Batman: One Dark Knight Explores the Darkest Corners of Gotham

Sean takes a look at the newest debut issue from DC Comic’s Black Label; Batman: One Dark Knight.

The story of a man going from one end of a city to another is perhaps one of the more classic forms of narrative. Be it John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, Walter Hill’s The Warriors, or Richard Donner’s 16 Blocks, these stories often focus on the psychogeographic implications of the cities they explore. The ways in which architecture infests and intermingles with a people. The odd nooks and crannies of a city that truly make it what it is and what it always will be.

Jock’s One Dark Knight is no exception. Though we currently only have a first issue to go off of, there is already a focus on the geographical meaning of the city of Gotham that many comics before it have ignored. This might be due to the form in which the story takes: Batman must escort a prisoner to Blackgate Prison while a city-wide blackout is occurring on a hot, summer night. As such, each district of Gotham (and those who run within them) is plainly laid out for fans who might be unfamiliar with the general landscape of Gotham as well as to give the reader a sense of Batman’s progress through the city.

However, the core focus of the story isn’t on the geography of Gotham. Rather, as a first issue, its focus is primarily in setting up the events that follow throughout the story. We are introduced to several plot threads tied into Batman’s quest to return the criminal EMP to prison; from Vasquez’s prison reform policies to a child who has an unknown relationship with the aforementioned criminal. The full scope and implications of these are hinted at within this issue but are delved into just enough to keep readers hooked rather than confused.

Equally, the artwork from Jock is stellar. His scratchy style lends brilliantly to the world of Gotham, as it did in his previous explorations of the city. From the opening sequence of people living their lives in the city to the initial ambush that leads to Batman escorting the prisoner to even the ambient, dry colors that invoke the sense of heat the characters are feeling without drowning them in sweat.

And yet, there are some things that nag at me. For starters, there are points where Jock’s art style doesn’t fully work. Awkwardly drawn faces that feel off for the emotion everything else is pulling off. These crop up from time to time with any work by an experienced artist and they aren’t enough to draw me out of the book completely, but they nevertheless jump out when they do show up.

But my core issue is with regards to the nature of Vasquez’s reforms. Mainly, she believes that Gordon is a bit too lenient on criminals and needs to tighten his grip on the city. Which is to say, given some implications, they should be going after Batman as well. While the book is setting Vasquez up to fall (be it by changing her opinions after seeing Batman in action or having her be fired), there’s a sense that the book is pulling its punches by using an obvious (if, judging from this first issue, somewhat sympathetic) strawman. We are in a period where prison reform is a necessary conversation to have, especially in America. To have someone suggest an alternative to the system we have and for it to be such a flagrant strawman that’s actually antithetical to what people are demanding is honestly a bit disheartening to see.

Still, the book is strong in its ambitions and an enjoyable read throughout. A good number one for any Batman fan, old or new.

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