Batman: The Dark Knight is back with a bold new look to kick off a story centered around The Mad Hatter. Is it worth buying or is this one Bat-title too man?
This new story begins rather similarly to what we saw from the Scarecrow arc’s first installment. It’s another missing person’s case and it has the whole city on edge. However, after you get past that the similarities cease. There aren’t any flashbacks to Mad Hatter’s past or anything either like we saw in Pain & Prejudice and the Scarecrow arc. In fact, the entire structure differs from what we saw in Hurwitz’s other two stories by beginning with a bang. Whereas Penguin and Scarecrow’s tales started out very slowly and road that pace out until their final chapter where things got crazy, this issue is almost entirely action. There are some very cool sequences here that involve the Batplane and when things get violent, they get really violent. If you read the Scarecrow arc you know what sort of gore Hurwitz is capable of including in his stories and if you enjoy that you won’t be disappointed here. The story only ever slows down (and boy does it ever) for a scene between Bruce and his girlfriend Natalya. That scene is only three pages long and arranged in a creative way so that the panels resemble the keys of a piano (Natalya is a pianist) but what happened in those attractive panels plodded along and was a struggle to get through. We’ve just not been given a reason to care about Natalya yet so seeing her and Bruce arguing about their relationship is pretty boring especially since we’ve seen this all before and it’s a scene that falls directly after a high speed chase. Going through that dull lover’s quarrel just gave me enough of a breather to start wondering where exactly Mad Hatter was in all of this. Thankfully, he does make an appearance a page or so later but by then the comic is over. It all ends rather quickly and without any clear vision of what this arc will be about so I fear it’s not going to convince many readers to come back for more, even if the artwork is well done.
Ethan Van Sciver
Not that Batman: The Dark Knight has ever had a problem with art quality, but I find Ethan Van Sciver to be a welcome upgrade. I’ve really got to scrape the bottom of the barrel for any complaints like how I don’t like the Mad Hatter’s new design (and that’s more to do with what the story requires, really) and that the colors were changed on the cover from what we saw in the solicits months ago. Both of those are pretty minor problems but seriously, why did they change the yellow background to sea foam green? The yellow made the imagery of that cover pop! Van Sciver has a very detail oriented style and I love that. He seems to take really special care with clothing, backgrounds, and perhaps most importantly, the faces of these characters. No two people look alike in this comic.
A Different Cape & Cowl
For the first time in the New 52 (and the entire career of the New 52 Batman since we see in the Justice League #1 that he’s always worn the same outfit– I hate that, Batman never evolving the uniform over five years time is ridiculous) Batman is getting a bit of a makeover. The thing that stands out the most about Ethan Van Sciver’s style is that Batman’s cape is far, far more organic than it’s ever been! The cape has veins running through it and a hooked thumb coming out the top. It actually looks like Batman has wings and I’m not sure how I feel about that. It’s definitely well drawn and it separates this book apart from what we see elsewhere, but I don’t think it’s the right look for Batman even if you have to applaud Van Sciver for trying something new. It’s just that the cape looks heavier, thicker, like it would get in Batman’s way all the time. And if he’s going to go into that much effort to look like a half-man half-bat, what’s next? Fur on the suit? Another difference between Van Sciver’s design and the traditional New 52 suit is that the ears of the cowl begin around the corner of the eye and then swoop up and then forward out of the cowl. They aren’t straight ears, they’re curved. Oddly enough, this cowl design doesn’t last the whole issue and about midway through we go back to traditional ears that are straight, tall, and quite pointy. I’m not sure if this was an editorial demand or perhaps Van Sciver grew tired of the scoop ears and preferred the straight ones.
