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Batman: Dark Victory

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's sequel to The Long Halloween dredges up unresolved issues between Batman, James Gordon (newly appointed police commissioner), and Harvey Dent. The disfigured Dent—once a D.A.—now walks the other side of the fine line of the law; sprung from his cell in Arkham Asylum, Dent calls himself Two-Face, but professes not to be The Hangman, the latest serial killer to prey on Gotham (specifically the lawmen of Gotham). Complicating matters are a shady new D.A., Janice Porter; the large and hugely dsyfunctional Falcone crime family; and a newly orphaned lad who Bruce Wayne adopts his ward: Dick Grayson (a.k.a. Robin).

Dark Victory benefits from all of the same strengths as The Long Halloween, and suffers from all of the same weaknesses. Loeb retains his "cool factor" by ably revisiting the origin of Robin in the context of a much larger framework and, as always, providing cameos by a slew of familiar faces: Solomon Grundy, the Riddler, Selina Kyle/Catwoman, the Joker, the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy. Loeb even incorporates Chief O'Hara, a name familiar to viewers of the '60s TV series. The villain-of-the-month structure—and the repetitive, monthly nature of the Hangman's murders and clues—parallels The Long Halloween, which undoubtedly works better serialized than in graphic-novel form.

Still, people want sequels to remind them of what they loved the first time around, while "plussing" it with new revelations and developments. The characterization remains interesting: the Falcones are a lively bunch, the Batman-Gordon-Dent triumverate still generates heat, and Selina/Catwoman makes an ever-sexy double-edged foil for Bruce/Batman. As for Robin, his pint-sized petulance rings true here, in his acting out and his tentative acceptance of emotional support from Alfred and Bruce. Dick's initial contribution to the investigation is a nice scene, as well: funny and instructive about the burgeoning Batman-Robin relationship. Only pages later, Batman makes an error in judgement that provides a classic "cliffhanger."

Much of the attraction of Dark Victory is the reunion of Loeb with Sale, whose fine artwork maximizes physiognomy to express character. Gregory Wright's rich colors contribute significantly to the impact of Sale's typically large and always moody panels, often composed as two-page spreads that "splash" across the seam. Sale contributes a heartfelt intro that explains his inspiration for Robin's character, and a brief appendix offers a blow-up of the Falcone family tree seen in the story, alongside some bonus Sale character sketches. Dark Victory is nouveau Batman that, like The Long Halloween, won't be everyone's cup of tea, but like a blockbuster movie, it's a comic that makes story and spectacle events not to be missed.

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