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Batman: The Cult – New Printing

DC

Written by Jim Starlin; Art and Cover by Bernie Wrightson

Jan 21, 2010 DC Comics Bookmark and Share


One of the most underappreciated Batman stories is also one of the foremost examples of the superhero genre. That distinction belongs to Batman: The Cult: a miniseries created by writer Jim Starlin (Adam Warlock and the Infinity Watch, Captain Marvel), horror illustrator Bernie Wrightson (House of Mystery, Swamp Thing), avant-garde colorist Bill Wray (Punisher, Wasteland), award-winning letterer John Costanza (Swamp Thing), and the iconic editor Dennis O’Neil (Batman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow).

The Cult‘s extremely dark and controversial tale begins with Batman bound and gagged upside down; held captive beneath Gotham by a group of fanatics. Their leader, the poised and calculative Deacon Blackfire is driven to break Batman’s will and brainwash him into becoming one of his homeless followers. The frightening, and controversial element is that Blackfire suceeds in his dark agenda. Batman’s iron will is shattered and even after his escape from his captors, he stands on morally unstable ground.

The storied discussion of this narrative spins out of a murder Batman unwittingly commits in the second act. A hallucinating Batman shoots a man with a machine-gun, believing him to be Two-Face. The dying man then “transforms” to look like James Gordon, before the final truth is unveiled. Batman begins to reel from his dubious actions with his ward Robin II (Jason Todd) at his side. Besides A Death in the Family, this is the only trade to feature Todd as The Boy Wonder, and he’s actually not a grating nuisance this time. That’s surprising since Starlin was the writer in charge of making Todd such an petulant brat. Perhaps he wanted to give Robin one last shining moment before he offed him, per the request of fans everywhere.

Robin helps The Dark Knight in trying to right his indoctrinated mind, but it’s not a cake walk. There are grave consequences to your actions in this claustrophobic world. The realistic tone ultimately owes a lot to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (especially with all those blocky news reporters), but The Cult has its own deranged and soiled logic. Starlin and Wrightson largely ditch Miller’s futuristic tableaus for a gritty and violent modern tale dragged through the sewers. Some of their more malignant themes are echoed in A Death in the Family later that same year.

The main attraction of this graphic novel is that Starlin provides no easy outs for his characters. This is real life for them so there’s no cutesy team-ups or witty one-liners. Blackfire’s demise may be savage and befitting for such a deceitful conman, yet his mark remains on Batman after the last page is turned. Starlin’s choice to depict such hatred and violence is never gratuitous or tawdry. Any action or inaction largely stems from his players’ experiential code. In the case of this delightfully coarse story, there’s nary a shred of civility.

In short, The Cult is just as harrowing as when it was published in 1988. The colors are ugly and smudged and the characters are even less concrete. This reprinting was sorely needed after four earlier incarnations. (The four-issue miniseries went out of print in 2007.) Any self-respecting Batman fan should have this in their bookshelf alongside Arkham Asylum, The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, Son of the Demon, and Year One. The CCA-affronting narrative remains poignant and relatable. It’s certainly made a deep impression on contemporary Batman scribes such as Paul Dini, Grant Morrison, and Greg Rucka. It’s also just an engrossing read.

Trivia: As part of the Blackest Night crossover event, Blackfire’s corpse is reanimated by a black power ring and recruited to the Black Lantern Corps in Blackest Night: Batman #1 (October 2009). (www.dccomics.com)

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10



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Mike Stoner
July 12th 2011
6:58am

Hate to disagree Kyle, but I never found Cult to be that interesting, and normally mentally blocked it from by personal Batman universe. That said, it is good for fans of this particular storyline to have a decent reprinting available to them.