Friday, August 2, 2013
Review: Batman – The Dark Knight: Golden Dawn
Artists: David Finch, Jason Fabok
Collects: Batman: The Dark Knight #1-5, Batman: The Return #1, Superman/Batman #75 (2010-11)
Published: DC, 2012; $24.99 (HC), $14.99 (TPB)
Batman – The Dark Knight: Golden Dawn is one of the latest entries in the seemingly endless parade of comic book stories that rely on inserting new characters into the “never-before-told” pasts of established ones. In this case, as in most others, the new character makes a surprising return in the hero’s present, dredging up old memories and inevitably involving the hero in some conflict which is further complicated by the nature of the characters’ past relationship.
The dilemma faced by all such stories, of course, is how to make the reader interested in the new character and his or her relationship to the protagonist. Unfortunately, writer/artist David Finch fails spectacularly in addressing this issue in Golden Dawn. In this book the new character is named, without any detectable irony, “Dawn Golden.” Finch tells us that she was Bruce Wayne’s best friend before the death of his parents as well as his first romantic interest, and that now she is a young socialite in Gotham City who has gotten herself into some trouble. (As far as I can tell, we’re not supposed to wonder why she seems to be at least a decade younger than Batman in the present, despite the two appearing to be roughly the same age in flashbacks.)
Since Dawn spends most of her time on-panel either unconscious or with her mouth agape in wordless terror as Batman attempts to save her from peril, there’s little space for the most crucial aspects of this sort of plot: making the new character matter to the plot and to the reader. Dawn is little more than a cardboard cut-out of a damsel in distress, a role that could have been filled just as well without any of the murky backstory. Furthermore, she and Bruce Wayne never even meet in the present – her only interactions are with Batman. The fact that she and Bruce were childhood friends is entirely irrelevant to the story.
The paper-thin plot is perhaps to be expected – the series these issues come from, Batman: The Dark Knight, was created for Finch so that he could write and draw whatever Batman stories he wanted, regardless of what was happening in other Batman comics at the time – but that does not make its faults any more excusable. The comic doesn’t even succeed as a vehicle for Finch; apparently unable to keep up with his deadlines after just three issues (which were released over the course of eight months), Finch is replaced in issues four and five by Jason Fabok and a team of no less than six different inkers. It’s around this time, as well, that Paul Jenkins comes aboard as Finch’s much-needed co-writer (although he goes completely uncredited in the collected edition).
The issues Finch does manage to draw are filled mostly with splash pages of monsters and demons drawn in the dark, neo-Image style that he’s become famous for. More than anything, in fact, the story seems a fairly blatant re-writing of Spider-Man: Torment, the first story arc in Todd McFarlane’s early ’90s Spider-Man series. Both stories attempt to equate philosophical questions about life, death, and memory with uninspired (if not necessarily ugly) drawings of the supernatural; both also feature giant reptiles as major villains: the Lizard in Torment, and Killer Croc in Golden Dawn. The irony of these similarities is that Torment was itself an attempt to transplant the dark-and-gritty essence of late-’80s Batman comics into the Spider-Man franchise (the cover of Spider-Man #1 even sported a nonsensical caption that read “The Legend of the Arachknight”).
But for whatever other problems Golden Dawn has, its treatment of Dawn Golden is by far the most troublesome. Even worse than the book’s failure to characterize Dawn in any but the shallowest of ways (she’s extremely beautiful, in case you hadn’t guessed) is its “resolution” of her “character arc” (note the quotation marks); in the end, she is strapped to a table, tortured, and murdered by demon-worshipers. Etrigan (a “good” demon, apparently) shows up in a deus ex machina plot twist to defeat the bad guys, and his absurd, rhyming eulogy for Dawn is reflective of the blasé attitude the book has held towards her all along: “The spirit is gone, you must let her go. Know that you saved her, even so.” And then poof, he vanishes.
To see a female character developed so poorly and treated with such contempt (by her own creator, no less) is both sad and disturbing, especially in a comic as high-profile as this one. If art has just one obligation, it’s not that it need be entirely original or even technically well-crafted; it’s that it be created with good intentions – because if the aim of art is not to make the world a better place, then why bother? I’ve tried, but I see little that is good in Golden Dawn – only a book far uglier at its core than its glossy artwork would have us believe.