Vertigo Graphic Novel Review: Dark Night: A True Batman Story (2016)
Autobiographies can go one of two ways--completely indulgent to the point of being nauseating or self-deprecating and illuminating. Paul Dini occupies the latter territory with his personal tale Dark Night: A True Batman Story, a comic book adaptation of a grim section of his life.
Paul Dini is most famous for his writing on animated series in the '90s such as Tiny Toon Adventures, Batman: The Animated Series, and Batman Beyond. He also wrote for what is considered by most to be the best animated depiction of Batman ever: Mask of the Phantasm. Dark Night mostly takes place during this time period, but dips into the past as well as the present from time to time. I would say most introverted and nerdy individuals can remember growing up rather isolated from their peers and doing most of their actual "living" inside of their imaginations. That is why many people ended up immersing themselves into pop culture--comics, books, films, video games and cartoons being the drugs of choice for the most part. Dini isn't ashamed to portray this side of himself as he talks about his childhood and how it shaped him to be the man he is today. I found this part of the story to be incredibly relatable.
The entire story is centered around Dini being viciously mugged and subsequently beaten within an inch of his life by two thugs (ironically a parallel to what happed to Batman's parents) on his way home from a failed date. Both his body and psyche are shattered and it takes him a long time to pick up the pieces. His saving grace is his vibrant imagination in which he has visions of various comic book characters either helping or hindering him along his path to recovery. Batman is "there" to kick him in his ass and give him motivation. The Joker slinks around the corner trying to get Dini to give up and succumb to his madness. Poison Ivy gives him relationship advice while lovingly wrapping her tendrils around his face. These are not just figments of his imagination, they are distilled ideals and they represent all of his hopes and occasionally his fears.
In a way, this is what comic book characters are supposed to do. They are created to give a palpable face and form to all of our emotions and aspirations. Dini does himself no favors with his depiction of himself in the story, but that is what makes the reader able to emphasize with his situation. In real life there are no super-powered individuals looking out for our well being, but we do have the power within ourselves to stand up after a tragedy, dust ourselves off...and go on living. Dini went on to do great things after his mugging but he did not come out unscathed--but broken is better than dead.
Eduardo Risso's (100 Bullets, Before Watchmen) art in this tale is interesting and varied. He goes from realistic to cartoonish sometimes in the same panel and I was consistently impressed with his ability to mimic so many styles. There are a few scenes, Dini's mugging being one of them, that are brutal and hard to look at. Violence is much more palatable when you know it isn't real, I suppose.
This is a story of self-pity, sadness and ultimately redemption. A story with Batman but not about Batman is an interesting concept, and Dark Night is one of the most creative comics I have read in a long time.
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