At this point, it's become almost a tired Internet joke: Batman is awesome, yes, but he's also practically terrible. A billionaire? Who builds gimmicky weapons to help the cops beat up criminals, instead of investing in community solutions like poverty reduction and improved mental health treatment for the citizens of Gotham? Maybe that's not the best look after all, Bruce.
That's why there's The Dusk, a new superhero graphic novel that launches on Kickstarter today, offers a more criminal justice reform approach to the whole idea of a caped crusader.
Instead of an orphaned billionaire beneath the mask, The Dusk is Jaime Nuñez, a former baseball player and divorced dad who works as a public defender. Not only does this vigilante vibe conflict with his usual faith in the justice system — it also makes it harder for him to raise his daughter right, and teach her about the way the world really works. Or, as the official blurb puts it:
THE DUSK is a modern reimagining of the superhero vigilante that flips the script on the traditional "might makes right" approach while adding the grounded, socially conscious perspective that modern crime fiction has become known for.
The graphic novel blends the dark deco of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES with a dose of moral complexity and dark humor, creating an engaging and witty look at the inner workings of a beloved genre through the eyes of a flawed, human, and heroic figure.
Co-writer Alex Segura (Poe Dameron: Free Fall, The Black Ghost) got the idea for The Dusk because he and his wife — who works in non-profit law — have a five-year-old boy who's really loves superheroes … for better, and for worse. "He loves the colorful costumes, the characters, the fictional worlds and gadgets that make them fun and energizing," Segura said. "But as a parent, I saw him also leaning into some other parts of the genre. Things like the idea that might makes right, that a punch solves problems all the time, and a simplistic view of how the world — and, specifically, the criminal justice system — works. If our heroes are supposed to be people who strive to do good, they should strive to do good in the kind of world we live in — one that's complicated, often contradictory, and about progress, not perfection."
As a new parent, I feel this. My kid's too young to grasp words, let alone the complexities of superhero worlds (he's still working on bending his knees). But I worry about trying to explain to him that, okay, there's a system in place … but also it's not always a good system … but sometimes it is! … And yes, people do evil things, but most people aren't actually evil, they're just made that way by the same system I'm trying to teach you how to trust … and also yes "Good Guys" are real and you should be a good guy but sometimes good guys do illegal things that can still be good, or actual bad things despite their good intentions and they should be held accountable while — yeah, that conversation's going to spiral downward pretty quickly. Luckily, I'll have The Dusk to help.
Editor/Creative consultant Joe Illidge — who actually edited Batman! — also had this to add, which really sold me:
Having worked as an editor on Batman during an influential era that re-established him as DC Comics top hero and a true detective, the opportunity of doing a deep dive into the mission of trying to achieve justice in a dying city of 21st century politics and social dynamics is compelling. How will a hero of color and his daughter fight a crusade in a story with the Lehane brand of naturalism and The Wire's sense of complexity and consequences? We're all going to find out!
The rest of the creative team is rounded out by co-writer Elizabeth Little, a critically-acclaimed crime novelist in her own right, with art by Batman '66 Meets Wonder Woman '77 illustrator David Hahn, as well as colors by Ellie Wright and letters by Taylor Esposito (who both worked with Segura on the pulpy noir comic The Black Ghost, which I previously reviewed here).
I find this to be a particularly cool project not just because of the criminal justice reform angle — an interest that I suspect a lot of BB'ers share! — but because of the books aspirations to break beyond the simplistic binaries that so often make up youth-oriented stories. While there's certainly a pedagogical reason for that — you can't just overwhelm the kids in kindergarten with the entire scope of sociopolitical and emotional complexity that encompasses the human experience — it's also a perspective that follows people into adulthood. A lot of grown-ups still find themselves with a nostalgic longing for that kind of simplicity, which is how you end up in, say, hyper-partisan political scenarios overwhelmed by absurdly-black-and-white conspiracy theories. The Dusk is doing something different — something grown-ups can genuinely enjoy, but also something they can discuss with their kids, without being reductive or pedantic. And that's needed now.
The Dusk is aiming to raise $43,000 to launch as a fully-collected graphic novel — about the equivalent length of a 4-issue comic book miniseries — and the rewards include some cool unique variant covers by acclaimed comic artists like Gabriel Hardeman, Rebekah Isaacs, Howard Chaykin, and Francesco Francavilla.