If you’re a comic book fan, or a fan of Batman: The Animated Series, then there is a chance that you may have heard of Paul Dini. The brilliant comic book and cartoon writer has an impressive resumé of some of the most recognizable cartoons dating back to 1983, and is still currently writing for popular cartoons, comics, and video games like the Batman Arkham series. But regardless of having an incredible career in different forms of media, Dini’s biggest claim to fame for many fans is being the creator of the extremely popular Harley Quinn. Paul Dini has done it all, and has recently seen his most beloved creation grace the big screen in Suicide Squad. And judging by the work he’s currently putting out, Dini is far from slowing down any time soon.
But Paul Dini’s career wasn’t always filled with the joy of creating and writing for some of the most iconic characters in nerdom. In 1993, an event happened in his life that would change it forever. During his time writing for Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Dini was viciously attacked and mugged on way home from dinner. Left brutally beaten, Dini had to put his life back together after the attack while still trying to write for the very first Batman: The Animated Series film scheduled to hit theaters. The conflict of going through the surgeries and healing from his real life mugging while still working on the project made him question his writing of a superhero vigilante known for protecting victims from similar incidents. Paul was eventually able to piece his life back together and continue his writing career, but he never truly shared his triumphant story of overcoming the event until now. Dark Night: A True Batman Story is Paul Dini’s recount of his battle to move forward from the event. But instead of sharing it in an autobiographical book, he shared his story in comic book form.
Dark Night: A True Batman Story tells the story of Paul Dini’s recovery from a mugging in an artistic fashion while never losing sight of how devastating the event was for him. It also gives the reader a view in to the timeline of the event when it occurred in his life. In 1993, Dini was at the height of his career. A longtime cartoon fanatic, he had entered his dream business years before the event and had worked on some of the most well known cartoons in the 80’s and early 90’s. He eventually found himself working with Steven Spielberg to reboot the Looney Tunes for a new generation with Tiny Toon Adventures. His relationship with Warner Bros. through Tiny Toon Adventures and other projects eventually lead him to working on the hit Batman: The Animated Series with Bruce Timm.
Dini invested a lot of time working on the series, and took a lot of pride in it. The show gained a lot of recognition, and the momentum it was building didn’t seem like it would slow down any time soon. Paul Dini went from being a kid that loved cartoons so much it inspired him to draw, to an adult living his dream life of creating a hit series. But everything wasn’t completely perfect in his life as he still struggled with the same anxieties he had as a child now in his adulthood. Paul felt invisible as a kid. And to make up for it, he’d imagine some of his favorite cartoon characters coming to life and talking to him. In his adult life, the feeling of isolation was still there even though he had reached a career high and had everything he wanted. So he relied more on his success to make him happy, and made a few bad decisions when it came to women. On the surface, he had everything he wanted and had worked hard to get to that level. But deep down inside, he knew the only thing he had that actually gave him true joy was his work.
After a date with a woman whom he discovered was only using him for his connections to Steven Spielberg, Paul walks home alone to clear his head. And before he could do anything to stop it from happening, he’s attacked by two men and savagely beaten in the street. The men beat him until one side of his face is shattered, and rip his pants open as they take his wallet. They then advise him to brace for his life to end after they threaten to shoot him. He close his eyes and wait for his execution until he eventually realize that the men had left him alone in the middle of the street.
From there, Paul’s life is changed forever as he stumbles his way home while trying to understand what had just happened to him. With his face shattered, his clothes ripped, and an absence of clarity on his life, Paul begins his journey of trying to make sense of it all. A Batman writer had been mugged and beaten, and The Dark Knight was nowhere to be found in his moment of need. So after dealing with the incident and realizing that the culprits may never see justice upon them for their actions, he’s left with no choice but to move on with his life without closure. And that is when the book shows the inner turmoil he has to endure during what was supposed to be the biggest moment in his career.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm was still going through the writing process at the time. Dini was also still working on the television show as well. But the attack forced him to take time off for reconstructive surgery. And during the healing process afterwards, he struggled to return to writing a fictional character that saves victims like himself from situations like he endured. And that is where Dark Night: A True Batman Story shines the most.
The the conflict between reality and fantasy is on full display as he imagine characters from Batman he’s written in the past giving him advice and representing different aspects of himself. Two-Face represents the disfigurement he endured during the attack, and how he views himself while healing after surgery. Poison Ivy represents his experiences with women, and how he has made mistakes in the past. There are more appearances in the book to represent different feelings and aspects of his life at that moment, but none are as dangerous to him as The Joker. Because despite knowing that he should move forward in life, The Joker is determined to make sure that Dini remains right where he is.
The Joker becomes the voice that tells him to stay in where it’s safe. He encourages him to neglect his work on the show and film, and wallow in his own self pity as he falls into binge drinking and self destruction. Paul Dini’s life is falling apart, and he’s slowly disconnecting himself from the outside world when Batman finally comes to his rescue. Batman becomes the voice of encouragement when he needs one. And as Paul struggles to move forward despite all of the negativity in his head, he learns in the end what courage really is.
Dark Night: A True Batman Story is a well illustrated and touchingly written piece of art about a man finding the courage to no longer live in fear. It’s a story fitting of a comic book format as it somewhat tells the origin story of a man that would go on to contribute even more to the world afterwards. Paul Dini has had his hands in so many nostalgic properties that it’s almost mind blowing to know that his life could have went a different way at what was seen as the height of his career at the time. He would go on to contribute more to nerd culture and the properties we love in his later career, but that one dark night could have permanently changed his path in life had he not found the courage within himself to live again.
Dark Night: A True Batman Story is inspiration for any victim of violence, or anyone whom may feel like they should just give up. It’s proof that it gets better with time if you keep fighting, and it gives hope to readers still currently struggling with their own Jokers. Paul Dini will forever be a part of nerd culture, and he has now contributed yet another incredible Batman story for fans. But despite all of the things he’s had his hands in shaping, he will forever be mostly known as the creator of Harley Quinn. But judging by his comment during an interview with Kevin Smith, it seems like he’s okay with that.
People ask why Harley Quinn wasn’t in it. It’s because she represents happiness.