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Comic Book / Dark Night: A True Batman Story

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"So...I got beat up."

It's The '90s, and animation is hitting notes nobody thought it could possibly hit. Disney and Warner Bros. are two titans within the medium with massive cult hits that are still fondly remembered to this day. One of them would be one of the most celebrated animated series of all time: Batman: The Animated Series. The success of the show even leads to a theatrical feature in the form of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.

Enter head-writer and fan of cartoons Paul Dini, who in the year of 1993 is having a pretty good time enjoying the rave reviews and positive fan response for Batman: TAS and Tiny Toons. Underneath it though, Dini holds a depressive attitude brought about by uncertainty about the lifestyle he had chosen (symbolized by the large amount of Batman merchandise and animation cels framed and hung on his walls). It doesn't help that Dini also happens to be in a shallow relationship with a very attractive actress who couldn't give less of a damn about him or his work. Following what he perceived to be a disastrous date, Dini decided to take a night walk... during which he finds himself approached by two thugs who savagely beat and rob him. His face literally broken and traumatically terrified for his life, Dini begins a journey to heal, not just physically, but also emotionally, and better himself with the help of, who else, Batman.

Dark Night: A True Batman Story is an autobiographical graphic novel about Dini's attempts at getting over his trauma with the help of his love for Batman and his mythos. The story was first told on Kevin Smith's podcast Fatman On Batman. Smith urged Dini to put it to paper, despite the writer's hesitation. The book was published in 2016, with art provided by Eduardo Risso.

Not to be confused with the Crisis Crossover event Dark Nights: Metal.

Dark Night provides examples of:

