Batman: Blink is a collection of two arcs about Lee Hyland, a man born blind who nonetheles sees more than the unimpaired. Originally appearing in Legends of the Dark Knight in 2002 and 2003, these stories focus on nobody criminals and unimaginative crimes–facts that actually work in this book’s favor.
Inside the covers, you’ll find all three installments of Blink, from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #156-158; and all four installments of Don’t Blink, from #164-167 of the same title.
Our first arc, for which the entire volume is named, is a tightly-crafted detective thriller. Batman and Gordon (a Lieutenant, in this case) are working a series of grisly, connected killings when they catch a break in the form of Lee Hyland, a blind man with a special gift: he sees through the eyes (and hears through the ears) of the most recent person (or dog!) he’s touched, and he’s just touched the killer! With Hyland’s help, the Dark Knight brings his formidable investigative skills to bear on the case and brings the killer to justice.
I don’t know if Hyland’s “touch and see” ability is an original idea, but it’s fresh to me, and McDuffie uses it to great effect. It gives Batman the edge he needs in cracking the case, but it’s not a master key that unlocks all of the investigation’s secrets. The World’s Greatest Detective still has to act like it, and it is entertaining to see his progression from being puzzled about Hyland, to suspecting his gift, and then to finding a way to utilize that gift to solve the case.
Semeiks’ visual presentation of all of this is also nicely done, with Hyland’s glasses often serving as the frame for what he’s seeing through someone else’s eyes. Facial expressions are not technically outstanding, but they are good storytelling, and I feel for Hyland as he reacts to the horrible images he receives.
The layouts and breakdowns are fantastic, and Semeiks’ perspective on action shots makes for an energetic ride. Sinclair’s colors make everything feel like it’s late on a cloudy summer day; while it is far from bright and cheery, there is enough light to give us a better view of Batman that we get when he’s shrouded in darkness, and he looks good!
Batman’s look isn’t the only part of him that’s brighter in this story, either. McDuffie writes a Dark Knight who isn’t quite so dark, and Blink calls more attention to the goodness of Batman and Hyland than it does to the depravity of the criminals that they face. It’s not that darkness is completely absent–we are after all dealing with grisly serial killings; rather, it’s that the darkness does not dominate the plot. After reading lots of Batman stuff on the other end of the spectrum, it’s nice to take a break and see a version of Bruce that isn’t staggering under the weight of his crusade.
Not to be outshined, Hyland comes across as a genuinely likable guy. Though a small-time conman himself, he possesses a concern for others that prompts his involvement in a dangerous scenario at the cost of his own safety. His interactions with Gordon and Batman are quite entertaining, and McDuffie does a great job of conveying Bruce’s affection for him in subtle ways (as opposed to unsubtle ways, like crashing through a window to save his life).
In short, Blink is a near-perfect break from your typical Batman story, with sympathetic characters, fun detective work, and some really nice visuals. I would buy this trade for these three issues alone.
Our second arc picks up some time after Blink. Struggling to pin down the criminal responsible for a string of baby abductions, Batman resolves to seek the help of Lee Hyland, hoping that his gifted friend can provide a break in the case once again. But a rogue government agency has Hyland in captivity, taking advantage of–and enhancing–his ability for their own purposes. Can the Caped Crusader rescue Lee and crack the case? And will Hyland ever be safe from the arm of the state?
While still enjoyable, Don’t Blink is clearly the lesser story in this book. The art is still excellent, with the team of Semeiks, Green, and Sinclair back on pencils, inks, and colors, respectively. McDuffie’s less-burdened characterization of Batman still works well, too (although there is a strange departure at the very end, where McDuffie chooses being clever over being consistent with who Batman is). Where this arc stumbles is in its focus, or lack thereof. Blink drives toward one climactic conflict, and the body of that script moves steadily in that direction. Don’t Blink, on the other hand, has a bit too much going on for its own good. It simply feels like there are too many villains and locations in the space of these four issues. I think McDuffie could have made all of these things work a bit better by trimming some fat and keeping each subplot to a reasonable length. Instead, Batman’s rescue operation stretches beyond the end of the first issue, and its another eight pages before Bats and Hyland even talk about the babynapper case. The remaining plot lines are left with a lot less space to develop, and they definitely suffer for it.
All of that said, McDuffie’s plots are interesting, and his characters are as pleasing to read as they were in Blink. That goes a long way in carrying this arc, in spite of its shortcomings. Semeiks’ excellent panels of the Dark Knight don’t hurt, either.
There isn’t any bonus content in here, but the whole presentation of the volume is enough of a bonus for me. Brian Stelfreeze’s cover art–both for this trade and from the original issues–is fantastic, and plastered all over any page that isn’t part of the actual story. Nice fonts, creative color combinations, and spacious page layouts complete the package. This will look great on the shelf, and even the info pages manage to look fresh each time I open the book.
For twelve bucks on Amazon, you get a beautiful paperback with an excellent story inside. This is an easy decision.
Batman: Blink presents a less-dark Dark Knight, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. While staying far away from camp, McDuffie and Semeiks exhibit a clever humor that is absent from most of today’s Batman titles. Bruce’s friendship with Hyland and the story’s focus on people speak to Batman’s concern for the common and ordinary as much as for the outlandish and exceptional situations that we usually see him taking on. Blink is a fine detective story with dynamic, action-packed artwork, and an intriguing premise. Don’t Blink, plot imbalances aside, continues McDuffie’s strong character writing and Semeik’s instant-classic panels. While you aren’t likely to have the same emotional resonance with Bruce as you might in Scott Snyder’s Batman, and the story doesn’t so much end as it grinds to a screeching halt, Batman: Blink is nevertheless a great collection of Batman tales, and well worth adding to your library.