DKN Spotlight Review: The Batman: First Knight #1

by Carl Bryan
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The Batman: First Knight – Book One
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Artist: Mike Perkins
Color Artist: Mike Spicer
Letterer:  Simon Bowland
Review by Carl Bryan

The Batman: First Knight #1 takes Batman to the era of the Great Depression when America was on the brink of World War II. One of the darkest spots in the entire country is Gotham City where crime is rampant, the poor are suffering, and people believed to be dead have returned to murder city officials.

The real question is who are you? You’re the one in a mask!”
– Rabbi Jacob Cohen.

Setting the Stage

The year is 1939. The world, still reeling from the horrors of the First World War, is on the brink of tipping into an even more gruesome conflict, as fascism is on the march and gathering strength in America’s dark corners. Against this backdrop, Dan Jurgens weaves a tail of violent murders and the emergence of a mysterious vigilante known as Bat-Man.

Fingerprints point to deceased prisoners from the electric chair as the main culprits in these murders, and Batman seeks to solve the crime. In the process, he has no one to turn to but Commissioner Jim Gordon to aid him in his quest to preserve Gotham in the middle of the Great Depression.

Dan Jurgens and artist Mike Perkins create a Gotham City that’s rivaled only by Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, or Gotham By Gaslight.

Dan Jurgens… where do we start?

Jurgens creates quite the tale in this 1940s Gotham backdrop! First of all, I’m a Dan Jurgens fan. This is the writer who found a way to kill Superman and bring him back, in arguably the best time in comics, when Superman was dead and Batman’s back had been broken by Bane.

In those days DC ruled and Jurgens was (and still is) a major player in all things DC. So, to have him pen a Batman tale that totally takes Alfred out of the picture and subsequently places Bruce all by himself really speaks volumes. By taking away all gadgets and family support systems, it’s just “Playboy” Bruce seeking out how to do good in a very corrupt city, marked by poverty, crooked police, and “legalized” prostitution.

Rabbi Jacob Cohen

Jurgens takes a confessional turn in this series as he introduces the Dark Knight to Rabbi Jacob Cohen. I get the homage to possibly Matt Murdock going into a Catholic Church to confess his sins being Daredevil and we’ve also seen this take in numerous comics. However, Jurgens goes real-life homage in some frames of First Knight.

Rabbi Cohen served as rabbi of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia from 1784 until his death in 1811. In celebration of Pennsylvania’s ratification of the United States Constitution on July 4, 1788, Cohen walked arm-in-arm with two ministers, one of whom was Reverend William White of Christ Church, dean of the clergy of Philadelphia. The records of his marriages, deaths, and circumcisions are an important source of data on early American Jewish ritual and history.

While the dates of First Knight being set in the 1940s don’t completely coincide with the actual dates of Rabbi Cohen’s activity, we see Jurgens accentuate the Jewish community and set the stage for World War II. This is a writer who knows his stuff and weaves history into fiction really well, planting the seeds for readers to dig a bit further.

Hints of Dames, Jimmy Cagney, and Zombies?

First Knight has all the 1940s vernacular…”Couple of mooks!”, “Send ’em to Old Sparky”, “That dame is one of Maxie’s girls” and the classic “You’re awful judgmental for a man who comes ’round beggin’ for freebies, copper!” It’s enough to set “spell check” on your computer back 100 years.

Reading this comic needs to be done after watching a Jimmy Cagney movie or a Three Stooges marathon; you just need to hear the voices of that era as you read through it. Younger readers may struggle a little, but it was definitely a treat of when I would get off the bus at my grandmother’s after school and watch a Three Stooges episode (after which Batman’s 1966 series starting Adam West and Burt Ward would come on!)

No spoilers here, but are these murderers “zombies”??? Holy Cowboys and Aliens, Batman! Way to turn things around on us, Dan Jurgens!


Batman’s been through a LOT in recent years. His “Knight” interpretations have included “Dark Knight”, “White Knight”, “Last Knight On Earth” and now we have “First Knight” in the fray.

Dan Jurgens makes it a game changer, with Mike Perkins’ stunning art and Mike Spicer’s earthy colors making Gotham look even more run down than we’ve ever seen it before. Some of the scenes depict Gotham out of a Blade Runner-like environment… Rainy, dark, and desperate.

Images Courtesy of DC Entertainment

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