Much as I loved The Long Halloween, I’ve always thought Dark Victory a slightly stronger piece of work…
The reasons for this are numerous and in some part elaborated below, but as is often the case, the more two people collaborate, the more natural and effortless that partnership becomes. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale had both improved in their respective crafts and I think it’s pretty obvious in nearly every aspect of this story. There’s also the sequel factor to consider, which The Dark Knight reveled in, much like earlier comic adaptations Spider-Man 2 and X2. With the foundation completely set, the creators were free to explore and define the characters and the consequences of their interactions, without all that origin type stuff hanging around their necks. There’s a similar vibe running through this, with every chapter both standing on and enriching the material that came before it. The story couldn’t exist without Long Halloween, but because of it, it’s also a much better story.
Robin is in this one too, and while I am quite partial to Tim Drake, I have to cop to a delightful fanboy response to the whole idea of the character. Very glad that Loeb was able to convince Sale that drawing Robin would be something interesting for him, as the contrast between the young acrobat and Sale’s hulking Batman makes for some fantastic visuals.
Okay, enough intro, you know the deal with these by now. Please join me in discussing the obvious and inherent quality of Batman: Dark Victory. Once again from the top…
Alone- (Chapter One, War)
And this is the prevailing theme of this story—the powerful and often transformative effect of overpowering loneliness. As effective and evocative as the opening shot of the preceding volume, this image of a young, terrified Bruce Wayne in the middle of his worst nightmare is even more so. The ink-wash technique works brilliantly here, and this is exactly what I mean when saying that Sale’s art improved greatly between series. The composition, the storytelling, the figure work—I mean, it’s all just better, and it’s obvious from the first scene.
Loeb takes full advantage of the heartbreaking fall of Harvey Dent, with Batman reacting to it the way he reacts to almost everything. Yes, this means isolation and intense brooding, which is only good for pushing people away, which obviously is his intent. Before he let others participate in his one man war against crime, whether it was Jim Gordon, the aforementioned Dent, and even Catwoman to a lesser extent, but that time seems long gone. Losing Harvey has played into all of Bruce’s worst fears, and naturally, he blames himself for not being fast enough, smart enough, or strong enough to save his friend either physically or psychologically. And I probably said this before, but a guilty Batman will always be the most interesting one to read about, his exaggerated sense of responsibility often becoming its own separate character.
This manifests itself throughout the entire mini, starting with a little scene between him and Gordon in the zero issue, but the one in this chapter, on the rooftop of police headquarters, escalates things. Just the way Batman stands is different here, perched on the edge of the building, maintaining a distance from Gordon, like that’s the only real way to keep him safe. When Jim asks what his plans are and all he can do in response is to melt into the shadows, it’s a sad moment really, especially once Gordon says, “I know you’re hurting. Harvey Dent was my friend, too.” It’s not often you can inject this level of blatant sentiment into a Batman comic, but it works great in this instance. And yes, sets the tone for everything that comes after.
His Girl- (Chapter Five, Love)
Bruce Wayne has been playin’ with the emotions of Selina Kyle (both in and out of costume) for quite a long time, and finally, it comes back to bite him in the ass. His inability to commit or even make a real move leaves him standing in an empty brownstone reading a Dear John letter. This relationship was a huge aspect of the first story, so to have this taken away from Bruce, even though it’s from the result of his own inactions, only hammers home what Dark Victory is truly about…the crushing and painful loneliness. Even though it’s really all his fault, we still feel sorry for him.
One of the other huge sub-plots is also answered when we learn the identity of Porter’s “special friend.” This could’ve just been a nice cliffhanger moment, but Loeb sells it entirely with a very plausible and cool explanation delivered down the line. But this is another obvious clue that Dent is ultimately runnin’ the show, and that again Batman and Gordon are hopelessly compromised, though they haven’t even the slightest clue.
Harvey Dent is the Hangman Obviously- (Chapter Seven, Fools)
Once again, the April Fool’s issue is one of the best chapters. It is only surpassed by the gloriousness of chapter nine, but that’s me skipping ahead. We open with a bunch of cops shooting at Batman through a cloud of tear gas, and close with an ominous bit of foreshadowing concerning a familiar family of circus acrobats. Between that there are a number of great bits, most of it driven by Two-Face’s mock trial to discover the identity of the Hangman, who everyone is fairly convinced is actually him. Julian Day got some good stuff in The Long Halloween, so it was cool to see him verbally sparring with Dent, before having a much larger role revealed near the close. Extra cool to have him nearly out Gilda as Holiday, before Harvey stops him by shoving a gun in his face. Quick cut to the Joker, letting out a brief laugh, as if he’d figured it out too.
