Legends of the Dark Knight – Gotham Spirit
The story at the spine of this Legends issue is very strange in that there isn’t really one. We open on an armed robbery occurring in that titular liquor store late one afternoon, when the thugs think it is still safe out. From there the book is simply Batman beating up on the bunch of criminals in quick succession as they attempt unsuccessfully to escape into the city, but the way that it shows this is very far from simple.
Legends is, at it’s core about telling Batman stories that the main comics cannot and most writers take that as a directive to extend the style and structure out into new and subversive territories – to show his stories in space or out of sync – but Jeff Parker somehow made the alternate direction seem even more daring by boiling Bats back to the purest basics.
There at are some throwaway lines here and there, trope things said on instinct in the heat of the moment, but for the most part the book is mute, contains no characterization and yet it is still far from shallow. It’s not a throwaway story, for while it is silent it still manages to comment significantly on the concept and character of Batman himself.
So Parker’s script then is sure evidence against those who think that a writer simply provides the dialogue and narration in a comic, though a lot of the storytelling credit still needs to go to Gabriel Hardman whose art holds the majority of the books narrative weight. Establishing tone, context and character without the help of words is an immensely difficult task but it is one that he makes work.
The Phillips-esque grit and grime of his line work setting the realistic tone, the monotonous expression of the constantly in motion Batman his character and the action, which continues across every page, is cohesive and compellingly rendered. Elizabeth Breitweiser taking every page and panel and exarcerbating each element through the colors. Her and Hardman were given a hard task and don’t just nail it, they delivers a masterclass.
There is no super villain in this story,the robbery isn’t a ruse organized by the Joker, and honestly it really doesn’t need one because Bats himself plays that part perfectly. Since we don’t hear from him directly, don’t have his perspective, he seem to us as if akin to the terminator; he is an unstoppable force meeting very moveable objects. He is a sort of horror movie villain that can’t be put down by basic weaponry,he is the Gotham Spirit.
There is though also another meaning to the title. Batman here is constantly being helped out by the civillians that get brought into the chase in subtle but strongly impactful ways. They strike out with bottles when they have the drop on a baddie, they park the police car right where Bats needs it and they shout him on after being held hostage, hands wrapped around the leg of their assaulter. These people have true spirit, they fight back and he is simply an Avatar of that resolution.
As someone who reads for the words, who finds their interplay as interesting as any characters, this approach to comics is contrary to my regular wants and needs but when it is as well done as this I simply have to make an exception. So despite its standard seeming story and structure Gotham Spirit is exceptional in this regard and many others, it’s exactly what this series was designed for.