I read a lot of graphic novels, more so than floppies. So I have decided to tell you all what I am reading and what I thought about those particular books. I want to stress though that I am not looking to review these books in the style of a critic, or to give them a rating, only to express my opinions as a fan of what I personally thought of what I have read. Please do not let my opinion sway you in any way, as I have always lived by the credo that I will make my own mind up about something and so should you. Plus, they say that critics are people that can't actually create themselves and that aint me.
Finally, this is my actual reading pile. All the books I have bought
myself for the purpose of my enjoyment and as I am not tieing myself
down to any kind of formulated structure, you may notice that I read
whatever takes my fancy, rather than switching characters or publishers
Anyhoo... BATMAN - KNIGHTFALL!
This is one of the all time classic Batman story lines, running through the dark gritty nineties whilst characters the like of Punisher and Lobo were at the height of their successes, which heavily influenced the mainstream titles including Superman, Spider-Man and of course Batman. The breaking of the Bat and his eventual return is one of those iconic arcs that has resonated throughout the characters lore all the way through to Flashpoint and the New 52. It even took centre stage as a pivotal part of the final chapter in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy this summer just gone, which is probably the main motivating factor for why DC took it upon themselves to finally release the story in a complete unabridged set of graphic novels. The original three part collection of books came in at about 300 pages per volume and missed out massive chunks of the story, including the entire Knightquest arc, but this new set clocks in at around 600 pages per tome and is a proper meaty read. Finally I will be able to read this story as it is intended and below are my thoughts on each volume.
This volume begins with the one-shot; Vengeance of Bane, in which we discover the back story of Bane and his associates; Zombie, Bird and Trogg. Bane, born the son of a prisoner in Pena Duro, a maximum security prison on the Island of Santa Prisca, is raised in a no holds barred, kill or be killed environment within the prison walls, where love and kindness seems to be an alien concept. He grows up to be a cold merciless machine of a man who is then experimented on with the super soldier style drug known as Venom which then turns him into an almost unstoppable tank like killing machine.
On hearing of Gotham City and the legend of the Batman, Bane now gives himself a new mission in life, to destroy the Bat, who he sees as a warrior that he must overcome on his way to greatness and become the new "King" of Gotham.
His first act is to break the inmates out of Gotham's famed Arkham Asylum. Batman, who is suffering from a virus anyway, now has to run a gauntlet of his most feared foes. A large chunk of the book then follows the Dark Knight as he squares off against The Mad Hatter, Amygdala, The Ventriloquist & Scarface, Zsasz, Killer Croc, Scarecrow, The Joker, Cornelius Stirk, Firefly, The Cavalier, Poison Ivy and the Riddler all before facing Zombie, Bird and Trogg and then the main event; BANE!
At this point Batman is in pretty bad shape. Sick and beaten up, he has to face someone that would pose a serious challenge even if he was in top form. On returning to the batcave, Bane, who has now discovered Batmans secret identity, awaits his return and proceeds to beat the living hell out of the caped crusader, culminating in a devastating back breaker across his knee. In critical condition, Alfred, with the help of Robin, has to fight to save his Master Wayne's life, only for him to awake in a crippled, wheelchair bound state. Back broken, spirit shattered.
Now a new man must take up the mantle of the bat as Bane takes his place as the crime lord of Gotham. Enter Jean-Paul Valley, the vigilante known as Azrael who had been working under Bruce Wayne's tutelage, a man who has been brainwashed since youth by The System, a deep level of psychological conditioning preparing him to serve the sacred order of Saint Dumas as an elite assassin. Now, in the guise of Batman, Valley must fill the void that Bruce Wayne has left behind whilst Bane and his enforcers run rampant over Gotham. This culminates in a final battle between the new Batman and Bane, in which Bane is finally beaten and a new Dark Knight stalks the streets of Gotham.
I LOVED this first volume. It introduces Bane and fleshes him out incredibly well so that you genuinely fear for Batman's safety when they finally collide. The gauntlet leading upto this collision is also extremely fun to read, as Bats goes up against fan favourites like the Joker and Scarecrow, which is always fun. The breaking of the Bat is iconic and one of those scenes that gets you every time you turn the page to see that big splash panel of Batman bent awkwardly over Bane's gigantic knee. My only disappointment with this chapter is the ease in which Valley defeats Bane at the end of the book. Sure, he hasn't run the gauntlet like Bruce had to, but he also doesn't have the training and experience that his predecessor had. I would have preferred to have seen a stalemate that culminated in a chess game of back and forth battles and manoeuvres between Gothams two newest members.
All in all though, a very enjoyable and easy read from start to finish, which surprised me with the somewhat clunky style that the nineties is often famous for. I went straight into volume two, which after 600+ pages speaks volumes.
I wish I could be as passionate about this volume as I was about the first, but unfortunately it is a big disappointment. The thing that really jazzed me about these new printings was the nature of them being the complete Knightfall saga, but on reading volume 2, you come to realise that eight key issues are missing. At the end of volume one, Jean-Paul Valley becomes the Batman and Bruce, battered and crippled by his fight with Bane, sets off on a mission to locate Tim Drakes father who has been kidnapped under mysterious circumstances. Bruce and Alfred board a private plane, accompanied by Selina Kyle, who stows away with them, and begins their quest to search for Jack Drake. The story arc that follows Bruce, entitled 'The Search' is omitted from this book all together. Instead we follow the journey of Jean-Paul as he takes the legend of the dark knight into a new and twisted direction.
