Article By Deffinition – Contains Minor Spoilers
Doug Moench and Kelley Jones stand head and shoulders above most Batman creative teams due to their dark storylines and gothic artwork. The duo have worked on classic graphic novels such as Red Rain and Crimson Mist, creating a heavy styalised Gotham universe on every page the pair grace.
But how does their work stand up when not part of a grand arc and are they able to keep up the supernatural aesthetic when their stories are forced to exist in the more grounded canon that Batman inhabits?
That’s what I’m here to find out.
Since reading the Knightfall arc and being struck by Jones‘ masterful covers I am anxious to see the artist’s work within a storyline once again. Desperate to find out whether it still holds up. We now know that this work never received a ‘Volume 2‘ and it will be interesting to find out if it is due to this book lacking in the quality that the teams multiverse outings had.
So, with that out the way, join me as I journey through Batman By Doug Moench and Kelley Jones Volume 1.
The book immediately picks up after Prodigal with Bruce back in the cowl. Nightwing and Robin remark at his changed appearance and the gothic artwork truly enforces just how different The Dark Knight now is. Wraith like in appearance, he glides about the cave, clinging to the shadows, never appearing fully formed. From the off it’s hard not to admire just how beautiful Kelley Jones’ art work is. Never before has Batman felt so vampiric and some pages have the potential to send shivers down your spine. This is the perfect balance between legend and reality. In the Caped crusader‘s new design you can see why criminals would fear him whilst also giving credibility to the fact that he could exist within the real world.
It’s near perfect and it’s hard to find fault in Jones’ pencils and line work.
The story follows the world’s greatest detective tracking down the Troika. Minor players from Prodigal who murdered Wayne employees after Lucius Fox refused to make a deal with them. They’ve broken off into smaller factions and are warring with each other in the streets of Gotham. It’s slightly by the numbers story wise but the execution and presentation catapults this story above the run of the Mill.
A Dark Knightmare
Whilst the following stories aren’t as focused as Troika there is still a lot to take from them plot wise. Gordon’s relationship strains with Sarah Gordon (formerly Essen), Gotham becomes enthralled in more and more violence and Bruce sinks deeper into the Batman persona.
I love the way that due to the events in Knightfall Gordon doesn’t trust Batman AT ALL. He refuses to even turn on the Bat Signal. The man truly feels broken and when Sarah Gordon is promoted to Comissioner in his place he is completely demoralised going so far as to quit the force. To me the sub text of the entire run is about Gordon winning back his wife and regaining his trust of Batman. Accepting that he is not an island and that like Bruce he must accept help in order to prevail.
Eventually running for Mayor the ex police commissioner truly feels like he goes on one of his most developed evolutions since Year One. Of course his political career doesn’t pan out but it’s still thrilling to see just how much good he wants to do in the cities interest.
Marriage Made In Hell
Moench and Jones have perfectly paired up to create a dark, brooding set of single issues that invoke the idea that Gotham is a living and breathing city. They have created a hellish landscape that the Bat is king of. The way Batman moves from panel to panel has a sleekness and beauty whilst also conjuring up images of Nosferatu and The Shadow.
Batman truly becomes ‘the monster that lives under the bed.’ Throughout the majority of the work we never get a true image of him. He’s always shrouded in darkness and shadow and it’s easy for the mind to wander and fill in details. Throughout my entire canonical read through this was the first time that I really felt that Batman was something else, not of this world and it’s all down to just how good of an artist Jones is.
The Return Of Alfred
After leaving during Knightfall, the storyline has felt rather sparse without Alfred. In a hilarious highlight we get the character’s return. After placing his own wanted Ad in the paper the Butler returns to fill the void that has been left in his wake. Neither Bruce or Alfred accept the fact that they need each other but his return is a welcome one. It showcases just how similar the two are in their stubbornness, in the process enforcing the fact that they are far too aligned to ever be apart.
That Old Crow
Unfortunately the book is marred with low points. There is a Scarecrow story that is a complete retread thematically of Batman Terror. The villain murders his school bullies, Batman saves the day ya da ya da ya da. Terror handled this idea better and whilst the story idea was created here first it feels far more fleshed out in that book than it does this collection. It’s strange that Moench is the author of both stories, I have no idea why he wanted to rehash the same idea twice. Perhaps either due to a lack of creativity or wanting to perfect it, the second time around, it’s perplexing that so many angles could have been taken, yet he chose this twice.
Sure I’m going off topic from this book but if you’re looking for a good Scarecrow story I would recommend giving this chapter a miss and picking up Batman Terror instead.
The Mr. Freeze story doesn’t add much redemption either. Whilst the art is outstanding it’s let down by goofy plot points such as Batman finding a list of names, with some crossed off, at the villain’s hideout. Hmmmm wonder who he will murder next.? It’s moments like this that are glaringly bad and the fact that The Dark Knight leaves Freeze in a fridge waiting for the police to turn up is the cherry on top. This is bad, bad, bad.
Luckily it doesn’t last forever.
The book’s quality really ramps up with the inclusion of Two Face. A story that spans through his career as DA to the monstrous Two Face, it really feels like one of the more developed plots in the book.
I really get the feeling that throughout all of Moench’s work is the theme of revenge. Throughout the book we constantly get characters seeking a path of Vengeance. This mirrors Batman beautifully and there are several team ups that really feel inspired by a sense of seeking justice.
Deadman Don’t Tell No Tells
The stories that wrap up the book are a mixed bag. Whilst ‘The Deadman Connection‘ is enjoyable due to it’s globetrotting and parody of ‘An American Werewolf In London’ there are others that fall flat.
I really find it difficult to connect with small arcs. Due to length constraints they are unable to fully flesh ideas out and this often leaves them feeling undeveloped or rushed. That’s the main problem that I feel was apparent in all of the final tales. They all had potential but failed to live up to what they could have been due to the space that they had to tell a full arc in.
Like most collections of the sort Batman Doug Moench and Kelley Jones Volume 1 has highs and lows. Without a central storyline throughout their run it’s hard to really feel attached to the work. I’m sure that on it’s own every story would have been enjoyable to read but as a collection it is too inconsistent to really recommend. Perhaps I’m being overly harsh, the art is breath taking and there are several moments within that really help to define the character in new and interesting ways. However, it would be difficult to suggest that anyone other than a hardcore fan pick this up.
And for that reason it gets a…
Leave a comment whether you agree with my ranking or not.