Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Batman: The Dark Knight vol. 2 by Gregg Hurwitz & David Finch

I finished the first volume of The Dark Knight series earlier this month, which was misleadingly entitled Knight Terrors penned by David Jenkins. I felt good about the fact that I decided to review it as a volume and not as individual issues because the first nine collected in Knight Terrors weren't exactly top-shelf quality.

The most memorable moments of that book were also its most horrendously absurd particularly the creation of the White Rabbit lady who I disliked with fervor, something that even rivals my unending hate towards the Joker's Daughter. Pleasantly enough, this sophomore collection has a different writer (Gregg Hurwitz) though it's still illustrated by the same artist from the previous volume, the fabulous David Finch whose artwork is simply extraordinary. I think he remains as my favorite part of The Dark Knight title. Colorist Sonia Oback also helped in making every illustration shine for this volume which then in turn helped me enjoy what Hurwitz offered in the story department which was, in many ways, an improvement of Jenkins' run. Weirdly enough, there is no kind of connection between their works for this title so you can pick this up even without reading Knight Terrors.

I think that Gregg Hurwitz' Cycle of Violence was a polarizing collection, most notably because I sincerely believe that even though it has many potentials to become a fully-realized character-driven emotional story, the delivery and ultimate conclusion were a tad disappointing. In summary, this is a five-issued story arc concerning Jonathan Crane a.k.a the Scarecrow and his twisted plans involving the abduction and torment of young children in order to concoct and perfect his new brand of fear toxin. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is dating a Ukrainian pianist named Natalya who has expressed her disapproval over the fact that he is such an emotionally unavailable dud. But in spite of the obvious signs that this is a man who will never let her in, Natalya still wants their relationship to mean more than just keeping up appearances and the occasional shag. I didn't mind this angle of Bruce's story for this volume because I'm honestly still hangover from the unfulfilled and unresolved character arc about Silver St. Cloud from Len Wein's Strange Apparitions comics. I can't help but think about her while I was reading Natalya though this Ukrainian girlfriend is not as interesting of a character as Silver was. But Bruce's love life is not a subplot you will ever concern yourself with. The only reason I cared a bit was because I merely tried to draw parallels between this and that of Silver St. Cloud, but I was grasping at the straws about this one.

Still, this relationship drama does serve a real purpose to the plot, even if it's only to make some hollow connections regarding Bruce's inability to form healthy relationships with women he's romantically involved, and the extent of the childhood trauma he suffered. The zero issue included in this volume explored the ways he tried to cope from his parents' random deaths at the hands of the mugger Joe Chill whom he confronts at the end of that issue. It's a classic tale we all know as Bat-fans, but the zero issue's take lacked any kind of new insight to this aspect of Bruce's tormented psyche. There will be many times when reading this volume that you'd wonder why you even bother but, unlike Knight Terrors, you get the sense that Hurwitz is trying to make you at least care about his characters from the way he writes them, often lavishly examining the childhood traumas incurred by Bruce and Jonathan which turned them into creatures drawn to the darkness as Batman and the Scarecrow respectively. There is a bit of indulgence and excess in how grim and tragic the story was told that it takes me aback half the time while reading.

I think Hurwitz is trying to put more emotional weight in his issues for The Dark Knight which is something I can applaud him for because previous writer Jenkins didn't even bother. However, the transition from Jenkins' loud yet empty showmanship of action-packed and needlessly out-of-character interactions to this serious and gritty yet ultimately unsatisfying psychoanalysis concerning two deeply conflicted men can be the most jarring experience you will ever had as a Bat-fan or casual comic book reader. Overall, I liked and disliked both volumes for varied reasons. The only thing they have in common is the concept (and flimsy deconstruction) of FEAR. Jenkins' angle was something more entertaining than Hurwitz' whose self-aware and verbose contemplations of how fear damages people can get tediously sentimental. I like my Batman stories emotionally resonant and character-driven but what Hurwitz offered is a bit much for me, I'm afraid. Let me give you some panels that I did like:

The finale issue #15 has the big confrontation which was resolved in the most depressingly hilarious manner that I almost wanted to laugh and cry all at once. That was the only reason why this volume is receiving the same rating as Jenkins'. That wrap-up did not work for me in any level. It was just so absurd and weird! Still, Scarecrow's send-off was handled pretty much as what you could expect. Villains will never get happy endings and it really is just a cycle of violence for them. I never really bought Hurwitz' interpretation of the Scarecrow a hundred percent because I felt like he was, er, "wussified'. Hurwitz presented a Scarecrow who is just a scared young boy underneath his sewed-up lips (ugh, what is up with Bat-villains mutilating themselves lately? Everyone's an aspiring Victor Zsasz). I did like the fact that one of the children he kidnaps has developed Stockholm Syndrome for him and tries to justify his actions even after she was recovered by the police; it was pitiful. Small father-son moments between Bruce and Damian were also great. David Finch's art is the real main attraction for The Dark Knight series, nevertheless. I can still recommend this volume but you better prepare yourself for its very dark content that has a tendency to become emo-ish in some aspects.


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