchline being a bet settled between Bruce and Alfred, although I do agree that Bruce is not portrayed very nicely in the scene where he scoffs at Alfred while pretending to be drunk. The issue I have is in the logistics of the scheme. Who are the people Alfred paid off to trick Bruce in the alley? What did he say to them to prepare the scheme without clueing them in on the fact that Batman is Bruce Wayne? I wonder if I’m picking on the wrong stuff here, maybe there are more important things to dissect in this story (some of which you eloquently have) but I couldn’t help. I guess Lindelof just can’t win… The next story is arguably the one that surprised me the most for reasons I’ll get into shortly. Batman vs Amazo. Was it a great contest or the greatest contest?

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J: I thought this was a fun action heavy story. Amazo shows up at JLA headquarters and throws Batman out into space. Batman being Batman beams back into headquarters and proceeds to kick Amazo’s butt. It’s cool to see Batman pull some crazy tricks to beat Amazo, but I think it falls into that category of stories where I think the writers are too in love with Batman and want to make him the most amazing character ever. I like the wits over brawn, but I mean Batman is ridiculously cocky in this story and he wins too easily. Still, it’s a super fun issue, so I can forgive its overconfidence. Where did you fall on this one?

E: For the four people who read our website, it comes as no surprise when I whine about Batman’s association with the Justice League crap. I just don’t think it jells. Imagine my surprise then as I read this little story and was blown away. You said yourself, brains over brawn. This is what Batman does when faced against a force beyond anything he can handle physically. Yes, he’s kind of cocky, I’ll grant you that, but I think I care so little about Justice League that I was having seeing Batman a fool out of Amazo. It reminded me of what the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes does in those movies, where he’s basically the perfect mastermind and thinks of these crazy ways to outdo his foes. Batman is the smartest guy of all these Justice League heroes and when he goes up against a monster the likes of Amazo, his brain has to go into overdrive, so I loved the story. I can’t believe I just typed that, but I do love it. Next up features the lone appearance of Robin in this volume, a cute little tale about how the Dynamic Duo prevent a robbery from happening? Was there intervention captivating or did you wish that guy went ahead with his plan anyhow?

J: I liked seeing this story because it gets to what I really like to see in the Batman character. A lot of times it can be easy to get caught up in Batman as a figure of vengeance and justice, but this story has Batman connect the dots, see a crime about to happen and dissuade the plotting citizen from becoming a criminal. It shows that Batman believes people can change, that they shouldn’t just be punished, but that reform is possible, that people can be shown the errors of their ways. Does he do that in a menacing way? Sure, he’s Batman, but I’d argue it’s more merciful than simply waiting for the crime to happen and dispensing justice. I loved the theme of this story and also seeing how he connected all the dots and saw how the crime would have ended tragically no matter how it went down.

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E: Indeed. It was cool to read a story of preventative justice rather than putting a band-aid on a problem, which is what Batman is usually forced to do. I liked how the story started as Batman studies the clues on the Batcave computer and concludes the fellow’s logical plan with one word: ‘idiot.’ That said a lot about the character. He’s a force for good and he’ll do anything to stop crime and help people before they commit a really stupid act but he also doesn’t hold back when his target comes across as, well, stupid. That was pretty neat. I was blown away when the Dynamic Duo not only explained how the crime would go down with their intervention but then explained the emotinal instability of the security guard making the rounds that night. It’s one of those great moments in these books when Batman and Robin’s thorough research comes into play and actually prevents an action scene from happening, which you’d think would suck but is actually pretty great. Moving onwards, we come to a story that does require a few issues for it to be told in full. This one is a little on the kooky side and features I think one of your more preferred villains if I’m not mistaken, the Mad Hatter. Did he put a spell on you this time as well?

J: I have to say this one did put a spell on me first and foremost because the art is gorgeous. Ben Templesmith is not a name I had heard of before, but after reading this story, I’m definitely going to check out more of his work. His caricature style, with a washed out, dark color pallet and grotesque proportions makes the entire book feel like a horror story. The plot is quite fun as well. Random rich citizens of Gotham keep getting the delusion that they are Batman and go hunting for Killer Croc…who decides the best solution isto eat them. Yea, like I said, this one plays like a horror story. It does get a little crazy towards the end, Bruce Wayne becomes one of the “victims” and I think the story might have gone a bit too far at that point, but I still dug the atmosphere and tone so much that I’ll give the far-fetched third act a pass. And yes, it does feature Mad Hatter as one of the baddies, a favorite of mine. Were you as taken as this one as I am or did it not all come together by the end?

