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November 21, 2017

Batman: The Dark Prince Charming #1 (Review)


Batman: The Dark Prince Charming #1
DC Comics, November 2017
Writer: Enrico Marini

Our saunter through the increasingly thick jungle of recent Batman titles continues. Batman: The Dark Prince Charming #1 is the first of a two-part graphic novel from American publisher DC Comics.  The title follows one of their paramount properties the Batman as he hunts down his long-time nemesis the Joker, who has kidnapped a mysterious young girl with alleged ties to the Batman’s past.

DC Comics has saturated the past few months’ comic book shelves with Batman-related comic books, with varying levels of quality. So we approached this title sceptically. Additionally, the premise itself is nothing new as far as Batman stories are concerned. Here, again, Batman is trying to catch the Joker in order to save an abducted child (in Batman: Venom, written by Denny O’Neal in 1993, Batman fails in that task and watches a little girl drown). The text-only introduction from author Enrico Marini does not inspire confidence either.  The cheesy anecdote about being visited by the Batman personally and being given specific writing instructions by the fictional character fall flat. The attempt at humor fails to gel with the bleak tone of the rest of the comic.

Fortunately, once a reader gets through the first half of the graphic novel, the realization is that while Mr Marini is treading familiar ground, he is doing so with exceptional skill and with minor touches that help elevate the quality above your run of the mill Batman vs. Joker yarn.

The characterization of Batman in this story is par for the course. The stoic vigilante who has trouble trusting people will not even reveal key details to his closest confidante and ally, Alfred Pennyworth. The Joker is his usual psychopathic self, prone to committing random acts of brutality and subtle acts of kindness on a whim.

The most interesting parts of Batman: The Dark Prince of Charming is the mysterious girl who has been abducted by The Joker. The girl, named Alina, is introduced in the story as an alleged daughter of the Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne. It is made clear in the story that the mother intends to blackmail Bruce Wayne for financial gain but the story implies a twist: the Batman seems visibly shocked to hear the results of the DNA test. The comic does not reveal the actual result to the reader.

Mr Marini is magnificently walking a tightrope with this teaser. The obvious conclusion is that Alina is really Bruce Wayne’s daughter, which should explain the Batman being consumed by rage as he tries desperately to hunt down the Joker after finding out. But this is a twist that could have very heavy ramifications on DC’s shared – and strictly-policed – continuity. The Batman being a father is not by any means a new thing. The character had a daughter in an alternate timeline (Helena Wayne), a son in a future timeline (Ibn al Xuffasch), and a son in the current continuity (Damian Wayne). Giving Batman paternal duties can muddle his story and affect a large part of what makes the character work. We wonder whether DC’s ready to further muddy his story by introducing yet another daughter. On the other hand, Batman does work with and coach a large cadre of teen crime-fighters, so perhaps the line on fatherly duties is fuzzy.

The other possible result, that Alina is the Joker’s daughter, will be feasible as that is something that can visibly surprise and cause concern in the Batman. It is supported by the Joker keeping the girl alive without any torture or physical harm.

Of course, there is always the third alternative that Mr Marini is setting up a different direction for the twist. Could this be the daughter of Nightwing, Batman’s long-standing partner, or the daughter of some other Bat-foe such as Two-Face? This is what gets us excited for the conclusion of The Dark Prince of Charming. We are hoping that Mr Marini manages to pull off a feasible, satisfying twist, which should make Batman: The Dark Prince Charming one of the few recent Batman stories that still justifies the “ World’s Greatest Detective” as one of the Batman’s many sobriquets.

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