Batman: Knightfall Volume 1 Review
The End and Beginning of Batman and Bane? - Batman Knightfall #1 Review
Name of Book: Batman: Knightfall Volume1
Publisher: DC Comics
Rating out of 10: 8
With the recent release of Dark Knight Rises (Quick review: Not perfect but still excellent), I did something I never thought I would be enticed by again – buying a comic book. I’m sure DC Comics appreciates my contribution when the goal of DKR in Warner Brothers’ eyes was to earn money at the cinema, then they have fantastic stories lying dormant on bookshelves. I was tempted by the powerful visual forced upon my eyes from Rises and the truly iconic moment of the move where Bane break Batman’s back. This led me to pick up the story this brilliant moment is found in Batman: Knightfall.
In a nutshell, Knightfall introduces Bane, a ruthless, complex genius brute into the Batman universe. From his South American prison we learn of Bane’s horrific childhood, his growth into the monster of a man he is today and his obsession with ruining the Batman and Gotham City. After an armed jailbreak at Arkham Asylum, Bane watches and studies the Batman, whilst Bats runs the gauntlet of some of his most colourful villains and dealing with illness.
The toll and pressure proves to be too much when Bane finally takes on Batman. In a shockingly violent clash, he breaks the tired Bruce Wayne’s back and shows off his body in public. To stop Gotham City from running riot after the supposed “death” of the Batman, Wayne charges ex religious assassin Jean-Paul Valley to take the mantle up and resume business as usual. However, Valley’s methods of crime fighting differ immensely from Wayne’s…
Needless to say, the hefty plot above is expanded upon over the 600+ pages and features much more with Valley’s exploits with the Batsuit. The first half of the collection in the lead up to the fight with Wayne and Bane is decently paced. It could easily rival the main event heavyweight clash with Batman running the gauntlet with plenty of mini “Bats attempts to round up his rogue’s gallery” stories at the start. Whilst there are a lot, they are varied enough in tone and plot to be enjoyed. I quite liked the contrast of something between the whimsical, playful fight with the Mad Hatter and his brainwashed minions and the straight up horror of facing the serial killer Victor Zsasz. There are bits of comic relief to break up the majorly serious tone of the plot with scenes like Amygdala putting his head through a Barbie doll signboard and the Ventriloquist replacing his trademark dummy for a sock.
I did like the characterisation all the way though the book. Bruce Wayne’s Batman is nailed on as the lone Dark Knight of Gotham, thinking he has to do it all himself to save the city, no matter his wellbeing. I can see why Batman shuns help from Robin, Alfred and others because he’s afraid of them getting hurt and he feels only HE should be the one protecting Gotham. There are some decent bits with the Tim Drake Robin as he’s constantly eager to lend a hand but Bats is resistant to him because he’s still learning the ropes. The chapter where Robin puts people’s lives at risk to stop the Riddler is quite poignant in terms of how it could have gone wrong for Tim and how he has to carry that guilt on top of his own personal tragedy. The Joker and the rest of the rogue’s gallery are captured perfectly too but the non-Bane highlight is perhaps the best Scarecrow story I’ve ever seen (where he persuades the child of his first victim to commit suicide under his fear gas).
This is a testament to the three man writing staff on Knightfall. Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon and Alan Grant crafted a truly epic crossover story out of this first third in the Knightfall trilogy. Each man taking turns writing issue after issue with tight writing throughout in a variety of styles. The chapter/issue where Bane breaks Batman’s back is especially tight with Bruce Wayne’s breaking commentary over the fast paced assault-like action on page. Everything holds together quite well with no plot pitfalls, unlike more modern crossovers we could mention, thanks to the terrific editing of Denny O’Neil.
The art from the time holds up well enough. I can’t say it bowels me over like some of today’s comic artists do but Jim Aparo and Klaus Janson head up an experienced and similar (in a good way) team to deliver the goods in a selection of art styles. Aparo’s work on THAT back breaking issue is wonderful – the emphasis on that splash page alone makes him a legend in Batman comic artists. Throw in those wonderful Kelley Jones covers, with Batman with the vampire like figure and long, long Bat ears and the artwork gets an overall thumbs up!
Since this is Bane’s debut, I was actually impressed with most aspects of his character. His origin story is wonderfully tragic and engaging as the child born into the most hellish jail imaginable and raised in darkness and evil. His impact on this storyline is immense as to this day he is used sparingly and not overused like some of the other villains in Bats’ rogues list. I did like the way they built up Bane to be a force. Breaking Killer Croc’s arms shows he means business and is a force to be reckoned with. Even bumping off a couple of lower level villains with his bare hands shows how much of a badass he is to readers.
However I think the venom serum enhancement is a bit silly – you have this highly skilled, trained and intelligent brick of a guy that could probably be Bruce Wayne’s equal as he is… and then you throw in a steroid analogy to overpower him. I think this idiosyncrasy to Bane’s character was added not to fully beat Batman fairly. It makes him more of a bad guy, using tricks to win, but I can’t help but think that he would be top of the Caped Crusader’s rogues list forever if he was just a normal well trained guy. I wasn’t too fond of Bane’s trio of henchmen. Whilst memorable in their own right, I kind of felt their presence took away of making Bane an effective character. They’re his support team and the last run of Wayne’s gauntlet before fighting Bane. Yet they go down like chumps compared to Bats taking out the Joker etc. not too long before, making their presence questionable and, ultimately, value to Knightfall on a whole questionable.
At first, I wasn’t too keen on the timing and plotting of the Knightfall collection. I was going to say that half of the book to put Wayne through his gauntlet is too much, but on a reread it actually puts more emphasis on the mental strain he’s going through just to keep on top of Bane’s challenge. I like how Valley’s in the batsuit quickly within one or two real time chapters, since crime would be running amok among Gotham after seeing the Batman is down. Clever plot hole twisted into a positive by the writing team I thought.
A few minor gripes - there’s a couple of pre Knightfall crossover issues missing with Bane taking on Killer Croc (which sounded like it would be worth the price of admission alone!) and his henchmen shooting at the Riddler mentioned in passing. Mind you, considering half this collection is building up to the main event fight, I can understand why it’s been cut for space and timing issues. Also, I have no idea what supposed illness Bruce Wayne is suffering from. There is a female doctor which plays a minor role in this first volume of the crossover but it’s never mentioned at all. Is it mental? Is it physical? The gauntlet of Bat villains is demanding of course, but pleas of “but you’re ill Bruce!” to add to the pressure of it made me tilt my head sideways in confusion. The worst offender is that if you’re walking into this Batman comic series cold, I doubt very much you’d have a clue who Jean-Paul Valley is. His original alter ego of Azrael was never that popular, debut not too long before this crossover began and not been a household name. A summary of the above after the Bane origin story would have been nice to fill in the blanks of the crossover. I feel like a few pages of text intersect with panels would have improved my overall experience in getting through this behemoth of a crossover collection.
Overall, whilst a tad overlong, I did like the first part of Knightfall. The beyond solid writing and artwork turned what could have been a one note event into, upon reading, a fascinating capture of Batman comics at the time and shows off the Batman character in new and interesting ways. This is the difference between Knightfall and the Death of Superman which took place in the same time period. I’m not terribly sure if I want to carry on with the Knightfall saga. We’ve seen the main event title clash between Bane and Batman and as an unknown, Valley does not suck me in automatically as a must read character. In later stories, Bane never reaches the pinnacle of his debut ever again and is somewhat a forgotten A-lister of the villain world. Still, enjoy his crowning achievement, as the man that finally broke the Bat!
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