about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

Review: "Batman: Dark Detective," (2005) Part 3: The ending, the sequel, and the TDK controversy

Part 1
Part 2

Welcome back! No long-winded introductions this time, let's get straight to the grand finale of this Dark Detective review!

Shortly after Silver's kidnapping at the hands of the Joker, Evan goes to talk with Bruce at Wayne Manor, putting their personal drama aside to ask him for help:

Evan's reasoning is that Bruce is supposedly chummy with Batman, which is specious since Evan has no reason to think that unless he actually somehow figured out that Bruce and Batman are one and the same, but we'll just accept that little plot hole because it allowed for this scene to happen in the first place. Even though Bruce is more than willing to help out Evan in order to save the woman he loves from the clutches of his greatest enemy, he still doesn't understand why Evan would still care so much about the woman who broke his heart:

In this moment, Evan reveals his true goodness of character, even if it is in the service of further painting Silver St. Cloud as the perfect woman for whom two men would do anything. And so, Bruce goes tearing through the Gotham underworld, searching for any clue as to the whereabouts of the Joker's hideout. A few terrified and battered informants later, and his path leads him to none other than our old pal Harvey Dent, who is recovering in the hospital.

Even after the clearly-harrowing ordeal he's endured, Harvey's in no mood to deal with Batman. Much as he hates the Joker, he vows that he'll get even on his own terms, and even still, he refuses to rat out the Joker because he believes in "honor among thieves," even if the Joker himself does not. I like how Harvey's twisted sense of ethics here puts him at odds with hero and villain alike, which is really how it should be. When Harvey tells Batman that there's only one authority he heeds, Batman directly calls his former friend out on his bullshit:

Even as a major Two-Face fan, the one main aspect of his character which has always been troubling is his willful abdication of personal responsibility. But I can at least appreciate how Englehart has Two-Face not only refuse to dispute Batman's assertions, but to also pretty much go, "Pshh, well duh. Idiots." Thus faced with the coin's ruling, Batman decides to try another, more dickish tactic:

In case you're wondering what's up with the random kid and corpse, that's a flashback to Bruce's fear-toxin-induced memory of young Bruce Wayne stumbling upon the body of the man who was taking care of him immediately following the Waynes' murder. Yeah, he was killed by Joe Chill's friend during his rampage to kill little Bruce. And no, I don't know what the hell it's doing here or what it has to do with Bruce's internal misgivings about screwing with Harvey.

Clearly, it's meant to be meaningful to Bruce somehow in a way that causes him to feel bad about doing something that is virtually torture for Harvey, but I'm honestly at a loss to explain how that's supposed to work. Either way, the moment is rendered moot once Batman spots a snooper hiding out on the fire escape, eavesdropping in! Remember the mysterious shadowy figure from before? Same guy, and once Batman yanks him inside, we finally learn who he is! I did mention that this subplot is bonkers, right?

To quote Hermes Conrad, "That just raises FURTHER questions!" Once again, the lines between good and evil are blurred, assuming that Harvey is even meant to represent good and evil in this story. This clone is supposedly all of Harvey's bad side in one package, and yet he hates Harvey so much that he'll happily help Batman out if it means spiting Harvey. If my earlier interpretations of the good clone were correct and he was meant to represent Harvey's self-esteem, then the bad clone here is the living external embodiment of every single way that Harvey sabotages his own success and happiness.

Of course, why he's also scarred is beyond me. Did Dr. Double X just really want to drive the "bad side" aspect home? Well, considering the scarred side's established inability the blink, the goggles are a rather nice touch that keeps Englehart's wacky ideas internally consistent, at least.

From Batman's icy "thank you" to the KO punch, I have to imagine that Bruce is taking no chances with the living embodiment of Harvey's evil and/or low self-esteem. But even still, way to be a dick, Batman.

I have to wonder what kind of life that clone will have, assuming he doesn't deteriorate and decompose ala the clones in the infamous Spider-Man Clone Saga of the 90's. In either case, poor, crazy, screwed-up, tormented Harvey! The moment he has every reason to have his faith in Fate reinforced, it turns right around and bites him on the ass even further. He really is Fate's yo-yo in this story, or to put it in more Shakespearean terms, he's fortune's fool.

So with Batman racing to her rescue, let's go check in with Silver herself. Thus kidnapped and held in the Joker's deadly hideout, she tries to buy time with the Joker until Batman can save her. Ignoring the Joker's deadly-serious warning not to lie, she tells Joker that Evan is a cold-hearted, politically-ambitious man who doesn't care for her, and thus she's useless as a bargaining chip, and that he should just release her. Because yeah, that'll work.

(Note: the dialogue in this panel picks up from Silver's off-panel balloon on the right end just below. Man, sometimes Rogers' awesome layouts make it so much harder to crop!)

