Magic has always existed on the periphery of Batman, even if he’s supposed to be the one with more “realistic” abilities and stories. His design and name itself evoke a gothic horror motif, rife with vampires, phantoms, and monsters. It took about 4 months after his debut for Batman to face his first supernatural foe in Detective Comics #31: Batman Versus the Vampire, Part One (retold in Matt Wagner’s excellent Batman and the Mad Monk miniseries). Batman: The Knight #7 shows a glimpse into how Bruce Wayne first encountered magic and how it affected his scientific worldview. It also explores his relationship with Zatanna, something that I always welcome in Batman stories.
The way this issue shows how Bruce exists in a world of magic and demons is really well done. He comes to Zatara the magician simply to learn slight of hand and escape techniques (similar to the Batman: The Animated Series episode Zatanna, which first introduced the idea that Zatara was one of Bruce’s teachers). When Bruce sees real magic for the first time, his first reaction is that it’s obviously fake. His second reaction is “how can I use this to further my mission.” It’s a very in-character way for someone like Bruce to look at the world. He’s lived his life studying science and reason, all in the name of becoming a more effective crime fighter. The idea of magic being real is absurd, but if it is, then it can be bent to his will like any other tool.
It’s exactly that attitude that the issue uses to explain why Batman doesn’t, or can’t, use magic. As Zatanna says, “you can’t just learn magic through force of will.” It requires a submission to its power and acceptance of your limitations. These are two things that Batman is not very good at. He’s always been a bit of a control freak, and it’s nice to see writers talk about his flaws in a way that still feels very respectful to the character.
Visually, the mystic elements of the story are really impressive. Plascencia’s pseudo-water colors give the arcane energy a vibrant style that makes it pop. The demons and magic look genuinely other-worldly, and are distinct from the rest of the art while not feeling out of place. I especially like the touch of all the mouths covering the demon’s head.
Unfortunately the rest of the art is pretty monotonous in comparison. In previous issues I’ve praised the way that Di Giandomenico uses shadows to create a dramatic atmosphere, but here he does it simply too much. Almost every other panel has a character’s face half obscured in darkness or Kirk-style lighting where there’s a close up of their face with only their eyes illuminated. When every scene has these serious, dramatic moments multiple times in a row, it really loses its effect and even starts to border on the absurd.
The art is in part a reflection of the writing. The tone of the story quickly becomes very grim and somber and rarely lets up. The default reaction to almost everything is depression or stone-faced determination. There’s nothing wrong with a story with a serious tone, but you can’t just have everyone at the same level all the time.
The biggest relief from the constant grimness is Zatanna. She has a great dynamic with Bruce, refusing to let herself get dragged down into his brooding and acting as a sanity check when he gets lost in his own head. You can tell that these two have known each other since childhood with the way that she can so easily break through the barriers that Bruce constructs to shut himself off from the world. They make a great team with their wildly different perspectives and it’s always enjoyable to see them together.
That is not to say that only Bruce and Zatanna’s dynamic is well done in this story. When it’s not overly steeped in melancholy, Bruce and Zatara have some great moments as well. The way Zatara reaches out to Bruce in the beginning because he hopes to see a new apprentice in him after his daughter left is tragic, especially with the implication that he’s turned to alcohol in her absence. There’s also a touching moment between the two of them at the very end which I won’t spoil. I wish there were more time to explore the relationships between Bruce, Zatara, and Zatanna. I feel like there is enough potential there to get an entire miniseries out of it.
- The supernatural is an aspect of Batman that you enjoy
- You’re a Zatanna fan
- You want to see Batman have his worldview challenged
Batman: The Knight #7 is a great look into Bruce’s first exposure to the world of magic, and his relationship with Zatanna. The book uses magic as a way of examining Bruce’s perspective on the world, and how it has left him intractable to anything that he can’t control. This is the kind of story that I’ve been wanting from this series: a character study framed in the context of learning something new about Bruce’s life. Aside from a somewhat repetitive tone and art in some parts, this is an excellent origin story.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided a copy of this issue for the purpose of this review.