Legends of the Dark Knight: Crisis in Identity, Part Two
(Part One reviewed HERE)
Bruce Wayne was never a man of many words, let alone the sort to spin some together into a catchphrase or consistent battlecry so writers have never given him one. Strangely though, sometime between Nolan’s Batman movies, the internet was kind enough to create one for him; mostly as a laugh, as the spine of a series of memes, but somehow it stuck and stranger still, works quite well. Two words, to the point but still kind of powerful: “I’m Batman!”. At their core all of the great Bat stories take an element of Bruce’s character and corrupt it, revealing new sides to his story and intentionally or not it is that famous phrase that is twisted here in part two of B. Clay Moore and Ben Templesmith’s Crisis in Identity. When you see where it is used you will know exactly what I mean, but that is simply the blunt reading, thematically the deconstruction goes much deeper than that.
Though before I get too wrapped up in themes I should speak a bit about the actual plot of the issue. This second chapter in the Crisis story spreads our focus out even further than the first, going against the format of Legends thus far to provide a tale with a real sense of scope and scale to it and it does this in a deceptive way. On one hand there isn’t a single page nor panel present here that feels like a waste of space or simply there to spin the wheels, it’s all new and all necessary to the overall narrative; but at the same time the book really doesn’t introduce all that much in this issue, the ideas and characters are all carried over from the first. The trick is that they are simply written in a remarkably clever way. Like the early films of Lumet or a good play Clay’s script takes the constricted space of the format and makes it feel massive. Thus the script is simultaneously both sprawling and taut.
More specifically the issue takes the titular idea and runs with it, introducing a number of new identity crises to stand alongside the now barmy Buisnessmen who think they are actually Batmen. Joker, who was so teasingly introduced in the last issue is given a much more meaningful role here, though it is not as himself. See he too is under the guise of another, one Comissioner James Gordon to be exact ( His mustache and Bubble pipe are simply brilliant touches). Moore’s Joker is mad (much more so than his Mad Hatter, whose name is here shown to be inaccurate to his identity) but masterfully so: he is an eloquent rambler, he soliloquizes, making metaphors then mixing them up, making himself laugh. He is the opposite of Batman in that way, but not in every way.
See in his own head the Jokers sermons must make perfect sense, his plan to humiliate Batman by becoming a better crime fighter must honestly seem like the right thing to do; in his head he isn’t the villain of the book but its hero and the structure actually supports that. We spend nearly all of our time this issue with the villains (of which there are now many) as our central characters, the caped crusader only making a cameo in his own book, but he never feels missed; why would he when there are others willing to fill in for him? What most struck me about this change of focus though wasn’t the way in which the famous characters were fleshed out but that their subordinates, their goons are all given names and identities of their own; it’s not just a clown being threatened but a character and so we care. A nice touch of depth for such a short book where shallowness would have been forgiven.
I for one am all for swinging the spotlight over every now and then to show a side of Gotham normally kept in the shadows (Why is there not a Joker book. Put these two on it and it would be a must buy), but those simply looking for a hit of the titular hero fear not for the book itself never forgets what it is supposed to be. When Batman appears he makes an impact and the battle that then ensues in brisk but brutal and badass. Bruce also swaps places with the Joker to receive the big ‘ah!’ moment at the end of the book, the panel that stays with you after you swipe aside your last page. This final revelation is really amazing, the kind of thing that makes perfect sense when you see it but shocks you nevertheless. I should have seen it coming after what I said about Bruce last week, but it took a brain brighter than mine to make that leap into the dark, B. Clay Moore’s.
I think the greatest compliment that I can give Clay is the fact that I’m yet to mention Ben Templesmith or his artwork once in this review. Compare that to last weeks ramble and you might wonder if I haven’t hit my head in the meantime, had a complete change of personality. This is no insult to Templesmith, whose illustrations are as stark, stunning and eerily illuminated (check out the perversion of palette in that Killer Croc splash(another character torn between two psyche’s)) as they were in the first issue; i was simply so sucked in by B’s the story that the rest slipped by. My eyes leapt from word balloon to word balloon as I read, savoring the sentences more than the image that they were set in. That said I would still love to buy a print of just about any one of these panels, but given the choice I would take the script for the third and final part of this story first. It’s honestly the story that I am currently most excited to read. So if you havn’t you should buy these first two (for that many dollars) and join me in the wait.