Longbox Graveyard #61
Last week I exhumed my rant about digital comics and the state of the comic book marketplace. This week, Longbox Graveyard looks at DC Comics’ “born digital” Legends of the Dark Knight comic series. That’s right — Longbox Graveyard is reviewing a book from the present century. And it doesn’t even come on paper!
Despite my love for comics of the past, I help run an iPhone developer and I write this comics blog, so that kind of puts me in the bullseye for digital comics whether I like it or not. I’m enjoying Insufferable over at Mark Waid’s Thrillbent site, and even allowing for substantial interface issues, I remain a fan of Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited subscription service. I also recommend Operation Ajax for iPad as a “concept car” for the way technology and graphic story telling can come together.
I’d like to have a weekly comic book fix — I just don’t want to trek to a comic store and pay $3.99 an issue to get it. So my little bat ears perked up when I learned DC Comics was launching a new, out-of-continuity Batman series, to be published weekly in digital form, for .99 each. Weekly installments, low price point, a character I like, and digital delivery! OK, DC Comics, you got me back.
Now … can you keep me?
Reviewing Legends of the Dark Knight requires looking at the title from two different angles — technology and content. Let’s tackle the tech first.
Legends of the Dark Knight on iOS is delivered via DC Comics’ own app, which is a branded version of the Comixology store app (Marvel uses the same platform in their own branded app). The DC Comics app isn’t a store so much as a storefront — all billing and downloads are handled through Apple’s iTunes, which means all the app has to do is provide a clear and attractive marketplace for browsing and placing orders.
In this the app comes up a little short. Having learned about the series from DC’s blog I came to the DC Comics app eager for some digital Batman. I didn’t come to this series in the first week and so missed any special banners or promotion that might have run trumpeting this new series, and had to search the book up on my own.
Searching for “Batman” didn’t do me a lot of favors …
That’s a lot of Batman, and the priority of the search results didn’t help. I’m a new digital customer, looking for Batman — I would expect DC’s new, digital-only Batman series to receive priority in search results. Certainly it should appear before hits for series that concluded in 1995 or 2004. Seeing that I was viewing just a fraction of the 46 series on offer and the 986 issues available, I was ready to give up on the whole enterprise, but instead went outside the app to DC’s blog, confirmed the title of the series, returned to the app, and then found it by searching for “Legends of the Dark Knight.” This brought up the title I wanted, though I still had to distinguish between this new original series and the digital version of a legacy print title with a similar name that breathed its last in 2007.
This is asking a lot of customers — someone vaguely hearing of a new digital Batman book would certainly be thwarted coming to the store and trying to find Legends of the Dark Knight by browsing. Search is complicated, and it’s a bugaboo for the whole Apple ecosystem, but the DC Comics app earns poor grades in this aspect. A storefront that can’t quickly and efficiently connect a customer with their product is failing its most basic function.
With the technology navigated I encountered my next problem:
Wrtitten by Damon Lindelof?
Having recently endured his instantly-forgetable Prometheus, seeing Lindelof’s name on the masthead did not inspire confidence. But the story proved better than I expected, though it was too reliant on a long, talking head sequence, and I didn’t buy the twist ending. The art was kind of sketchy but that’s down to taste rather than execution, and I know Jeff Lemire has his fans.
In all the first issue was a tightly-constructed and clever one-and-done story, and for all the ballyhoo of The New 52, as a lapsed Batman fan I found it a better jumping on point that the Batman Vol.1: Court of Owls graphic novel that I read last June. In fact I liked it well enough that I exclaimed so out loud, and my office partner, Chris Ulm, sitting just across the desk from me, overheard and we struck up a conversation about the book, and DC’s new digital initiative, and he was instantly eager to check it out.
Here I encountered another technology problem.
Short of my physically handing Ulm my iPad, there was no easy way for me to share Legends of the Dark Knight with him. There was a “Tap to Rate” option on the last page of the story, where I could give the tale between one and five stars, but no means of sharing this story via email or social networks. No Facebook or Twitter buttons, no “recommend to a friend” link, not even a URL that I could copy and paste and send to Chris. Nuthin’. As an evangelist who navigated the app’s search functionality to find the one book among thousands I actually wanted, I was provided zero help in sharing my enthusiasm with another likely customer.
As the kids say: FAIL!
At this point, though, I’ve paid the opportunity cost of hunting up the book, and getting it onto my iPad, and I liked it well enough. I was sold on the .99 price and weekly frequency, and so looked forward to sticking with the series, even if I wouldn’t be sharing it anywhere outside of Longbox Graveyard. The book wasn’t going to make me forget Frank Miller, and there weren’t a lot of bells and whistles in the way the technology was used to tell the story, but not everything has to be Operation Ajax. The lack of continuity with the rest of the DC line might be considered an inadequacy, but for me it is a benefit — and in fact at the first hint of a cross-over, reboot, or line-wide editorial mega-event, I’m gone, baby! No, I like Legends of the Dark Knight just fine the way it is — a bat-specific shaped-charge perfectly suited to penetrate my Armor of Jadedness and get me back into a weekly comic book habit.