Meanwhile, Batman is trying to answer the question by hitting things with a sledgehammer, doing his very best Houdini impression, and climbing down chimneys. And by being increasingly hardheaded, before Alfred wisely sets him straight. This bring April Fool’s Day, the story would be incomplete without a failed murder attempt, but having the target be Jim Gordon, and having Harvey spoil it was another clever turn. Once these three men met on this very same rooftop and pledged to clean up Gotham together, and now Dent threatens to have Gordon killed by snipers if Batman attempts to follow him. Only good thing is that it marks a slight turning point for Batman, as from this moment he slowly starts to let people back in, which paves the way for the following development.
Then and Now- (Chapter Nine, Orphans)
The death of Dick Grayson’s parents (much like the death of Bruce’s) has been depicted in any number of ways over the years, from the intensely poignant (Batman: The Animated Series) to the intensely absurd (Batman Forever). Do you even need to guess where Sale’s version falls along the spectrum? There isn’t a word of text until page six and there’s a good reason—in five pages, Sale manages to convey every emotion you’d imagine in this situation, from both Bruce and Dick. The moments he chooses to hold on are simply heartbreaking, until you really look at the brilliant compositions and realize they’re a little bit gorgeous as well.
The scene in the middle easily makes this my favorite issue of the series as we learn the difference between the two traumatized youths is virtually non-existent. Loeb and Sale cut back and forth as Alfred has an almost identical conversation with the young boys, with one very critical alteration at its close. The coolest thing to me about this sequence is its actual layout, which enables you to read the scene a couple different ways that all preserve the narrative. The shot of a young Bruce and Dick staring at each other in a mirror is as haunting as the cover Sale laced this chapter with. Just fantastic stuff all around.
The Trust- (Chapter Eleven, Passion)
Early on in the series, Bruce tells Alfred that before Harvey had acid thrown into his face, he was considering telling him everything, and that he believes if he had, Dent might not have gone off the deep end. Since then he’s been pummeled by the notion that he’ll never be able to accept help in this endless quest, so telling the truth to Grayson is a huge, huge deal, and it feels real and worth it, after almost a dozen issues of clinging to the shadows. It’s a little thing, but I also thought Loeb did a great job rationalizing how Batman ended up putting a young boy in the path of automatic weapons and costumed psychos. The original deal was that Bruce would help Dick seek justice against the man responsible for his parents’ deaths and that would be that. Which seems like something he’d do, given his history, but the path from young avenger to faithful sidekick becomes a little shorter when injecting this element. Cool as it might be, it still doesn’t make sense…but it does seem a bit more plausible played this way.
Not Just Brothers- (Chapters Twelve and Thirteen, Revenge and Peace)
And now the reveals pile up at a frightening pace. Janice Porter takes two to the head. Batman finds a college yearbook that has frightening implications for Jim Gordon. Alberto Falcone finds himself in The Godfather, before learning just how pissed the Calendar Man is about being forgotten. Dick Grayson solves the case by deciphering the original clue as “Nine of you are safe.” Catwoman comes to the rescue and with a vital clue about a missing plastic surgeon. The five families are taken out in brutal fashion. Sofia Gigante smothers her brother with a pillow. Detective Wilcox thought they had a deal. Sofia shows Harvey Dent that she can still walk…and hang people apparently.
Loeb handles the mysteries a little differently here, preferring not to focus on one or two major plot twists, but instead packing the story with a ton of cool little sub-plots and questions we’ll want answered. Then he hits a button and everything that’s been stacking up together falls like dominos, and even more importantly, every one of the revelations makes sense and was foreshadowed appropriately. Whenever a story is building to this kind of massive unmasking, you always stand the risk of pulling the curtain back and leaving the audience feeling cheated, but Loeb gave us the answers to most of this stuff beforehand.
Wilcox is the one that suggests the Falcone’s have infiltrated Gordon’s shadow unit. It only makes sense that Porter had been coordinating things with Dent, since Loeb revealed their relationship back in the first couple months. Alberto and Julian have been rivals since the young Falcone stole the Calendar Man’s holiday gimmick. We just assumed that Batman read that first clue correctly. And the Joker is the first to suggest that Sofia is pulling a Keyser Soze. But these details make the mystery a more honest affair for the audience, which was a valid criticism of Halloween. Everything is just much more complete in this one, which you know, is kinda the definition of “better” I mentioned above.
Batman and Robin- (Chapter Thirteen, Peace)
Greatness. I mean, once you get past the fact that Harvey’s twisted plot was really all about completing the mission he, Gordon, and Batman agreed to on that rooftop, or the eventual reconciliation between two friends on that same roof, you have the final two pages, which are just undeniably cool and bring the entire story full circle. Dope, dope image to end things on as another modern classic comes to a close.
Chapter Nine, Orphans
Chapter Seven, Fools
Chapter Thirteen, Peace
Chapter Twelve, Revenge
Chapter One, War
Batman: Dark Victory, by Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, and Gregory Wright—this is why I love comics.
Originally published as Ambidextrous 279 on Newsarama.com