This is Beer & Batman, a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special, in which I pair beer with a Batman story. I aim to work my way through the Batman canon in a loosely chronological manner (albeit disregarding most retcons and reboots, and probably indulging the occasional out-of-continuity detour), from Year One to Endgame, and beyond (and maybe even Beyond).
If you’re just joining now, be sure to check out my previous Beer & Batman pairings here.
Let me tell you about the first time I ever tasted Midnight Paddler: I was in the Montreal apartment of Dani’s cousin. The day previous, we traveled to Montreal by train from Oshawa, Ontario, and prior to my parents dropping us at the train station, we stopped off in nearby Whitby to visit 5 Paddles Brewing Co. My dad and I are homebrewers and beer enthusiasts, and we knew 5 Paddles by reputation only – as their beer is not distributed through either the Liquor Control Board of Ontario or the AB InBev/SAB Miller-controlled Beer Store, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to try their beer unless we visited the brewery itself. The visit was well worth the detour – Ian Mills, one of 5 Paddles’ brewers, graciously obliged our curiosity and gave us a tour of the small brewery, and, of course, as we left, we each bought a few bottles from their fridge. Always partial to a good stout, I was sure to pick up their take on the style: Midnight Paddler.
From the brewery, we proceeded to the train station, and from there, we went onward to Montreal. It was a beer-soaked visit, so much so that I didn’t get around to opening that bottle of Midnight Paddler until the second night of our stay. I tried twenty-seven different beers over the course of that weekend (appropriate, as we were celebrating my twenty-seventh birthday), but I’ve since forgotten most. Midnight Paddler, however, stood out, because, quite simply, it is magnificent. Upon our return to Ontario, when sharing the bottle of Midnight Paddler which my dad purchased, I likened the beer to a mic-drop, at least from a brewer’s perspective – if I ever brewed a beer this good, I think I would pretty much declare “mission accomplished.”
It seems appropriate, then, to pair one dark victory with another. While Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Dark Victory might not occupy the same masterful space in comics as Midnight Paddler does in beer, the comparison remains apt, at least from a narrative perspective. Dark Victory stands as something of a graduation, moving Batman’s narrative from it’s first act into the second (though, of course, one could easily divide this “first act” into multiple acts of its own) – in many regards, the origin story ends here. Just as the Midnight Paddler is not a mere attempt but an award-winning achievement, Dark Victory is not just another entry, it is a culmination.
When I say that Dark Victory doesn’t occupy a masterful space in comics, I should make it clear that Dark Victory is really goddamn great. The only reason that I can’t proclaim it to be the Midnight Paddler of Batman comics, is because Dark Victory depends heavily upon works which preceded it. It positions itself as a direct sequel to The Long Halloween, which itself was positioned as a sequel to Year One. Moreover, Dark Victory actually draws further elements still from Year One into its narrative. The strength of Dark Victory is how eloquently it concludes years’ worth of stories, an achievement which is even greater considering that Dark Victory began publication in serialized form in 1999, more than a decade after Year One.
The story begins not-quite-an-entire-year after The Long Halloween’s conclusion: Two-Face is confined to Arkham Asylum, Jim Gordon is now Police Commissioner, and a new DA, Janice Porter, occupies Harvey’s old office, though without the same sympathies toward Batman’s vigilantism than her predecessor. This provides Batman an excuse to distance himself further from Gordon, but make no mistake – it is an excuse. With the loss of Harvey, Batman grows insistent upon accepting no support from anyone, thus avoiding more collateral damage. Just about every character in Dark Victory is in some way isolated – Gordon is estranged from his wife and son (Night Cries, discussed last week, provides insight regarding this estrangement), Sofia Falcone-Gigante is crippled and mourning her father, and her brother Alberto is literally isolated in the family manor under house arrest. Even DA Porter is fumbling for human connection in all the wrong places. When Dark Victory begins, just about all its principal players are broken.
