Whoever writes the cover copy for these books should be slapped with a rolled-up newspaper. “PULLED INTO DARKNESS BY THE MAD HATTER” it says, and that might be okay if the vibrantly colored image this text accompanied wasn’t Batman being pulled into the lit Batsignal, which is the biggest and most famous LIGHT in the DC universe and arguably the most famous man-made light source in all of pop culture. Pulled into darkness, indeed! In fact, do we even need the cover copy? Personally, I’d rather just see the artwork speak for itself. No cover copy, no ads for Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Rises, or Arrow– just the cover the artist spent so much time working on and the title of the series. What are your thoughts on cover copy? Anyway, onto the review!

While there’s not very much darkness on the cover, that’s pretty much all you’ll find in the interior both in story and artwork. Once again, we have Szymon Kudranski doing the artwork, and while last time I was relieved to find that he hadn’t over done the shadows and the close-ups, that’s exactly what happened this time. It’s kind of amazing that they didn’t run out of black ink. Anyway, his style works awesomely in many scenes. He’s capable of establishing a very spooky atmosphere, but some panels are so minimalist that they look downright lazy or it’s difficult to even make out what’s going on. And then there are some characters, like Bruce’s girlfriend whatshername, who look like expressionless, lifeless mannequins. The worst instance of this was when Bruce’s girlfriend clawed at Mad Hatter’s face. Her face is totally blank while the speech bubble reads “I’ll never be your Alice, you freak!” and her hand and what she’s actually doing to Mad Hatter is unclear. Did she slap him? Karate chop him? What is this? Then on the next page we see three rather severe (but hopefully not permanent, as I don’t want a scar-face Mad Hatter becoming tradition) claw marks across Hatter’s face. The sense of space inside the helicopter later on in the story (where did the chopper come from, anyway?) was also difficult to tell. Most of the panels have no backgrounds to speak of, only shadows. So I found it hard to judge where we were in some scenes. Overall, the artwork was a disappointing step down from the previous issue. And, again, this whole arc will read oddly in a TPB due to Van Sciver and Kudranski having such vastly different styles.

Before I get into the book’s story let me say that I’m so, so, so sick of hearing Alfred being called “Penny One”! Even when Batman is all alone inside the Batwing he calls Alfred “Penny One.” Stop it. It’s a terrible alias for Alfred to use. Terrible. Who alludes to their real name in their code name? And Batman says it more in this issue than ever before, almost to spite me! You want to know why Alfred doesn’t need a code name? Because the God Damn Batman knows not to have a conversation with Alfred over the radio while bad guys are in ear-shot. Batman doesn’t talk a lot so when he does, Alfred’s aware that Batman is probably addressing him. Heck, Batman can call him Alfred as much as he wants as long as nobody’s around. But that’s not the story here, the story is that the body count in Gotham is too damn high!

At the end of the last issue, Mad Hatter had a few hundred people in hats drown themselves. How the hypnotizing hats didn’t float away when they hit the water or short-circuit is anyone’s guess, but they didn’t and the people died. Now Batman has to figure out what happened to them all by actually pursuing the one clue that came up like 2 issues ago. Remember when Batman followed the van to an empty field and he was just like “Well, I guess I lost this one.” Well, in this issue he calls up Alfred, or Penny-One, and says “Hey, check in on what the deal was with that plot of land.” And sure enough they’ll discover that it’s prime villain-lair real-estate. Other than that we have the predictable abduction of Natalya, the girl Bruce has fallen so madly in love with that he’s having nightmares about his parents and even considering hanging up the cape and cowl so he can live a real life. It’s pretty serious for a character we haven’t seen for a full year, eh? What happens in this issue is all pretty formulaic and many of you predicted it all in the comments section of reviews for issues dating back 2-3 months ago.

Spoiler
We didn’t have enough time to get to know Natalya, She never even showed up in any of the other Batman titles. Without her showing up in any of those, it’s kind of hard to take her seriously as a legitimate love interest. Add that to the fact that Bruce already lost his son just 2 months ago and it’s simply way, way too soon to have Natalya killed off. It could’ve been a very important moment in Mad Hatter’s history! Finally, a villain who isn’t the Joker has killed someone close to Batman! But with the death of Natalya, I think many of us will just go “Hmm.” (or as Batman says “Hrm”) and move on.

Oh well, at least there’s only one more issue of this arc. It has gone on for long enough and in the past two issues has turned into a predictable snooze. A blood-soaked snooze, but still a snooze. And if anyone wants that band name “Blood-soaked Snooze” You’re free to take it. Since issue #20 is only accessible to readers who have been with this arc from the beginning, those are the only folks I can recommend this to. If you’re dead-set on seeing this story through to the end then fine. But if your interest has been waning, you can probably just flip through this in the comic shop. It’s a very quick read. The thing about Batman: The Dark Knight #20 isn’t that it makes me all that angry or disappointed, it’s that I can clearly see that the events that happen are intended to elicit great emotion, but I felt nothing.

SCORE: 4/10