Welcome back to yet another article dedicated to comics that challenge the medium better than most, ones that remind us what comic books ought to be. This week I want to highlight a graphic novel that released this summer, Dark Knight: A True Batman Story.
“I got beat.”- Paul Dini
That is how the story begins, with the simple phrase, “I got beat,” narrated by a hospitalized Paul. You soon learn that his skull had to be put back together after being shattered in an onslaught of brutal hits to the face — pieced back together with metal pins and a plate — a true event that clearly left a lasting impression on one of comics’ great writers.
As any would-be Harley Quinn fan should know, she was spawned out of his mind. He was one of the leading forces behind Batman: The Animated Series and has written many award-winning comics. Dark Knight: A True Batman Story is the retelling of a traumatic assault that actually happened to Mr. Dini. The event occurred while he was working at the WB animation studio, and although he touches upon his time there, the actual story unfolds inside his mind.
I love when creators turn to their art for meditative purposes. The sequential storytelling explores uncertainty, jumping from panel to panel, while the color usage and other visual elements emphasize symbolism in a way that isn’t possible with prose.
The flashbacks are done well, and add to the pacing. It bounces between Paul’s early days and then the aftermath of his injury while occasionally snapping back into the present, into his mind. Its nonlinear framing mirrors the way our thoughts are structured. Memories aren’t always neat, and telling the story of a traumatized mind should echo this sentiment. It felt like looking at a solider’s dealings with PTSD. It felt brave yet dark.
Readers will relate to Paul’s struggle. He wasn’t the most popular, and coped with being bullied by immersing himself in the land of comics. The idea that he used these stories to find the strength to continue his life resonates profoundly. Although we may not all have had a near-death experience, we all use these techniques to work through the crap that life throws our way.
And though it is dark and heartfelt, it’s also funny. My favorite line was delivered when Paul introduces Batman to the story. Paul: “Ah millionaire Bruce Wayne.” Bruce Wayne: “Actually it’s billionaire Bruce Wayne now, adjusting for inflation.” Honorary mention goes to the skit portraying his awkward attempt at winning a woman’s heart.
Eduardo Risso illustrated the novel. He is possibly most well known for his work on Jonny Double and 100 Bullets, as well as some Marvel titles. The images range from grimly dark to playfully colorful depending on Paul’s state of mind. It is a brilliant means of showcasing the mind’s eye. The style brings you back to the Adam West era at times, and it is fun to see the characters depicted that way — how Paul would have first encountered them.
All in all, this is a must read for comic lovers, especially folks living in LA. It will run you $22.99, but trust that it is well worth it; the novel is text-heavy with 129 pages of mind-blowing art. Until next time, all hands on deck! Let’s keep this Black Ship of ours sailing smoothly.