Hee! Is it any wonder why the Englehart/Rogers Joker is one of my favorite Joker depictions of all time? Give me this over a dozen Heath Ledgers and Morrison Bowie!Jokers any day. He then goes on the monologue about his own greatness, about his past as a criminal inventor (it's hard to tell if Englehart is treating that as canon, or if that's just the Joker's origin memory du jour), who used to come up with creations like the Red Hood helmet before we went on to bigger and better things. In true Marshall Rogers Joker form, he bends the fourth wall by even being able to touch his own word balloons.

That is some pure, delightful Rogers Joker, right there. I love how this Joker is always has one foot in meta without going into near-parody modes like Deadpool or gaining complete self-awareness like Ambush Bug. As great a touch as that panel was, the absolute apex of Englehart and Rogers' Joker comes in his next monologue, which I'd personally count among the greatest Joker pages of all time. Way back in the original Laughing Fish, the Joker had a moment where he declared that he actually "deserves" Batman, that no one else--certainly not "mere policemen"--would be worthy of his own criminal genius. Englehart decides to revisit and expand upon that idea:

Again, what a beautiful example of Joker-logic at work. It all follows a line of reasoning that just happens to also be utterly insane, a gloriously absurd paradox to explain the Joker's eternal hate-crush on Batman. This is exactly the sort of thing I want to see from the Joker, far more so than any amount of gruesome bloodshed or some variation on all that "I'm an agent of chaos" bullshit. This right here is a Joker who is hilarious and terrifying all at the same time, and he especially comes to life in comic form here, when even the lettering by John Workman is able to take on a murderously whimsical flair:

I cannot even begin to describe how much I love the Joker's delighted sing-song voice, right down to the musical notes in the word balloon. When Rogers and John Workman get together for the Joker, they're the closest that DC gets to Dave Sim levels of creative lettering.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Silver's lie ended up becoming the truth. The cops working with Evan actually deduced the hideout's location just as Batman himself got it from Evil!Clone!Harvey, and so our dear Senator Gregory and a squad of cops approach the house of horrors that contains his lady love. Now, as we've already seen, Evan has displayed some remarkable common sense in trying to get Batman's help, so surely he knows better than to do anything incredibly stupid like, say, go INTO the Joker's house. Right?

Aaaaaaaaaaaand Evan has officially crossed over into stupid territory. Before this, his worst faults were obliviousness and blandness, but he at least showed a mixture of decency, intelligence, and humility by going to Bruce--whom he justly dislikes--to get Batman to help save Silver. And yet, after doing the best possible thing and sucking up his pride to enlist the help of the one person who can save her, now he's shown that he can't resist walking in himself to further endanger himself and the woman he loves! Idiot.

Eh, maybe this is just the "fighter" side of Evan finally showing through after his "Oh, okay," shrug reaction to Silver's affair, but even still, I'd expect a great politician like him to understand tactics better than just going "LEEEEEEEEEROY JENKIIIINS" straight into the hideout of the Joker. So they go in, and almost immediately fall into one of the Joker's many deathtraps. Shortly thereafter, Batman finally shows up and navigates past the traps like a pro, dodging revolving floors and giant swinging blades of death alike:

When Evan marvels stupidly, "This whole house is like a series of death traps!" Batman tactfully resists the urge to growl "Well DUH" and instead says, "That's why this is my job." So okay, Evan's now in a bind, but he can still get out of this thanks to Batman, who guides him through another deathtrap. Having made it to the exit, Batman hopes that Evan will finally show some sense.

Evan, haven't you learned anything?! Seriously, I know love can make you stupid, but there's stupid and there's STUPID. Batman, meanwhile, navigates expertly through the Joker's death-maze and manages to find the Joker and Silver before the villain has had a chance to exact any torture.

After a couples pages of fight scene, Batman knocks out the villain, and saves Silver's life! Huzzah! I guess!

Oh goddammit, Evan. What did you do? Probably wondering the exact same thing, Batman and Silver rush towards the voice, where they find Evan. Well, most of him, anyway.

I have to admit, I wasn't expecting that level of Geoff-Johnsian gruesomeness in an Englehart Batman story, even one with the Joker. Sure, he had spinning blades of doom, but I never expected to see a character's limbs get lopped off! I was genuinely shocked to see that happen to Evan the first time around, and even still, it's kind of jarring. Using his own cape and cowl as tourniquets, Batman ties off the stumps of Evan's arm and leg, and uses the grappling hook to fashion a winch to take them to safety.

