Marini presents dark fanboy candy
A couple of months ago the internet in France was all a-flutter when it was announced that Italian cartoonist Enrico Marini was working on a bona fide Batman story. It was the first time that DC Comics gave the reins completely to a European creator, but then Marini is not just a cartoonist. With long-running series like Le Scorpion or Les Aigles de Rome, is is one of the big names, creatively as well as commercially.
The first episode of The Dark Prince Charming, is now available, in French (with Dargaud, hardcover) and English (DC, also hardcover, but smaller), and it is a smorgasbord of beautiful, albeit dark, eye candy, with a story straight from a video game. The Joker has kidnapped a little girl that is somehow connected to Bruce Wayne. Batman makes it his personal quest to find her again. On his search, he has to confront all the regulars in action c.q. fight scenes, from The Joker himself, to Catwoman and Killer Croc.
Even though this setup is indeed as preposterous as it sounds, Marini tries very hard to give the story a sense of realism. His characters are as over-the-top as recent (film) treatments have made them, they stay human, with an overdeveloped appetite for risk, but without any special powers. The Joker’s face is makeup, and Croc’s skin featured a tattooed pattern instead of scales. That said, the influence of the Batman (and other DCU) films is also clear in the quite blatant disregard for human lives. At one point, the Joker is not satisfied with his gang and, instead of firing them or something, decides to waste them. Clearly a story for its times.
Still, Marini is a magician when it comes to his art. Whether it’s the jaw-dropping Gotham vistas he presents in his expositions, or the explosiveness of the action scenes, it is all one flow. At no point does the art break character the way it sometimes does in American comics. And since Marini’s characters are quintessentially human, his comedy (and the book does indeed contain comedy) remains on a human level, and has a highly believable quality (Batman to Gordon: “Vaping, really?”, at which Gordon replies, “Says the man who dresses up as a bat”).
So, is The Dark Prince Charming a good comic? It’s a bit early to say — the story’s only halfway done, after all. But it pushes all the buttons, it has action and intrigue and a quite scary Joker. And 13 bucks for a 80 page book is not even that expensive, especially when you can feast your eyes on some of the best pages I’ve seen this year. So, yeah, treat yourself.