Legends of the Dark Knight #12 features 2 interesting stories that take quite a few risks (something I’d like to see more of from these out-of-continuity tales) and I highly recommend you check them out, but they are both flawed by their endings. One has an ending I just didn’t like and the other, well, doesn’t end. Issue #12 marks the first time that we’ve had a comic in this series that leaves us with a “to be continued” which is a blemish on one of the finest aspects of this title– its friendliness to new readers. So next month I’ll have to remember to take a note of that. But for now, let’s just talk about issue #12 itself:
Written and illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque
Colors by Dave McCaig
The renowned artist and co-creator of American Vampire provides the artwork and makes his DC writing debut with this issue (he wrote a short story featured in the American Vampire Anthology that was quite good, but this Batman story came out digitally long beforehand) and I really, really enjoyed it. Albuquerque’s artwork is phenomenal and you can tell that he must have really been eager to draw some straight-up Batman vs. Arkham rogues action because he holds nothing back here. Let’s face it, even though he’s illustrated a number of backup stories in Scott Snyder’s Batman he’s never actually had the chance to draw the Dark Knight having a real adventure. Heck, with those backup tales being about Alfred’s dad and Bruce’s training days Albuquerque hasn’t had the opportunity to draw our hero in the cape and cowl outside of a variant cover or two. But here? Here he let’s it all out and the result is something quite breathtaking.
As for the story, it definitely appears that Albuquerque drew inspiration from both The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns, which if you’re going to pay homage or use a Batman story as a foundation to build off of then those make a pretty good start seeing as how their regarded as two of the greatest Batman stories of all time. The Killing Joke is the most obvious with the opening pages taking place at an abandoned amusement park where we even see Batman looking at his reflection in the same “Laughing Clown” machine from Alan Moore’s classic tale. And if that reference wasn’t clear enough for you we also get an appearance by the S&M little people that Joker used as henchmen in that seminal story (man, those were some creepy henchmen). But the Killing Joke homage ends soon after that and we’re treated to Albuquerque’s unique designs for all the major Batman villains (brilliantly colored by McCaig) before the story totally shifts gears into The Dark Knight Returns mode.
It turns out that what we had seen was all a dream
Return of Batman: Part One
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Riccardo Burchielli
Colors Wendy Broome
You want even more of a Dark Knight Returns vibe? How about “Return of Batman”? Writer Peter Milligan captures a similar narrative style by using cut-aways to talking heads on television providing necessary exposition and using introspective thought boxes that detail Batman’s thought process as he takes down henchmen with various gadgets very much like the Gotham Towers scene from Miller’s work. But that’s really where the similarities end (besides the title, anyway) and we instead dive into a concept that’s been batted around here in reviews and various discussions in the comments section at the bottom of those reviews: 1) Has the Batman character grown too dependent on technology? 2) Even with all his training, how long could Batman’s campaign last if he didn’t have the Wayne billions?
Peter Milligan puts an enormous emphasis on Batman’s tech in the opening pages of this story so much so that it borders on parody as Batman even engages a forcefield that protects him as he flies an updated version of the batwing that looks more like a hang-glider with additional jet engines and holographic controls. We see how dependent Batman is on his gadgets all while cutting back and forth to a news report on the falling stock of Wayne Enterprises and interruptions from Alfred who stresses out expensive everything is. As the story continues the inevitable happens and Bruce runs out of money and must go back to basics.
This isn’t called the “Return of Batman” because he retired, but because Mulligan is offering a commentary on key aspects of the character that have been lost in the 21st century due to giant technological advances in our own world and a need to make it look like Bruce has access to stuff we can’t even dream of. As a result we now have a Batman who often times doesn’t even attempt to dodge a bullet and can solve a crime simply by asking Alfred to Google something for him or he’ll drop a piece of evidence into his gauntlet and a built-in computer does all the hard science work for the world’s greatest detective. By losing his cash we see a Batman who must work on a budget. The problem is that we don’t get to see much of that aspect of the story because it wraps up with a “to be continued” unfortunately.
There are a number of elements that I didn’t care for in this issue, but those two ideas that are at the heart of this story are strong enough that I found it easier to overlook many of the flaws. As it stands Milligan is executing this idea well, but with this only being half the story we’ll need to wait another month to pass full judgment (or you could go ahead and buy it digitally at comixology). The flaws I mention of course are the rather touch-and-go artwork which falters most during action scenes, an overly dismissive and cocky Bruce Wayne whose voice just never felt quite right, and our villain had some strange henchmen and even a bizarre talking parrot that I found to be out of place in this story.
- You like bat-gadgets
- You’re a fan of the classics The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns
- You’re up for a Ra’s Al Ghul story
- You love the art of Rafael Albuquerque
- You’re prepared to buy issue #13 to finish Milligan’s story
- You’re up for some out-of-continuity stories that take risks
All in all I think that despite their flaws these are two creative and thought provoking stories. The artwork by Rafael Albuquerque will be more than enough reason for many to pick this comic up.