11 November 2011

Legends of the Dark Knight: "Mask" & "Vows"

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #39-40
"Mask"
By Bryan Talbot
Gaspar - Letters
Olyoptics - Colors
Goodwin & Kaplan - Editors
Psychiatric Consultant: Keith Marsland, R.G.N., R.M.N.
Batman created by Bob Kane
$1.75, 32 pages/each
Nov-Dec 1992

Legends of the Dark Knight was often a more psychologically-based series, as I've noted in previous posts about the series, but this two-part tale by Bryan Talbot may be the clearest example yet.  Note that there was an actual psychiatric consultant, for starters!  This is only the second work by Bryan Talbot that I know I've read (the other being the powerful Tale of One Bad Rat), and it appears that if nothing else, Talbot is thorough.  This sells him short, though; he's also one of the most talented storytellers in the medium I've seen yet and I cannot fathom why I've not read more of his work!

In "Mask," Batman apprehends a group of amateur burglars and is then overcome by a strange sensation.  He awakens in a hospital as Bruce Wayne, having been found lying in a gutter in his Batman costume.  Dr. Mike Clayton explains that Bruce inherited misery and massive debt from his parents and has escaped into alcoholism and created a fantasy world for himself wherein he is the Batman.  It seems the "You're not really Batman" premise has already been done quite a bit, but I must say that "Mask" does it better than most.  The twist is actually quite surprising--though there are a few loose ends that I find a bit nagging.  Still, "Mask" is quite fascinating and the fact that Talbot had the guts to give Batman this specific antagonist--and that editor Archie Goodwin allowed it--is a shining example of why I loved LOTDK.

Note: "Mask" was included in the trade paperback, Batman: Dark Legends.

Legends of the Dark Knight Annual #2
"Vows"
Dennis O'Neil - story
Michael Netzer - penciller
Luke McDonnell - inker
Willie Schubert - letterer
Olyoptics - color
Bill Kaplan - assistant editor
Archie Goodwin - editor
Bob Kane - Batman creator
1992
$3.50

It can be hard to know where the annuals take place in the publishing continuity because there are no in-context clues; no blurbs in the letters columns about the annual coming up or anything helpful like that.  I know they were generally published late in the year, and both Annual #2 and LOTDK #40 feature an ad for the movie Passenger 57 on the back cover, so I figure it's a good bet that they were published around the same time.  In any event, LOTDK #40 is the final 1992 cover issue so it seemed appropriate to follow with the '92 Annual.

Just prior to his wedding to Detective Sarah Essen, Police Commissioner James Gordon is targeted by a vindictive former cop, Flass (readers may recall him from Batman: Year One as Gordon's partner; he was also in the movie, Batman Begins).  Flass is now working for a mobster, Mr. Glean, and it seems Gordon is about to expose a crooked judge just before election day.  To ensure that the judge's reputation is untarnished with the voters, Flass and his accomplices attack Gordon and Essen, and take his son James, Jr. hostage.

What I like about "Vows" is that it makes full use of the Annual format; the double-length allows Denny O'Neil's story to move along at a deliberate pace, not having to build up to a cliffhanger every so often.  The Batman is really a secondary character here, too, and I thought that was interesting.  What casual readers may find off-putting, though, are the references to Gordon's family life: his previous marriage, that he's marrying Essen (who?) and that James, Jr. was kidnapped and dangled off a bridge as a young child, too.  These are precisely the kinds of cumbersome things that permeated the "regular" Bat-books whose absence made LOTDK so refreshing for me.  So, points for the story, but deduction for the continuity hassles.

Note: I am currently working on NaNoWriMo. This blog post was written in advance during October.

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