Thursday, November 22, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Dark Night: A True Batman Story Review (2016)

Some Enchanted Evening, You May Find Your True Love

Written By: Paul Dini
Art By: Eduardo Risso
Lettered By: Todd Klein
Cover Price: $22.99
Release Date: June 21, 2016

We all learned what this book is about months before its release: it’s about a night in 1993 that Paul Dini got mugged. My first reaction was, “Big deal! So Paul Dini, acclaimed animator, writer, and creator, got mugged. Did he run out of Emmys to throw at his aggressors? Maybe one of his throngs of admirers picked his pocket as he was being helped into his golden chariot. Stepping on stairs made from piles of cash. Wearing a tuxedo jacket made from African elephant skin.” I mean, I grew up in New York where nearly everyone gets mugged at least once in their lives. It’s just one of many shitty things that can happen in your average day. But then I thought, well this is Paul Dini, who brought some of the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, among many, many other great cartoons to my television. He’s written some of my favorite comic books, including the Heart of Hush, which is pretty much the only story featuring the character Hush that I find worthwhile. So I had to give him the benefit of the doubt and check out Dark Night: A True Batman Story, and see if I could sympathize with him or merely envy his linen tablecloth made from the actual linen that wrapped the mummy of King Tutankhamen. What did I think? You’ll find out if you read my review below!

Explain It!

One thing I dislike about stories where someone overcomes adversity is that they are often too positive. A vicious alcoholic gives up drinking, they become a super healthy go-getter that easily makes friends with supportive, sober people. Somebody pulls themselves out of destitution and homelessness, they become a multi-millionaire selling something obvious and their lives become awash in exalted luxury. A kid gets bullied every day at school, later they become an insurance claim adjustor that busts the balls of every tormentor out of sheer spite. Actually, I think there might be a good story in that last scenario. Truthfully, reversing your situation never results in something totally converse; the shy cocaine addict isn’t rendered any less shy by giving up coke. The reason the uplifting stories we read are more cut and dry is because (besides being intended as uplifting) they have conclusions, and these beg resolutions. In the real world, resolutions only happen upon death.

I was mugged, once, when I was thirteen years old. Two older kids cornered me in an out-of-the-way section of a park, one held my arms back while the other went through my pockets. They took a very cheap gold chain I wore (hey, it was 1988, okay?) and fifty cents. One of them grabbed some dubbed Ramones cassettes I had in my inside coat pocket and I whined, “C’mon man, don’t take those.” Satisfied with their meager takings, they walked away, leaving me feeling vulnerable, and shaken, and pretty much like a world-class chump. Now I understand that, in the grand pantheon of The Time I Got Mugged stories, mine would rank very low. I didn’t get hurt, I wasn’t taunted, in fact the whole thing was more like a street-level business transaction than a personal crime. But still, thirty-eight years later, I can remember so many details about that sixty second-long incident as clear as day. Not all the time—not very often at all, at this point. But sometimes, and the thought of it still makes me shudder.

Paul Dini, as it turns out, suffered a much worse kind of attack in 1993, one which left him with several cuts and bruises and multiple parts of his skull fractured. Of course he felt the same victimization and helplessness than most anyone would feel after that situation. But he describes another feeling, one that I don’t think people would readily consider, yet which probably resonates with nearly everyone: the deep-rooted belief that he deserved what he got. That the invisibility and superficiality he’d practiced since childhood to protect himself from bullies somehow slipped, and he was the target he was always meant to be. Dini and Eduardo Risso display this mental conflict by rendering the fictional characters that have meant to much to Paul in his life—they appear as phantoms that only he can see and interact with, who sometimes encourage him, often berate him, and other times help justify his unproductive impulses. I think this is something anyone can relate to, whether they are fans of the same characters or not. We all have those internal voices that tell us we’re not good enough, or that we deserve some guilty pleasure for one reason or another.

But my favorite part of Dark Night: A Batman Story is that Paul Dini, unsurprisingly, gets over it and returns to creative life, but it’s not as if a switch is thrown and suddenly every aspect of his life steadily improves to perfection. His star was rising just before he got mugged, and when he returns to work his star continues to rise. But it’s not like his life is free of disappointments, or frustrations, or feelings of helplessness. One thing that helps him get over his trauma is time—something rarely shown in stories, that the simple passage of time is often so important in getting over something difficult. But he also employs other methods, and one of them is that he learns to consider himself worthwhile—he learns to love himself. And Batman helps him get there, give him the values and ethics he needs to overcome some of his self-loathing. Such a thing is a continuing, life-long process, and it would not surprise me to learn that Batman has had other things to say to Paul Dini at certain points of his life, over the years. We all have our inner Batmen.

Bits and Pieces:

Paul Dini's story of the time he got mugged turns out to be a self-revealing tale about finding one's confidence, and the ongoing struggle to maintain it. Eduardo Risso's watercolors are lively and convey the many disparate intellectual properties with efficiency, even a particular IP that isn't part of the Warner Bros. collective! I'd have expected to recommend this to fans of Paul Dini's work or to comic book fans in general, but having read it I think I recommend it to everyone. The feelings described in this book are, I think, fairly universal, and not often discussed in even the most emotional novel. 


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