The New Mad Hatter
My biggest problem with this comic is the new direction for the Mad Hatter. He’s a character that’s honestly never been worth a damn in the comics. The best interpretation in my opinion is without a doubt Paul Dini’s from Batman: The Animated Series. You can read a full interview with Dini by clicking HERE where he explains his take on the character. There’s so much sorrow in that character. Yes, he’s a monster now but you can sympathize with him. He’s terrible but so incredibly pathetic at the same time that it’s hard to fault him for the path he’s taken. The Mad Hatter I enjoy is one whose motivations come from loneliness. He’s often manipulated by other more sadistic villains like Scarecrow because he’s the closest thing to a friend he’s ever had. Tetch isn’t a villain because he wants wealth or even power really. He wants to be loved and that yearning for companionship has been so soured by the abuse of others over the years that his idea of love has been perverted as if he’s unworthy of it and can only find it by creating a world like the one he escaped to as a child, the world of Wonderland. He’s one of the most obviously mentally disturbed individuals in the Batman rogues gallery and one that I felt always had the potential for redemption if society payed him attention and someone gave him care. I don’t see why so many writers try to make him creepier than that by going the rapist/pedophile route and think that that will make for a classic villain but at least that wasn’t employed by Hurwitz here however The Mad Hatter of Batman: The Dark Knight #16 is not the Batman: The Animated Series interpretation I enjoy either, it’s something new. Or at least as far as I can tell from the 4 pages or so we see him he isn’t. The Jervis Tetch we see here doesn’t just slightly resemble the character from Alice in Wonderland, he’s hideously deformed. He possesses a bulging, askew eyeball and while Hatter has always been short, this version can’t possibly be above 4 feet. He’s now shorter than Penguin. But the biggest difference is that he’s horrifically violent and feared. The thing he does at the end of this book is disgusting and it leaves everyone who witnesses the act paralyzed with fear. This moment is not only shocking but it left me confused as to the power of Mad Hatter’s hats because the men who are frightened are all wearing hats so how is it possible that anyone would disagree with him or be phased at all by Hatter’s actions? I’m really curious to see more of what this new Mad Hatter is all about but for now I don’t much care for the new, scary Hatter. Perhaps this the direction the character needs to take in order to stand out from the rest of the rogues now that Mr. Freeze is the one with a make believe love affair.
Disrupting the Tension of Other Titles
If you read the other Bat-titles two things are really going to stick out like a sore thumb when you read Batman: The Dark Knight #16
- Alfred is alive
- Penguin is back in power
Yes, both Alfred and Penguin play a role in this book. Now, while I could easily brush off Alfred’s appearance in the last arc featuring Scarecrow by saying that “Oh, this must have happened BEFORE Death of the Family began.” It’s pretty hard to do that now with Death of the Family wrapping up in a couple of weeks. So it seems as though Alfred will not only survive Batman #17 next month (along with everybody else), he won’t be blinded either. One thing that struck me as unintentionally funny about Alfred’s role here is that Batman gives him the call sign “Penny-One” and uses it out in the field. Why is this funny to me? Because it’s as if author Gregg Hurwitz doesn’t seem to care much about Batman keeping a secret identity. Penny-one? That’s kind of obvious and if that wasn’t bad enough, the last story Hurwitz wrote ended with Batman spraying Bruce Wayne’s blood over half the city. How dense do these Gothamites have to be? Alas, this doesn’t seem to be that kind of comic. This is the violent, gory Batman book.
As for Penguin, his appearance doesn’t harm Death of the Family’s tension. Instead it hurts the arc that John Layman is working on over at Detective Comics where Penguin has been dethroned by a henchman who is nowhere to be seen in this book.
I went back and forth on this one. 7/10 or 6.5/10? I hate giving scores to these things. I even showed it to someone else who said that they would give it an 8/10, but they didn’t have any familiarity with Mad Hatter whatsoever so the changes to his character didn’t bother them one iota. I think everyone can agree however that the artwork of this comic is great, there’s some fun action, and if you like gore you’ll love how brutal the book is. But for me…I just can’t accept this new Mad Hatter characterization, having another kidnapping plot doesn’t excite me since we just saw that with Scarecrow, Bruce’s drama with the girlfriend bored me, and besides the ultra violence I don’t see this series offering much else that we can’t find in Batman or Detective Comics at the moment. If things get as trippy as the issue #17 character advertises then maybe I can get on board with this but for now it feels like one bat-title too many.