Batman stories are pretty much stamped out of a die ever since Loeb and Sale graced us with The Long Halloween. The Caped Crusader encounters a mystery/personal crisis/horrific mass murder and goes to investigate, encountering a wine tasting of the popular rogues gallery villains of the day. A Batman run is basically a sociological lesson about the movements of that particular decade (Hush was post-modern, Catwoman feminist, etc etc). Battle ensues. Sacrifices may occur. Eventually Batman gets to the nitty gritty of crime-solving and everybody goes to Arkham. He never gets laid, unless Frank Miller is writing it.
So when I say Mike Mignola’s The Doom That Came To Gotham isn’t a Batman story, it’s a bit like saying Star Wars isn’t science fiction (of course it isn’t, its science fantasy.) The very oddness of finding cream where your jelly should be gives the piece a refreshing take on the whole invincible detective thing. You actually don’t know if Bruce is going to make it. You fear for his mind. Villains come from familiar but surprising places.
On the surface, The Doom is a failed Batman story. None of the rogues you encounter here are anything like their canon counterparts. Bruce Wayne himself gets an all-new, all-tragic origin story. But at the same time, the characters channel the spirit of their predecessors in a very neat way. The Penguin is still driven to his fate by his own enterprise, Mr. Freeze is still tragic, and the Robins are still Wayne’s best friends. If you put a Gothic villain like Doctor Frankenstein or Dorian Gray next to this on a shelf, it wouldn’t look odd at all. And of course, the art is classic Hellboy, which I’ve missed from Mignola. Tentacular and unsettling in the best way.
The piece is inspired by HP Lovecraft’s The Doom That Came To Sarnath. In the original, a prosperous civilization is undone by their own hubris, and without spoiling anything, the theme carries over into Mignola’s take on Batman. Ras al Ghul puts in a notable appearance. It puts a Victorian sense of guilt into the noir mythos of Bruce Wayne, much like the Gates of Gotham or Hush. The difference being this is unfettered by what came before it, so there’s a lot of freedom and narrative rhythm that will be familiar to fans of Poe or Verne.
One of my big complaints is it’s almost TOO Lovecraftian. There’s little enough of Batman here, and what’s there challenges some of our concepts of him. He uses a gun, for example, which is forgivable given the supernatural nature of the enemy. If this were a novel, it would be deeply unsatisfying, but as a graphic novel the scale of the cosmic horror is breathtaking, the Hellboy lines gorgeous in Batman’s gray colors. And the ending is something we don’t often see, something that calls back to Dark Knight’s ending in its Victorian tragedy.
I wouldn’t say this is the definitive Batman, but it’s definitely a gem from one of the best talents around. A great coffee table piece.