Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
by Jarrod Jones. There are people in this world that will hurt you. Some of them want to, and will relish the moment when it comes. Some people never mean to, but the hurt happens just the same. And then there are the worst hurts, the kind that often come from within. Seems strange to think about, but the person that can and will hurt you the most is you.
But then, it’s only strange to consider if you’ve never had to endure depression. That black hole you would climb out of if you ever found out how. Where the echo chamber of despair does dwell. Many of us are trapped by it, contained in our cerebral prisons agonizing over our injustices, perceived or achingly real. And if reassurances from our loved ones (or worse, the ol’ “bootstraps” speech from casual friends) can’t magically jostle us from our pits of melancholy, the climb often seems pointless. Sometimes the best you can ever hope for is perspective.
Dark Night is a title that has two important connotations attached to it. The first would be obvious: the grim avenger staring out at us from the cover of the book, watching over a broken man through twin black pits underneath his brow. The other is just as vital to Paul Dini’s story of depression and the slow, “two steps forward, three steps back” recovery process that comes with it — St. John’s dark night of the soul. The journey through the unknowable parts of the mind, to understand and face our great spiritual crises. While Dini doesn’t seek the purity of religious absolution, his journey — punctuated by a Greek chorus of DC Comics characters — takes on an operatic air just the same.
The night Paul Dini suffered a severe assault by unnamed assailants, after an already emotionally humbling evening, is the epicenter of Dark Night: A True Batman Story. The particulars of Dini’s life — who he is, and how he came to be — surround that grueling moment, laid out in evocative panel work from Eduardo Risso; Dini’s animation-minded script chronicles the formative moments of his life while paying homage to Max and Dave Fleischer, Chuck Jones, and frequent co-conspirator, Bruce Timm. Risso blends these styles into a whirlwind of deified geek ephemera because that’s how Dini’s mind works. It’s a chart of emotional progress, peppered with superheroes and cartoon characters. But it’s also a personal inventory, the measure of what we have once it seems that everything has been stolen from us.
Through Dark Night, Dini explores the many facets of overcoming despair by allowing the characters he’s loved over the years influence his thinking. The Joker a red devil on the left shoulder. The Batman a guardian angel on the right. The myriad “what ifs” and “woulda, coulda, shouldas” bomb around Dini’s mind in flashes of well-scripted power fantasies. Just like how any of us sort through our inadequacies long after the deed has been done. But those fantasies are powered by The Batman, imagined by a man whose job it is to conjure dilemmas for The Batman. That gives Dini’s output on Batman: The Animated Series a subtext that is just as heart-rending as the work is notably exceptional.
As a sort of final act climax, Dini reveals his pitch for a Batman/Morpheus team-up that sounds like the greatest episode of Batman: TAS that never happened. The pitch fails, in true Dark Night fashion, because of course it does. In life, there are no happy endings — there are just endings. Until we get there, we have to face the many injustices and disappointments life undoubtedly has in store for us. Sounds pretty dire, I know. But that’s the credo of Dark Night, a tale of that time Paul Dini walked alone at night, and what happened after.
Written by Paul Dini.
Illustrated by Eduardo Risso.
Lettered by Todd Klein.
Edited by Shelly Bond.