The freshening up of Batman's Rogues continues in "Batman: The Dark Knight" #16 as Ethan Van Sciver hops into the artist's chair to join Gregg Hurwitz in an investigation of the lunacy of the Mad Hatter. Van Sciver's artwork -- and exceptionally dark Batman -- is no mystery to longtime readers of any DC Universe title, as the artist is well known for his work on both "Flash: Rebirth" and "Green Lantern: Rebirth." In each of those titles, readers were given a sample of Van Sciver's Dark Knight. Batman's in costume for almost half of this issue, giving readers more than ample opportunity to absorb Van Sciver's take on the caped crusader.
The other half of the book is filled with various slices of life in and around Gotham City. Hurwitz gives Bruce Wayne a chance to wallow in emotional turmoil sparked by a conversation with his Ukranian pianist girlfriend, Natalya. Readers are given quite an eyeful of the Mad Hatter. The writer even inserts a fun, throwaway vignette that could translate well to movie or television series, providing a humorous spark to what is an otherwise morose comic book story. Hurwitz's attempt to provide an inkling of balance between Wayne and Batman underscores the loneliness of Batman's life while accentuating his dedication to his mission.
Cleanly independent of the "Death of a Family" mega-story, "Batman: The Dark Knight" #16 remains agnostic in terms of general chronology. The focus is on Batman, his detective work and his diligence. A cameo from Penguin that flies in the face of current events in other titles, but adds some cohesion and depth to this title, displaying the existence of a broader universe that doesn't always wait or one calamity or threat to be upended before a new one arises. The threat established here appears posed to test Batman, but in this issue we aren't given the true depth of the threat save for his being considerably unbalanced.
Aside from the Hatter's grotesque appearance, which is accentuated by Van Sciver's penchant for manic, intense and brutal details, there really isn't much depth added to the character in this issue. Sure, he's a nutjob, but he's an antagonist located in Gotham City. Hurwitz teases out the beginnings of Hatter's lunacy and hints at the exceptional eccentricities that will distinguish the Lewis Carroll-influenced miscreant, but the Hatter falls short of being brilliantly insane.
With a strong focus on characters and their action in this issue, some backgrounds are lacking for detail, but Van Sciver does pack a number of panels to the point of bursting with intricate detail. Van Sciver also throws in some more design-heavy layouts, playing the scene with Natalya around the ebony and ivory keys of a piano. Throughout the first half of the comic, regardless of detail level, red skies are prevalent, raising thoughts of "Crisis on Infinite Earths" tie-ins in my mind. I was able to dismiss that notion following the piano scene, but I did notice that Hi-Fi seems to have an affinity for plain purple t-shirts on pedestrians.
The opening chapter of Ethan Van Sciver's collaboration with Gregg Hurwitz is yet another fine Batman offering. Batfans looking for a quick fix that delivers good art, a solid, foundational story and stands independently from other Bat-titles will be pleased with "Batman: The Dark Knight" #16. DC has done a magnificent job of delivering great stories for the Batman franchise, but readers have to make some tough decisions as to which well-done Batbook wins their money if they're not at liberty to afford them all.