Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight was originally launched in 1989 to attract new readers flooding into comic shops after the release of Tim Burton’s BATMAN. The comic picked up where Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One left off and featured rotating creative teams that told short stories or 5-issue long arcs (my personal favorite being the one titled “Prey” that had Hugo Strange as the main villain). As you can imagine the stories centered around a Bruce Wayne at the beginning of his crime fighting career but as years passed new stories were being told in the present or even Batman’s distant future. It was an anything-goes comic that paid little mind to the goings-on of the continuity of the mainstream titles and instead focused on telling great stories that anyone could pick up and enjoy.
In 2007, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight was canceled to make way for the very similar Batman: Confidential. The clocks were wound back to Batman’s early days yet again and a fresh batch of rotating creative teams took a stab at writing and drawing the Caped Crusader. However, Batman: Confidential never made it past its 54th issue and was canceled in 2011. But with the growing popularity of digital-first comic books, DC decided to revive Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight in 2012 only this time they weren’t as dead-set on telling stories about a younger, inexperienced Batman. It was “anything-goes” yet again and they made sure to bring in big names like LOST creator Damon Lindelof and Sweet Tooth’s Jeff Lemire for the first issues. Each week a new 10-page story (digital pages, which are half of a traditional printed page) would go on sale for $1 and then an entire month’s worth of pages would be printed on paper for the local comic shop to sell.
It’s been going great in my opinion and Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight has been one of my most favorite comics to buy. It’s just so dependable in terms of quality and so much fun to read because I never quite know what to expect with different talent contributing to the series every issue. Unfortunately, DC has decided to discontinue the printed version for the time being and revert back to a digital-only release. After October there will be no more individual issues and the only printed copies of Legends of the Dark Knight will be TPB collections like the one this very review is about. Speaking of which…
I can’t be the only one who was surprised to find this didn’t get the hardcover treatment. I was also surprised they didn’t post more blurbs of critical acclaim on the front or back cover since it’s been such a well-received series. What the back cover does have though is “THE TRUTH BEHIND THE LEGEND” which I’m not sure what they mean by that. It’s a collection of terrific out-of-continuity stories but “the truth behind the legend”? Not really.
Ethan Van Sciver’s cover with Batman before a watchtower looks great, but what Ethan Van Sciver Batman image doesn’t look amazing? It’s a shame he’s not illustrating Batman: The Dark Knight right now (and didn’t get to complete the Mad Hatter arc).
Volume 1 of Legends of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight features the first 5 printed issues or the first 15 digital issues, however you prefer to look at it. Here’s a rundown of the stories included and my thoughts on them.
Damon Lindelof and Jeff Lemire
A young Bruce Wayne has made such an impact on Gotham that he’s beginning to think he has no weaknesses, but on the night of our tale he discovers how wrong he truly is. This is a great short story, but Jeff Lemire’s artwork, while great for his own work like Trillium and Sweet Tooth is far from how we usually see Batman’s world depicted so the artistic quality of this one will divide readers. I personally liked Lemire’s different approach and it’s great to see colorist Jose Villarubia (Batman: Year 100) bringing life to another Batman adventure.
Jonathan Larsen and J.G. Jones
If the scraggly look of Lemire’s pencils wasn’t for you then I think you’re going to love what J.G. Jones does with this awesome short-story by Jonathan Larsen. This is a personal favorite of mine. It shows us Batman all alone in the Justice League Watchtower when Amazo, one of the most formidable villains in the DC Universe shows up. If you love a Batman story in which he proves how a normal human without super powers can do incredible things than you’re really going to dig this. It has non-linear storytelling, great action, it shows off Batman’s intellect, and there’s even a reference to Adam West’s Batman!
Tom Taylor and Nicola Scott
Batman’s detective skills are so great that he and Robin manage to piece together a crime before it even happens. Here we see them intervene to show a would-be crook the error of his ways. It’s short, sweet, and features Dick Grayson as the Boy Wonder.
B. Clay Moore and Ben Templesmith
This is a much longer story that took up an entire printed issue. Illustrated by the artist behind Ten Grand, “Crisis in Identity” has a painted look that really stands out in this collection. It also has a story that feels like it could’ve come out of Batman: The Animated Series, that is if the censors ever allowed this much blood. Killer Croc plays a large part and things get a bit messy when a growing number of fake Batman turn up on Croc’s doorstep just in time for dinner.
Steve Niles and Trevor Hairsine
Whereas the previous story was a great mystery this one is much more sentimental. The writer of Thirty Days of Night delivers a very touching story about a Batman who needs to know that he is making a difference in this world. “Letters to Batman” is a love letter to the character itself.
T.J. Fixman and Christopher Mitten
You won’t read this one the same way the second time! At first it seemed like a bit of a misstep since it featured the Joker yet again and was about a new hero in Gotham but there are some terrific twists and turns here as we see this unseasoned hero try to prevent a band of henchmen from reclaiming a captured Clown Prince of Crime.
Andrew Dabb and Giorgio Pontrelli
It’s a fun albeit predictable concept having the filming of a Batman movie interrupted by real-life villains, but it’s the Joker again and if you’re counting that’s 5 stories in a row. Thankfully, this is the last we see of that Cheshire grin in this collection.
Jonathan Larsen and Tan Eng Huat
I still find myself on the fence about this one. I love the detective work. It’s a rich mystery involving the abduction of epileptic children and I liked the surprise villain’s motivation it’s just that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to totally get behind what it was he was trying to do. You can click the title of this story to see my more detailed thoughts on this one.
Joshua Hale Fialkov and Phil Hester
Batman actually takes a backseat in this tale about one of DC’s oldest heroes, Slam Bradley, who even pre-dates Batman. Slam was the hero in the very first issue of Detective Comics back in 1937 so it was cool to see him on the case yet again and interacting with other beloved detectives like Harvey Bullock. However, I’m not sure if it was the right story to end this graphic novel on since the final page teases us as if there is another chapter yet to come when in fact it’s been over a year and no follow-up has been written. This may cause confusion when readers pick up Volume 2 hoping to find out what happened to Slam.
Since the original covers were not used as chapter breaks throughout the trade paperback they were instead saved for last in a cover gallery that also includes artist Stephen Platt’s variant for issue #1. It’s nice to actually see the covers, but it’s still pretty disappointing bonus material when you consider all of the amazing talent that contributed to this book. It would’ve been great to have seen some rough sketches by the artists, scripts from the writers, or better yet a few letters or essays that offer some insight into the creative process.
Value: FULL PRICE!
$14.99 is a steal for this anthology and if you can find it for even cheaper online then you should absolutely jump at the chance. This one has a very high re-read value and all of your friends will be begging to borrow it and if they don’t– make them read it!
- New material that takes place outside of the New 52 is of interest to you
- You’re a casual fan (ANYONE can pick this up and enjoy)
- You have fond memories of the original Legends of the Dark Knight series
- You crave variety
It’s a really fantastic collection filled with stories you’ll want to read again and again. A must read for new and long-time Batman fans.