  • The '90s: Since the main events of the story take place during production of Batman: The Animated Series, it takes place within this time period.
  • An Aesop: It doesn't matter if what you love is escapist fiction or juvenile. What matters is that it helps you overcome your problems with what its characters and stories represent.
  • Art Shift:
    • Dini's pursuit of a long-term relationship is presented in the style of a Road Runner cartoon. Dini even states "With apologies to Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese."
    • The scene of the mugging itself is colored and inked like it was drawn by Frank Miller, Tim Sale or Mike Mignola. This is in high contrast to the painted style of the rest of the book.
    • The wide angle still in the record store, where the store employee tells Dini how Tiny Toons is helping him and his wife cope with her cancer, places the drawn characters in a real-life store.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: Discussed by Dini when he practices at a shooting range with a rental.
    Dini: DC will kick my ass if I had you do this in the comics.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Inverted. The Dini of the 90s and who was the victim of assault and robbery is clean-shaven. The present-day, happier Dini who has overcome his trauma and depression has a full beard.
  • Captain Ersatz: Vivian and Regina are clearly not the actual names of the actresses Dini dated.
  • Creator Recovery: invoked The book is all about Dini's recuperation after a traumatic mugging. Due to his state of mind, Dini would've been going through Creator Breakdown while writing Mask of the Phantasm but luckily he took the time he had before the deadline to heal and turn in the script for what would soon be considered a highly underrated and strong contender for best Batman film.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Dini can do little to defend himself as the two muggers go to town on him.
  • Darker and Edgier: A hell of a lot darker than Dini's other works.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dini is very much this, especially when anyone asks him if the police caught the muggers.
    Doctor: Did they catch the people who did it?
    Dini: At this very moment, the L.A.P.D. is conducting a citywide manhunt. Bloodhounds, helicopters, psychics, mounted police... I'm sorry, I meant to say, No.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Dini realizes this about himself when considering purchasing a gun. He flashes back to a time in his childhood where he was playing around with a rifle and was about to shoot some ducks when his brother's head suddenly appeared within his sights. The horror of the incident reminds Dini of his hatred of firearms and he promptly abandons the notion of buying one. Of course, this entire sequence is portrayed while he imagines Batman standing over his shoulder.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: The trauma of the mugging sends Dini into a spiral of alcoholism. It gets bad enough that he contracts walking pneumonia, which gives him a good reason to stop, but he never quits completely.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Dini after having bad luck with women, nearly getting killed through a mugging, and trying to work through the trauma while on a writer's deadline, manages to find meaning in his work, delivers a magnificent script for Mask of the Phantasm, and later reveals that he married a woman he loves.
  • Evil Stole My Faith: While Batman isn't actually a god, he might as well be to Dini (and to so many other fans). But after his brutal mugging, Dini essentially suffers a crisis of faith and wants nothing to do with writing Batman stories. Dini's faith in Batman is restored as he comes to see his own self-worth.
    Dini: It's taken me years to accept what you told me back then, that you were there for me that night. Not as a vigilante swinging to the rescue, but as an ideal, as an inspiration. A voice I heard in darkness, commanding me to stand up. The same voice that tells us when we get beaten down, we can accept being a victim or choose to be the hero of our own stories. And we make that choice by standing up.
  • Gilligan Cut:
    • Before visiting his doctor, Dini assures Arleen Sorkin that his injuries are most likely not as bad as they look. Come the actual visit, the doctor tells him the injuries are very bad.
    • Batman tells Dini what he should to do to avoid another mugging. This includes exercise, fitness training, and taking self-defense classes. The next panel is Dini buying a gun.
    • Lampshaded by Dini, when he recounts that his Dad asks him how can he make money doing drawings.
      Mr. Dini: I'd like to know what kind of job you can get by watching cartoons.
      Paul: And off Dad's rather prophetic announcement, we flash forward twenty-five years.
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: Batman (good angel) and The Joker (bad angel) are this to Paul Dini, specially after his assault and beating. Subverted somewhat, in that Batman's lectures — giving voice to Paul's self-loathing and blaming him for his own misfortunes, or proposing solutions in hindsight that are only guaranteed to work if you're Batman — aren't that helpful in practice, while Joker gleefully acknowledges his own advice (focus on yourself, don't take responsibility for anything, retreat into second childhood) is as self-destructive as it is tempting.
