Dark Night: A True Batman Story (2010) by Paul Dini & Eduardo Risso

“I guess I should tell you right now, this is not the kind of story I’m known for: fantasy, action, comedy – though I guess it includes little bits of all of them. Mainly the story is about him. Batman. Or if not about him, he’s a key player in the action.” (p.2)

 

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This is not a traditional Batman story, but it is a story about Batman. In fact, Batman is one of the characters although he doesn’t fight crime in here. Dark Night: A True Batman Story is a very personal story about Paul Dini, an American writer and producer who is probably most famous for his work on Batman: The Animated Series. He also co-created the character Harley Quinn with artist Bruce Timm.

It is an autobiographical tale focusing on the period in Dini’s life when he was working for Warner Bros. Animation in the 1990s. Walking home one night after a dinner date, he was mugged and violently beaten. It was a harrowing experience for Dini, one which left him with both physical and mental scars. This story can be interpreted as a way of exorcising some of the demons the mugging left him with.

“They’re out there, somewhere, maybe attacking someone else right now. Or maybe coming back for another shot at me. They have my driver’s license, my address.” (p.105)

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It’s a brave tale, made more so because of its warts-and-all depiction of Dini. He doesn’t shy away from showing his faults, his insecurities, even his bouts of self-pity. This adds realism as well as honesty to the story. It’s refreshing to find such a candid portrayal of a successful artist who, outwardly at least, appears to be living the Hollywood dream.

But it’s not all negative. There is a lot of humor in here too, especially the self-deprecating kind. Dini uses the graphic novel format to depict some of the Batman villains going head-to-head with him, like imaginary self-therapy sessions. These exchanges are very funny at times, as Dini tries to defend his lifestyle choices both before and after the mugging.

Co-worker: “Are you okay? That looks awful!”
Dini: “Yeah, but you should see what the other guys got!”
Joker: “His wallet and most of his dignity! Ha!” (p.76)

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The art by Eduardo Risso is excellent and complements Dini’s writing very well. It ranges from soft-palette watercolor paintings to the strong-line, gritty noir style he used to such good effect in the comic book 100 Bullets. The mugging sequence is particularly memorable, with Risso continually switching the viewpoint from the muggers to Dini as we experience each brutal blow. It is a powerful, painful, emotional scene that will pull you right into the story.

This is an honest, emotional, eye-opening portrait of the artist as a young man. It is sometimes painful, sometimes funny, and ultimately uplifting. Recommended for fans of the graphic novel medium who are looking for a different kind of Batman story, one which packs more than just the regular superhero punch.

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