BY GABRIEL ALLANDRO
As a Black man, I often am filled with mind-blanking rage at the depths of racism in our society – depths that very few people in power seem interested in plumbing. I’ve learned to bury my sense of rage, of learned helplessness, in the face of callous disinterest.
As a writer, however, those deep emotions fuel my creativity, often in ways I find disturbing. But that intersection between real life and imagination can be the bone and sinew of creation. Creators often use this emotionally charged nexus point to spill their innermost demons for the world to see … albeit in altered form.
In Dark Night: A True Batman Story, Paul Dini – creator of Harley Quinn, and known for such animated treasures as “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Tiny Toon Adventures” – explores his own personal hell. Dini recounts the story of how he was attacked, and very nearly killed, by two muggers, beginning with five simple words that are breath-taking for their understatement: “So … I got beat up.”
Aided by the pencils of Eduard Risso (100 Bullets), Dini then jumps back to his childhood, revealing an early life familiar to many readers: “I always thought of myself as an invisible kid. At that age, I only wanted to slink through my school day without attracting the attention of bullies and other childhood monsters. … Though it’s a painful truth that kids who consider themselves invisible sometimes make excellent targets.”
He doesn’t pull punches; he is a real person, spilling his triumphs, failures, mistakes and pain to his therapists and to the reader, translated for the page via Risso’s dark tones, which can be knife-edge sharp or more vaguely defined … much like the emotions that make up a person’s life.
The book’s emotional density is nearly exhausting; Dini’s words resonate with the reader: “When it came to being colorful, we invisible kids learned to carry our colors on the inside. We let those colors out when we did things we loved … those things that defined us and made us glow.” We see how his imagination works as a coping mechanism to the casual cruelties of life … artists and writers will find the similarity to their own thought processes as hilarious as it is worrisome.
Dini details his life leading up his joining Warner Bros., and the creation of “Batman: The Animated Series.” And then, of course, comes the robbery. The beating. In the aftermath, we see his deep depression, his self-hatred at feeling weak, his stumbling attempts to cope … and his realization that, given the way he’d lived his life, he’d felt as though he had deserved to be beaten: “You deserve this. The only physical sensation you are worthy of is pain.” All those dark emotions are given voice through Dini’s imagination in the form of the Joker.
And we see him pull out of his destructive dive: “A voice I heard in darkness, telling me to stand up.” His inner Batman has been fighting beside him, the whole time.
When you’re “different,” life can be painful, messy and traumatic. Our imagination can help us cope with events that can shake us to our very core. It is up to us to make that choice to stand up, even in the face of barbarism. Like Paul Dini, we need to listen to our inner hero or heroine: “The same voice that tells us when we get beaten down, we can accept being a victim or choose to be the hero of our own stories. And we make that choice by standing up.”