Batman #452 (Early August, 1990)
“Dark Knight, Dark City: Part I”
Writer – Peter Milligan
Pencils – Kieron Dwyer
Inks – Dennis Janke
Letters – John Costanza
Colors – Adrienne Roy
Assoc. Edits – Dan Raspler
Edits – Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $1.00
Never planned on doing a full-blown Batman week… but here we are. Over the past several days I’ve covered the four-part Mud Pack story line that ran through Detective Comics during the Fall of 1989. While doing so, I lamented the fact that the story was never collected… or so I thought.
On Facebook and here at the blog I was corrected. One of those folks who tipped me in was a fella named Jules Boyle. As a matter of fact, he also discussed the Mud Pack story in a post he wrote in 2015 about his Essential Batman stories. While reading his fantastic post, I was reminded of another great turn-of-the-nineties Batman story… the one we’ll begin discussing today… Dark Knight, Dark City. Thanks again Jules… for the correction, and the reminder about this story!
We open in the year 1793, in the township of Gothame. A secret society is preparing to perform a ritual sacrifice in order to summon (and make subordinate) a daemon called Barbathos. Among this society is future President of the United State, Thomas Jefferson. We watch as Jacob Stockman (whose journal entry we appear to be reading from) raise his knife above the prone chest of a “prepared” young lady…
… before shifting scenes to present day (or night) Gotham City. Batman is meeting Commissioner Gordon on the roof of the Gotham City Police Station. Apparently, the Riddler had been making several threatening crank calls to the Station. As the pair discuss their options, they are joined on the roof by a woman… who appears to have scaled the building with her bare hands. She is speaking, as though in a trance… telling Batman a riddle.
She repeats her riddle a couple of times, and when she’s sure Batman’s gotten the gist of it… throws herself off the roof. Batman grapples her feet Spider-Man/Gwen Stacy style… with a similar result.
We shift scenes to the Riddler… he appears to be in a library where he is holding two guards hostage. One is precariously teetering on a stack of books with a noose around his neck, while the other is bound in a chair. The fella in the chair starts giving the Riddler lip… and gets his brains blown out for his troubles. I never knew the Riddler to be this cold-blooded… very interesting.
Back outside the GCPD… Batman and Gordon are working out the riddle. Gordon believes they’re being lured to the Gotham Memorial Cemetary, but Batman knows better. Still, he lets Jim follow his hunch… and he heads to the Gotham University Library.
Back in 1793, Thomas Jefferson stops Stockman from plunging his knife into the young woman’s chest. Jefferson claims that he never thought things would go this far… and instead assumed they would only seek a symbolic sacrifice. The rest of the society says it’s far too late for anything like that. Before they commence with the stabbing, a large bat-shaped shadow stands overhead.
In the present, Batman arrives at the Library… to find the Riddler reading a copy of Franz Kafka’s unfinished masterpiece, The Trial. As Batman approaches, the Riddler kicks the stack of books (which included a copy of Seduction of the Innocent) the guard had been teetering on… lynching him in the process.
Batman is able to batarang the rope and give the guard some mouth-to-mouth, but for the most part, the damage has already been done. The guard’s life is saved, but his spinal cord has been severed. While this is going on, the Riddler casually walks away.
An officer at the hospital hands Batman an envelope containing a cassette tape labelled “The Hanging Man”. The Riddler’s got a whack way of labeling his mix tapes! He also informs Batman that the some gunmen had recently kidnapped four babies… each a week old.
Back in the Batmobile, Batman gives the tape a listen. In between a Dire Straits track and a taped-off-the-radio Welcome to the Jungle, the Riddler left another clue. This is an easy one, that leads Batman to the West Gotham Blood Bank.
Outside the blood bank there are some ne’er do wells lurking about. Rather than asking any questions, Batman simply proceeds to beat the holy hell out of them. Once they’re prone, he finds out that the Riddler’s holed up inside.
Inside, Batman finds Riddler sitting atop a tall shelf full of blood samples holding what appears to be a baby. Batman attempts to reason with him… which only causes Nigma to drop the “baby”. Batman lunges for the child, and catches it just in the nick of time… Hey, that’s not a baby!
Instead of a real-life baby… it’s a plastic doll… that explodes, covering Batman in blood. As Batman tries to compose himself, the entire corridor of blood samples explodes… absolutely drenching him in the stuff. He mentions that his eyes are full… he’s literally blinded by blood. What a crazy scene!
Batman hops back into the Batmobile and gives chase to the Riddler… He nearly catches him, but notices a baby lying in the middle of the road. Batman just barely brakes before running over the newborn. He picks the baby up, and finds that it’s holding a tarot card of The Hanged Man.
Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce is taking a well-earned (and much-needed) shower, while sharing the events of the day with Alfred. Alfred proceeds to read the riddle on the back of the tarot card…
The two put their heads together, and quickly conclude Batman’s next stop will be the Gotham Military Cemetery.
Batman arrives at the cemetery… and is shocked to be greeted by… a Zombie?
I keep forgetting how dark Batman can be. It’s funny… it’s always kind of a “dark” book, but I only recall that when I stop and think about it. I love it when I’m reading a mainstream comic… and I’m thinking to myself, “Nah… they’re not gonna…” when a potentially disturbing or gory scene comes up… only to have the creators actually follow through!
Dark Knight, Dark City is a wonderful piece of work. Truly disturbing, and a really interesting look into how dangerous somebody like the Riddler can be. I’ve always considered him something of a joke… a relic from a campier era. Here, he’s a vile and twisted individual… and proves to be an actual threat to Batman. The whole time, Batman keeps mentioning how the Riddler thinks he’s so “clever”… he almost seems personally offended that the Riddler is trying to outsmart him throughout the caper. You’d figure Batman would be above things such as that… but he seems really quite annoyed, and it’s such a novel thing to see!
I love how he appears to be playing with Batman… just leading him along by the nose, and always having a suitably horrid surprise awaiting his arrival. We get the feeling that this is all building to something huge… at least as it pertains to this arc. It’s been probably about a decade since I read this… and I purposely didn’t read too deeply into Jules’ coverage of the story for fear of re-spoiling myself… so I am quite excited to experience this one again.
Further, the inclusion of, of all people, Thomas Jefferson was quite interesting. The idea of secret societies is always one that has kinda shaken me. These devotees make me feel a bit uncomfortable… but, that’s just part of the fun.
This story line has been collected. Twice, in fact. In 2011, it was reprinted as a DC Comics Presents: Dark Knight, Dark City Special… and just last year (2015) it was collected in an actual trade collection. Definitely worth a pick-up!