I felt a little bad for Gregg Hurwitz, Mico Suayan, Juan Jose Ryp and Vicente Cifuentes when it came to creating “Batman: The Dark Knight” #0. The month of origin stories for September 2012 at DC Comics was bound to be a slightly difficult request, but when you add in all the other Batman comics also being published this month (“Batman,” “Detective Comics,” “Batman and Robin,” “Batman Incorporated” plus all of the Batman family spin-offs) there’s a limited amount of ground to cover by a lot of different titles. Hurwitz ended up tackling the story of, “Who killed Thomas and Martha Wayne?” here, framed in the most recent iteration of Bat-continuity.
Longtime readers will know that over the years, the identity of the killer of the Waynes has remained fairly constant in the form of a character named Joe Chill, but everything else has been up for grabs. He’s been a crime boss, a random mugger, a hitman, and even the son of Bruce’s nanny. Sometimes he’s been caught, other times he’s remained at large and at times he’s been dead (for a wide variety of reasons). So with DC’s line re-launched, this is admittedly a topic that could stand to be re-investigated.
The problem is that with so many different takes on the character already, this latest iteration of the hunt for Joe Chill feels just a little toothless. Hurwitz wisely keeps Chill himself in the background for most of the story, making this issue as much about Bruce’s drive to find the killer as it is about the hunt itself. But it’s for the most part territory that we’ve gone over before. Aside from Bruce’s two encounters with a homeless man who saw it all go down years earlier, none of this felt particularly fresh or interesting. It’s a lot of recycled set pieces from over the ages, one that — to be fair — just about every Batman author has dipped into over the years. By dint of this being an origin story, though, it feels like Hurwitz ends up using more in a single stroke than most writers do.
Series artist David Finch was the solicited artist for “Batman: The Dark Knight” #0, but it’s Suayan and Ryp who split the pencils between the pair of them (ten pages apiece). The two have different takes on their art, although it’s Oback whose colors provide a level of continuity between the two halves. Suayan’s pencils have a sharp edge to them, using lots of shading to add in a good layer of texture. It’s a good look for the title, and the cobblestone alleyway feels like a real location instead of a generic street. If Finch ever moves on to a different title, Suayan would be a good choice as his replacement. Ryp’s pencils (with Cifuente inking) are a little smoother but they’re also much more busy. It’s hard to feel like there’s depth in his panels that are packed full of detail; everything’s very flat and it makes background objects hold the same level of visual importance as the character in the foreground that’s getting lost in the shuffle. It’s not bad art, but it needs some slight fixing to avoid this problem.
With all the recent revelations about Batman and the Wayne family history brought up in the “Night of the Owls” storyline, it’s not a bad thing to see a more straightforward, back-to-basics take on the story of Joe Chill. The only real problem is that we’ve already seen this so many times, that even something that is a good idea overall ends up being a bit of a poison pill. I applaud Hurwitz for taking on this story, but given the amount of times we’ve seen it already, I’m not sure there’s much more he could have done with it in the first place.