Batman is based entirely on striking fear into the hearts of the superstitious, cowardly lot that he defends the weak from. He’s known as the dark knight, the caped crusader, a stalker in the shadows and an avenger of the night, especially known for his stoicism and humorlessness. Which is why I was absolutely delighted to find myself laughing LITERALLY out loud in public while I read this oversized annual. The book follows Oswald Cobblepot, Jervis Tetch, and Dr. Jonathan Crane as they’re all summoned to one of Scarecrow’s old haunts, apparently by invitations from the others on Halloween Night. It’s not too long before they realize they’ve been lured there under false pretenses and that The Batman is stalking them from outside. They scramble hither and thither, trying to marshal their meager resources into a fighting force capable of taking down the Bat, but they’re thwarted by apparently brilliantly placed traps and misdirects until...well you’ll have to see.
One of my favorite things that Gregg Hurwitz does in this issue is also one of my favorite comic book tropes: having supervillains casually chat with each other. Marvel’s Bar With No Name is the best example, in my opinion, of this trope taken to its logical extreme, but the relish with which Hurwitz seems to write these three between scares is an absolute delight. They trade war stories, swap tactics, and just plain vent throughout the course of the book, like workers in the service industry who dislike one another, but hate the disgruntled customers even more.
Szymon Kudranski handles pencils and ink, while John Kalisz provides the washed-out, watercolor-like colors, and both fit the tone of this book perfectly. Kudranski draws so many “dramatic close-up” panels that you’d think it would get old, but it’s half played deadly serious and half played for laughs and it works on both levels each and every time. Seeing every little facial tic of these villains play out in agonizing detail is an absolute delight and Kalisz’s colors only enhance the dark comedy, setting a color palette that’s business as usual for a Bat-book (though in this case, it’s actually quite a bit better than “usual”), but with the dual tones, it works wonderfully.
I can’t think of anything major to complain about, this book was my most pleasant surprise of the month. There’s a musical interlude that goes on perhaps a LITTLE too long, the book at times leans on well-worn tropes of super-villains (guess what? Bad guys come from awful families!), but neither of those complaints are substantial enough to warrant not buying this book.
I’ve only kept up with Dark Knight sporadically, but this is a perfect stand-alone issue and a great excuse to pick up the book. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone try to make Batman funny without sacrificing tone or setting or even descending into full-on camp. Sure, he’s said funny things, but that’s almost always being serious to a fault, this book is actually pure comedy with some very effective horror moments. Shaun of the Dead is the closest analog I can draw in terms of tone, as both the comedy AND the terror are extremely effective, and that’s great company for the book to keep as far as I’m concerned.