Legends of the Dark Knight: Crisis in Identity, Part Three
Scripting the third act of a trilogy is a tough act, the stakes are at their highest then: no-one expects anything of the unknown first entry and the second is cut some slack for having to stand as a bridge between the other two but the third, the third has to realize every hope and expectation that the audience has had throughout the series so far. It’s now or never, no more next time and other such adages. I had no qualms about quickly declaring my love for this limited series after its debut, I then hid none of my love for the sophomore issue and so I shouldn’t shy away from saying how sad this finale made me feel, how deeply disappointed I was to turn to its final page and see that this is it.
Would I say that it’s the worst comic I ever read? Only if I was joking, I was disappointed only that it was over, and speaking of there has been a lot of talk this week about the announcement that Scott Snyder would be scripting the clown’s climactic return to comics but these people all seem to be forgetting one very important thing; that B. Clay Moore and Ben Templesmith have been nailing him right here for three straight issues. They haven’t just crafted a Joker story here in the digital Legends of the Dark Knight that could stand alongside the main Batman book, Crisis in Identity is instead the comic that one will have to look up to, the standard that Snyder will have to try and compete with.
Like the Joker I too don’t like to repeat myself, so a lot of positives will go unsaid; this is not because they no longer apply, just because i can’t think of creative ways to say them a third time. Know though that all I said of the first two issues is still true here.
So you could then say that those two talented guys are the ones who are confused about their identities; they were given a chance on this small, second tier book and utterly blew it out of the water, creating a fantastic, first-class product in the processes. Like the earlier issues of the book this story could be read for its relentless fun or freaky art, but it goes beyond that sort of simplicity. In one of the final scenes the Joker seems to suggest that there was no point to his plan, that he was simply swapping out peoples psyches with that of the Caped Crusader for play. You could easily read this line as coming straight from the less-scarred lips of B. Clay Moore himself (as you could several others), that he was saying he simply came up with the idea for this comic because it could be fun, but I feel this would be incorrect, that Moore is more likely channeling a characteristic that the Joker displays earlier, a capacity for surprise and misdirection.
Legends of the Dark Knight was designed to allow brisk and bold new takes on the Bat-verse and in a way that is exactly what they’ve done here, only the element that they have chosen to base their book on is not the Bat himself but his reflection, or more aptly, his shadow; showing us his shape by instead shading in all of the things that he is not, a narrative reverse-silhouette. All Batmen are Bruce Wayne, but not all Bruce Wayne’s are Batman, why is that? He has no superpowers, so why him of all the fat, rich men with enough money to make a stupid Halloween costume? Why does he succeed when all others fail? He live when they fall? Is it because he has a set of rules to keep him straight, his smartness or perhaps because he alone is crazy enough to commit to it fully? He alone believes he is Batman, the others only ever pretending. It is a fascinating question and one that the book never really answers, but nor does it need to; asking it is almost enough.
The reason that the book doesn’t fully answer this question is partly due to the structure of its third issue. One other reason that third acts are so difficult is because there are so many requirements placed upon them, the writer is free to imagine and implement any kind of idea in previous issues but come time for the climax he has to weave them all together into something cohesive. Moore does a very good job of this, quite literally bringing everything he introduced thus far ( bar perhaps Gordon and the Police) together into one big battle. It’s about as clean a conclusion as you could want, but it still carries away the comic; not only does it prevent Clay from introducing any new ideas but it also takes up what little time he had to finish fleshing out the old ones. So Bruce name checks the titular crisis but never quite delves into it too deeply. A shame since Moore seemed more than capable of handling that content if he had to.
Templesmith too seems somewhat constricted by this quite literally limited nature of his interiors. The entire issue takes place inside of the one gloomy room and so there is a sameness to the pages that feels out of place against the colorful dynamism that came before; it feels weird to criticize art for being consistent. His style though, even three issues in, when the novelty should have worn off, is still superb. Every shot of his Joker sends shivers up my spine and his splash page of Killer Croc, it’s so safe and simple on the surface but something about it suggests such sickening slaughter. His art is about more than the artifice, there is always a feeling secretly embedded within it that makes it seem so strangely evocative.
In the end, as it so often seems to with such great things, my main complaint pares down to that very word: “end”. The real reason that third acts are so difficult and divisive is because no one likes to say goodbye. This is the end of Crisis of Identity but I wanted, no needed, more; like some spoiled orphan in a chocolate factory. This has been my issue with Legends of the Dark Knight the whole way along, its brevity. It seemed at first that I would be much more satisfied by this three parter than those single shots but in a way it was made even worse, i grew attached. As a read Crisis is complete and contains everything that you could ever want from a Batman story – comedy, chills and psychological complexity – and objectively that is the ideal, but a part of me wishes that this was instead an ongoing of its own. Alas, I will just have to sate my greed by giving it another read, then perhaps a third when the print edition is released. I recommend that you do the same, but with a warning: once you do you’ll understand my melodramatic reaction to its reaction.