BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT #1
What did the
Art by DAVID FINCH and RICHARD FRIEND
Cover by DAVID FINCH
Size: 32 pages
Bruce Wayne dressed in a suit and making a generic speech at a podium.
Playboy Bruce Wayne casually chatting up an attractive woman at a party.
Bruce talking to Alfred in predicable ways about “what’s going on”.
Batman talking to police.
A generic “breakout in Arkham” in which several otherwise formidable foes are taken care of by Batman in only a few pages.
All of these very, very familiar elements are included in Batman: The Dark Knight #1. They were also included in last week’s Batman #1. Most readers don’t like them here in B:TDK #1, but everyone loved them in Batman #1. Why? Because everyone’s trained to praise Scott Snyder without really paying attention to how unoriginal and derivative a lot of his plot elements are. The point of this review, which will be as much about Batman #1 as it will be about B:TDK #1, is to compare the two comics and reveal them as much more similar (in content and in quality) than most readers realize.
That’s not to say that B:TDK #1 and Batman #1 are on the exact same level. Batman #1 is clearly a better comic. But the difference, the margin of quality between the two is much smaller than most readers, caught up in the group-think praise of the new “it guy” writer, have acknowledged.
And for all the crap that David Finch has gotten for his writing, he’s still using the exactly same sorts of concepts that Snyder’s using. So in a sense, in many ways, Snyder is just as uncreative and unoriginal as Finch. In B:TDK #1 Finch (assisted by Paul Jenkins) even uses an opening monologue that bleeds into Bruce Wayne’s speech before a crowd–which is nearly the EXACT SAME technique that Snyder used last week. The only difference is that in Snyder’s comic the text boxes that seem to be an opening monologue, from Batman to the reader, are revealed as being part of a speech Bruce Wayne is giving to a crowd. In Finch and Jenkins’ book, the transition is only thematic: Batman has an inner monologue about “fear”, and then Bruce Wayne gives a speech that mentions “fear”. While Snyder’s dialogue may be slicker and more sophisticated, there is a problem in that the casual tone of the opening text boxes in Batman #1 did not match at all the formal style of Bruce’s speech: when you really think about it, the conflicting styles just don’t jive when you realize that the opening text-box monologue, extremely casual and wistful and meandering, is supposed to be the start of what Bruce is saying to the people at the party–but Bruce’s speech then is much more hopeful and to-the-point. On the other hand, Finch & Jenkins attempt no such layering in their script. It’s just: grim’n’gritty Batman monologue, followed by a routine Bruce Wayne speech before an admiring crowd. It’s much simpler, and somewhat boring, but it doesn’t have the pseudo-intellectual stylings of what Snyder attempted.
Of course, if you’re a reader who doesn’t really think about things deeply at all, then you won’t care about such things; you’ll just be endlessly impressed on a page-by-page basis by writing that isn’t really as deep, as sensical or as well thought-out as it pretends to be. And then afterwords you can forget about it. Many of the people who gave Batman #1 “five stars” for writing–they probably don’t even remember much of what actually happened in that issue. They’ve had a WHOLE week to be bombarded by other comics they can give 4 or 5 stars to…and then promptly forget all the details of. They give something five stars, but they don’t really read it closely, nor, after a few days, do they remember much about what they’ve read. This is simply what I’ve noticed after being on this website and listening to a lot of comic podcasts: the people who tend to praise things to the heavens seem to be about instant gratification, and they do not really retain much of what they read.
The art in B:TDK #1 is also only worse than that of Batman #1 by DEGREE, not by type. Finch is the same sort of artist that Capullo is; they belong in the same artistic “family”. Capullo is more refined, that’s all. Last week I heard a lot of praise for Capullo’s art from people who otherwise never talked about it. If “it guy” Snyder’s name wasn’t on the cover, I guarantee you that a lot of those readers and reviewers wouldn’t’ve been so preconditioned to like the art as much as they said they did. Personally, I’ve always liked Capullo’s art. And I’ve never liked Finch’s art. But I can see that the difference between the two artists is only a matter of degree–a somewhat modest degree, when you really examine it. And, I hate to say it, but a lot of this recent Capullo praise comes off as phony to me. As does the recent Finch hate. You guys were fine with Finch when he was doing Brightest Day covers–because at that point you guys were enthralled with “it guy” Geoff Johns. And you guys were fine with Finch when he drew early issues of New Avengers volume 1–because you guys were/are enthralled by “it guy” Brain Bendis.
So, basically, yeah, I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy going on. (It is the worst thing in the world? Of course not. But no one else is pointing it out, so I will.) In the last month I’ve read reviews and listened to podcasts in which first Tony Daniel and now David Finch have been taken to task for what are perceived to be awful Batman monologues. And yet Scott Snyder gets a pass for that incredibly tedious “Gotham is…” motif? Sure, it is better than what Finch and Daniel did, but it’s not THAT much better. (It’s certainly not so much of a difference that Snyder deserves 5 stars while Daniel and Finch deserve 1 or 2 stars; I think Daniel and Finch warrant about 2 stars, whereas Snyder deserves 3.) The point of all of those framing techniques is just to establish a sense of place within Gotham and, moreover, to give a bit of an insight into Bruce’s feelings about Gotham. We’ve seen it tons of times. Finch and Daniel did “average” jobs at it. Snyder did a slightly better job, but certainly not an excellent job, especially not when you try to reconcile the spirit of the seeming inner monologue with Bruce’s speech. You can’t reconcile it. It’s simply a flaw in the writing. Snyder attempted too much and couldn’t pull it off. The spirit of the writing in the text boxes does not match Bruce’s speech. It’s an objective flaw. The only readers who wouldn’t acknowledge that are those who simply can’t read closely and who forget half of what they read on one page by the time they’re on the next page. This inability to put things in context, to remember what you read on one page and see if it fits with what’s on the next page, is a growing concern for anyone who cares about human beings’ ability to, um, THINK, as opposed to human being’s propensity to be endlessly impressed by whatever’s on the page, no matter how incongruous or unoriginal it is, simply because the internet hyped them up and told them to LOOOOOOVE what they’re looking at no matter what.
Twenty years ago, it would have been a book like B:TDK #1 that brought in literally hundreds of thousands of new readers. Today, in 2011, this comic will be criticized mercilessly on the internet, even though it could possibly appeal to more younger readers than Snyder’s writing would. Meanwhile, the internet will praise Snyder because the group-think mentality causes them to overrate him. What do I mean by “overrate” in this sense? I mean that people are overlooking all of the mediocre commonalities that Snyder actually does share with the David Finches and Tony Daniels of the world.
Most ironic of all, many pundits will look at the different Batman books currently being published, and they will say: “Well, something different for everyone.” What they don’t realize is that the books are much more similar (in their stock motifs, in their predictability, in their lack of innovation) than they would ever admit. Because admitting this, realizing this, would cause them to lose their illusions about the greatness of the “it guy” creators they enjoy fawning over so blindly and uncritically.
Art: 2 - Average