(Note from Site Editor. We will of course continue our focus on creator owned comics, and comic stores, but we also like to highlight creators in the medium that truly made a difference with their early works. Not many people can cite a profound influence on the medium or characters. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale were some of the creators that did. Their work on Batman and other works in the medium are profound. Lets take a look at one of their early works).
Many people are of course familiar with the perennial best Batman stories of Year One, Long Halloween, etc. etc. Before Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale entered the hallowed legion of Comics Masters, they were just starting out in comics around the year of 1993. They had just completed a run on Challenger of the Unknown in 1991, and were still an unproven team in comics.
Enter Archie Goodwin. Goodwin was a highly respected editor in the comics industry who was known to nurture talent and help facilitate true comic art. Batman Legends of The Dark Knight (LOTDK) was a new comics series that came out after the success of The Batman movie in 1989. Goodwin was the editor on the title until his untimely passing in 1998. Successes that came out of his run were several amazing Batman stories.
Goodwin gave a chance on the young team of Loeb and Sale with a LOTDK Halloween Special. Loeb had a background in movies and knew how to market himself and the projects he was working on. (On a side note, I highly encourage everyone to check out Loeb’s great comics interview on Fatman on Batman). He wanted to write a Batman story so big, that it couldn’t be contained in a single issue of the main comic. Note there are spoilers in this comic review (you have been warned!).
‘Choices’ is not a Batman story, its a Bruce Wayne story. All of the best Batman stories are. When writers forget this, you have the standard hero vs. villain story. At the root of the character, Batman is defined by trauma. Going out on a nightly basis for him is reliving the same trauma over and over again. He will never rescue his parents, he will always fail. He can at least temporarily alleviate this pain by going with his own rationalization that Gotham City chose him to be Batman and that’s his job.
Scarecrow gives him a fear gas in this story that forces Batman to face his darkest fears. Instead of forcing him to see the standard illusions, it forces Batman to suppress his own drives and *gasp* want to partake in his own humanity.
This is where the story really turns into a deep character study of Bruce Wayne. We find a Bruce Wayne who starts to neglect the Batsignal and falls into wiles of a young Julia Maxwell
This story is really does represent the choices one makes in his life. Is it really worth it? Is it worth it for someone to give up their happiness to commit to a war without end?
I consider this story some of Tim Sale’s finest ever Batman work. Before this, he had done a short story of Batman called ‘Blades’ with James Robinson (also amazing and worth reading). Let’s highlight some more of his amazing work:
It seems like every story panel cold be the cover of a comic, every panel with Batman is truly iconic. This work still holds up today and only gets better with age. Jeph Loeb clearly understands the characters hear and knows when to write with a true LESS IS MORE philosophy in terms of how he writes when hes partnered with Tim Sale. At this time Loeb had never really written in full comic script, and had written with a combination of the famous Marvel Method of writing and his own unique style.
It shows in the art. Sale is an equal story teller here, and giving his own unique perspective on top of Loebs plots.
Back to the plot with Miss Maxwell. As the story goes on, Bruce feels even more conflicted and does not know where to commit. Batman or Bruce Wayne?
The answer may not surprise you, but it becomes a recurring trend in many of Loebs stories. Long Halloween, Hush, etc. What should Bruce Wayne choose? Why can’ t he be happy?
I hope some the art highlighted here sells the story in a way my humble writings cannot. This is some of the finest work in Loeb and Sale’s career. This story is iconic in every way and should be included in every Batman ‘greatest hits’ collection. Its a shame that its not. Lets hope to some day even see an Artist or Absolute Edition of these early Loeb/Sale works.
Happy Holidays everyone, and I highly recommend many of the stories featured in Batman Legends of the Dark Knight 1-60 Volume 1, truly great stuff.