Legends of the Dark Knight: Dungeons and Dragons
A title like that catches the eye: to the uneducated it probably makes sense to glue two geek ideas together – comics and gaming – but for those more familiar with either the mixture seems a strange one; The character of Batman is the one that least belongs in the humorous, high-fantasy setting of D&D. So it must be meant metaphorically then, as a figurative turn of phrase, right?
Wrong, you couldn’t get a more literally correct correlation between book and banner than the one showed here. The book has dungeons, it has a dragon, it embodies the concepts of the game and yet it never compromises the ethic of its central character. The title set him a high skill check for sure but I think writer/artist auteur Michael Avon Oeming rolled a natural twenty here, a critical hit, and the comic is the result.
The story is a simple one: something scaly has been taking homeless people off the streets of Gotham and Bats is the only one sympathetic to their cause,so he pulls on the cowl and starts tracking the beast down. This is all set-up in the issues opening scene, a strange and stunning conversation that Bats has with an almost Lynchian hobo and from there the book is basically silent from there until its conclusion, focusing instead on the frenetic action of the chase that ensues.
While most comic superheroes have a list of powers that they can turn to in moments of strife Batman is not so lucky, like any good RPG character he instead relies heavily on his gear, his gadgets and in this issue alone he shows off an inventory of magical items sure to make a level.99 elf go green as a goblin with envy. More important though is the way that he utilizes each of them, stressing the strategy and lack of lethality behind each and every move that he makes. Bruce is battling a monster here but he doesn’t want to kill it, no matter how much easier that would be or how much exp it may offer.
This phenomenologically unsatisfying approach is what makes the story so singular; we badly want him to simply deal with the dragon as we do in our games, to get the fight over with, but as soon as we think that we realize that this is literally the ‘bad’ approach. The twist at the tale’s end further reinforces this point with its revelations, which i will try not to spoil. The Bat family is like any good gaming group; a collection of broken boys, of outcasts who found their place beside one another and Oeming makes use of that, twisting the idea to apply to an infamous villain and through this shift in perspective pointing out just what a hero Batman is.
Oeming also draws the issue and does a similarly interesting job of it; his style looks simple on the surface but grows stranger the closer you pull yourself in to the comic, an effect only exaggerated by Nick Filardi’s colors. The buildings of Gotham are big, detailed and fully drawn while Batman himself seems slight and cartoonish in comparison, constructed half out of shadows and half from broad strokes. It’s unsettling in a way but at the same time it draws you in; the figures lacking some character, but the style having plenty. Whether it is good or bad is above my pay grade, but it is consistently interesting.
The way that he panels the virtual pages similarly so; most of the artists employed on the Legends run thus far have seen the relatively small size of the iPad screen and overcompensated against it with less and larger images but while there are still some splashes here, for the most part Michael maintains the usual scale, simply changing the way in which the pictures are arranged to fit the newly aligned perspective.
While trying to review this issue I keep finding myself thinking back to the first page conversation that Bats has with the homeless man; his dialogue is strangely stilted, but not in a way that I’ve ever seen before, there is no discernible pattern to how Michael made his words seem weird they just are and i’m not sure if that’s because he’s done a bad or a brilliant job at writing it.
That is kind of how I feel about a lot of this book; the big parts of the story are standard and safe to swallow but there are a lot of strange shifts, odd lines and crazy choices made in the books minor details that constantly surprise and confuse me. That’s a criticism and a compliment of Dungeons and Dragons, it’s board games and Batman brought together and it’s weird but it works.