With The Dark Knight Rises in theatres this weekend; you may have noticed an abundance of copies of Knightfall piling up in your local comic book shop. From the trailers it appears that Bane is our next big bad guy, and Knightfall was his most prominent storyline; as in 1993 he sought out to hunt down Bruce Wayne and break the bat!
Bane’s plan was elegant in it’s simplicity: blow a hole in the side of Arkham Asylum, let all the inmates escape, allow Batman to wear himself out to the point of exhaustion, and then when he’s at his most vulnerable Bane will strike. This book is a love fest for Batman fans (and the first major event book of my youth), showcasing so many of the characters, means, and motivations of Batman’s rogue gallery. You get forgotten favorites like Film Freak and Firefly, low-level losers like Cavalier and The Ventriloquist, mid-range monsters like Zsasz and Killer Croc, and of course your top rung villains that have become household names. Batman fights from the bottom up as it’s quicker to get the easy targets off the streets as theirs are mostly crimes of opportunity; whereas your Jokers and Scarecrows will take the team to team up and coordinate a kidnapping of the mayor. However, for a guy who’s strength comes from directly injecting concentrated steroids into his brain, Bane takes the time to get into Batman’s head; learning who he is and what his limitations are as both a hero and a man. He uncovers his weaknesses, both mental and physical, and draws them out from beneath what is normally a heavily guarded facade to the surface. Batman starts to run on reaction and fear rather than intellect and will; and Bane relishes in this breakdown of Gotham’s guardian.
Knightfall’s action is awesome, and actually rather brutal. The art at times can be downright noir-esque, playing a lot with light and shadow. However, man cannot live on pulpy poundings alone. What puts this storyline on most people’s top 10 lists is not the animated action nor extended rouges gallery; as always the difference between a good book and a great one is it’s subtext and emotion. Knightfall takes the time in breaking down the bat to truly break down that bat. You can see and comprehend just how he unravels thread by thread. Each encounter is a self contained story; but there are no save points, there is no rest when you consider each nights work and injury and exhaustion just keeps compounding on itself. You get very telling internal monologue from the dark knight trying to remain rational and in control in the face of insurmountable pain and a seemingly unending assault on all his sensibilities. The book touches on the nature of trust and teamwork as Batman attempts to keep Robin protected and closed off from direct confrontation, as he’s still dealing with the death of Jason Todd; all while never having needing a sidekick and a friend more.
It also attempted to shine a mirror on the idea of “it’s everybody’s fault but yours” that was prevalent in the 90’s ‘Me’ culture through gross media saturation; and in a larger sense the notion that ‘criminals are victims too’. It parodied the growing belief in self-help books and talk show hosts healing a half hour at a time with the ideal that if Batman can put his life, body, and mind on the line that when the chips are down we can show a little personal responsibility too.
That’s not to say all of Knightfall is a goldmine. The book is rather dense; in taking the time to fully sap our cowled crusader and write fully self contained and stand alone chapters you wind up with a lot of content that is filler. Particularly some of the villains backstory is extraneous to the overall arc. Also, this was an event book; multiple teams writing at rushed deadlines trying to meet weekly rather than monthly deadlines caused Knightfall to fall a little short in the art department. Jim Aparo was the lead penciler on this project and all of his issues have some truly cringe-worthy panels. The sense of depth, perspective, and physics are just way off. He draws elongated skewed faces that just don’t fit the style of everyone else, his backgrounds and objects just feel flat and off; hell he even has someone throwing a punch and the punchee spinning in the wrong direction. Thankfully he is only on every 4th issue or so and is but a momentary distraction from an otherwise great tale.
As the Knightfall arc carries on, the story gets more and more convoluted and confusing. What started as just a Batman and Detective event in Volume 1 eventually spreads to the whole bat-family of books (Batman, Robin, Shadow of the Bat, Detective, Legends of the Dark Knight, Catwoman, and DC Annuals) by Volume 3. At some point there was a subchapter called Knightsquest that split off into two concurrent yet unrelated arcs itself and was never even gathered into trade until the latest Knightfall TPB that was arranged to tie in with the movie. However, do not let that deter you; Knightfall Volume 1: Broken Bat is a great read showcasing Batman at his most badass and yet most vulnerable, allowing you to take a brief peak under the mask and an overwhelming view into the strength and soul of a bat.