Dark Night – A True Batman Story: Put A Smile On

As the winner of this month’s book selection for Gamers Read (it’s a podcast about gamers…reading books!), I decided to buck the trend and choose a graphic novel. I love the medium because it inspires so much creativity for both the writer and the illustrator. I always try to advocate graphic novels whenever possible so I’m pleased that my group had agreed to its use. Of all the titles I could have chosen to read (Saga,  Wicked + Divine, From Hell – only because I love that book), I had an advance copy of Dark Night on my shelf for some time. I kept putting it off because there were other things I wanted to read and play, so what better way to force my hand than to offer it as a pick for a book discussion?

Dark Night: A True Batman Story is an autobiography of industry phenom, Paul Dini. I’ve always looked up to Dini for his work on the greatest show ever made – Batman: The Animated Series – and he was the only reason I gave DC Comics the time of day. He’s an amazing writer and has told some really fantastic stories on a television show that was a staple of my childhood. In Dark Night, he and artist Eduardo Risso commit to panels a night in 1993 when Dini was brutally mugged on his way home. After falling into depression and fear, his writer’s mind gives form to the voices in his subconscious in guise of Batman’s Rogues Gallery

Dini’s story is a deeply personal, one that sheds light on the personality of a man who brought so much joy to people. The attack doesn’t occur immediately, rather the first part of the comic offers a glimpse of what it’s like to be Paul Dini in the 1990s. He uses the book to open up about his personal hang-ups and attempt to find solace through a series of therapists and relationships that, sadly, don’t go anywhere. Once he is mugged, his insecurities and loneliness threaten to unravel his career. It doesn’t help that the Joker, the Penguin, Two-Face, and the Scarecrow whisper in his ear and tell him to just roll over and be overtaken by his psychological trauma. Dini’s voice of inner reason is, of course, Batman who shows that he has no patience for his moping around.

There are some genuinely touching moments in the comic. It’s hard to watch Dini struggle with his life after receiving a beating he did not deserve. Dini’s world view literally changes overnight. One day he’s bringing home wild Batman: The Animated Series merchandise and dating starlets. The next, he finds himself never going out at night and can’t handle being in a room full of strangers. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. is in the process of developing a script for Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Dini finds it hard to write a story about Batman saving the day when no one saved his. There are a lot of poignant moments in Dark Night and it makes for some thoughtful reading.

Dark Night is illustrated by Eduardo Risso (100 Bullets) and he does an amazing job of capturing Dini’s tale. What’s really amazing about the whole thing is that Risso has to accommodate numerous visual styles that wildly contrast with his own. For example, for the sequence in which Dini is beaten within an inch of his life, Risso draws the scene in with contrasting colors and shadows that remind me of Tim Sale’s work on The Long Halloween. Risso’s use of color also contributes to the feel of the story. Everything looks so muted as if the entire story took place inside an old office building lit by dim fluorescents. It really adds to the dream-like nature of the story.

It’s one thing to tell a story about a time when you experienced significant trauma. It’s another thing entirely to completely bare your soul to an audience of complete strangers. While Dark Night could have stood on its own with just the mugging and his road to recovery (both physical and professional), I’m surprised that he exposed so much of his private life. By the end of the graphic novel, I was comforted with the knowledge that someone so talented and respected shared some of my personal hangups.

A thought provoking, non-traditional biography of an industry luminary.

Title: Dark Night: A True Batman Story
Author: Paul Dini, Eduardo Risso (artwork)
Format: Graphic Novel
Price: $22.99
Purchased Or Received For Review? Received as an Advance Reader Copy
Where to buy: Amazon

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