Dark Gems: The best Legends of the Dark Knight
Recently, DC released a one hundred-page collection of
material from the bygone LOTDK series
(and a Tec issue), "Conspiracy,"
as they've been doing with many other stories from that fondly remembered book.
This collection showcases some of J.H. Williams III's best artwork, which at
the time of his Legends... work looked a bit like Sam Keith doing finishes over
Kelley Jones' layouts (and yes, that's a good thing). Mick Gray's treacle inks add a murky dread to Williams'
panels, and Dan Brown's sunset palette conjures a mysterious whimsicality from
the pages of "Conspiracy." The story is interestingly esoteric for
its time, but now seems a bit silly. Doug Moench is in fine form, but an
uneducated fear of secret societies and Satanism bleeds through the gauze of an
otherwise compelling yarn. The twists are more than a bit telegraphed, but
that's coming from a guy who predicted the outcome of The Orphan from the television commercials. Really it's the
aforementioned visuals that make this a classic Batman tale, and the thrill of
retreading this story in a new format led me to thinking, "Hey, why don't
I take a look back through my LOTDK
collection and see what other gems I can pull from the pile?" Which brings
us here: the first installment of "Dark Gems."
I have to, of course, start with my favorite three-part arc
from Legends of the Dark Knight,
"Faces." It was 1992 and Matt Wagner was having a big year. Not only
was Grendel a smash hit for Dark Horse, but his options were opening up in a
more commercial arena: Wagner was commissioned to write and pull art duties on
DC's LOTDK #28-30, which would be
released just a few months before Wagner's Grendel:
Warchild would hit stands, and would pave the way to the subsequent Batman/Grendel miniseries. The story
Wagner created for the Batman anthology is in my opinion one of the best and
most overlooked tales in the mythology of the Caped Crusader.
"Faces" opens in Arkham Asylum with Two Face
flipping his coin, waiting, biding his time until his inexorable escape. He has
a plan. He is ready to strike. Then, the Batsignal, high over the Gotham
skyline. The story spirals in and out of noir imagery and lambent kaleidoscopes
of jazz-age polychrome.
"Faces" does a fantastic job of juggling the dual
identities of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and that of his ghastly vigilante
counterpart, the Batman. We see both sides of the character, sharing nearly
equal panel time, and ultimately the mystery within the stories' pages takes
both personas to unravel it, not just Batman, as we so often see in other
books. And the mystery is quite a doozey, harkening back to hard-boiled pulp
detective stories with a splash of corporate espionage as Bruce Wayne finds
himself outbid in a real estate war by a perplexing buyer, and Batman is hot on
the heels of the murderous Two Face.
There's a very literary quality to "Faces," at
times gumshoe detective novel, and at others a strange mix of Poe, Shakespeare,
and Bradbury all rolled into one cryptic tragedy. The payoff is absolutely
fantastic, if not equally weird and horrifying. Matt Wagner always works well
with an ensemble cast of characters, and his additions to the Batman mythology
play out their rolls in his tale perfectly, becoming permanently embroiled in
the dusky fabric of Gotham lore. The real estate agent, Wren, in particular is
so helplessly caught up in the intrigue of "Faces," it's impossible
not to empathize with the character and ultimately lament with him the
unfortunate and unstoppable trajectory his life took at the onset of the story. "Faces" is also a quintessential Harvey Dent tale, examining his torn psyche and why he is afraid to be a freak and the lengths he will go to belong. But, I suppose, if you haven't read "Faces" yet, you should scour
your local comic store's back issue bins to find out what the hell I'm
jabbering on about. It's very worth your while.
Next time, I'll be talking about a little known Mignola
work. These articles will be mostly about LOTDK,
but I will diverge from that now and then to talk about other wonderful Batman
If you have anything Bat-related you'd like me to talk
about, please feel free to email me your suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org