Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Get up. Go back to work."
"Your bedside manner is lousy."
"Your attitude is worse. Calling in sick. Moping and feeling sorry for yourself. Wasting your time with this trash. You've accomplished nothing."
"I've been having a hard time."
"And doing nothing to rise above it. Make a new choice."
"Mitigate the chance of being attacked again. For a start. Be alert. Be smart. Drop some weight. Tone up. The exercise will nourish both your body and your mind. Soon you'll be walking with pride and authority. It will take a few months of hard work, but if you want to heal and restore your confidence, there really is no other way."
"I want to buy a gun."
That's Batman, there, dispensing the tough love to the battered Paul Dini. Back in the 1990s, whilst on the up and up and writing for Batman: The Animated Series in Hollywood, Dini was very badly beaten during a mugging. In addition to shattering his face, the assailants shattered his confidence, resulting in a long and difficult recovery process that was as tough, if not considerably tougher, in mental terms, than the physical.
During that period, having withdrawn nearly completely within himself emotionally, Dini would frequently find himself talking to the Batman, and a whole host of Bat-villains, all the while oscillating between despair and self-loathing. From blaming himself for walking blindly into the situation, to not being able to fend off his attackers, to repeatedly choosing to avoid putting it behind him and moving on with his life, Dini's internal dialogues with the cast of characters that it had long been second nature writing, would form his psychological crutch whilst simultaneously also being the barrier preventing him regaining his mental health.
Much like Steven T. Seagle's thankfully back-in-print IT'S A BIRD with art by Teddy Kristiansen, about his mental travails around working on Superman (also on Vertigo), this is not your normal Batman book. There are some fascinating little Bat nuggets thrown in here, including a Sandman and Death guest appearance (blessed by Neil himself) whilst Batman was hovering between life and death that Dini pitched for the animated series and sadly never happened, but ultimately this is simply a very painful, very tragic, true crime story. It is all the more excruciating to read when you are watching the blows rain down and enduring Dini's protracted, emotionally suffocating recovery process, because you know it really happened.
He certainly picked the right artist to work with him in Eduardo 100 BULLETS Risso too because as soon as I saw the two hoodlums sauntering towards Dini, him having petulantly refused a lift home from his hot actress date for the evening in a vain attempt to induce jealousy, well, any sort of interest in him from her, and him then thinking I don't want to be that white asshole who crosses over the road just to avoid two black guys, who are probably simply well-to-do Hollywood creative types, I knew just how viscerally brutally the beat down was going to be illustrated. And it was. It's one thing revelling in that sort of thing whilst enjoying crime fiction like 100 BULLETS, it's another thing reading it, knowing it was a man's life on the line.
I admire his honesty in writing this. There was undoubtedly some degree of catharsis in doing so, indeed there's a little sequence between Dini and The Joker berating him for exactly that, but he certainly doesn't spare himself, or attempt to portray himself as some sort of martyr. Quite the opposite really, Dini lays bare the relentless hard time he, directly, and through the proxies of the entire cast of Bat-villains, plus Batman too, gave himself. For events during, after, and indeed before the mugging. Nowhere near as painful to read as what he went through I'm sure, but he does a very good job of giving us a glimpse of what a punishing period of his life it must have been emotionally.