Friday, 7 March 2014

Batman, The Dark Knight, Volume 3: Mad Review (Gregg Hurwitz, Ethan Van Sciver)

Yes - I knew I’d find a good New 52 book eventually! And, after trawling through what seems like an endless array of crap, I’ve found a really good New 52 book in The Dark Knight Volume 3: Mad. 

I’ve never been sure what The Dark Knight was supposed to be about. Batman is the superhero comic, Detective Comics is the crime/mystery title, Dark Knight is…? Going by the first volume, Knight Terrors, I’d say it was the super-pervy Batman book but thankfully Paul Jenkins and David Finch have exited and taken their deplorable White Rabbit character with them. Gregg Hurwitz and Ethan Van Sciver have stepped in though the Alice in Wonderland theme still persists. So Dark Knight is the psychological horror/warped Alice in Wonderland Batman book apparently.

Volume 3 is about Jervis Tetch, the Mad Hatter. Hurwitz explores his tragic past and how he became an insane Wonderland cosplayer really well as Jervis tries to re-enact a perfect day he had as a kid with a girl called Alice. His stunted growth led to him using experimental hormones in a desperate attempt to be as tall as the other boys and have Alice fall in love with him. The side-effect that probably wouldn’t happen, happened, and drove poor Jervis mad. Couple that with his father’s profession as a haberdasher, his pet white rabbit, and the Wonderland theme-park where he spent his perfect day and you’ve got the makings of the Mad Hatter. 

I liked that Hurwitz added the detail of the various teas that Jervis drinks altering him in different ways. A roid-esque tea makes him temporarily strong, enabling him to get in a good hit to Batman with his cane, while other teas can make him see what he wants to see, or slow down Batman and cause him to hallucinate. The teas play to the character while also making him more of a threat to Batman. 

But no matter what, Jervis will never really be a threat to Batman, physical or otherwise. So if he can’t threaten Batman, who’s next? Gotham. This book shows how dangerous Mad Hatter can be to Gotham City when he’s let loose with his mind control hats en masse. There’s a nightmarish scene where hundreds of bodies are floating in the Gotham river that surprisingly underlines Hatter’s insanity and menace to ordinary people. 

Where the book falls down is when Bruce falls in love for the umpteenth time and decides to reveal his secret identity to this new love, a concert pianist. This never goes well for the girl and, predictably, doesn’t go well here either. Her inclusion in the story felt arbitrary and dull at best and was the only real let-down of the book. Hurwitz needed more of a link between Batman and Hatter so he created this poor woman to be that connection for this book only. That and the fact that Batman doesn’t notice all the hat stalls that crop up across Gotham, as Hatter distributes thousands of his mind-control hats to the population were the only big flaws in the book. Batman’s faced Jervis before, he should recognise his MO straight off! 

After the main storyline ends, the book closes with a one-shot story of Penguin, Mad Hatter and Scarecrow being tricked into going to the Arkham Children’s Facility on Hallowe’en, wandering the halls at night scaring themselves silly. It’s a funny and inventive tale that shows the extent of Batman’s ingenuity and understanding of his rogues. 

Gregg Hurwitz has done something I didn’t expect with the third volume in The Dark Knight series and written a brilliant Mad Hatter story! He seems to have a knack for writing excellent Batman villain books like 2012’s The Penguin: Pain and Prejudice mini-series, which is also worth a look. The Dark Knight, Volume 3 is a really good Batman book and one of the few New 52 volumes that doesn’t suck!

Batman The Dark Knight Volume 3: Mad

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