While I really did appreciate the idea of Bruce being more human and less the asshole Bat-God we've seen from Frank Miller onward, I also realize that his emotional unavailability and callous dickery are well-established as reasons why he's a difficult man to tolerate as a friend, much less anything more close or intimate. As such, while I instinctively wince from the overblown DRAMA of Silver's last line there, and while this whole scenario is happening because the story pushed Evan into acting like a love-lorn idiot, I can't say that Bruce's dickishness here is in any way out of character. It's just wrapped up more in a self-deluding "I'm just trying to think of what's best for you" bullshit manner than his usual, "I should have known that love would just be a distraction from the mission, grr lurk angst brood!"

What's more, I actually like that Silver has enough self-respect not to stand for that crap. It's almost enough to make me respect her as a character, except that this moment is still based entirely around romance and her feelings toward Bruce, rather than any agency in her own right. In any case, I'm grateful that this climactic emotional moment is about to be sabotaged by the Joker in one last glorious scene before he bows out of Dark Detective entirely.

Honestly, if that were the last Joker appearance ever, I'd be okay with accepting that. I mean, it's not quite the chilling flashback scene from Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, but it's pretty fantastic nonetheless. If nothing else, it's a fitting exit for the Joker as drawn by Marshall Rogers, who passed away shortly after this mini was released. Such a tragedy, especially since this mini had introduced him to a whole new generation. As it was, his final story ended with Batman, Silver, and Evan getting out of the burning house, ending on a sad final note amidst the waiting cops and paramedics:

I love how Silver is left standing outside of the panel, the ink of which is dripping as if the ink were running from the rain. It's a great ending shot, but not much of an ending, since it still doesn't feel entirely resolved between Bruce and Silver. And with good reason, because the blurb in the back indicated that a sequel was simply a "Because YOU demanded it!" away from going into production:

Of course, that sequel never happened. I wondered if maybe the demand simply wasn't high enough or if it fell through due to the too-soon death of Marshall Rogers. Instead, this story went completely unacknowledged by writers and fandom alike until the sad day when Kevin Smith decided to write Batman: The Widening Gyre, which brought back Silver and directly followed the events Dark Detective:

In case it's not clear, Evan's dead at this point, having succumbed to his injuries shortly after the events of Dark Detective. So that freed Silver up rather neatly for her to get together with Bruce and--SPOILER FOR A SHITTY STORY YOU SHOULDN'T BE READING ANYWAY--have her throat slit in the cliffhanger finale. Yeah, if you weren't already aware, The Widening Gyre is a terrible, terrible comic, and much as I ragged on Silver throughout this review, she and Evan both deserved far better.

So imagine my bittersweet surprise when I learned that a sequel to Dark Detective actually HAD been greenlit, and that Rogers had drawn the full first issue right before his untimely passing! Holy crap! Over at Englehart's own website, there was some details about what might have been. Quoth Englehart:

The third installment of DARK DETECTIVE continues the groundbreaking exploration of the man who swore to wear the cape and cowl. Picking up from the end of DDII, the Batman finally realizes that he can never love Silver St. Cloud. Then, his ancient nemesis, Dala the vampire, begs him to put her out of her misery, even though it was destroying her in his earliest days that led him to swear never to kill again. And so we see what happens to a hero when what's good and right and proper, for him and for humanity, runs up against his inflexible code of conduct.

He expects to divert himself from these conundra by plunging into a mysterious plot in London, involving Killer Moth, Deadshot, and an unknown mastermind, but finds that (to coin a phrase) no matter where you go, there you are. The vampire and the great love of his life will not leave him alone.

Here, currently for sale, is the one and only bit of Rogers' artwork from this storyline, wherein we get a rough sketchy idea of what his and Englehart's Dala would have looked like:

This page can be purchased here for $250.00.

That would have been damn intriguing to see. I'm already far, far more interested in Englehart's take on Dala than what Matt Wagner did with his own reinvention of the character in Batman and the Mad Monk, especially since Englehart is drawing upon one of the darker, little-acknowledged areas of Batman's early canon. Plus, Killer Moth and Deadshot? Awesome! If you're curious to read it, Englehart is selling copies of the scripts for $15 a pop!

But what about poor Evan Gregory? Surely his own story isn't over, right? Well, this opens up a whole new area of controversy and contention Englehart's part. You see, he also noticed some eerie similarities between Evan Gregory and TDK's Harvey Dent, as played by Aaron Eckhart. And he doesn't think that's a coincidence at all.

When DC wanted to make the Batman movie from DARK DETECTIVE I, they said so, and (eventually) brought me in on the project because, they said, no one could adapt me as well as me. But afterward, they didn't want to give me any credit. So when they made a movie of DARK DETECTIVE II, they said nothing. And when I turned in DARK DETECTIVE III, it got worse. I'm afraid this is a sad story...

In DARK DETECTIVE II, I created a handsome, blond, upright politician who had become the significant other to the Batman's former girlfriend, and Marshall Rogers designed his look. There it is, up above - twice. And just to be clear, the one on the right came first.

