Dark Night: A True Batman Story - Review

Paul Dini knocks it out of the park again in a deeply personal tale of trauma and triumph.

Dark Night A True Batman Story Paul Dini Joker

There's a certain panel that takes place early on in Dark Night, which really hits home the sheer weight behind its story. The image of a young Paul Dini, castigated and bullied at school, confiding in an imaginative utopia of pop culture iconography really, really resonated with this author.

It spoke out to me because, much like the tale's narrative, it emphasised just how impactful these heroes, villains and foils can be. They may ultimately be fictional apparitions of a cultural past time, but to many - myself included - they're friends, enemies, comedians and inspirations; a gateway into a fantastical reality that both enlightens and entertains.

You get this impression in just five pages.

This tale is, after all, a deeply personal autobiographical one, conveyed masterfully by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso. While the concept of a visual autobiography may seem unconventional at first, it's more than fitting to chronicle Dini's experience - himself one of Warner Bros. foremost storytelling artisans during the company's animated resurgence in the mid-to-late nineties.

Over the course of its hundred or so pages, A True Batman Story portrays Dini in his struggles to overcome a myriad of afflictions and, in one particularly gruesome encounter, the aftermath of a mugging that left the writer despondent and bruised. Both literally and otherwise. Vertigo Interspersed throughout Dark Night are anecdotes that chronicle key moments in the author's life, illustrating the inextricable link between Dini and the characters that have both inspired him, and those which he has brought to life.

It doesn't pull any of its punches, and I was surprised at just how raw and personal the story turned out to be. It's self aware and humorous, but in a good way. And at no point does the narrative deviate from its core values; demonstrating the influence that fictional characters can exert on both creator and audience. It all ultimately draws focus to Batman, as Dini himself was working on Mask of the Phantasm at the time of his fateful encounter, but the heavy inclusion of the license is not disingenuous at all. If anything, The Dark Knight's presence in the novel is perhaps the most interesting dissection of the vigilante I've seen in years, as the tale takes a newfound perspective of analysing the character's relationship with those that reside outside of the DC Universe - an approach once solely confined to scholarly articles assessing his legacy. Vertigo

To do so with such nuance whilst bringing a deeply personal tale to a mass audience is, by all means, a phenomenal feet. But we know all this already; Paul Dini is an immensely talented scribe. His contributions to Batman in particular have spanned countless mediums, and I must say it was deeply warming to see the writer reflect upon his success in the tale's closing moments.

It would probably be deeply inappropriate to pass comment on storytelling factors like 'character progression' in a story which is, ultimately, an artistic reflection of Dini's most turbulent years. But it is true, the way in which we see the author develop from his childhood years, all the way through his early days at Warner - with an uncompromising wit to match - is deeply gratifying.To then see the writer making self-aware jibes at storytelling clichés once synonymous with autobiographical accounts, in light of the hard hitting nature of the book's narrative, only cements just why everyone in the medium loves him. It's endearing, intelligent and dark all at once - three traits that are, rather ironically, synonymous with the Caped Crusader himself. Vertigo A review of Dini's deeply moving account of his journey through issues both minute and gargantuan would, however, be incomplete without making note of the dexterity in which Eduardo Risso's art compliments Dini's tale.

Colourful and vibrant at times, yet dark and macabre at others, Risso once again displays here that he is an artist of many styles and talents, navigating the author's script with the same shifting and sensitive tones that are inherent with a book of this nature. It's apt that some imagery feels slightly derivative of the gothic tones of Batman: The Animated Series, but it still feels human, capturing both the fantastical and the unvarnished with ease. It is, quite simply, wonderful.What makes Dark Night so special is that it manages to exist as multiple things all at once. It is, much like the title suggests, a Batman story. It offers erudite reflection of the ways in which media can impact the human experience on a personal level, yet it does so whilst taking an uncompromising approach to self-examination. Much like the characters Dini has brought to life, he himself is an incredibly relatable protagonist - one just as much emboldened by fiction as he was once encumbered by it. At times, it can make for an uncomfortable read, but it is - to paraphrase one of the book's commendations - incredibly courageous. Never before have we seen this in the medium, but it's so incredibly moving. Vertigo

Though I've been a massive fan of Paul Dini's work for years now (heck, Batman: The Animated Series served as my own introduction into the superhero genre when I was but wee), I didn't really know what to expect from Dark Night. I suppose at first I thought it was going to be deeply psychological, and whilst there are those elements within, Dini's quintessential style is ever present.

The way in which he so effortlessly marshals his experiences into a well-developed, nuanced and emotive story makes for what is, quite possibly, the best Batman story of the decade. With due sensitivity, Dini has offered a window into some of his most personal experiences - ones that will both provoke and captivate - and it's clear that he's much stronger because of it.If anything really summarises Dark Nights' special qualities however, you only have to look towards one scene involving The Joker. You see, to the Clown Prince, it's a lampoon-worthy narrative deserving of nothing more than a clichéd 'Feel-Good story of the year' award, but to label it as such is, as Dini dismisses, isn't even worthy of comment. As the himself realises in the book's closing panels, this was a tale worth telling - an experience worth sharing.Bravo, Paul. Bravo.

Comics Editor
Comics Editor

WhatCulture's very own Comics Editor. Cats, comic books and spaghetti westerns are my thing. Rants about stuff @EwanRuinsThings