Not long ago, I stumbled across a website that might interest you – the top 25 Batman graphic novels from IGN. As graphic novels seem to be eclipsing pamphlet comics these days, I encourage anyone out there to bookmark it and go back when you’re looking for a good Batman read. I’m not sure about the ratings (Dark Knight Returns is #1 in my books!) but it’s good to have them assembled in one spot for quick reference.
A couple months ago, a friend of mine uncovered a box of comics in his basement. It had been given to him by his uncle (via his father) and he didn’t want it anymore. I looked trough and I decided what I wanted and one of the stories I picked up was the four issue prestige format called Batman: The CULT (1988) by Jim Starlin, with Berni Wrightson and Bill Wray doing the graphics. On the above mentioned website it was ranked #6, along with a statement that it`s relatively unknown. Frankly, before the website I didn’t know of its existence either. Well, I’m here now to say I’m glad to have stumbled upon it.
The story begins in media res, with the antagonist, a one-off villain named Deacon Blackfire. He’s your typical cult-leading charismatic figure who is ‘assisting’ the homeless and poor of Gotham City by adding them to his cult. At the beginning they manage to kidnap Batman and brainwash him into joining the group. Eventually, the Dark Knight escapes the cult’s clutches and heads back to Wayne Manor for some choice advice from Alfred and much needed recovery. As Bats is recovering, a couple Gotham politicians are assassinated and the main island of the city is taken over. The army is soon called in, but they too are nullified. Once again it falls on the Dark Knight to save Gotham and he heads back in a ‘Monster Truck’ looking Batmobile to retake the city and kick some butt.
The Cult is a good Batman story for two reasons. Firstly, throughout Batman is riddled with self doubt and defeat. He seems to be very vulnerable in this story and it’s always great to see him experience negative emotions. That`s why he`s a superhero, right? If the Batman can’t bounce back, none of us can.
Secondly, it also breaks the mould of the Batman/Bruce Wayne as a caped crusader out not to hurt, but to seek justice. Here, Batman is hurt severely and when he starts his quest, he wants revenge. Indeed, Robin and him even depart with machine guns. If the plot sounds a little familiar, there is a lot of the Dark Knight Returns in this story. Blackfire`s cult is an awful lot like Miller`s “Mutants” and both groups seem to have the a similar modus operandi. It doesn’t develop in the say way as Miller`s masterpiece does, but it`s also much shorter so we probably shouldn’t expect the same plot intricacies. The story climaxes with a good battle and, well, what can only be called a brutal showing on Batman’s behalf. The end of the story is gripping and this makes it a great, albeit even darker than normal Batman story.
The Cult is a good, fast read that it might be worth picking up in the ‘collected editions’ bin at your local shop. Of course, it’s always strange seeing firearms in the hands of the Dark Knight, and in this instance they don`t seem to work as well as they did in Barr`s Batman: Year 2. But if you can get it – go for it – you’ll find it entertaining.