In DARK DETECTIVE II, that handsome, blond, upright politician - Evan Gregory - was a brave guy who fought crime in Gotham City because it was the right thing to do. He thrust himself into a fight with the Joker to save the woman he loved, and paid a horrible price for it as his entire left side was damaged beyond repair. The man who had been noble and handsome became a mutilated cripple.

In the next segment, DARK DETECTIVE III, that handsome, blond, upright politician was extremely depressed over losing his left side and his woman. Then Two-Face came to him in his depression and had a heart-to-heart, in which Two-Face convinced him that life is meaningless, that the woman in his life is beyond his reach, and that that handsome, blond, upright politician should make a hundred-eighty degree turn to the dark side. Which he did.

In my version, it’s Two-Face talking to another guy who’s been heavily damaged on the left side, and who is another "golden boy" politician, so it makes sense that Two-Face could convince Evan Gregory. They share a bond. In the film version, it’s the Joker talking to Harvey Dent. Those two have nothing in common, and Dent has hated the Joker the entire movie. It was a storyline in search of a reason to be there.

(DD3 was written two years after DD2, which is why the last half hour of The Dark Knight feels so tacked on. It didn't exist when they started the film.)

In Batman, they changed Silver St. Cloud to "Vicki Vale" and Boss Thorne to "Boss Grissom." In The Dark Knight, they changed Evan Gregory to "Harvey Dent" and Two-Face to the Joker. But the plot and the look are clear. The original Harvey Dent had a different origin, no Joker, and brown hair combed straight back.

To top it all off, they changed Dark Detective to "Dark Knight."

And let's not forget where the completely irrational Joker and the Batman with a sex life came from in the first place.

I figure 70 per cent of Batman was based on my stories and treatments. I'd peg The Dark Knight about the same, since all the main concepts are mine, though the usage of them was more free-form. As a writer, it's very satisfying to have created two Batman films, but it would have been nice to be treated like a human being, so I would sincerely hope that it'll never happen again. But there's still the unpublished Mad Hatter story in their drawer, and the unpublished Joker...

What do you folks make of that? Me, I must reluctantly admit that I don't really buy it. While I wholeheartedly agree with Englehart that the Joker's scene with Harvey in the hospital was hollow and made no sense, and that the last half hour felt tacked on, I personally think that has less to do with Nolan ripping off Englehart and more due to Nolan being a deeply-flawed storyteller whose main inspiration for Batman comes from Jeph Loeb.

Furthermore, I recall hearing that Nolan once mentioned that he cast Eckhart and modeled Harvey after Robert Redford in The Candidate, and I see no reason to doubt that reasoning in favor of some conspiracy to model his Harvey Dent after a bland unknown character from a story that wasn't terribly popular in the first place. Frankly, I don't think Nolan cares enough about Batman comics to have even read Dark Detective, much less choose it as the secret basis for his own movie and its very different take on Batman and the Joker.

Ultimately, while the similarities between Evan and Harvey are eerie as hell, I'm afraid that I can't buy this as anything other than a bizarre coincidence without further evidence.

Still, think about what the actual Dark Detective sequel could have been like, with Harvey being the one to talk Evan into going over to the dark side! Imagine seeing that kinship between Harvey and Evan actually explored, especially in light of what Harvey went through in this story!

Again, Englehart sells comic scripts for $15 per issue over at his website, which means that the complete scripts for the Dark Detective sequel could be yours for $90! When I found out about this story, I was DYING to buy those scripts myself, because man, what a coup that would have been for this site! To actually be able to review a "Story That Never Was," and a sequel to a comic I love...!

But sadly, life has utterly gone to shit in our household over the past month, forcing us to cut back costs on everything, and that $90 would be better spent on baby food and a new dishware set. Man, being an adult sucks. But if any of you are willing to make that splurge, by all means, contact Mr. Englehart and ask for the scripts to DDIII. And if you're willing to share any story details with us, hey, I think we'd ALL be grateful for that!

Man, I just wish I could read it myself, almost as much as I wish Marshall Rogers could still be with us. Instead, we have a masterful artist taken from this world far before his time, and on top of it all, we have an interesting story lost forever in favor of an awful one. Perhaps Harvey was right after all. Perhaps fate is playing tricks. In any case, I'm nonetheless grateful that Englehart, Rogers, and Austin were able to reunite one more time to provide the fascinating, fun, flawed, wacky, wonderful romp that was Batman: Dark Detective.

If you liked this review and want to read the full thing (and you absolutely should, since there was so much more great stuff which I couldn't include), you can either pick up the Dark Detective trade paperback or the amazing hardcover collection Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers, which collected both Englehart/Rogers stories, plus Siege and more! I own almost all of those stories in some form or another, and I'm STILL sorely tempted to pick that one up myself!
Tags: joker, marshall rogers, scarecrow, steve englehart, stories that never were, the dark knight

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