On the whole, I've enjoyed Greg Hurwitz's run on "Batman: The Dark Knight," and his teaming up with Ethan van Sciver on the current storyline felt like a great match. In "Batman: The Dark Knight" #18, though, Hurwitz and Van Sciver's latest issue falls a little flat in two different particular places.
"Batman: The Dark Knight" has been billed since day one as the darkest of the Batman comics, so I understand that this book will be a bit more grim and bleak than what readers will see elsewhere. But as the Mad Hatter's descends into insanity, it's hard to shake that this is feeling a little darker than what I'd normally expect. The Mad Hatter's attack on his high school sweetheart Alice is a moment that stands out in particular because of how it resolves. It's dark and nasty, and while the Mad Hatter is clearly being realigned as a more dangerous and psychotic character here, it's still a jarring sequence.
Then again, "Batman: The Dark Knight" #18 is full of jarring moments. The scene between Batman and Catwoman feels off from start to finish (and slightly nonsensical), and Bruce and Natalya's even more so. The latter in particular doesn't quite work perhaps in part because the romance with Natalya has never felt that believable or fulfilling; to see Bruce go so far in an effort to bring her back smacks a bit of being told a character is important rather than ever being shown that fact. I suppose both of these encounters could be part of something bigger (being partially controlled by the Mad Hatter for instance) but for the moment it doesn't feel that way, and it's just jarring.
It's too bad, because Van Sciver's art is as good as ever. The twisted expression of the Mad Hatter when he leaves Alice's home is genuinely unsettling, and the staging of that image is such that I think he made Hurwitz's idea that much more dark and horrible. Van Sciver is good at showing just enough to make something horrible (like the Mad Hatter confronting his cast at the end of the issue) without needing to actually show heads or other body parts exploding. Add in a fine control of detail and some good physicality -- the Mad Hatter striking Batman in the head is strong enough that you can almost feel the impact -- and it's a good looking if perhaps unpleasant book to soak in.
Perhaps once the conclusion to this story hits I'll feel a bit better about it. But for now, I think "Batman: The Dark Knight" #18 is easily the darkest issue of the series to date. Did it step over a line? Perhaps a bit. I don't mind dark or violent comics, but there's something about this one in particular that's a little bit rattling.