For the first few years of its existence, Legends of the Dark Knight was a rather distinct title. By embracing an anthology format, it allowed for a varied group of creators to approach Batman from multiple perspectives. While some of these talents were long established names in the industry (Dennis O’Neil, Klaus Janson, Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy) while others were more up-and-coming (the storyline Gothic was probably the first time I ever read Grant Morrison’s work). Issue #37 presented readers with a single issue story entitled “Mercy” written by a then little known team of British writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. While far afield from the dashing cosmic epics which would make their name nearly a decade later at Marvel, it is a low-key gem typical of the more unsung work from this title.
The seed of their story is set five years in the past as Batman patrols Gotham’s docks, where an illegal fight ring has broken down into a riot. Batman is about to intervene when he is confronted by fresh from the Academy Officer Mercedes Stone. “Mercy” is a letter of the law kind of cop and sees little need for the assistance of the city’s unlawful vigilante. Despite her defiance, or perhaps because of it, Batman admires her dedication to the idea of justice. Thus, he steps back and lets her team take the first approach alone. It proves to be a fatal error. Inside the bar is a brutal fighter by the name of The Cossack. He kills Mercy’s partner and nearly beats her to death before escaping.
From here Abnett and Lanning could have taken their story along a predicable path of angsty vengeance. It is true that there is an element of that in the tale. Batman accepts Mercy’s plea to train her (in typical Batman fashion he makes her wait two hours for him “to test her resolve”). The more she hones her body with Batman, the more aggressive she becomes on the beat, until being suspended for use of excess force. She is now fixated on locating The Cossack and avenging her partner. She dives deep within Gotham’s fight clubs. The bright light which once shone in a rookie office’s eyes now seems extinguished. One day she pushes too far and unintentionally kills her opponent.
It is on this rock bottom moment that the plot of “Mercy” pivots. How clear of a turning point is not made clear until the ending, however, when Abnett and Lanning gracefully illustrate how Mercy sought amends for her transgression. These grace notes lend the story a sense of optimism often lacking from Batman tales of this period (the issue was published in 1992). This carries over to the portrayal of The Caped Crusader himself. After her encounter with The Cossack fresh flowers arrive every day in her hospital room. When Batman visits, he denies they are from him, yet, artist Colin MacNeil shows the hint of grin on The Dark Knight’s face. More importantly, Abnett and Lanning’s Batman is a comforter. He talks with Mercy about the emotions she is experiencing, helping her sort through the guilt and anger. This is a far cry from the cold, distant Batman which remains very much the default take on the character. The hints of warmth are a refreshing change of pace.
MacNeil’s art has a 90s feel to it with its loose lines and brawny figures. Yet the style fits the tale. There are a lot of primal feelings bubbling close to the surface and MacNeil does a good job of expressing them. The art has a dynamic quality which also conveys the poignancy of the narrative’s quieter moments.
“Mercy” is an engaging standalone story which represents well how anthology titles can spotlight new talent while also offering fresh takes on familiar faces.