Legends of the Dark Knight: The Butler Did It
The rise of digital comics has so far been a rather lackluster revolution; for all the voracious love, hate and vitriol among critics and commenters there hasn’t really been all that much effect on the everyday of the industry itself. Physical sales are still dropping, but these numbers don’t correlate with those being picked up online, though nor do they show an influx of fresh blood like some had hoped; statistically speaking it’s kind of all a mess, which I guess means that the war is still ongoing. The latest barrage from the big two on this front is DC’s new Legends of the Dark Knight range, a series of weekly one-off Batman titles written and drawn by some of the industries biggest names that stand as something of a response to Marvel’s Infinite imprint.
Unlike the alienating technological advances and unfortunate connection to the Avengers continuity that Nova suffered these Batman ( as marketable character as there is right now) stories are entirely self-contained and skew the format enough to be interesting but never step outside the safe zone. They’re particular mixture of both new and old styles is then perfect then for bringing in fans both new and old as are the names of those behind the book; diehard comic book spans will know that anything with Jeff Lemire’s name on it needs to be bought while geeks of other sorts will surely be intrigued by Damon Lindelof’s large letterhead above the title. If anything is going to draw people to try digital comics I daresay that it will probably be this.
Despite having those two big names up alongside the biggest in Batman’s this is actually a rather small book, quite literally in fact. The first thing you’ll notice about it is that it requires you to turn your iPad on its side for the full screen effect and that Lemire’s art has been designed with this horizontal alignment in mind. It’s not a seismic shift in style, nothing like the single panel pages and focus pulls of Waid’s Infinite, but this twist does change the experience of the issue immensely; I can’t help but think of how a physical copy would look, read lengthwise like a storybook and that feel is present in its tone.
Lemire’s lines have always had this strange sketchiness and almost alien lack of glamour to them that somehow work to make the men and women of his worlds seem utterly human and here is no different. His Batman is unlike any you’ve seen before, he’s ugly. When he lands a long jump from a distant rooftop he hits with a funny expression on his face, when a thug beats him in the back with a baseball bat he does the same and when they kick him while he’s down his lip splits and swells, all in this seemingly sweet cartoon style. It doesn’t matter that honestly none of his figures look anything like an actual person, because it’s so ugly it still seems real and because it’s real these figures feel human and because they feel human seeing them break or break out is in its way quite beautiful; it’s a whole process, but here is a perfect example of it.
Lindelof’s script doesn’t quite give Lemire anything overly worthwhile to work with; there are some emotional moments early on but very quickly the story loses its sincerity and boils down to the set-up of a simple joke which not only loses the love Lemire had built up but almost undercuts it. He also undercuts his own punch line somewhat by spending too long setting up the turn; there is an extended trip back into the past ( Lindelof writing a flashback? Never!) mid way through the action that takes too many pages for such a short book, seventy percent of the dialogue hits here, and this flummoxes up the flow entire.
There are though a lot of good lines within it that would have been hard to cut and the story itself is quite clever, but I wonder if this wouldn’t have worked better with either ten less pages or ten more; as a punchy non-sequitur or a more full fledged exploration. The ultimate point of the piece even seems a little skipped over, as do many of its most interesting tenets; yes we can fill in some of the blanks ourselves but where do we draw the line between ambiguity and missed opportunity? Perhaps though I’m just being too picky, the issue does make for an interesting and enjoyable read and wraps itself up nicely even within the strange length.
Ultimately the point of this issue wasn’t to make a point about Batman, craft a compelling narrative or to elicit an emotional response in the audience, it was simply to accrue one and on that front I think it did a decent job. You buy this issue for ninety cents based on any or all of the names involved and i reckon you will enjoy yourself just the right amount, enough that you are happy but not enough that you are satisfied; you will then be perfectly primed to buy some other book that catches your eye on Comixology afterwards. It’s a worm, not big enough to feed you but it will bait you to the hook just fine. If I sound cynical I’m not, I hope that this succeeds for DC, I hope that they pull up something big and if they don’t, we’ll at least we all had fun fishing.