This was, by far, the most brutal Batman comic I’ve ever read.
Actually, scratch that. This was the must brutal comic I’ve ever read, period.
Originally published as a four-part mini-series, Batman: The Cult chronicles what may be Batman’s most gruesome case ever. It centers around Deacon Blackfire, a persuasive man of questionable origin who claims to have been chosen by god to save Gotham from its wide-swept criminality.
The comic makes no pretenses about what type of story it is, opening with Batman captured by Blackfire, chained and tortured as everyone tries to persuade him to join their cause.
I’m grateful at least that this torture was implied rather than explicitly shown. Proof that you can get your point across without resorting to torture porn.
If this had been any other comic, one would assume that Batman devises a masterful plan and ultimately escapes; not so in this case. Rather, Batman is beaten and, as he puts it, “broken”, falling into ranks with Blackfire’s other loyal followers, meekly abiding whatever he’s told.
The power behind the comic is not only that Batman himself falls victim to this madman, but that countless other people do as well, until Blackfire has a veritable army at his disposal:
The fervor with which these people follow Blackfire, be it because they’re drugged, psychologically unstable, or just religious zealots, is shocking, and the brutality with which they exact vengeance on “sinners” brings a level of violence to these comics that I haven’t yet seen. The story is brutal, but effective.
With numerous heartless murders occurring on just about every page, there wasn’t much opportunity for levity. There are no jokes, no wisecracks. Batman and Robin are engaged in a war they likely won’t survive, and they know it.
It was surprising, then, to see such an over the top, almost absurd, image crop up during their main battle:
This “new and improved” batmobile is so outlandish that it seems out of place in such a dark, serious comic. I admit to cracking a small smile when I turned the page and saw this, but at the same time it felt so out of place in this type of story. It was the only moment that left a crack in an otherwise seamless trade.
This comic was a major departure from other Batman stories I’ve read. It is dark, realistic, and unflinchingly violent. It is also expertly written and skillfully drawn, resulting in a thoroughly absorbing story. I actually began to question if our caped crusader would escape unscathed. I no longer felt the comforting, safe reassurance that justice would always win out.
This collection was extremely well-written, and while it feels like a misnomer to call it enjoyable, it was definitely enthralling. I tore through the story in one sitting, dying to see how it would all play out, not really being able to predict anything that was going to happen. It fit every criteria for what I would look for in a comic, and although at first glance it might not have been something I’d pick up to read on my own, I’m very happy it was included on “the shelf”.