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E: I like it when Batman stories flirt with the horror genre. I don’t need all of them to do that but when you think about what Batman represents and the assortment of villains he faces off against, there is a case to be made to write a solid horror Batman tale and I would say this one pretty much fits the bill. I was surprised at how liberally the artists made this tale as graphically violent as it is. I mean in the first few panels Killer Crocs bites someone’s head off for crying out loud. The Mad Hatter is one of those villains who doesn’t really get his due I find. I don’t think writers really know what to do with the character most of the time. I felt they found a unique use in this instance, not to mention that we get a bit of Joker action, making it a story with a trio of villains, really. The Joker is handled really nicely here as well, what with his numerous speeches to make his victims believe they are the Caped Crusader. For some reason I heard Mark Hamill’s voice when reading his dialogue this time around. A pretty good one, all around. Next up is Letter to Batman, a story with a sentimental touch despite depicting some real hardships Batman goes through. Did you find it as reinforcing as the Dark Knight found the letters dedicated to him?

J: I think this one falls just a tad too far on the sentimental side of the fence for me. I love the sentiment. Batman wonders if he is making anything better. He recieves a massive packet of letters from citizens of Gotham and eventually reads through them. I think where it felt a bit forced to me is when he uses the letters to resolve his case. In one instance, he happens to reach the author of one of the letters right before he does something that would ruin his life. It feels a bit too forced and fortuitous. Then again, we are dealing with stories that have to cut corners sometimes. I just wish this one didn’t try to tie things off so neatly. It felt too tidy by the end. What’s your feeling on this one?

E: Hmm. Interesting thoughts. I would argue that this one specifically benefit from being a one-shot (even though it’s three issues, but whatever), precisely because of its sentimentality. It’s true that I don’t exactly need to read a story where Bruce Wayne, in full Batman costume, sits down and starts reading a bunch of letters to help get through the day. I feel Bruce is emotionally and mentally stronger than that. Then again, as a one-off, I didn’t really mind it either. I guess I’m kind of ambivalent on the story if I’m being honest. I didn’t really have a problem with Batman using the content of some of the letters to help solve his case and in the process help a former criminal from re-entering the world of crime. Does it look like the issue is tying things up with a perfect ribbon? Eh…maybe, but I sort of fell for it, what can I say. After this little endeavor comes Game to Die For. I ‘d like to talk about two elements with this one: the story, obviously, but also the artwork, which is nothing like anything else we get in the book. Were you as focused and brave as Batman’s new ally or did the the story, like Joker’s twisted game, wear you down?

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J: This one did wear down on me. I think of all the stories this one suffers the most from the short form. It starts off with a setup from out of left field, a new costumed vigilante we’ve never heard of before is holding the Joker in custody. From there, I think the story does a really poor job of conveying information. It takes a while to get oriented in what is happening only for the story to then pull the rug out from under us and reveal what has really happened the whole time. It would have been a cool reveal if I had a good sense of the situation from page one. Instead, the whole thing was too confusing until the end where I went “oh, instead of “wow.” Did this click for you or were you also disoriented?

E: It is disorienting but just because of the writing. This story looks absolutely terrible. I hated the artwork. I mean no disrespect to the fellow who drew this one but his sensibilities do not mesh with what I like to look at when I open a comic book. Very blocky and a bunch of bold, vibrant colours…I don’t know, there’s something about that style that just doesn’t sit well with me. The story itself is okay I suppose. It really does feel as though the reader is dropped into scenario where you’d think we should know more than we actually do. Poof, here’s another costumed hero helping Batman! Oh, is this an old character making a cameo return? Oh, he isn’t? He’s just some guy the writer created and then threw the reader in mid-story? Okay… In fairness I do think the Joker is handled nicely here. He really is the antithesis of Batman. He’s the evil version of a really smart dude who knows exactly what to research, where to go to get his information and prepares his plots accordingly. That’s partly what makes The Joker so terrifying I find. Overall I’d say I’m mixed on the story. After this we get to visit the set of a Batman movie in Batman The Movie. How original…Did this one work for you or do you think Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan should have lent a helping hand?

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J: This one felt so out of touch with everything. The whole depiction of Hollywood felt off, the facsimile of Batman didn’t seem particularly comical or satirical, the whole piece just fell flat. I was never sure what tone the story wanted to go for or what the writer intended. It felt dead on arrival. An interesting idea that just was left to die in a corner. We’ve seen the same idea done way better in Nightfall. Here it doesn’t even feel phoned in. It’s just sad and empty. I can’t even think of a single moment of this that felt fresh or interesting to me. Am I missing something here?

E: Are you missing something… maybe not a whole lot. I guess I like this one more than you although not by much. I sort of dug the meta idea of a studio making a Batman film that is sabotaged by the real Joker and needs to be rescued by the real Batman. That’s a cool idea on paper. Is it executed all that well? Maybe not. I think you make an interesting point about questioning where this is supposed to satirical or comical. I have to agree that it’s not super obvious what tone the story is going for. The discussion between the director and producer at the start feels like a satire of Hollywood but that tone is pretty much dropped afterwards. Once again we get some Joker action. He’s alright here although possibly the least interesting of all his appearance in this book. He’s is right about one thing though: the villains get all the best lines! Next up is Harvey Dent’s sole appearance in this bunch of shorts. We get a story very much about the psychology and physiology of the Two-Face character. Was this operation successful or were you left a little brain dead?

