“Each of us lost pieces of our lives…and hid what was left in the dark. Is this what I want for myself? A world that exists only in darkness?” So ponders the caped crusader in “Batman: Dark Victory”, which is the epic continuation of “Batman: The Long Halloween.” Writer Jeph Loeb, artist Tim Sale, and colorist Gregory Wright are back together to continue their take on the dark knight detective and deal with the fallout of their previous Bat-mystery. This time, the story is much darker, yet richer with personal interactions and a hint of a light at the end of the Batcave. With the crime families in disarray and Harvey Dent transformed into Two-Face, the relationship that existed between Commissioner James Gordon, Dent, and Batman and its shattering has left imprints on each of them. Despite connections being severed, relationships (old and new) are still at the heart of “Dark Victory.” Interspersed expertly throughout the intricate mystery and detecting skills are heartfelt and heartbreaking moments of character that make this book another collaborative victory for the creative team involved.
The main players in the story are fractured individuals, evidenced in one beautifully rendered scene in the first chapter where Gordon beckons Batman with the Bat-signal. The dark night sky, along with Wright’s beautiful use of purple swirling within the twilight, weigh heavy on the bright yellow and orange sunset. It’s a premonition of the darkness that is about to descend on Batman and Gordon’s lives. As they’re talking, Batman, in one panel, leans like a wounded child to the left in the shadows and, despite not seeing his eyes, a sense of sadness is exuded in Sale’s art and Wright’s use of color for the sunset on the horizon. It’s as if Batman is afraid of that light and what it could bring to his life. Sale and Wright say so much here (and elsewhere throughout the book) through art alone and are able to convey depth of character without any words being uttered. Then Loeb comes in with his wonderful writing, having Gordon able to read his friend’s body language by saying, “I know you’re hurting. Harvey Dent was my friend, too. We’ve all lost so much…I can’t help thinking how alone he is at Arkham. How alone we all are…” As he says those last few words, Gordon is standing alone on the rooftop and Batman has done one of his classic “disappearing before a conversation is over” acts.
Bruce Wayne is definitely hurting and alone, as Gordon so honestly stated on the rooftop. In the Batcave with Alfred, Bruce states that he can’t afford to be wrong like he was during the “Holiday” killings in “Batman: The Long Halloween.” “There’s nothing wrong with being wrong, sir” says Bruce’s loyal friend. Bruce responds by saying, “Batman can’t be”. He’s been broken and allows himself to think he didn’t do enough to help Dent. As Bruce tells Alfred how he was close to telling Dent all his secrets, Sale has Bruce slowly taking off the cowl. When Sale gets to depicting Bruce in the third panel of one of the pages, his face fills the panel. His eyes look deep into the past and have a wistfulness that is utterly heartbreaking. Sale’s addition of crow’s feet at the corner of Bruce’s right eye add to the exhaustion and pain that this young man has already endured in his unending mission. The bright light shining on his face that emanates from the Batcave’s computer highlights a man in turmoil. Without Loeb and Wright’s artistic prowess, this scene would not have the power it has if Loeb’s words were in the hands of lesser artists. All three men work together to express their splendid storytelling gifts.
Alfred is an intrinsic component of this epic crime drama, bringing much needed levity, love, and even his own detecting skills to the dire proceedings. At one point, Alfred deduces the reason why Bruce has been acting strange and says he’ll fetch his medical bag. Bruce thanks Alfred, who then echoes Gordon’s words on the rooftop by saying, “The only problem with being alone, Master Bruce…is being alone.” Loeb and Sale stress the importance of a Batman who requires help. The idea of a lone avenger of the night is hell on an individual. Both writer and artist place importance on interpersonal connections for Bruce. Even when Bruce does not ask for Alfred’s help, Alfred is always keeping watch. In one dazzling two page montage, Bruce trains his body while his narration has him using the detecting skills that are fitting for the world’s greatest detective. Loeb understands that this moniker is one of the main traits that defines Batman, and he displays a character who truly is becoming a master detective as time goes by. Across the top of the page is bloodstained evidence spread out in one long thin panel across both pages. Below is a matter-of-fact, yet appropriate, layout of five panels with Bruce doing various physical exercises that test his concentration, stealth, and strength. As a humorous addition to the proceedings, Alfred is ever-watchful in the distant background of each panel, keeping an eye on his “son”.
Bruce needs allies and, as the elaborate mystery escalates, he slowly begins to rebuild old alliances as well as build an important new one with a character that is integral to the Bat-mythos: Dick Grayson, otherwise known as his sidekick Robin. The opening of the eighth chapter reveals a scene familiar to every Batman fan: the death of Dick’s parents at Haly’s Circus. The five page scene opens with one vivid splash page of an adult man’s hand grasping a trapeze as the broken ropes flail. Next is a two page splash, with Dick looking horrified at his dead parents below with brow furrowed in disbelief. At the bottom of these two pages is a smaller scene that spreads across both pages: Bruce looking up toward Dick with the same furrowed brow. Instead of eyes filled with disbelief, Bruce’s eyes have a mournful look of understanding: he knows exactly how Dick feels at this moment. To add more poignancy and pain to an already horrendous scene, Sale adds a stunning touch by having it seem as if Dick is looking down at Bruce as he looks up at Dick. They have gone through the same thing and, as history foretells, they must become allies. Once the page is turned, a gut-wrenching two-page splash is reminiscent of Bruce’s past: Dick kneels between his dead parents on the left page, while Bruce stands alone in the stands covered in darkness. Wright’s use of color adds to the horror of the scene, with the only color being dark blood-red spotlights on Bruce and Dick. Black surrounds everything else, with even our two heroes’ eyes shadowed in black. No words are spoken in this scene. None are needed for a scene where these two feel the sting of heartache and life ripped from them.
“Alone”. That word is repeated throughout this book and applies to hero and foe alike. “Dark Victory” is an appropriate name for this story, with our heroes gaining a victory of sorts that’s not only tangible, but personal as well. In possibly the most poignant and also one of the most artistically impressive scenes in this graphic novel, an encounter between Bruce and Alfred is mirrored with that of one between Dick and Alfred. The flashback with Bruce is done with watercolor-like black and white, while a somber blue highlights the scene with Dick. Both children tell Alfred that they are “all alone now.” Alfred is silent in response to Bruce’s words, while Alfred says he will tell Dick something he wishes he “had said a long time ago to someone else. You are not alone. I imagine you never will be again.” While he had allowed Bruce to walk away and sulk alone, Alfred places a reassuring hand on Dick’s shoulder. Characters in this story keep so many secrets and feelings veiled that when they are finally unveiled, true individual natures and alliances are either broken or strengthened. “Dark Victory” is richly and deeply layered and this review only touches on certain breathtaking aspects of the story. With a balance of mystery, detective skills, heartbreaking moments, humor, heart, and, above all, characters the reader grows to care about, Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, and Gregory Wright (along with expert letterer Richard Starkings) have created not only a classic Bat-tale, but a classic story.
Batman: Dark Victory
Written by: Jeph Loeb
Art: Tim Sale
Colors: Gregory Wright
Letters: Richard Starkings
Publisher: DC Comics
Original Publication Date: 1999, 2000