If you listened to the CBMFP this week, then you don’t even need to read this review. You’re probably already sold on the book because I definitely didn’t under sell it. If you're like a lot of our listeners, you didn’t even know that this book existed then this review is for you. For whatever reason this book didn’t get any attention from DC/Vertigo, which is a shame because I’m about to make a bold ass statement. This is my original graphic novel of the year.
Yeah. It’s June and I just locked in my end of the year selection because every other graphic novel out there has a hell of a job of knocking Paul Dini’s autobiographical graphic novel out of the top spot. I mean sure it could happen, but this book is really, really, really (could keep going, but I won’t) good. Good enough to be my end of the year pick… in June.
What’s it about? You’re probably wondering that since like a lot of comic fans, you might not even know what this is. Well, it’s about a time in writer Paul Dini’s life. The time in which he was working on Batman: The Animated Series. You know, the cartoon that basically became the definitive version of the Bat-verse for an entire generation of kids. In fact, you can tell which Batman readers are too young to have been groomed by the series because they probably like the New 52 Batman.
But I digress. We’re here to talk about a very personal story about a time in which Paul Dini found himself mugged and beaten to the point of needing reconstructive surgery. That is in part what this story is about, but really that’s the event to talk about Dini’s history of low self-esteem and dare I say depression.
For an autobiographical story, it doesn’t read like one. At least it doesn’t read like the stories that have become the norm for the genre. Things like Jeffery Brown and the work from his peers reads vastly different from Dark Night. Dini is a storyteller after all and he delivers a master class in storytelling with the way he presents his story. Frankly put, good storytellers can tell any stories, but great storytellers can get into your heart and mind.
Accompanying Dini is Eduardo Risso on artwork. This might shock the comic community, but I’ve never been a big fan of Risso’s work. There are times I enjoy it, but mostly it’s not for me. I am very glad he illustrated Dark Night because he was the perfect fit. I may not like his Joker, but he too puts on a master class in storytelling and accomplishes something that few other artists have in comics. He creates a fictional world on top of the real world. By that I mean that Dini describes the way he thinks as having an overactive imagination. In which he often talks to the characters he writes or enjoys. They interact with his life and so it’s a bit like Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The catch, of course, being that this is a comic and it’s impossible to show that, right? Now with Risso’s artwork. He truly makes it look like Dini’s imagination is running wild, but fits it into the world.
This story doesn’t work without the lettering. Todd Klein, if you pay attention to lettering, is at the top of his field. I forget how many times I’ve seen his name. The reason this only works with the right lettering is because of the aforementioned imagination. See Dini in the story is interacting with the characters while interacting with the real world and it’s the lettering the acknowledges this shift. Without that it would just look like a crazy person walking around talking to themselves without anyone acknowledging them. Klein is the piece that makes the entire story work.
Put aside for a moment that this is about Paul Dini. Also put aside the fact that it’s about a time in his life working on a cartoon that is beloved by millions. At its core, this story is about a man who has everything he wants, but nothing that he needs. Without spoiling too much I will just say that there’s probably not a single comic book reader out there that can’t relate to some aspect of Dini’s story. It is the epitome of the emotional journey that practically all comic book readers face. It captures the reason why we read comics about superheroes that can do more, that can be better, that are strong in the ways that we are weak. Simply put, Dark Night not only captures the reason we read comics, but in the very same way is the reason we read comics.
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