“Legends of the Dark Knight” is a digital series of shorts from acclaimed creators. This story, “The Butler Did It,” kicks off the series and brings us a brutal tale of trust and self-perception from Damon Lindelof and Jeff Lemire. These two men bring enormous cultural cache to the book and it is nice to see the story live up to the expectations and hopes.
This book’s format is 20 pages, with each page comprised of a landscape style page that fits an iPad screen perfectly, which we’ve seen with a variety of digital-first stories of late. This means we don’t get 20 “pages,” as we know them, but rather 20 screens and these screens take up as much space as half a regular comic page. It means less story to some degree, but this issue delivers more than enough bang to warrant the 99 cent price point. In fact, this is insane value because it’s extremely good and definitely memorable.
Taking place in Batman’s past, Lindelof dances between the raindrops of culturally understood continuity, much as he did with his short in “Action Comics” #900. However, Lindelof is asserting a much larger claim in this short. He’s not exactly shaking things up, but takes an established character and tests their base role within an extreme situation. Some may see it as false, others will certainly find it confronting, but in the end it rings true for the character. Lindelof has just built more depth into the world of Batman and the tapestry is richer for it.
The premise of the tale is simple. Batman is on patrol, pretty much clapping himself on the back in congratulations for being smarter than the superstitious and cowardly lot he hunts, and stumbles across a crime scene that mirrors the formative alley mugging that shaped his future. From there, things twist plenty with a bait-and-switch, a flashback and one shocking but ultimately satisfying conclusion.
Jeff Lemire would not be my first choice to illustrate a run on any title with Batman in it, but only getting 20 small pages from him works and it eventually leaves you wanting more. His lines feel improvised, his forms more emotional than literal. This is an estimate of Gotham and everyone in it straight from the heart, not the draftsman’s desk. Considering this is a tale of men and their words, this works as an effective collaboration.
Lemire is given the opportunity to stretch his muscles and write the Caped Crusader flying about his city as well as just two men talking. A brutal page of violence showcases Lemire’s ability to plot and chart a page with a sneaky opportunity to draw a few rogues. His Joker is as good as you’d expect, his Freeze is fantastic and his Poison Ivy is not on the money at all.
“Legends of the Dark Knight” launches with an explosive bang. The opportunity to write 20 half pages and have some fun might be seen as an invitation to go soft and delight the crowd in a light way. Lindelof and Lemire defy the expectation, constructing new knowledge in this world and leaving their mark in a respectful manner. It might not feel respectful — it might feel intrusive and nasty, but in the end, that’s exactly how the best lessons should be.