Issue two was another entertaining one-and-done story, this time by Jonathan Larsen and J.G. Jones. This tale pit Batman against Amazo, a “sentient android possessing all of the (Justice) League’s superpowers.” A mismatch on paper, the story showed how Batman used brains and grit to defeat Amazo — and by proxy, prove himself superior to his superpowered Justice League colleagues.
Clever, groovy, well-told, and it didn’t overstay it’s welcome. I can already see that the reduced page count and single-issue focus of this series is forcing creators to produce crisp tales, with little of the decompressed, “write for the trade edition” pace that frequently reduces my enjoyment of modern comic books.
By the time the third issue rolls around, it’s fair to say I’m a fan. Legends of the Dark Knight has helped establish a little Thursday digital routine for me. Instead of spending my lunch hour with a Marvel digital moldy oldie, now I’m looking forward to a fresh new Batman episode on my iPad. Neat!
Except for one thing.
I do enough customer support for my own iOS firm to know that download errors rarely have anything to do with the app itself. They’re usually upstream at Apple. Still, it was disappointing to want some Batman on my lunch hour only to be thwarted by a vague download error message. An advantage of digital comics is that they should be available at any hour, instantly, and that they never sell out. We’re not there yet.
An hour or two later and my download was approved, and it was worth the wait. This third installment — by Tom Taylor and Nicola Scott — is a gimmick story, but it’s a good gimmick, as Batman (and Robin, yay!) do a little data mining to stop a crime before it happens.
I’ve always liked these street-level stories that try to get into the psychology of Gotham’s criminals, and in it’s tone this tale reminded me of the 1980s stories that Doug Moench used to tell so well. One jarring flaw was hearing Robin refer to “hiring” a car — we “rent” them over here in the States, but author Tom Taylor is an Aussie and can be forgiven that colliqualism (while we lay the body at the door of DC’s editorial).
Following these three single issue tales came two three-part tales. First up was “Crisis in Identity” by B. Clay Moore and Ben Templesmith, which has been my personal favorite arc of this young series. This was a lacanoic and darkly-humorous take on the Joker’s plot to unhinge Batman by hypnotizing select Gotham citizens into thinking they were Batman, then setting them loose to battle Killer Crock, with predictably fatal results.
Then came the three-part “Letters to Batman” by Steve Niles and Trevor Hairsine, which revolved around the tales exhumed from sacks of letters sent to Gotham City Hall by the city’s citizens, thanking Batman for his thankless service.
Author Steve Niles weaves his epistilary plot-lines together nicely and provides an unexpected judo-flip when one of the letters comes from an otherwise annonymous criminal opponent of Batman, but I found the final installment confusing — not understanding how Batman deduced where to find the bad guys from the letters he was reading — and I think this tale suffered a bit from also featuring the Joker, who maybe needed some time to cool down after having just been at the heart of the previous arc.
Calling these multi-issue stories “arcs” is a bit of a misnomer. Each installment of Legends of the Dark Knight clocks in at 22 pages … but those pages are formatted to fit the landscape orientation of an iPad, and so it might be more accurate to say that each issue is about eleven pages long, based on an equivalent print comic. That means a “three part” story runs around thirty print pages, which is longer than a single print comic, but still well short of a graphic novel or trade paperback. Actually this feels like a good length to let the story breathe a bit and permit creators to explore their idea while not being so long that the tale gets flabby or stale. The serial nature of weekly distribution also ensures each story hits a little climax every dozen “pages” or so.
On balance, Legends of the Dark Knight has been a bit better than I expected. I would likely hold a print book to a higher standard, but as an inexpensive and easy weekly Batman fix, this series pushes all the right buttons for me. Niggling technology issues aside, I expect I will keep my weekly lunch date with the Bat … so long as DC can resist rebooting or retconning the book! Kids these days may be all about the New 52 but I’m the Old 50 and I can only take so much change.
Enjoy Legends of the Dark Knight … and stay off my lawn, you rotten kids!
- Title: Legends of the Dark Knight
- Published By: DC Comics, 2012-present (ongoing) (Schedule through Fall 2012 HERE)
- Issues Reviewed By The Longbox Graveyard: #1-9, June-August 2012
- LBG Letter Grade For This Run: B-minus
- Read Online: DC Comics Online
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #62 Six Degrees of Jack Kirby