This won’t be a particularly lengthy review compared to that of The Long Halloween, to which this is a sequel, for the simple reason that I have less to say. For one thing, there’s nothing new to say about the artwork, except in pointing out that Tim Sale’s flashback scenes are now water-coloured, which looks quite nice. It’s all still as good, but I don’t think there’s anything more to say about it that I haven’t already said in my last two reviews, really. Secondly, because the book follows a near identical format to that of The Long Halloween, with a serial killer prowling the streets of Gotham City over the course of an entire year, it isn’t as fresh an idea, or not at first anyway. Unfortunately, in order to talk about what is great about it, I’m going to have to spoil some things about the last book and this too, so stop now if this isn’t the review you’re looking for.
Well, first of all, as I’ve previously pointed out, The Long Halloween turned out to be a continuation of the events in Frank Miller’s Year One. However, what I didn’t mention then is that the Roman being the villain, Batman being inexperienced and Gordon not yet being Commissioner is as far as the continuation really went at that point. Not here. Again, switch reviews right now if you don’t want Year One spoiled either. In Dark Victory, to my great surprise, most of the victims were characters from Frank Miller’s origin story. As is explained in the introduction, Miller was contacted prior to this being written just so they knew that he wouldn’t be using the characters again, at which point they became safe to use and would meet their maker. But what surprised me even more was that their deaths honestly puzzled the hell out of me. Whereas the mystery in The Long Halloween, or at least that of Alberto Falcone being the killer, was really obvious – and with purpose, as I argued – the identity of the killer in Dark Victory wasn’t easy to solve. In fact, despite my attempts at glancing through Year One to see if I was missing an obvious connection, Loeb managed to keep me in the dark the entire time, all the way until Catwoman’s return very late in the book. So, instantly, I’m going to point out that, whilst The Long Halloween was part murder mystery but mainly a tragedy, Dark Victory on the other hand is mostly a murder mystery and less of a tragedy. Which also, as it happens, surprised me.
The cover clearly depicts Batman and Robin, specifically the first Robin, Dick Grayson, and if you’re a big Batman fan, you’ll know of that character’s sad background, which mirrors Bruce’s own. So you wouldn’t be blamed for expecting the story to focus on them. Yet it doesn’t. In fact, I was wondering if Loeb was about to rush Dick into the book as a last minute kind of thing when he appeared as a twist on some of the gangster’s intentions just before the final third of the book begins. Even then, his circus act isn’t mentioned again until the end of the following chapter, where we see Bruce Wayne planning to go, and I was beginning to wonder once more what Loeb was up to. On the contrary of my expectations, what Loeb does is kill Dick’s parents off at the very beginning of the chapter after that. No time spent on building up to it by a closer look at their relationship as a family; no time spent on even following Dick for a while. What we get instead is admittedly quite beautiful. A full page shot of Dick’s father’s hand holding a broken trapeze, Dick looking with dismay at his parent’s dead bodies below him, and then an entire two page shot of him sitting between them as a light illuminates him, obviously reminiscent of the iconic shot often used for a young Bruce Wayne at Crime Alley with a single streetlight encompassing him. Wow. What follows all of this isn’t quite as amazing unfortunately. Not a lot of time is spent developing the relationship that Bruce and Dick have prior to the former revealing himself as Batman, and that disappointed me. Of course, Alfred’s there and it’s he who encourages young Dick to adopt the Robin outfit, but I still would have liked to have seen Bruce’s own involvement explored a bit more.
Alas, that guy’s too busy solving murders whilst going through personal conflicts for that kinda stuff. Like I said, this is more of a murder mystery, although you could just as easily say it’s more of a crime book honestly, because when he’s not trying to work out the murders, Batman’s busy dealing with all the super criminals. Indeed, one of the notable things about this book is the rise of the super villains to power, and how the like of the Falcone family falls apart, ending in one of the book’s small tragedies. And as you might expect with this feud being the case, there’s a lot more action in this book compared to The Long Halloween. Which is actually done really well. For instance, a lot of Batman’s thoughts take place during fights and the like to such an extent that he becomes mentally tired in a scene with Alfred and misses visiting his parent’s graves on time on both Mother’s and Father’s Day. Even Selina loses patience with him after he manages to miss spending the New Year and Valentine’s Day with her, leading to her trip out of town and her apparent abandonment of Bruce by the end of the book. That’s one of the tragedies explored in this book, albeit one eventually resolved: Bruce Wayne as The Loner. It’s not as interesting as him basically losing in the last book, however, and it’s a theme about the life of Batman that’s been done a bunch of times already. Still, it’s pretty good, although I still feel that this is a story more about the mysterious murders.
As I said at the beginning, however, Loeb’s already done that. So, truthfully, I didn’t really feel like this got off to a roaring start as a murder mystery. It’s a lot less complex, there absolutely being only the one killer for example, but the reveal of who this murderer was surprised me, unlike in The Long Halloween, which is really funny, because in hindsight it’s both really obvious and foreshadowed well in advance, by the Joker no less. Still, I’m not sure many people predicted the killer this time either, which is perhaps a fault of Loeb’s writing in a way because I can’t really think of many clues that make it very predictable, not until the second half of the book anyway. It was the fighting between common villains and super villains that was a lot more entertaining overall, particularly with Two Face as the leader of the latter. If you hoped there would be so much as a nugget of redemption following the events of the last book for that guy, then you shall be most disappointed. But that’s as it should be – the exploration of Harvey Dent being lost the moment acid burned and scarred one side of his face, and how Batman and Commissioner Gordon struggle to get over this, is one of the more fascinating plot threads throughout this book, which should say something about Loeb’s interesting portrayals of characters in this book and the last. And that’s probably the important thing to keep in mind. Read alone, this book is no doubt terrible. But read after The Long Halloween, it’s actually a rather logical sequel, exploring the new inner turmoils of our characters and their efforts to beat, though ultimately accept, them, and it’s rather fantastic.
Before I finish this review, I’d just like to quickly talk about this book as a sequel in another light. The biggest plot twist of The Long Halloween – that of Gilda Dent possibly being the first killer before Alberto Falcone took over – isn’t explained to you and, might I say, thank you, Jeph Loeb, for doing that. Yep, I’m afraid you’ll have to work out the mystery behind some of the murders in The Long Halloween by yourself, which is fine by me. The answers are already there anyway, at least as far as I’m concerned. Other things that perhaps do need some explanation are explored here though. If you were wondering if Calendar Man really knew anything in the first book, for example, then the answer to that’s at least quite strongly implied this time, although I realise now that it was in The Long Halloween too. Likewise, we explore Catwoman’s involvement with the Falcone’s quite a bit further, culminating in a big plot twist at the end.
Being absent for much of this book, however, is why Catwoman: When In Rome exists – to explain what she was doing in her trip out of Gotham, and how the twist about her is apparently true. It’s up next and, as half the size of our last two books, shouldn’t take long to read and review. After that, I’ve decided that I might as well finish my Loeb Batman books with Hush. Rather than move straight on to Grant Morrison’s Batman run after that, however, I think I’ll take a short Batman break with something else. What something else? Well, I’m honestly not sure. My eyes point me towards my 2000AD collection of stories, but I might save those for another time. Ach, I don’t know – we’ll see what we decide to do after this Catwoman book.