Paul Dini has turned a tragic night of fear into an instantly-classic graphic novel.
In Dark Night, available in print and digitally from Vertigo Comics, Dini, a writer who contributed to the Batman: The Animated Series and Tiny Toons cartoons in the 1990s, retells the tale of the night his career and life almost came to a halt after he was brutally beaten during a robbery.
The graphic novel, which has a visual assist from artist Eduardo Risso, starts with the reconstructing of Dini's face after the robbery and leads into the floating in and out of dreams that come after.
Readers go on a journey through Dini's life and mind. A childhood love of cartoons and comic-book characters. A father convinced cartoons wouldn't lead anywhere in life when it came to future employment. Beautiful Hollywood women who have an eye on his studio connections instead of having any interest in him. The one thing that remained strong when the rest of Dini was broken: his imagination.
The night of the robbery, Dini is seemingly on top of the world, working on a top cartoon in Hollywood while wining and dining with a beautiful actress. But it turns out she's interested in getting her portfolio to Steven Spielberg, whom she assumes Dini has connections to because of his work on Tiny Toons. Dini quickly realises a woman he thought was his girlfriend is just using him and that he's more alone in life than he realises. So when his "girlfriend" offers him a ride home, he declines. He walks off into the shadows and into a dark life-changing moment.
Frustrated and not paying attention to his surroundings, Dini is approached by two men and mugged. One man grabs him by the arms while the other punches him so hard that his glasses shatter. His wallet is taken along with whatever ounce of pride remained after the failed date.
Vertigo Comics, a mature-content imprint of DC Comics, is the best place to tell this story. This book is in no way for kids, but DC Comics's PG-13-esque heroes and villains do show up. It explains how Dini uses the characters he wrote for in his cartoon work as a way of healing from the physical and mental pain.
At times he thinks he may never return to a life of writing vigilante adventures of a dark hero who always saves the day, especially when no rescuers leaped out of the shadows the night he fell victim to an attack. Dini had lost faith in heroes. But he sometimes finds himself fantasizing about what Batman would have done if he had been there that night.
The Joker appears in the book for a laugh, but while the Clown Prince of Crime Joke was once a fun character to write, Dini wants no part of him after what he's been through. Dini wants to get back into the minds of the characters he'd written for years, but he can't do it until they help him get control of his mind first.
Russo, the artist, is no stranger to Vertigo Comics - he drew what many consider to be one of Vertigo's greatest stories, 100 Bullets - and the bloody attack is viciously brought to life by Russo's well-known shadowy art style.
Dark Night feels like the type of tale Vertigo Comics hasn't been able to tell for some time. But instead of wanting more, you read it hoping Dini will never have to write anything like this again.