THE BAT-MAN: FIRST KNIGHT #1 Review

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SYNOPSIS: The year is 1939. The world, still reeling from the horrors of the First World War, is on the brink of tipping into an even more gruesome conflict, as fascism is on the march — and gathering strength in America’s darkest corners. Against this backdrop, a series of violent murders has begun in Gotham, and the recent emergence of the mysterious vigilante known as The Bat-Man has the power brokers of the city living in fear of institutional collapse. All of the evidence in the murder investigation defies logic: the perpetrators are all men who died in the electric chair. But when The Bat-Man comes face to face with one of these sickening anomalies, he barely escapes with his life — throwing into question his ability to survive in a world that is brutally evolving around him! Legendary writer Dan Jurgens and superstar artist Mike Perkins return to the earliest days of The Dark Knight, retelling one of his most infamous cases through an acutely modern lens, depicting a world paralyzed by anxiety and a desperate populace crying out for release!


Wow.

I mean, just, wow.

Dan Jurgens is already a comics legend. The man killed Superman! But now he is tackling Batman, sorry, THE Bat-Man, and he is just as comfortable in the Gotham of the past as he is in the skies of Metropolis.

Joined by artist Mike Perkins, whose work graced many pages in Ed Brubaker’s Captain America, readers are thrown feet-first into the year of Bat-Man’s origin, 1939.

The comic opens so brilliantly, showcasing newspapers and magazines from the era, giving a historical context from the world you are about to be fully immersed in. Mixed in with headlines screaming about the Depression and Nazi invasions are more local events, denying the involvement of a “Bat-Man” and the death of a chemical magnate in his factory’s acid tank. This alternate history grounds the world as you enter from a skyline view to the gritty, crowded Gotham streets.

This is a Gotham that needs a Bat-Man, in large part thanks to the corruption of the police force, as seen from the start. Perkins’ illustrative style brings life to Commissioner Gordon, echoing Kane’s vintage model, but fleshing him out and making him feel more real.

Oh, this issue gets gruesome, too. It earns the “Black Label” moniker with its opening crime scene and even scatters in some swearing, too. This isn’t The Batman Adventures and it earns its 17+ label several times throughout the story.

The Bruce Wayne that we get introduced to comes off as more lonely than normal. Yes, he is friends with Gordon and I love Jurgens’ explanation for the relationship, but this is a man with no other confidants. As he tells Gordon, the family butler moved on when he went to college and he hasn’t seen him since, again keeping with what was established in Detective Comics #27. Since there’s no Alfred, the manor is in a state of disrepair and while we don’t see a traditional-looking Bat Cave, I love the crime lab Bruce has set up.

As for Bruce himself, I detected a resemblance to actor Gregory Peck, who himself inspired Batman: Year One artist David Mazzucchelli with his depiction of the reclusive millionaire. I applaud the choice. It adds a nice bit of visual connective tissue between the two interpretations.

When it comes to The Bat-Man, the model aligns with “The Case of The Chemical Syndicate” — flared-out bat ears, scalloped cape, circular belt buckle, and purple gloves. The first time we see The Bat-Man in all his glory is a remarkable splash page of him dropping through a glass window, reminiscent of Michael Keaton’s entrance into the Flugelheim Museum in Batman. Perkins’ work is exceptional throughout. His Gotham feels detailed and tactile. His Bat-Man has the right touch of mystery and dramatics.

Jurgens, through his writing, delivers an unsettling world. Racism, crime, poverty, and fear abound. Even Gordon seems to share in the desperation. The more fantastical element The Bat-Man faces have been dubbed “Beast-Men” and they are certainly formidable. Pair this with a corrupt legal system and this young Dark Knight has more than his hands full, creating a great sense of tension and thrills.

Bat-Man is not alone. Jurgens peppers in other supporting characters, notably Julie Madison, an actress who was Bruce’s fiancé back in the Golden Age, and Rabbi Jakob Cohen, who comes to The Bat-Man’s aid. Rabbi Jakob helps further ground this world in the global events of the time, bringing a very real sense of looming danger to the proceedings, while still offering hope for those around him. I’m curious to see how else Jurgens uses him and Julie, too. She definitely made an impression on Bruce.

It should also be noted that the colors by Mike Spicer bring the many scenes to life as only they can be in comics. Sometimes the lighting feels very realistic and “real world” and other times the can be reminiscent of the original shades used in The Killing Joke to macabre effect. Long story short, this is a gorgeous-looking book.

There is so much to chew over in the inaugural entry of The Bat-Man: First Knight. A gripping story, stellar art, and a shocking ending make me think we have another Black Label hit on our hands. If you love Batman, if you have a fondness for his early adventures, or if you love a gritty mystery, this has my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION. Javier E. Trujillo

GRADE: A+

 

 

 

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Javier Trujillo
Javier E. Trujillo was a Batman fan long before the 1989 blockbuster opened on his 12th birthday. After following BATMAN-ON-FILM.COM -- the "Dad-Gum Original" -- since its inception, he started to write for BoF in 2019, covering Batman's 80th anniversary. He's a lover of all eras and aspects of The Dark Knight, but artist Jim Aparo will always be how he pictures him. When on the internet, odds are it's because he's talking about Batman or James Bond (or MAYBE Wally West). He resides in the "Live Music Capital of the World" (and also the genesis of Adam West's Bat-Boat), Austin, TX. You can follow him on Twitter @JaviTru or on Instagram @TheBondIsNotEnough.