He bans Robin from the batcave, bricks up the entrance that leads to Wayne Manor, creates a new suit of armour and ditches the batmobile in favour of a vehicle that runs on the underground subway tracks. He also has a different attitude to that of Bruce Wayne, adopting a more vicious style of crime fighting. All the time there is a battle raging from within as the spirit of Saint Dumas and that of his Father act as devil and angel sitting on his shoulders, urging him to act in conflicting ways. His Father wanting him to be the ruthless assassin that he was raised to be and Saint Dumas instead insisting that he be more like the original Batman, a crime fighter, not a killer. With all of this going on inside his head, as well as The System forcing his hand to create new armour and arsenal, no wonder he seems to be pushed off of the edge of sanity.
The meat and potatoes of this book tells the stories of the new Batman fighting crime, but unlike the previous book this volume is more of a series of short stories cobbled together with no underlying arc running through it and with no mention of Bruce, Alfred or Jack Drake coupled with the sudden change of pace, this makes for a stilted read. I found myself not caring as much as I had just spent so much time invested in Bruce's ordeal and for it to not be followed up was incredibly frustrating.
The final chapter of the book sees Jack and Bruce return from nowhere. Bruce is out of the wheelchair and walking again, with only a brief explanation as to why. Robin informs him of Jean-Paul's decent into madness and there is a confrontation between the two, with Bruce demanding that the mantle of the Bat be returned to him. After a scuffle, Bruce decides that he needs more training before he can truly confront the new Batman and the book pretty much ends there.
If anyone out there is considering picking these books up, then please search for the following back issues that you will need to complete this second volume and read the story of The Search:
Justice League Task Force #5 & 6
Batman Shadow of the Bat #21, 22 & 23
Batman Legends of the Dark Knight #59, 60 & 61
The final volume of this epic arc in the legend of the Batman is split into two stories; Knightsend and Prodigal.
The first story, Knightsend, focuses on the final days of Jean-Paul Valley's run as the Dark Knight and Bruce's training in his journey to take back the mantle of the Bat. Bruce seeks out Lady Shiva and asks for her help in getting him back to fighting fit shape and ready for action. But Shiva is devious and whilst donning the mask of Tengu, a bat like Japanese mask, she murders the sensai of seven deadly ninja assassins and frames Bruce by giving him the mask and setting the killers onto him. This leads him into a new gauntlet of foes to battle, each more deadly than the previous, in an effort to regain the skills he feels he has lost since his defeat at the hands of Bane.
Bruce, of course, is victorious as he defeats them one at a time and finally puts the cape and cowl back on, resuming his role as the one true Batman.
Meanwhile, Jean-Paul Valley, driven to madness by the voice in his head claiming to be the spirit of Saint Dumas, is on the search for the man who killed his Father, beating information out of petty criminals and hoods on his way. He has lost the plot and isn't representing the ideals of what the Batman should stand for as he brutalises his way across Gotham.
This all leads to the final showdown between Bruce and Jean-Paul as they battle ferociously, both claiming to be the true Batman. The fight concludes at Wayne Manor as Bruce leads the pretender through the bat cave and tricks him into finally removing the helmet and admitting his wrong doings. Surprisingly, once Jean-Paul gives himself up, Bruce doesn't attempt to take him into custody, instead leaving the broken man that was once Gotham Cities vigilante to walk away, know what he had done and being full of regret.
The second story arc, Prodigal, sits very strangely in this collection as it really doesn't appear to have anything to do with Bane, Azrael or the flow of the story up to this point. Taking place directly after the events of Knightsend, Bruce tells Dick that even though he felt that he had to fight Jean-Paul and reclaim the mantle of the bat, that he wasn't actually ready for the task and places the responsibility with the original Robin. What follows is a twelve issue story with Dick as Batman and Tim Drake's Robin as his sidekick. At first it seems that there will be one main threat flowing through the arc, that being Two Face who has taken an opportunity to escape from prison and is undertaking a scheme to free a whole load of Blackgate inmates by hacking into government computers and overturning their sentences. This arc comes to a conclusion by issue 6 and the rest of the story is broken into individual plots with varying villains and no real coherent direction. The main focus is with Dick, who now that he is finally wearing the cape and cowl, is resistant to giving it up, but this is handled in a very wishy washy way and never had me gripped or feeling like I empathised with his plight. My frustration truly lies with the fact that Bruce doesn't take on Bane again and finally have his victory over the man that crippled him, something that was handled much better with the Dark Knight Rises film.
All in all I enjoyed these books for what they were, but truth be told, I was expecting more. They should have ditched the Prodigal story arc and included The Search within the collection. As for the comics as they were originally released, I still don't understand why there was no showdown with Bane.
Pick these up if like me you want to read the full story, but just make sure you grab a few back issues to plug the gaps first.