J: I think of all the stories, this one felt the least interesting to me. It’s not a bad idea for a story: Two-Face decides he wants to have a lobotomy and get rid of the Dent side of his brain. However, I just thought it never gave me a real hook into why this particular take was worthwhile or interesting. It wasn’t bad, I even like the reveal at the end as for why he decided to do it, I just never quite found this one to have that slant to make the story really shine. Were you able to find a perspective that made this story click?

 E: I had trouble with what starts the story, for one. Not that I have issues with putting kids in harm’s way in a comic book (I’m a sick puppy, I suppose) but it just came across as a weird angle to get to the Harvey Dent portion of the story, like the author wanted to pack in too much in barely a handful of pages. From there we get this really weird operation table scene where Batman is evading gunfire all the while this doctor is performing brain surgery on Harvey, not to mention the text boxes we get in which Batman is explaining the procedure to the reader. The word that comes to mind is ‘cluttered’. There’s a lot going on here, some of which could actually be interesting if it were provided with more time to breath. The whole thing felt a bit rushed to me. An okay idea on paper but mediocre execution I’d say. Finally, we have another trio of issues for what I think is a really well drawn story about a private dick helping Batman smash one of Black Masks operations. I think this one is pretty cool. What did you think?

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J: This one is a delight. If you had to describe it in a sentence, I’d explain this story as Batman and a private investigator in a buddy cop movie. A former Gotham Cop turned PI ends up tangled in a case that has him teaming up on and off with the Batman. It’s great to experience the story from his perspective and see how he keeps getting dropped in the fire but Batman arrives just in the nick of time. It never feels like he’s just a sidekick, though. He does some good groundwork himself and at one point fights alongside Batman. It’s an absolute blast. Of all the ideas in this collection, this is the one I would love to see become an actual series. I think having that grounded detective work with a smattering of Batman action would make for a fun crime/action comic book story. Were you equally enamored?

 E: I loved it too. First and foremost, kudos to the chap who drew this one. Now this is what a comic book should look like. Love the artwork, can’t get enough. The film noir fan in me also appreciated the angle this story took as we get to tag along not with Batman but with a aging private eye who knows his way around the block thanks to his previous career in the police force but is now reduced to making ends meet by doing some rather slimy jobs, most of which seems to concern men cheating with their wives and beating up their secret lovers. The character we follow is a lovable guy too, very wry, sarcastic but a smart and tough cookie as well. Pure noir fluff but with a sense of adventure like all good Batman adventures are supposed to have. Not that I necessarily would have wanted either the Mad Hatter story or Letters to Batman to be shorter but I was especially glad the author and artists took three issues to make this story come full circle. Like you, I could have spent a lot more time with this guy. So we’ve talked a lot about the writing that went into this collection but only occasionally touched on the artwork which is impressively varied, if not always impressive per say. Apart from the Mad Hatter story, what were some of your personal highlights and which did you like the least?

 J: Besides the previously mentioned Mad Hatter story, I agree that the artwork in the last story is great. It plays up the more adventure aspects and reminds me a bit of Batman: The Animated Series with the more straight lines and bold colors. I also dug the art in the Lindelof story. It’s Jeff Lemire, who’ve I’ve seen art from in other stories. I love the way he draws people. There’s a disproportion to them that I always find compelling to look at. Also, they’re close to charactures, but with some added lines in that that give details you don’t expect. In terms of worst, I really didn’t like the art in the Two face story. Also, the very “clean” style in the Amazo and Crime Never Committed story just feels rather dull to me. It’s the stereotypical modern superhero art style and I find it droll and unoriginal. Not bad, just bland.

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 E: Well, I won’t surprise you by saying that the final story, the P.I. one, features my favourite artwork. Interesting that you’d liken it to what we see in TAS. I think I know where you’re coming from in that regard. I myself wouldn’t have made the connection necessarily but I like the way you think! I’ll second the praise for the work done in the Mad Hatter story. As we’ve discussed already, that one excels at creating a terrific atmosphere of gore and horror and the art goes a long way in establishing that. The colouring is also terrific in that one too. I did like the way the Joker looked in Letters to Batman. Perhaps the art in general in that one falls in line with what we get in modern comics but the Joker had a distinguished look about him. He felt very lean, very imposing and I liked that a lot. Interesting that you liked the work done in The Butler Did It. Not that I didn’t like it but I would say my favourite section is the scene with Bruce challenging Alfred to name a single weakness of his. Batman himself looked kind of silly to me in that one. Game to Die looks like garbage as I’ve already established and little is going to change my mind on the matter. The oddest one is Together, the Two-Face story. Is it just me or does that one ape the manga style? It’s okay, but I’m not the biggest manga guy so maybe that’s why it didn’t do much for me…

J: I’m glad we checked out this volume. It’s not as epic or notable as most of what we’ve covered so far, but it’s brimming with a lot of fresh and fun ideas. Not every story is a winner, but there are enough gems here that I think any hardcore Batman fan should definitely pick up this volume.

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