Legends of the Dark Knight: Letters to Batman, Part One
Letters to Batman is
No, that isn’t a technical error, there is no missing text ( though I am rightly known to be terrible at both) that’s my full and entire feeling on this issue. You could read that as a criticism but I mean it to be just as much of a compliment, in that it is equally neither. There are some strong traits shown in this introductory issue but few of them are able to reach a point of proper power; this isn’t a story scripted for separation or a style that stands well in such short bursts. Neither of which are really the fault of writer Steve Niles, there is nothing else out there like Legends and so writing it is I’m sure a singular experience, one that few have fully succeeded at.
That his story comes so close to one that worked rather perfectly, and one that I had assumed was set to close out the series, certainly doesn’t help matters. Where Ben and B. Clay shone was in the way that they outgrew the singular shackles of this series, but in doing so they have cast a sizable shadow on all that try to follow. Seemingly then this story would have served as a perfect transition point between the single-issue tales and that previous multi-parter because Letters is obviously a stretched out story itself, but for the majority of its pages it follows the stylistic stencil set by the first few forays.
Specifically this means that it takes an interestingly logical look at a lone facet in the Batman mythos ( one fans find themselves pondering), this time the constant escapes from Arkham, and analyses the effect that it has on the man in the cowl. The futility of his fight against these fearsome foes is both a frightening and fascinating one; each battle is stacked heavily against the hero from its beginning, in part because of his own hubristic rules, and so his victories are seldom and a true struggle, so to see them so swiftly undercut must be crushing.
Obviously at its core these constant escapes and resurrections are a contrivance, one stemming from the comic medium’s constant need for new stories, but the way that Niles addresses it here almost makes you forget that fact. First and foremost because of the way he morphs it to mirror the struggles that many people have in real life with prisoners and the legal system. It is so hard to get someone into prison – for police to prove their point, for the courts to convict – and seemingly so much easier for appeals and parole to pry them out. As a victim this would be very frustrating even if their crime wasn’t as showy as any of the Joker’s.
So there is a great story here, my issue with it though is the fact that there is also more going on alongside this. Instead of making his point and then powering out of the piece in as few panels as possible, as others have, Niles decides that instead of tying things together he wants to end the issue on a twist, the titular letters, and pick things up from there next week. Certainly it is an intriguing image, depicted terrifically by artist Trevor Hairsine, but it is also one that could mean literally anything and be as intrinsic or disconnected to that previous premise as possible. It’s quite simply impossible to know after this short a section just where the story will go and so judging it either way seems a flawed and frivolous proposition. The only thing that I do know for sure is that I will be back next week to see what happens and how that sentence ends.