BatWatch Review: Legends of the Dark Knight #35 - #37
I've noticed a lot of people searching the Legends of the Dark Knight review page, and it occurs to me that people might be looking for a review of “Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo Volume 2” the recent trade that came out collecting many of the old The Brave and the Bold issues. I have not read this, and I'm afraid I'm swamped with other reviews, but it just so happens that I've read a couple of these individual issues. Specifically, I read the issue where Batman teamed up with Plastic Man and Metamorpho and the issue where he teamed up with Hawkman. I can tell you that this generation of Brave and the Bold was great fun, and if you like Silver Age Batman, you will definitely love this collection. However, the price seems a bit much. Fifty bucks for about twenty-five issues that are nearly forty years old? It's not the best deal in the world. Still, if you are a big fan of this type of story, it might be worth the price.
Now on to regularly scheduled programing.
Legends is always a surprise bringing something new each week...except for these six weeks which have oddly been set apart for one, by Legends standards, incredibly long story arc. This six parter started off well in the first half by bringing Batman into an area he rarely visits, the world of religion. In the first three parts of Without Sin, a priest is murdered and Two-Face is blamed, yet Harvey Dent claims to be trying to turn over a new leaf at least until his rage at being falsely accused sends him back over the edge. The priesthood seems to have its own share of secrets. One priest is willing and capable of throwing down in the dirtiest of bar room brawls, and it is not yet clear if this jaded priest is an ally or opponent of the truth though he appears to be loyal to the Bat. At the same time, a horde of other members of the cloth are torn between loyalties to God, the church, and justice. Christians are rarely painted with any depth in comics, and church politics are almost never explored, so this arc holds great promise.
Does Without Sin manage to seamlessly blend religious drama, investigative procedural, and superhero vigilantism into one satisfying package or is this issue an unholy mess?
In these issues, Batman takes on Two-Face, but Batman's meddling might have made things worse.
Batman Goes to Church
I really enjoyed this issue, and a large part of my enjoyment came simply from the fact that it showcased Batman interacting with religion without religion being a big fraud as it is often portrayed in comics. It's not as if Bruce became a Christian at the end of the story, but it's nice just to see some depth of character to the priesthood. I'm on shaky ground with God at the moment, and I grew up a fundamental Baptist which is probably about as far away from Catholicism as you can be while still calling yourself Christian, so it's not like this issue was pandering to me, but what makes Legends so appealing is that we are able to see Batman in new ways, and though this is not exactly a game changer for Bruce, it does put him in a context rarely visited in a meaningful way in comics.
It was also nice to see Bruce screw something up, and that worked nicely into the issues theme of imperfection and forgiveness. Personally, I get tired of seeing the Batgod, and it was interesting to see Bruce humble himself and admit he is flawed. Granted, Alfred is basically Bruce's priest and spiritual advisor, so he does not really need a man of the cloth, but as a passing story, this was fun.
My only real complaint with the first half of this arc was that it's pacing was a bit slow for a superhero comic. There was definitely some action in the mix, but compared to the usual rush from fight to interrogation to revelation, the more meandering investigation laid out the facts at a slightly more plodding pace that left things feeling a bit slow. For the die hard mystery fans, it was probably all necessary, but for me, it was a bit much.
The second half of Without Sin does not suffer with the pacing issue. Things are a tad more focused on investigation than the average Bat comic, but the information comes quickly enough to leave the reader satisfied, and a brief flurry of action is never too far away.
The Spirit and the Flesh
Two-Face is represented well in this story though you have to let go to continuity to truly enjoy it. Bruce tries some tricks in this issue that have worked many times in previous Two-Face stories, yet they nearly send Two-Face into even greater psychosis here. The idea behind Two-Face's dual nature and the role of the coin are also tweaked to fit the needs of the story, but I'm all about seeing new takes on the mythos in a non-cannon series.
1. There were a bit too many suspects for this investigation to really be satisfying to me on a mystery level. Perhaps big mystery fans will be able to keep track, but personally, I need more development time for suspects to stand out in my brain.
2. I've often wondered how Batman's rope batarangs always perfectly lock on themselves. I wonder if this is something that could actually be done consistently in real life or if it is just comic book nonsense.
3. The cathedral in this issue is called St. Dismas. St. Dismas is the Catholic name for the repentant thief who Christ pardoned on the cross. Again, the idea of repentance and forgiveness is sewn into the plot, and the good thief also plays in to Two-Face's role in this story considering he did some good with stolen goods in this issue.
4. People, both Christians and non-Christians, seem to think that the Bible teaches against killing when nothing could be further from the truth. Old Testament law actually endorsed the death penalty and killing in self-defense. Heck, the Old Testament endorsed killing for adultery and a host of other sins that almost nobody would now think worthy of death these days. God specifically ordered the Israelites to kill other people. King David, the man after God's own heart, was a notorious killer. Jesus never said anything specifically about killing, but he was hardly a pacifist taking up whips to drive out money changers from the temple, and the Apostle Paul wrote that the government, “does not bear the sword in vain” which many construe as a New Testament endorsement of the death penalty. Anyway, sermon over. That's the old youth pastor coming out in me.
5. The art may not be for everybody. There are definitely some questionable panels, but for me, they were good enough to carry the story, and at times they were even quite striking.
Spoilers until Conclusion
6. The final conflict of this arc is way more convoluted and drawn out than it needed to be. Batman should have been able to stop Two-Face at almost any time, and yet he draws out the conflict and risks lives and for what? Flair? Suspense? It was a rather transparent, if still effective, way to create more tension in the final scene.
This whole arc was really good from a, “Let's see something new,” perspective, but at the same time, there is nothing that really pushes it up to the level of amazing. Still, it's a safe purchase for any fans of the series or anybody who finds the premise of this arc intriguing. People who have been longing for a more positive treatment of the church in comics should be thrilled.
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