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Dark Knight: A True Batman Story (Review)

“Dark Knight: A True Batman Story”
DC Comics, June 21 2016
Writer: Paul Dini

Contrary to both expectations and the title, DC Comics’ graphic novel “Dark Knight: A True Batman Story” is not about DC Comics’ Batman character. Rather, it revolves around writer and producer Paul Dini.

Mr Dini started his successful and multi-award winning career in the 1990s as a writer for Warner Bros, most notably for the animated series “Tiny Toon Adventures” and the iconic “Batman: The Animated Series”. But the main plot of “Dark Knight: A True Batman Story” hinges on an incident that happened to Mr Dini on an unspecified date. Mr Dini was walking home from a date and happened upon two men, who proceeded to beat him within an inch of his life before robbing him of his wallet. The entire incident absorbs but a few pages of this 100+ paged graphic novel. But it is a very powerful scene based upon an event which had a significant effect upon Mr Dini.

Mr Dini plays the role of a narrator, introducing himself through a retelling of his childhood and how he has always dealt with life’s challenges by retreating inwards. He confesses to keeping the company of imaginary friends based on characters he loved from cartoons and comic books, most notably the “Batman” franchise. It works to establish Mr Dini’s upbringing as somewhat sheltered, living on the fringes of social norms, yet having just enough support from his family to avoid turning into an angst-ridden recluse.

The story makes it apparent how traumatic it was for the introverted Mr Dini to get assaulted and to feel powerless, especially after living a comfortable life. It also soured the writer on the concept of a crime-fighting crusader protecting the innocent: “Batman” must have seemed very far away that evening.

While the mugging is the focal point of the story, there are a lot of other details discussed in the graphic novel. These are backstories of interest to comic book fans, such as what goes on behind the editorial doors of “Batman: The Animated Series”. The comic contains general chatter about writing, a tongue-in-cheek look at the prospect of dating Hollywood starlets, and Mr Dini’s psychological hurdles.

For readers who were expecting more Batman, this graphic novel is an exercise in Mr Dini’s mastery of the character and the ancillary rogues gallery. Batman and his most popular enemies do make an appearance as imaginary advisors to Mr Dini, sometimes offering much-needed yet unwanted advise, and sometimes fighting amongst themselves. There is not much action, although there is a lavish application of the wit that people have come to love from Mr Dini’s works.

There are also a couple of insider’s war stories within the story that will scratch fans’ Batman itch. One is Mr Dini’s remarkable but rejected pitch for a Sandman/Batman animated episode. Another is Mr Dini’s idea on what Batman should do to solve the problem of Batman’s adversary the Joker, depicted in comic books constantly escaping Arkham Asylum. Mr Dini’s imaginary companion Batman reluctantly concedes to Mr Dini that the solution is effective, but also points out that it is out of character.

Mr Dini paints himself within the graphic novel as someone who lucked out on the social and romantic lottery. He does not deny being angry and frustrated, but he also displays self-awareness of his issues and doesn’t glorify self-pity. Mr Dini’s autobiographical narrative works as a sort of cathartic introspection. He admits that his problems are made worse by his reactions. It is a reminder that there are misfortunes that you will have no foreknowledge or control over, and on another an acknowledgment that you do have control over how you respond to them. Self-destruction, Mr Dini seems to say, is a choice.