The book structures itself as a reflection of The Long Halloween, but it is easy to mistake it as a reprisal. I recall when I first read it many years ago, I was underwhelmed, feeling that this book was pretty much repeating The Long Halloween – I mean, the Holiday case is literally reopened in the prologue, and each subsequent chapter centers upon a murder coinciding with a holiday. Sure, some of the details are different – victims are hung instead of shot twice in the head with a .22 pistol, and the holiday trinkets are replaced instead with an incomplete game of Hangman pinned to each victim. But these are details only – in broad strokes, this story looks very much like the one before it. The victims themselves hint at the inversion of the narrative – rather than gangsters, as targeted by Holiday, this new “Hangman” is killed cops, usually those with a history of graft and corruption. (This is one of those elements pulled forward from Year One, as supporting characters from that book, such as former commissioner Loeb, Gordon’s one-time partner Flass, and the over-zealous SWAT leader Branden, each get a violent end to their stories here.) On further consideration, I think adopting the same structure as The Long Halloween is pretty brilliant, because it highlights how different a position each character is placed this time around in contrast to the time previous.
Unless I’ve misconstrued what Ian told us when showing us around the brewery, Midnight Paddler is also somewhat beholden to what occupied its space previously, as it is fermented in wine barrels. See, a flavour lingers, locked in the wood of the barrel, from whatever was stored there last, and that flavour gets imparted upon whatever is stored there next. Thus, Midnight Paddler not only delivers upon the chocolate and coffee notes which one expects from a stout, it deepens and enriches the flavour with a red wine note – just a hint of oak, a slight bit rich cherry note, but any sharpness that a wine might possess is smoothed out by those fantastic dark roasted malts.
Consider, then, that The Long Halloween was aged in the same barrel in which Dark Victory now ferments – a lot is imparted from one to the other, but resulting beer is something all its own. Dark Victory is definitely something all its own, advancing The Long Halloween’s narrative in both meaningful and interesting ways. The titular “dark victory” seems to reference Batman, Gordon and Dent’s victory over the Falcone crime family at the end of The Long Halloween, but of course, victory isn’t quite as simple as just removing the boss. Carmine Falcone’s death left a vacuum – while Sofia struggles to course-correct her father’s empire, some ambitious lesser gangsters see an opportunity to get into business for themselves. Two-Face’s disfigurement hasn’t derailed his aspirations of destroying organized crime in Gotham City, either – instead, he has just become more ruthless and violent in this pursuit. After orchestrating a mass breakout from Arkham Asylum, Two-Face organizes Gotham’s “freaks” in a series of strikes against the remnants of the Maroni and Falcone families. This lets Dark Victory employ all the classic Bat-villains throughout, giving it that same iconic feel that The Long Halloween nailed so effectively.
Just as 5 Paddles balances every flavour wonderfully in their Midnight Paddler, Loeb and Sale balance all of these various plot threads meticulously, crafting a narrative without any deus ex machina necessary to resolve it. Thus, when Bruce Wayne attends the circus and witnesses two aerialists fall to their deaths in front of their son, it doesn’t come from nowhere; it makes sense as a story beat. Because, yes, Dark Victory is that story: the story that gives Batman a Robin. His parents murdered by a low-level gangster as a means of intimidating the circus owner into moving illicit goods across state lines, Dick Grayson serves as a poignant notice to Bruce Wayne that he is not the only son orphaned by crime in Gotham City – no matter how much he isolates himself, he cannot pretend he is alone in his suffering.
This is really how Dark Victory moves past The Long Halloween, and pushes the Batman narrative into a whole new chapter: by accepting a protege, Batman assumes the role of mentor, demonstrating his own actualization as a hero. This actualization is well-earned, as Bruce’s support of Grayson shows an understanding that it isn’t enough to just beat the bad guys – a real hero does actual good, instead of just preventing bad. Robin is frequently criticized as tonally mismatched against Batman, as lightening what seems most effective as a dark character, and Jeph Loeb doesn’t seem to disagree with that assessment – he just doesn’t recognize it as a fault. Batman is inherently tragic, and he himself seems doomed to some tragic end, but the addition of Robin interjects some optimism. This story sees Batman perfected, and that, really, is why this book pairs so well with Midnight Paddler – a beer which, arguably, is beer perfected.