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Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League – Batman #1
DC Comics

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‘Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League – Batman’ #1 pulls back the cowl to nakedly reveal the Dark Knight

A deep and utterly inspired exploration of the inner workings of the World’s Greatest Detective.

We’ve reached the end at last.

OK, Dark Crisis is only now nearing its grand finale, but we’ve reached the conclusion of a true standout of this long-running event, the Worlds Without a Justice League spin-offs. After four Elseworlds-ian tales from Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Green Arrow, we get our own ending of sorts with the League’s true top dog, Batman. So, did this issue give us another poignant exploration of a beloved hero, or has WWJL simply faded into the endless noise of a collapsing Multiverse?

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Without falling prey to too much hyperbole, this may have been the single best issue, and a proper “ending” if there ever was one.

DC Preview: Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League - Batman #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

What made these stories so important, and the thread that connected them at their best moments, was what they said about their respective heroes. Green Lantern, for instance, showed us what made him an effective builder and defender, while Wonder Woman demonstrated the endless hope and sense of justice that pushes her ever forward. But in this finale, the creative team — writer Si Spurrier, artist Ryan Sook, and letterer Troy Peteri — give us the most naked and revealing portrayal of Batman that we’ve seen in some time.

If I spoil too much, it’s going to truly ruin the earnestness and unflinching dissection that makes this issue feel so deeply special. But here’s my best attempt:

In the Dark Knight’s “dream world,” there’s two men: the Architek, who rebuilt Gotham City after a massive psychic virus transformed residents into murderous psycho-monsters; and the Night, the city’s de facto Batman who smashes baddies while cracking the mystery of his dead parents. These two have a rather, um, unique connection (again, damn you spoilers!), and their eventual meet-up and subsequent team-up kicks off an adventure that explores key Batman ideas of identity and motivation. And, once again avoiding spoilers, it also involves Alfred and some of Batman’s rogues gallery.

But, seriously, it’s brilliant and a powerful look at Batman at his very core, equally funny and depressing, and the sort of fare of proper Batman tales.

My hope is that you’ll have already figured out the connection between these two, and the larger value it holds for this story and our continued study of Batman. Assuming that you already have, I’ll say — again, no matter how nebulously — it’s perhaps among the more fascinating plot devices applied to Batman in some time. It’s in the simple but effective implementation of this bit of plot machinery that we get to see the core of Batman/Bruce Wayne, and Spurrier clearly knows the dichotomy and bifurcation that rests at the character’s heart.

Spurrier’s often poetic narration and general approach is the perfect speed for this story, as he renders the parts of Batman into their most compelling and pointed configurations while wringing out truly profound truths. He expertly unveils grand ideas about Batman’s sense of twisted justice, how he finds a certain joy in his own morbid obsessions, and what he ultimately needs to be happy (or at least functional). It’s less about the “uplifting” bits of the Bat canon and more about the layers of nuance (not to mention a tendency for codependency) that makes Batman’s story both inspirational and equally unnerving.

Batman

Courtesy of DC Comics.

All of it together feels like a creator vivisecting a character not out of some unfounded joy for torture, but to reveal him for what he truly is: a person piecing together a system to help himself function in a truly terrible world. Lots of stories over the years have tried to “torture” Batman to generate new insights (I liked the event, but that’s super true of Future State). But Spurrier’s narrative feels like the most deliberate and calculated approach to revealing all the nasty and weird embers burning at the center of Batman. And in doing so with such grace and efficiency, Spurrier actually humanizes Batman in such a huge way, showing us something we can all relate to and allowing us to engage ideas about coping and survival in a really thoughtful way.

It’s a story made all the more effective in the artwork from Sook. If Spurrier is the “architect” of this world, then it’s Sook who built it with his bare hands. The look and feel of everything made me think of The Wild Storm artwork from Jon Davis-Hunt — from the futuristic machinery of this “new” Gotham to the automaton-esque design of Night (seriously, that suit is brilliant, and feels like a proper bridge between modern Batman and Batman Beyond) to the way the world felt both bright and promising and never any less distant and cold. The design and aesthetic gave Spurrier the “permission” to craft a narrative that felt familiar and yet all together removed, a snapshot of a world and a future just out of reach.

Batman

Courtesy of DC Comics.

And it was in other design choices, from the lettering of the Night’s speech bubbles to the “mutated” look of villains like Penguin and even the nightmarish feel of the “old,” un-walled Gotham, where the story really cemented itself. I talk about the marriage of narrative and visuals all the time, but it’s here that these elements weren’t just complementary but enhancing and extending the decisions of the other. The narrative needed something eye-catching to land, and it found that here in a world alive with frenetic sci-fi magic that never shied away from depicting an ugly, broken world. It’s magic in the truest sense of the word.

I’d like to pause just before my own big ending to mention the backup story (from writer Meghan Fitzgerald, artists Norm Rapmund and Dan Jurgens, colorist Federico Blee, and letter Troy Peteri) about a time-displaced Zatanna road-tripping through her own life. On one hand, it did sort of feel like a rather plotted way to wrap up all these stories and to get the team back to reality, which it did succinctly and effectively. But that alone ignores that this story also did something similar in order to generate the same kind of results: render the character to their basic motivations and emotions and show us something revelatory. The only distinction, then, is the Bats story got ample time to do just that, and it felt more complete in its efforts to spin Batman into a world of his own making and show the greater truths.

Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League – Batman #1

Courtesy of DC Comics.

Perhaps as a kind of unintended side effect or coincidence, this Batman story felt like the perfect thing to read in the wake of Kevin Conroy’s death. Because like that actor, it made some bold decisions and gave us powerful insights into a beloved hero.

Are those observations/insights always so easy to swallow? Nope. But then that’s the point of this whole WWJL thing: upset the balance of these characters, give them an obstacle and/or goal, and let us see how they retain something wondrous and essential. Even if the Batman tale proved far more “depressing” and slightly off-kilter, there’s a joy to seeing him up close and personal, and allowing readers to reconcile with why we need these heroes in the first place.

Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League – Batman #1
‘Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League – Batman’ #1 pulls back the cowl to nakedly reveal the Dark Knight
Dark Crisis: Worlds Without a Justice League – Batman #1
A deep dive into Batman amid some creative circumstances reveals huge truths and demonstrates the hero's value across the board.
Reader Rating1 Votes
9
The world feels both inventive in its scope and ambition while feeling hugely familiar.
Writer Si Spurrier has a keen understanding of the Batman archetype and mythos
The art builds a brilliant and engaging world to help explore and dissect the Dark Knight.
This issue caps off WWJL in a brilliant and thoughtful way.
The Zatanna back-up is enjoyable even if it feels more deliberate.
8.5
Great
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