21 July 2010

Legends of the Dark Knight, Part Two

I was discussing this comic title in an online forum earlier and got to thinking about why Legends of the Dark Knight held such appeal for me as a younger reader, and why I've been lured back to its pages in recent months.  If you're reading this, then you know I am lazy and so here's the disclaimer that I have outright copied and pasted my thread post into this blog entry.  Why go to the trouble of creating an entire blog entry for something I already posted elsewhere?  Simply put, I liked the points I made and realized I hadn't made them in my previous blog entry about the subject.

I always felt when reading LotDK that I was reading a more advanced level of Batman story. Maybe I wasn't, but the fact that it wasn't sold at gas stations or grocery stores, carried that higher price tag and not a CCA approval all told me it wasn't "off-the-rack" Batman. And I always liked that it wasn't linked to Batman or Detective Comics at all. Maybe that was part of the appeal; it spoke to my inner snob, that wanted to be part of a more exclusive readership. I know admitting that makes me pretty shallow and petty, but in my defense I was an adolescent at the time (which is to say, my entire world was pretty shallow and petty).

I also liked that stories could be Elseworlds-type tales from time to time, showing us Batman in different time periods and such. I wasn't a huge fan of those kinds of stories as a rule, but every now and again it was nice to break away from "Year One"-era Gotham, or even away from modern times at all. The only thing I wish they'd have done more of with that title would be the occasional Golden or Silver Age style goofy tale. I know it would have been incongruous with the more sophisticated nature of the title, but it always seemed to me that Batman is the one character that can be interpreted in any fashion and still work. That there are still ardent fans of the Adam West era in the Christopher Nolan era is proof positive of this to my mind, and I would have liked to have seen some of those more lighthearted takes on Batman. Maybe that's why I always appreciated the appearances of Bat-Mite.

The other thing that always kind of stuck with me about this title was how rarely big name villains appeared. It seemed (at least during the first 100 or so issues, when I was a regular reader) that virtually none of the Rogues Gallery appeared in those pages. I still recall issue #50, "Images," depicting Batman's first encounter with The Joker, and that was preceded by one of my favorite Bat-stories of all time, the four-part "Heat" in which Catwoman figured prominently, but I can't say I recall Riddler, Penguin, Scarecrow or Ra's al Ghul at all. There was a two-parter with Poison Ivy, and I seem to recall Harvey Dent appeared maybe, but of course not as Two-Face.

And it worked because it pitted Batman against more plausible enemies; thugs working for organized crime bosses, corrupt cops, etc. And, I think the absence of those villains helped set the title apart from the more mainstream Bat-titles; the implication being that this was a title that didn't rely on stunt appearances to sustain readership. Hell, the series opened with a five-parter called "Shaman" in which we see Bruce Wayne caught in a mess involving a shaman from Alaska he met during his pre-Batman training period. Think about this for a second. They launched the series in 1989 to cash in on the buzz from the release of Tim Burton's movie and the first five issues feature not The Joker, or someone comparable, but...an Indian shaman and a sniper. It seems so anti-climactic that I have to admire the audacity of the launch. Can you imagine an idea like that being approved in the era where comic books have become a peripheral element of the circus that is San Diego Comic-Con?