Batman: Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Batman: Dark Victory (2000) takes place immediately after Batman: The Long Halloween (1997). In the aftermath of the Holiday Killer, Gotham’s Falcone and Maroni crime families are in chaos. Dark Victory is steeped in the same dark crime noir atmosphere as Long Halloween, so if you liked the first title you will like this one too. It’s all about mysterious killings, Mafia wars, the rise of the arch-villians, and the legacy of the past that weighs heavily on Batman and his friends and enemies. Everyone is struggling with a difficult past, and circumstances never allow them reprieve, so the story has the weight of inevitable tragedy. It’s not surprising that Christopher Nolan and David Goyer took direct inspiration from these two books when they created the moody and grim THE DARK KNIGHT film trilogy.
Since the events of Long Halloween, Alberto Falcone is interred in Arkham Asylum, Sofia Falcone Gigante is confined to a wheelchair with a metal head brace, and Maroni’s sons Umberto and Pino have tried to take up the reins, but freaks like The Joker, The Riddler, Poison Ivy, and Two-Face have risen in power. The balance has shifted in their favor, but the Mafia will not cede control of the city so easily.
Batman and Jim Gordon are still shaken by the transformation of DA Harvey Dent into the mercurial villain Two Face, and mourn the fact that they could not prevent it. Selina Kyle continues to show interest in the taciturn Bruce Wayne, but he is generally unresponsive. A new DA named Janice Porter comes in to replace Harvey Dent, and her first initiative is to reopen the case of Alberto Falcone, claiming he is not responsible for all the Holiday murders.
Into this brave new world a new killer emerges: The Hangman. He targets cops and former cops, both upstanding or corrupt. They are left hanging in public with cryptic hangman clues pinned to their clothes. Clues point to a connection with Harvey Dent, so Batman and Jim Gordon go hunting for him.
Dark Victory is a very dense and tangled narrative. It takes us on a tour of the sewers of Gotham, the courtroom, Wayne Manor, battles between the Freaks and mafia in the streets, and the ever-changing relationship of Batman and Catwoman. I really like the fact that the story is heavily character-driven, not just a series of fights. It also aspires to the classic crime noir theme of criminals unable to escape their own dark pasts, such as Mario Falcone who wants to erase the bad name of his father and make the Falcone empire legitimate. Even Alberto, who was jailed for the Holiday murders, seems to want to make a break with the past. But Sofia Falcone is determined to revive the Falcone criminal empire, so the siblings find themselves at odds.
Meanwhile, despite dozens of clues and leads, Batman and Jim Gordon find themselves getting no closer to solving the Hangman murders. Though each clues clearly points to Harvey Dent, they suspect this is designed to take them off the scent of the real killer. Harvey Dent himself is the ultimate example of a man torn between conflicting imperatives, struggling between upholding the law to jail criminals, and giving in to his darker vengeful side willing to kill crooks. His two-faced appearance is an apt metaphor for this struggle.
Dark Victory also includes the original story of Dick Grayson, the first Robin. He is the young son of trapeze artists, and when his parents high-wire act is sabotaged, he becomes an orphan just like Bruce Wayne. As a result, Bruce takes pity on him and lets him stay at Wayne Manor. The young boy is upset and confused, as Bruce is distant and unattentive, but when Dick encounters Batman, he vows to find his parents’ killers.
True to its crime noir roots, Dark Victory does not reveal the mystery of the Hangman killings until many red herring have been thrown the reader’s way, and even when you think you’re onto the real killer, it’s more complicated than that. We share the struggle of Batman, Jim Gordon, even the villains themselves. So when the final reveal comes, it’s quite a surprise. In my opinion, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have produced a classic tale of crime and its legacy on all those involved, one that rivals any mafia film. It’s up to you to give it a try for yourself.