David Hine wants to let you know your comics, as you know them, are not art. Everything you know and love is wrong. The new flesh is your future. Well, maybe Hine isn’t saying exactly that, but it’s pretty clear he’s saying more in 20 pages here than most creators say across multiple issues, taking the common and current concept of a comic and turning it on its ear.
This standalone issue was going to be a longer arc, but the pending DC Comics relaunch put the kibosh on that, forcing Hine to condense what was already an ambitious tale into only 20 pages. He took a blade and shed pages while creating scars resulting in a bizarre experimental dream that’s as much a product of the Silver Age as it is the Dada movement or any movie delivered in a Criterion Edition. Batman and Robin are in Paris helping out the Batman Inc-sponsored French hero, Nightrunner. There’s been a break out at Le Jardin Noir (The Black Garden) and things are getting abstract.
There’s a fair bit of story to this tale, wrapped around many concepts delivered faster than they can be explored. Rather than feeling underdeveloped, these hints of more come across like references, hidden keys to unlocking what Hine meant but couldn’t slow down to tell you. The master craftsmen of old would often stash elements in their works that were more about the intonation than the implication. Hine uses this one issue like a single canvas, leaving plenty for comic scholars to debate and discuss. There are references to “Inception,” “A Clockwork Orange,” Blondie, Aleister Crowley, Magritte and Andre Breton, to name a few.
As a comic, this issue is a whole lot of fun with enough violence and strangeness to keep the reader interested. It is as a work of art, a thought made real to be dissected and analyzed, that this issue shines. Hine creates a book that attempts to tell its own story while commenting on the state of comics themselves. Comics aren’t ambitious, they rarely try, and to break form is tantamount to sin. Hine only had one issue and no follow-up orders to worry about, so he cut loose. The outcome is a glimpse of what is possible. What is on the page is very good, but what is behind it, and what you bring to it, becomes the alchemy of true shared narrative. You will read this comic more than once.
Hine utilizes artists Greg Tocchini and Andrei Bressan as his brushes and palette to generate a world both familiar and constantly foreign. Tocchini has an offhand way of drawing that lends itself to a melting landscape of surrealism. Nothing should look clean, because all is broken. Tocchini does this very well and his haunted style ends up off the charts at times. He’s a little simplistic in parts, and his faces might not carry the scene, but the scope certainly does. The switch to Bressan works well as he delivers the two most creepy images of the book. It’s a shame the hand-off comes mid-motion, because otherwise, the artwork is perfect. Bressan’s style is more what fans might be used to. He brings a realism to the villain’s visage — and the character he torments via his actions — that sickens in a way you can’t turn from. This level of disgust is completely necessary and something Tocchini’s art would not have pulled off successfully.
As a metaphorical final drink before closing time, this issue works on many levels. It wants to play by its own rules and show you why the old rules would not suffice. It wants to present a twisted black mirror vision of one aspect of the Batman mythos while stretching out and creating as much as it can, while it can. The titles Hine gives each page/scene will have you thinking for days. This is the four color equivalent of a cryptic crossword — read it with an old book nearby for reference.