  • Good Parents: Although they are initially portrayed as Fantasy-Forbidding Father when he was a child, Dini states that his entire family, including his dying grandfather, were nothing but supportive of his creative endeavors.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • The entire story revolves around Paul Dini's trauma following his mugging. The attack makes him realize just how alone he really is (or feels) and the fantasy of Batman slowly but surely begins to leave him.
    • Dini also reveals that he had one before the mugging, when an actress named Regina refused to go with him as his date to the Emmy's, and he apparently ended up cutting himself with the wings of his Emmy award.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: While he gave the actresses that he tried to date a Take That!, he does leaven it by mentioning that they were upfront about what they were and their motives for going out with him... which was to build up a necessary network of contacts that could further their careers. In contrast, he acknowledges he was being misleading to them about his connection to Steven Spielberg to get a date in the first place.
  • Imaginary Friend: Batman, his allies, and his Rogues Gallery advise and/or berate Dini.
  • Imagine Spot:
    • While recovering, Dini imagines Batman saving him and kicking the asses of the two muggers.
    • Dini also has one during his date, where he stands up for himself and tells off Vivian for thinking of herself rather than actually having dinner with him.
  • Inciting Incident:
    • If not for the bad date with Vivian, Dini wouldn't have walked alone that night, which meant he wouldn't have been mugged.
    • As Dini recounts, if he hadn't been Playing Possum after being badly beaten, the muggers would have made sure he was dead.
  • It's All About Me: Vivian and Regina. Regina rejects Dini's invitation to go as his date to the Emmys due to believing that associating with animation would be bad for her career. Vivian only knows to talk about herself, to the point where her response to Dini telling her that he was robbed is to turn it around so she can talk about a time she was harassed by two men instead of giving any actual emotional support.
  • Just Friends: Vivian does this rather subtly but cruelly, by first referencing a photographer she is (likely) dating, and at the end of the dinner she asks Dini if he is seeing anyone and that he “deserves someone wonderful.” Dini then imagines the Joker giving him a Pie in the Face. To add insult to injury, she tells him she’s glad he’s not seeing anyone, so he has more time for her and that she’d “hate it if we couldn’t still be friends no matter whom we’re with.” Paul is so devastated that he walks the long way home, which is where he meets the muggers.
  • Karma Houdini: The guys who mugged Dini were never caught as far as he knew.
  • Kirk Summation: Dini gives one to each of the Rogues who represent his fears, insecurities, and sense of self-pity. Though with the Joker, Dini ultimately does a Shut Up, Hannibal! by walling him up in a small cell in the Batcave.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Ivan Ivorybill is an Expy of Woody Woodpecker, who is owned by Universal Studios. Played straight with Beany and Cecil, as Ruth and Rob Clampett, the children of Bob Clampett are thanked in the acknowledgements.
  • Male Gaze: Many of the frames of Dini’s therapist focus on either her legs or her partially exposed breasts.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: It's revealed Arleen Sorkin was this; despite playing Harley Quinn, sidekick to the Joker and criminal, she is very kind and cares a lot about her friends. She offered to postpone her date to help Paul after hearing that he's mugged, despite that as Paul dryly tells her, he would make a bad first impression on her boyfriend.
  • Mental Health Recovery Arc: Subverted. Despite his new lease on life, Dini is not completely cured of his trauma, and admits to being nervous whenever he suspects another robbery is about to happen.
  • Minor Kidroduction: The comic starts by showing Dini’s childhood love of cartoons, his vivid imagination, his artistic skills, and his social isolation and history of being bullied.
  • Mistaken for Racist: Dini's attempt to avoid this led to him getting mugged.
  • Mythology Gag:
  • No Sympathy: The police joke to Dini about why Batman didn't save him, and says it's unlikely they'll find the muggers.
  • Pet the Dog: Dini's vision of Harley Quinn congratulates him on facing his demons, and says she can't wait to have more of his stories.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Dini with Arleen Sorkin, to contrast with his romantic relationship at the time. While Vivian uses Dini's need for support to talk about herself, Sorkin almost immediately rushes over to check up on him when he calls for help.
  • The Renaissance Age of Animation: Dini discusses how he began working at Warner Brothers in the late 80s as animation transitioned away from The Dark Age of Animation and became more respected and of higher quality, as people like Steven Spielberg began producing animated shows and movies.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Batman and his enemies serve to represent various aspects of Dini's life that he overcame during this period.
    • Batman: The Dark Knight continually serves as Dini's logic and common sense. Every time he appears, he is demanding that Dini grow a pair and return to work. Other times, he is berating the writer for not thinking like him, pointing out various ways he could've defended himself against the muggers without the physique of a superhero.
    • The Joker: The Clown Prince represent Dini's self-loathing, as he constantly mocks and belittles Dini, cruelly reminding him of his worthlessness and inflating small embarrassments to full-on shame. He often urges Dini to continue procrastinating, pointing out the dangers of the outside world and how safe it was in his home, regardless of unfinished work.
