To observe that “war is hell” is so commonplace now, it has pretty much passed into the realm of tired cliché. It does not help that its sentiment is often cited equally by doves and hawks, the latter extolling the visceral virtue of combat. Violence is a difficult subject to represent, as even the most seemingly clear-cut anti-violence message can be twisted into something laudatory (as Stanley Kubrick was repulsed to discover with A Clockwork Orange). Indeed, there is a line of thought which states that all war films, regardless of intentions, are ultimately pro-war, as it is impossible to put combat on screen without glamorizing it. (This reviewer would extend such analysis to many supposedly “moralistic” gangster movies). For his new graphic novel Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash, Dave McKean successfully avoids many of these pitfalls. He accomplishes this by almost entirely skipping the battlefield sequences, concentrating instead of the more intimate emotional toll of warfare for the fallen and survivor alike. The result is a moving mediation on the true cost of war.
Trauma comes in a variety of forms, sometimes more mental than physical, often very much a blend of the two. Regardless it is never easy to process privately, let alone share with others. That daunting task, though, is exactly what Paul Dini set out to do in his original graphic novel, Dark Knight:A True Batman Story. In the 90s, Dini was the victim of a random beating from two young men. While technically a mugging, as portrayed by Dini and artist Eduardo Risso, the robbery element seems almost an afterthought. The focus of the crime is very much the vicious glee with which they attack Dini. By simply telling the tale of his assault and recovering, Dini would have had a naturally poignant story. Instead, he deepens it further by placing the incident in the larger context of his life, not sparing any of his own character defects along the way. At the same time, he weaves his own story into the world of his beloved Batman. In the process, he creates a compelling narrative about his experience and how the colorful characters of Gotham helped him process it.