Today, Patrick and (guest writer) Joe Picek are discussing Batman: The Dark Knight 0, originally released September 26, 2012. Batman: The Dark Knight 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.
Patrick: Batman’s origin is well known. So well known, in fact, that at this point, writers, artists and filmmakers should be able to assume their audience has a passing familiarity with the story. Even the details come readily to anyone that’s seen an action movie in the last couple decades. The string of pearls, the Monarch Theatre, Joe Chill – all pieces in a story we know by heart. Why, then, retell this story? Hm? I’ve seen this story more times than I can count; as evidenced by this review, I just read it again this week. And I suspect that this won’t be the last time, either.
The issue opens on Bruce partaking in his favorite pastime: ruminating on his parents’ murder. It’s a week after his folks were killed, so naturally, he’s able to slip past Alfred and return to the scene of the crime. In the alley, Bruce meets a homeless man with a Cloudy Eye. Bruce presses Cloudy Eye for information, but the vagrant steals Thomas Wayne’s watch and plants a dangerous idea in Bruce’s head: “everyone that powerful makes enemies.” It’s an idea that stays with him through the next eight years as Bruce goes to school, develops his physical prowess and continues to investigate his parents’ murder. But all that investigation turns up fuck-all, so Bruce returns to the alley, his shoulder’s broader and his collar popped. The years have not been as kind to Cloudy Eye, who gives up the name “Joe Chill” before Bruce demands his watch back. (That’s right, he sorta robs the guy.) Convinced this is the lead that will blow the case WIDE OPEN, Bruce tracks down Joe Chill. But Chill isn’t a criminal mastermind or a hitman or a gangster – he’s a junkie. No matter how much Bruce needed to think that his parents’ death meant something, the crime was senseless.
There are a few things about Gregg Hurwitz’ retelling of the origin that strain credibility. Most glaring of which is the 8-year time-lapse. I’m guessing “eight” here, because I think Bruce is supposed to be ten when he was orphaned, and I can only assume he’s 18 when he graduates from high school. In those eight years, that cloudy-eyed homeless man stays remarkably consistent. First of all, he’s alive – no mean feat for a homeless man in Gotham City. But he also still remembers the night Thomas and Martha Wayne were shot. Not only that, but he knew the name of the guy that shot them – it’s a pretty tight-knit community there in the alley behind the Monarch? Also, why would Cloudy Eye have made the suggestion that there was some larger plan at play all those years ago if he knew full-well what had happened? Just to fuck with the kid? You ever talk to a homeless person? They will say the nicest things to you to try to get your money – yes, sometimes it’s CREEPY AS FUCK, but they generally don’t imply that your life is part of some criminal conspiracy. But the most impossible thing about this pair of encounters is Thomas’ watch. Cloudy Eye wouldn’t have that thing 8 years later, he would have sold it.
It’s that spirit of “eh, he still has the watch because I said he still has the watch” that bugs me most. It doesn’t make any sense, but there it is anyway. Here’s another example: here’s this weird bit of graffiti outside of Chill’s apartment building that looks like a clown, and as it melts in the rain, it begins to resemble the Joker.
This wall wasn’t displaying this graphic on his way in, and it’s presented totally without context. And then… what the hell happens to it in the rain? I live in LA, and while we don’t get a lot of rain, we do get a shit-ton of graffiti. This isn’t what happens to graffiti when it gets wet. Also, I don’t get the point of alluding to this character here. Bruce’s voice-over talks about chaos and the meaninglessness of the crime – doesn’t it seemly openly contradictory to invoke the Joker’s name at this time?
Joe, are you reading Batman? (You should be – YOU ALL SHOULD BE.) This first year of the series had Bruce dealing with The Court of the Owls, and their attempt to assert their control over Gotham (through murder, of course). Issue 4 included a flashback to about this time in Bruce’s life, when he assumed the Court had something to do with his family’s deaths. He turns up nothing conclusive, and eventually convinces himself there is no such thing as Owls. It’s a powerful sequence – mostly because of how it informs the present-day story of the Owls reemerging. In Bruce’s studies in this issue of The Dark Knight, artists Mico Suayan and Juan Jose Ryp include a little Easter Egg – a sketch of a Talon (a Court of Owls assassin) on Bruce’s wall.
It’s a fun reference to spot, but it does contradict Batman #4. Bruce won’t encounter a Talon (and even then doesn’t believe that’s what he’s encountering) until decades later.
I also don’t know what to make of the hyper-explicit literary references Hurwitz drops in the middle of the issue. Bruce has an American Lit 101 class, where the teacher bring up both Emerson and Poe, presenting their ideas as somehow fundamentally different. Never mind that those two particular writers make a bizarre point of comparison (as one writes almost exclusively non-fiction essays on transcendentalism and the other invented the modern detective story), what’s the value in bringing up either one of them?
Joe: I’ve never been sure if I loved or hated the Batman origin story. I love Batman, but the reason I, and I assume most people, love Batman is the machinations of conspirators behind closed doors. The deaths of the Waynes explains why someone would dedicate their life to fighting crime, but not why they would fight organized crime. Some alternative origin stories, like the Court of the Owls in Batman give this motivation more meaning, since the Court of Owls gives a possible sinister meaning to the Waynes’ deaths.
I’m not sure about Hurwitz’s use of Emerson and Poe. Honestly, I found it a bit jarring and kinda glossed over the college scenes. Emerson never gave a Myth of America that portrayed the world to be beautiful and bright. Emerson was very grim in his assessment of the world, since most of what people knew was being uprooted and thrown into chaos and sooty darkness in the industrial revolution. Since the world kinda sucks, that’s why you have to look into yourself and find meaning apart from society in nature and yourself. Poe, on the other hand, didn’t just see chaos in the world. Poe never inverted this image of the world (or Hurwitz’s mistaken image). Not sure he even would have thought about it. So, I guess the references are exactly what I’d expect a student to get out of Lit 101…
I’m a little more bothered by the whole arch of the story. The extended focus on Bruce Wayne as a child seems almost self-critical of Batman’s motivations. His wallowing in self-misery, searching for a meaning to his pain, and a sense of powerlessness occupy almost half of the issue. Bruce Wayne seems to skip right over the development we all take for granted. His soul remains forever that of a wounded child, grasping desperately for meaning where the universe has only the void.
The dissolving clown mural was simplistic and unnecessary. However, the image of the Joker on the final page amid an inner monologue of chaos and nihilism gives us the point of the story in unambiguous terms (as to your point about graffiti, I wouldn’t doubt that it rains acetone in Gotham, though that would just make the cloudy eyed beggar’s survival more problematic…). Somehow, Bruce Wayne misses the message, saying, “I can’t help but wonder what else [the big bad world] has waiting in its dark alleys, peering out with glinting eyes and a bullet in the chamber.” The story tells us that we cannot know. The world is senseless and chaotic. Nothing about the origin story Hurwitz gave us would motivate someone to find the secret machinations behind closed doors. You don’t battle chaos with logic. You merely try to deal with it.
Also, a dueling pistol? Really? That was your plan?
Joe Picek is a graduate student in Davis, California. When statistics and data sets start to fry his brain, he heads for the hills and spends any free time hiking, biking, running, and generally enjoying all the outdoors Northern California has to offer.
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?