    • Poison Ivy: Whenever she shows up, Dini is reminded of his past failed romances, specifically Vivian and Regina. It's his status as a Happily Married man to Misty Lee that rids him of Ivy.
    • The Scarecrow: Obviously, the Scarecrow is there to remind Dini of all the dangers and fears of his life. Even after Dini gets over his trauma, Scarecrow points out that he is still uneasy whenever he suspects a repeat of the mugging is going to happen.
    • Two-Face: Harvey Dent represents both the physical and mental scars of the robbery that is left on Dini. When he looks himself in the mirror, he is immediately reminded of Two-Face's disfigurement.
    • The Penguin: He represents Dini's fall into alcoholism. Penguin is usually serving him drinks at the Iceberg Lounge.
    • The Riddler: He gives Dini excuses to make to save himself from having to physically go to work, and later embodies Dini questioning himself.
    • Clayface: He's equated to the paranoia Dini feels when going out in public, fearing that anybody around him could be a repeat of the mugging, i.e. someone in the crowd is really Clayface in disguise.
    • Mr. Freeze: Freeze only appears at the end of the story, but he appears to represent Dini's emotional detachment from the world around him after the mugging. Consequently, he doesn't appear much in the story; since he's a personification of detachment, he's just as detached from Dini's own problems.
    • Harley Quinn: Harley, being an original creation by Dini for the show, personifies Dini's motivation and creativity. Whenever she appears, she is ordering Dini to give her something to do. The book ends with the two of them walking home so Dini can write more adventures for her.
  • Scary Black Man: Doubly subverted. Dini doesn’t want to be Mistaken for Racist by avoiding black men in hoodies, but then they do turn out to be threatening. Very threatening.
  • Self-Deprecation: Played for Drama. The book fully reveals just how depressed and lonely Dini felt before and after the mugging. As he recovers, his projection of Batman hits him with wave after waves of Reason You Suck Speeches.
  • Self-Harm: Dini recounts that he cut himself with his own Emmy award after Regina refused to accompany him to the award show when she found out his award would not be televised.
  • Sequelitis:invoked Alluded to in a dig Bruce Wayne makes in which Bruce observes that all the actresses Dini dates only star in movies with Roman numerals after the title.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Dini pitched an episode where Batman met Neil Gaiman's Death and Dream of the Endless.
    • The ending directly references Blazing Saddles, which Dini lampshades.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: After the robbery, Dini is asked by a black co-worker (most likely Barry Caldwell) if the muggers were also black. Dini truthfully tells him that at least one of them was, leading to the co-worker to give a resigned "damn it" and a handshake in apology.
  • Take That!: The actresses Dini dated are barely portrayed in any positive light.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Once Dini realized that the two guys approaching him were mocking him, he recognizes that he is about to be assaulted.
  • This Is Reality: The mugging reminds Dini in the worst possible way that the comics and cartoons he likes are all fictional fantasies.
    Batman: You could've escaped them, you know. Used the smaller attacker's momentum and flipped him into the bigger one. A basic jiujitsu move. I use it all the time.
    Dini: There are two reasons that works for you — one, you're a superbly trained martial artist. Two, you're a drawing! You can't get hurt!
  • What Could Have Been:
    • Invoked within the story. Dini discusses a time when he pitched a highly metaphysical episode where Batman, in a near-death experience, encountered Death and her brother Morpheus. His director vetoes it on the grounds that their show isn't a fantasy, and it would be too metaphysical and that they don't mention "death". Ironically, B:TAS would eventually be more comfortable with how violent it could get (down to death being regularly a thing characters are threatened with) and would introduce fantasy elements by guest-starring characters like Etrigan and Klarion the Witch Boy thanks to the DC Animated Universe beginning to World Build.
    • There was also another discussion the writers had where the Joker's fate in-between TAS and Beyond was that Batman imprisoned him in the Batcave for the rest of his life, with the sound of Joker's laughter being reassurance to Batman that at least the clown wasn't out causing mayhem in Gotham.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Vivian is never seen again after Dini calls her following the mugging.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: The various Batman characters are used by Dini to encourage himself to recover.
    Batgirl: I've had worse. Feel better.
    • A record store owner tells Dini about how an episode of Tiny Toons helped cheer him and his cancer-ridden wife up, and although Dini didn't write that episode, the incident and his sister remind him that his work matters, which helps him get off his procrastination and back to writing for Mask of the Phantasm.
    • Dini nervously showed his grandfather an animation cel from a project he was working on. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence and contemplation, Grandpa Dini asked Paul why it wasn't signed.