Legends of the Dark Knight: Look Inside
When you hear Scott Snyder talk about Batman you understand right away just how it is that he has managed to make his current run stand out and even above the many, many years of history. Not only does he understand the character intimately but he also sees clearly the roles that each of the comic’s villains are required to play in relation to him. He says that they are all reflections of some part of Bruce’s personality, reflections that have been perverted by sin in the city that he loves, by the Black Mirror of the trade’s title: that the Joker’s anarchistic chaos is there to temper his own steel-set code of conduct, that Two-Face highlights the horror of splitting your identity into two clear halves, Penguin the dark side of reckless spending, Killer Croc of too closely mimicking an animal avatar, etc. etc.
I bring all of this up in a review of Rob Williams’ Look Inside because while the story may be a potent visceral experience on its oh so sinister surface there is also something theoretically satisfying going on underneath. The theme and subtext of this story suggest that writer Williams subscribes to an approach very similar to Snyder’s but more interesting is the way in which he has one of the comic’s characters bring the thought quite literally to life. It might sound dry but when I say it like this, but watching the theory be wielded like it is here is intense. It may be scary, but sometimes to succeed you’ve got to look deeper, to look inside.
First and foremost I have to say that this issue really surprised me by having both the craziest concept of the series so far and the creepiest new (to me at least, though because he doesn’t have a name it’s a little hard to look him up to see) character that I’ve seen in a long, long time. The character of The Chauffeur is something that Stephen King would have thought up back in his heyday; a nameless, faceless, colorless, soundless figure that drives an ancient, autonomous automobile, one with an even more ancient evil hidden deep in its trunk.
Like the man with the Red Right Hand he offers you what you want and the terrible trick of it is that he then gives it to you. As our protagonist, The Penguin, says what we want is so often what scares us most; that oftentimes having our unsaid wishes come true would be a nightmare. The way that Williams works this idea back towards Batman is brilliant and since we don’t see what he see’s in the van the kicker of the scene offering multiple thematic options: he was made by his fears and so he can face them or maybe what he saw was a simple unaltered reflection, a clear view of his current character and action, maybe he was made to look inside himself, undeniably a much scarier concept than any creature could be.
The issue even looks like an old-school horror story, the dark and dirty streets of Gotham filled with a mist that masks the many frightening that walk them. What most impressed me about this tone though is the way that the Ikari studio boys – series regulars now – give the book a very cohesive color scheme – mostly grays and muted greens – so that this fog effect is felt by the viewer, forcing our perspective on the foreground where it is the characters of Juan Jose Ryp that catch our eye first and foremost.
The way that he tells the story through a series of short shots and close-ups is inspired; were the writing bad it could have made the book boring, talking heads, but instead it draws you straight in and forces you to engage with the people that are right in your face and the fear that is so convincingly displayed on theirs. The way that he has captured The Chauffeur adds so much to the character’s creepiness: his emotions are non-existent, he doesn’t register as a person and his movements are anatomically off-kilter in a weird but appropriately alien way. My only issue with the art was with the anatomy of the few female characters and the inappropriate focus therein, but that’s a minor thing.
So for a number of reasons Look Inside had me gripped from the first time The Chauffeur came on screen; by the end though it had loosened its grip a little and instead of slamming it home it simply faded out. Maybe it was because the minutia is just a little lacking, the narration just a little too spartan – this kind of tale could have gone for a bit of that good old gothic poeticism I think – or the story too brief but the issue falls just short of its full potential for me. That said its potential is remarkably high, so that is more compliment than criticism; though I would love to see Williams given the chance to tell more of this story. Until then though this issue will ring through my mind, will haunt me like all good horror should.