In 1993, Paul Dini (a writer for Batman: The Animated Series at the time) was mugged. Dark Night: A True Batman Story, written by Dini and illustrated by Edwardo Risso, is the story of that mugging, but also what came before and what came after.
The book takes an interesting approach: it shows us the aftermath of the mugging first, Dini in the hospital, and then flashes us back to Dini’s childhood. Throughout the book, we are led from scene to scene by Dini himself standing in front of a chalkboard explaining everything — similar to Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics, however, here Dini is explaining himself. So the book could, essentially, be called Understanding Paul Dini.
The bits about his childhood are interesting, but the story really picks up when it flashes forward to him writing for Warner Brothers and Batman: The Animated Series. All of the real life figures are there, including Alan Burnett, Dini’s boss, who is trying to get everyone ready to make a movie which will eventually be called Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, but at the time was just called Batman: Masks. And then, after a semi-date with an actress doesn’t go as he planned, Dini takes a long walk home in the dark and gets mugged.
The book not only uses Paul Dini-as-narrator, but also his imagination conjures up a lot of Batman cartoon characters to use as his Id (The Joker, the part of him that wants to just go crazy), Ego (The Penguin, the part of him that wants to drink his problems away), and Superego (Batman, the part of him that wants to get up and start to work again). In the aftermath of the mugging, he lets all these voices in and then stands paralyzed on what to do next — not going into work, drinking to numb the pain, and so on — until he reaches the point at which he has to make a choice. When he finally does go back to work, this is symbolized by his imagination conjuring Harley Quinn (his own creation) to tell him to write more jokes for her.
There are parts that I thought the story might go off the rails, but it didn’t: Dini talks about his love life and how the actress he was dating was career-obsessed and on the date they were on, it eventually came out that she didn’t think it was a date. At this point, I was worried that the story would go into a “Why do girls never date nice guys?” diatribe, but it didn’t: Dini blamed himself for this, never blaming her. And while the portrayal of the actress was not the best, she’s not the only woman in the story — when Dini later calls Arleen Sorkin (the voice of Harley Quinn and Dini’s friend) to tell her about his mugging, she immediately tells him that she’ll send someone over to drive him to the hospital, and when he’s in the hospital, his sister Jane visits him and gives him a stuffed animal.
The book contains a good message about depression: that there are good days and bad days and while it’s easy to wallow in misery and self-loathing, it’s harder but more rewarding to pick yourself up and keep going. Dini even includes a story he pitched to Alan Burnett about Batman almost dying and meeting Neil Gaiman’s Dream and Death and having to choose between letting go or living with the pain and healing. Of course, we all know what choice Batman would make. It’s the choice that we make that is important.