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Batman: The Cult by Jim Starlin

Batman: The Cult

by Jim Starlin (Writer), Bernie Wrightson (Illustrator)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Batman: The Cult (TPB)

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There's a lot of good stuff here, but it's still a Batman story, albeit a very harsh one. It's very talky, often cheap with metaphors, and the classic Batman canon just doesn't lend itself to "heavy" material. Robin is a rather ridiculous character to put in a gritty crime/horror story. ( )
  mrgan | Oct 30, 2017 |
Access a version of the below that includes illustrations on my blog.

This is my last Jason Todd story prior to his death. The Cult concerns the rise of a charismatic speaker in Gotham City, who organizes the underclass and seals the city off from the outside world; large parts of this plot were adapted for the film The Dark Knight Rises, though instead of Batman being gone while this happens, Batman is being broken. Not physically, but emotionally. The book opens with Batman already captured by Deacon Blackfire and his cult, and the brainwashing well underway.

What makes this book works so well is Bernie Wrightson. I primarily know Wrightson from his contributions to DC horror comics like The House of Mystery, The House of Secrets, and The Witching Hour!, and The Cult puts him to good use depicting the existential horror that is Batman's mental breakdown, as well as the collapse of all Gotham society. His Batman is a devastated man, and despite the fact that a cowl covers half his face, his Batman communicates the anguish he is experiencing quite well. Panel transitions are used quite well, too, to show how Batman is flickering back and forth between different mental states: we'll jump between the world-as-it-is and the world-as-Batman-sees-it quite rapidly, showing his struggle. Wrightson's art (especially aided by colorist Bill Wray) is grotesque when it needs to be. I hate to complain about someone with the skills of Jim Aparo, but Wrightson is clearly a much better match for Jim Starlin's Batman sensibilities, and it's a shame there's not much more Batman work from him.

This is one of those books that succeeds if it makes you feel the struggle of its protagonist, and this one does: not just in Batman's travails, but in those of Robin, Jim Gordon, and the city of Gotham itself. Jason Todd acquits himself really well here, refusing to give up even when Batman himself has given up. The only thing one might wish for is a little more sympathy, given that Robin himself was once a homeless street kids like many that Deacon Blackfire brings into his army. (Like The Dark Knight Rises, The Cult posits armed insurrection as a disproportionate response to a very real problem.) Gordon is the same as always: the hard, dedicated cop, and it shocks when he's attacked, even though intellectually you know they can't kill him off here. And finally, Starlin and Wrightson use Miller-esque television broadcasts to good effect to show the deterioration of Gotham society.

Of everything I've read, The Cult reads the most like a mission statement for Jim Starlin's Batman. It's an excellent read of what it would take for you to break Batman-- and how Batman will always break you right back.

Batman "Year One" Stories: « Previous in sequence | Next in sequence »
  Stevil2001 | Jul 22, 2016 |
A mysterious figure by the name of Deacon Blackfire has a plan for Gotham City. Gathering the homeless and the distressed, Blackfire amasses an army to obliterate crime from the streets of Gotham. However, what good is a group of vigilantes if The Batman is still patrolling the streets? Blackfire captures The Dark Knight and by using a method of brainwashing, convinces The Caped Crusader that he is truly Gotham’s savoir. Are Blackfire’s intentions pure or does he have a hidden agenda?

For the last few years, I’ve been trying to make my way through IGN’s 25 Greatest Batman graphic novels list. Other than a high listing, I knew very little. It wasn’t until I was a few dozen pages into the story that I realized Christopher Nolan had used this as the basis for The Dark Knight Rises. Replace Deacon Blackfire with Bane, make a few alterations and you’ve got the third act in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.

Released around the same time as Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, The Cult mirrors their dark storytelling and subject matter. Gone were the days of Batman and Robin chasing The Joker over a giant piano, replaced by full panels of brutal violence and a general feelings of hopelessness for the citizens of Gotham.

My only real problem with the story was the villain. The majority of Batman’s adversaries are somewhat based in reality (outside of Ra’s Al Ghul) and the character of Deacon Blackfire is seemingly immortal, achieving so by bathing in human blood. How exactly does this work? Kind of took me out of the story a little. At least with Nolan’s adaptation in replacing Blackfire with mercenary Bane, it’s a little easier to believe.

Oh, and Robin is in it. Robin is a dork.

Cross Posted @ Every Read Thing ( )
  branimal | Apr 1, 2014 |
Batman is broken and brainwashed by a religious zealot in this blood-spattered tale from 1991. It's rare to see Batman portrayed in such a weakened state, and it makes for an engaging read. I read this after giving up on the more recent "Batman R.I.P." by Grant Morrison. They're similar in that they both tell the story of a villain breaking Batman's mind. However, "Cult" author Starlin doesn't attempt to break the reader's mind as Morrison tries.

Be warned that there is quite a bit of gore in "The Cult." Beheading, impaling...that kind of thing. That said, the artwork is stunning throughout, with especially great work on Batman's facial expressions. I did get a little annoyed by the frequent pages depicting newscasts through tiny panels of the same reporter's face over and over again. But that's a nitpick in an otherwise absorbing read. ( )
  wethewatched | Sep 24, 2013 |
This is a reissue of a four-part late 1980s miniseries that shows the Caped Crusader in a drug-induced, brainwashed state thanks to power hungry villain Deacon Blackfire. Blackfire uses hallucinogenic drugs and the power of suggestion to amass a mob of homeless and disenfranchised citizens to take over Gotham City. Starlin’s dark and paranoid writing craft the true main character of the story—not Batman or Blackfire, but the essence of chaos. Things start to get good in the second chapter, which features Batman tripping balls as he wanders around Gotham aimlessly and out of his element. Clearly, this is not your Adam West Batman.

A true Batman tale focuses on our hero’s biggest strength and weakness: the fact that he is human. Starlin’s interpretation adheres to this mold and delivers a story that will please Batman fans and maybe even create a few new graphic novel readers along the way.

(Note: My review originally appeared in Library Journal XPress Reviews in 2010) ( )
  JustinTheLibrarian | Jun 2, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Starlin, JimWriterprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wrightson, BernieIllustratormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Costanza, JohnLetterersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wray, BillColoristsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Batman must stop the army of the homeless recruited by the mysterious Deacon Blackfire in this new edition of a classic title illustrated by master horror artist Bernie Wrightson, co-creator of the "Swamp Thing". Deacon Blackfire, charismatic shaman with roots as old as Gotham City itself, seemingly uses the city's homeless to fight crime. But Blackfire has a hidden agenda!… (more)

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