20 July 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Gotham, Part XXXI: Batman: The Cult

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 1991 (contents: 1988)

Borrowed from the library
Read January 2016
Batman: The Cult

Writer: Jim Starlin
Illustrator: Bernie Wrightson
Color Artist: Bill Wray
Letterer: John Costanza

Year Twelve, September
This is my last Jason Todd story prior to his death. The Cult concerns the rise of a charismatic speaker in Gotham City, who organizes the underclass and seals the city off from the outside world; large parts of this plot were adapted for the film The Dark Knight Rises, though instead of Batman being gone while this happens, Batman is being broken. Not physically, but emotionally. The book opens with Batman already captured by Deacon Blackfire and his cult, and the brainwashing well underway.

The comics equivalent of rapid crosscutting here is a really interesting technique, and one I don't think I've seen before. It's confusing when you first transition (the Batman on the left is from a dream he's having where he's committed murder; the one on the right is the actual Batman, hanging in Deacon Blackfire's lair), but that's the point.
from Batman: The Cult #1

What makes this book works so well is Bernie Wrightson. I primarily know Wrightson from his contributions to DC horror comics like The House of Mystery, The House of Secrets, and The Witching Hour!, and The Cult puts him to good use depicting the existential horror that is Batman's mental breakdown, as well as the collapse of all Gotham society. His Batman is a devastated man, and despite the fact that a cowl covers half his face, his Batman communicates the anguish he is experiencing quite well. Panel transitions are used quite well, too, to show how Batman is flickering back and forth between different mental states: we'll jump between the world-as-it-is and the world-as-Batman-sees-it quite rapidly, showing his struggle. Wrightson's art (especially aided by colorist Bill Wray) is grotesque when it needs to be. I hate to complain about someone with the skills of Jim Aparo, but Wrightson is clearly a much better match for Jim Starlin's Batman sensibilities, and it's a shame there's not much more Batman work from him.

Batman's vision of a pimp is all sorts of glorious.
from Batman: The Cult #2
This is one of those books that succeeds if it makes you feel the struggle of its protagonist, and this one does: not just in Batman's travails, but in those of Robin, Jim Gordon, and the city of Gotham itself. Jason Todd acquits himself really well here, refusing to give up even when Batman himself has given up. The only thing one might wish for is a little more sympathy, given that Robin himself was once a homeless street kids like many that Deacon Blackfire brings into his army. (Like The Dark Knight Rises, The Cult posits armed insurrection as a disproportionate response to a very real problem.) Gordon is the same as always: the hard, dedicated cop, and it shocks when he's attacked, even though intellectually you know they can't kill him off here. And finally, Starlin and Wrightson use Miller-esque television broadcasts to good effect to show the deterioration of Gotham society.

Being able to draw three images and fill eight panels is just a lucky bonus, I'm sure.
from Batman: The Cult #4

Of everything I've read, The Cult reads the most like a mission statement for Jim Starlin's Batman. It's an excellent read of what it would take for you to break Batman-- and how Batman will always break you right back.

Next Week: That's it for Jason Todd in A Death in the Family! And welcome to Tim Drake in A Lonely Place of Dying!
Normally, I try to limit myself to 2-3 pictures per review, but this was too magnificent to resist. Great Batmobile or greatest Batmobile?
from Batman: The Cult #4

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