Legends of the Dark Knight: Crisis in Identity, Part One
When I spoke briefly with him earlier this year Ben Templesmith casually mentioned being done with franchises and with the big licensed characters for which they are named; he had ideas, images and stories of his own to tell and an audience who wanted to hear them*, he was going to go creator owned. Some time later he slyly mentioned that he was doing the art for a digital Batman comic that would be coming out in a few months time and though it should have this never sounded like hypocrisy or contradiction.
If it does to you then you have likely forgotten one thing: Batman may be a big-shot billionaire, a brilliant inventor and the World’s Greatest Detective ( all traits shown in the previous three issues) but in the right – or perhaps wrong – hands he’s both the hero and monster of a horror book. He’s an unimaginable creature driven by death that stalks through the shadows on a sunken sinful city striking out at those that it decides deserve it; that he also happens to be on your kids pajamas is secondary, Bats can be a Templesmith character through to the bone and this book seems set to show us just that.
* See: 44Flood and the terrific Kickstarter they set up for Tome if you want to see what I mean.
I say ‘set’ rather than does because in something of an actual contradiction of concept this is the first in a three part series, something that I thought Dark Knight was designed to do away with but at the same time something I strongly welcome. I have complained occasionally of the over compression of these comics and this stories format seems fit to fix that. The pacing is much looser than in the last few weeks – characters have time to actually converse and the art can cut away to alternate perspectives – it breaks the bounds and restrictions without ever losing any of that terrific tautness; what Templesmith and author B. Clay Moore manage to fit into their twenty odd trimmed pages is more than what most authors manage a full floppy.
As befits the bigger canvas the story of this comic is much grander than those that came before and we are only still setting the scene for the real action to come. I often spoke of the previous issues’ pacing in terms of joke structure – the set-up, the turn and the punch line, etc. – and while that mould may break upon application here the metaphor does not; because while it may not be built as a joke the story of Crisis in Identity ( a certain play on the infamous Identity Crisis event) is built around one: A prominent businessman puts on a black Batsuit he makes at home and hits the streets of Gotham to try and fight crime, only to find himself meeting an obvious fate, hurried into the maw of his maker. Hah! Not laughing? Well I guess it takes a certain sense of humor and a stronger comedian than I, but I’ll do the unthinkable and try to explain the joke ( though you’re better off just reading it for yourselves first).
The punch line of course is that while we may laugh at the ludicrous thought of businessmen pulling on a bat suit and going out to fight crime, that is exactly what our hero does in each and every issue. The only real difference is the result; our Batman saves lives while these Imitations lose theirs, but why is that? Is it because Bruce is already dead, because his life was lost that one fateful night. Is it because the city lets him continue? Or because he is the character in a story that must? Or is it simply a case of alternate Batmen looking cool? If so there is nothing wrong with that. It’s hard to truly judge B. Clay Moore’s writing on what is essentially only the set-up, but I like what I’ve seen so far, it feels like something special will be coming by the end.
So Moore’s delivery is much better than mine, but it’s still not the best. If this issue is a joke, then who better to tell it than the Joker himself? Yes Crisis In Identity marks the first real appearance of one of Batman’s rogues gallery ( Lemire’s amazing gallery worthy spread doesn’t count) in this Dark Knight run – technically the Joker comes as the second after a more surprising appearance in the first few pages, but you get the point – and he is handled perfectly if perhaps too sparingly. We get only a glimpse of him in this issue but those two panels are as enticingly eerie a tease as that infamous first glance at Heath Ledger in full make-up; the final page alone makes paying admission worth the while.
Which is not to say that Templesmith doesn’t also earn it elsewhere. His Gotham isn’t an obviously gothic place, it’s not simple black shadows and gargoyles, nothing as garish as all that. Instead Ben makes this feel like a bad place to be by making it feel unlike anywhere you’ve ever been: Skyscrapers float ominously overhead, deeply angled and detatched from the floor where bright whites blind against the blackness; the contrast is what chills you, the shadows almost seeming safe in comparison to what the light reveals. As for his Batman: he is sharp, stoic, pointed and all predator; a part of the city in a way that none of the other people featured are.
It’s too early to draw any strong conclusions just yet but I will say this to help summaries my reaction to the issue: of all the amazing creative teams given time to shine on this book so far i am happy that B. and Ben are the ones that get the extra two issues to tell their story in ( Sorry Tom) for theirs is the Bat and the book that I most want to explore. Of course they could waste the time yet, the story could shatter and Ben could end up delivering Liefield-esque leg armed Batman by the end but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. If Crisis is a joke then it’s one I’ve been cackling through long before we got to anything worth laughing at. You don’t laugh or groan at a joke until the punch line, not unless you’ve heard it before and I certainly won’t be stopping the B boys from telling the rest of this one. Killer.
(Part Two Reviewed HERE)