Today, Shelby and Drew are discussing Batman: The Dark Knight 9, originally released May 23rd, 2012. This issue is part of the Night of the Owls crossover event. Click here for complete NotO coverage.
Shelby: I’m not a regular reader of Dark Knight; like Catwoman I just picked it up for our Night of the Owls coverage. My esteemed colleague Patrick told me that I didn’t need to bother reading issues 1-8 because a) Issue 9 is so insulated from the rest of the story it’s basically a one-off, and b) Issues 1-8 really are not very good. Since I don’t like people telling me what to do, I read all nine issues anyway, and Patrick was completely and totally right on both points.
Issue 9 is told from the view point of Elton Carver (possibly Carver Elton, I’m not really sure), the Talon sent to kill Lincoln March. Carver spends about 90% of his inner monologue contemplating how his skills have waned, and he’s too old for this shit. He had a rough childhood in the circus; he was taught to get over fear by being locked in a burning camper. He worked as a Talon for 26 years before being retired, only to be woken up for the big night on the town. He finds March, and right away starts complaining about how crappy he (Carver) is at killing people, and then March shoots him. Carver dies, but then wakes up again, because that’s what Talons do. He and Batman scuffle, Batman throws him off the building, and we are left with Carver looking corpsified and gross, wandering through the sewers.
This issue is…strange. It wasn’t terrible, in fact I’d go so far as to say it was fine. Telling the story solely from the POV of the Talon was interesting, and not something I’ve seen yet in the Night of the Owls. We got a little back story of Carver: just enough to give us an idea of his character, but not so much as to overburden us with details of a character we’ll probably never see again. The voice guest writer Judd Winick crafted for Carver is a little hokey at times, but nothing outrageous.
The weirdness with this issue starts to set in when you consider how little it has to do with the universe David Finch has crafted in the rest of Dark Knight. Honestly, it’s probably a good thing; I liked this issue a lot better before I read the first 8 issues and saw the bare handful of commonalities between those 8 and this issue. One unifying thread is Finch’s obsession with fear.
Finch has apparently decided that every character in this series will be motivated by and constantly talk about fear, and that is a central theme in this issue as well. According to Finch, fear is a cannibal, its ahead of you and behind you at the same time, you are its creator and its parent. That is all from the first page of the first issue only. Finch’s use of fear as a theme is so overwrought and heavy-handed it is an unrealistic distraction from the story at hand. Happily, Winick tempers it somewhat, turning the fear of the Talon into an emotion that appears when appropriate, instead of all the damn time.
Winick is also able to tone down Finch’s penchant for superhero cameos, limiting it to one shot of a few extra Robins who are on hand for seemingly no reason. A side note: I think this issue wins for most misleading cover art ever. The cover shows Red Robin in a PITCHED and INTENSE battle with the TALON, as a grim-faced BATMAN looks on!
In reality, Red Robin does this:
Haha, what? That’s dumb, Red Robin, is that all you’re going to do? Flit around? Dumb.
This issue is super weird; it is a cross-over issue with a guest artist, and it is way way better than the rest of the title as a whole. Even though I wouldn’t call issue 9 anything better than mediocre, it is still LEAGUES better than The Dark Knight. This title is laughably bad. I mean that literally, I spent that last couple hours reading and laughing out loud at Finch’s terrible, nonsensical dialogue and random, useless superhero cameos. It’s so bad, I can’t even get mad at it. It’s like a little kids’ drawing: you can’t get mad because the tree with a rainbow and happy sun look absolutely and hilariously terrible, all you can do is laugh behind your hands and try to think of something nice to say.
…the art’s not bad?
Drew: Not bad, indeed. It’s telling that Shelby managed to hit every point I might possibly want to make about this issue and still have time to reflect on the previous eight issues, and still come in at around 800 words — there’s just not that much to talk about here. Nothing is really so good or so bad to warrant much discussion, so there’s less to review than there is to shrug about.
I thought the theme of fear as a motivating factor for this Talon worked rather well, especially given his history with Batman. That’s right: this Talon was retired right at the start of Batman’s career. He failed to kill a target after being interrupted by a giant bat, prompting the Court to put him to rest. The moment of that encounter is a highlight for the issue, cribbing a classic pose from David Mazzuchhelli.
He goes to sleep fearing the bat, an image that chases him through his years of “retirement.” When he finally encounters Bruce again in March’s office, he realizes that the creature he’s been living in fear of is nothing more than a man in a bat-suit. This is a realization many criminals in Gotham have gone through before, and I’m sure many more will in the future, but there’s something about the way the Talon experiences that moment that really highlights Batman’s mystique.
When he first ran into Batman, Carver has never heard of such a thing, and assumes he is some kind of monster. In the intervening years, Batman has become a much more public figure (or at least the public is increasingly aware of his existence). Much like a relative you haven’t seen in years, that gradual progression is seen by Carver as a very sudden change. The realization that Batman is a man comes hand-in-hand with the knowledge that Carver has a lot of experience killing men. If he can kill this man, he will have conquered his fear, something that was quite literally burned into his psyche at a young age.
Of course, killing Batman is like walking into Mordor: one does not simply do it. Carver faced his fear, but the thing he feared then kicked him out of a skyscraper. I’m not totally sure what that does to someone’s mind, so I don’t know what to make of Carver’s closing line, as he hobbles all crazy-looking through the sewers: “I have no fear…” Do we think he’s on his way to the labyrith? Is he going AWOL from the court? Maybe Batman 10 will reveal that the cadre of Robins collected Carver in an efficient, professional manner, but that last line followed by the teaser for the next issue, “Scarecrow returns,” makes me almost wish Carver was going to show up. Then again, given how obsessed this title is with fear, maybe it’s safer to assume that juxtaposition was just a coincidence.
But yeah, how much of a tease was that cover? Shelby’s not exaggerating: the panel she included is the only appearance Tim makes. I was kind of excited to see a Tim vs. Talon story (Dick, Damian, even Jason all got one), so I can’t help but feel disappointed that this didn’t deliver on the promise of the cover. DC should take note: WE WOULD HAVE READ THAT STORY. Paid real money for it, too.
This is just a weird issue of a weird title. Winick managed to pitch this right between his Night of the Owl entries for Catwoman and Batwing, which is kind of like threading the needle of “meh.” The rest of the crossover makes for some strange bedfellows, since its a group that includes both masterpieces like Batman and turds like Detective Comics. Is it any surprise that it falls somewhere between those two on the quality scale?
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?