Comic Review: Batman - Knightfall Volume 1 / Author: Jim Aparo, Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon / Publisher: Titan Book / Release Date: Out Now
Every man has a breaking point. Even a Batman. In Knightfall, that breaking point's name is Bane. Gearing up for the imminent release of his cinematic debut in The Dark Knight Rises (we don't count the other thing) is this fantastic re-release of the definitive Bane story. Batman's downfall is the reader's gain – Knightfall is one of the greatest Batman stories ever told.
Volume One collects The Vengeance of Bane special, Broken Bat and Who Rules The Night together in one beautiful, hefty tome. Any self-respecting (Bat)fan will have read the individual paperbacks a long time ago, but it's a wonderful addition to any (Bat)library. Binding the books together makes sense – the Knightfall books are very moreish. Despite the price tag, many readers will be found seeking out the other two volumes – reported to include several previously uncollected issues of the saga.
Having escaped from the notorious Carribean prison in which he was born and brought up, criminal mastermind Bane sets his sights upon Gotham City and its guardian. Realising that to jump straight in at the deep end would be a bad idea, Bane attacks Arkham Asylum, breaching its walls. Each and every madman within is released onto the streets: from B-list nobodies like Maxie Zeus and Cavalier to mild threats such as Firefly and The Ventriloquist. And, of course, the A-List: Scarecrow, Two-Face, Joker and more. A very stressed, depressed Batman attempts to recapture the wayward whackjobs before they can do any more damage. The Joker and Scarecrow have kidnapped the Mayor. Mister Zsasz is holding a class of terrified schoolgirls hostage. The Mad Hatter is hosting a tea party. And all the time, Bane is watching.
One has to feel for poor Bruce. If A Death in the Family was his greatest failure (in not being able to save then-Robin Jason Todd from being gruesomely bludgeoned to death) then Knightfall is his most total physical defeat. The climactic fight between Batman and Bane makes for gloomy reading. Batman is utterly trounced and humiliated; broken and done. That's not a spoiler: the outcome is right there on the cover of the book. Reading Knightfall in anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises, one can't help but worry for Christian Bale's Batman. If Nolan is going to be as faithful to the character of Bane as the promotional material suggests, poor Bruce Wayne is in for the fight of his life.
From the ashes of defeat, The Dark Knight Rises. But not that one. Jean Paul Valley – one time Azrael and brainwashed cultist – takes on the mantle of the Bat. In hindsight, maybe Dick Grayson would have been a better choice. Jean Paul Valley's Batman reads almost like a spoof of nineties 'Xtreme' superheroes, wearing garish armour and showing scant regard for collateral damage or the well-being of the villains he fights. The headstrong youth soon seeks out an audience with Bane. Meanwhile, Robin (Tim Drake) watches helplessly. Bruce Wayne leaves the country to track down his kidnapped girlfriend and Tim's father. Gotham, it seems, is trapped in the jaws of two madmen, like a piece of meat between ferocious, territorial dogs.
All of this isn't bad for what is essentially a hook to make comics 'darker', create a bit of sensation and bring Batman down several notches. The story could so easily have been another Death of Superman clone, but Knightfall is tightly plotted, tense and has a great villain in Bane. Where Superman and Doomsday simply stood and punched one another until they both died, Bane has a plan. The story has other merits beyond its fight scenes. The influence of Superman's 'death' can be seen in the first issue of Knightfall, in which the characters wear little black Superman armbands in memorial. Bless, it's very touching. It also explains why Superman doesn't just fly in and swat Bane back to Pena Dura.
The art and writing feels very much of its time, but looks great throughout. The Norm Breyfogle issues are the best (particularly those with the Mad Hatter and Zsasz), closely followed by Graham Nolan's. Jim Aparo's art is the weakest in the book – stilted and less detailed than the others. It doesn't affect the story much, but it is a shame that the most action-packed issues (the initial Arkham breakout, a fight between Batman and The Joker, Bane and Batman's showdown) are all illustrated by Aparo. One can't help but wish Breyfogle or Nolan had been tasked with the more iconic moments. Also included are the original comic book covers, which include some gorgeous illustrations by Kelley Jones and Glenn Fabry.
Batman: Knightfall is perhaps the greatest Batman 'event' comic book story ever told. Of course, The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns and Year One have more artistic merit, but for sheer thrills, spills and visceral action, Knightfall has yet to be bested.
That's if you can bring yourself to read it – this collection looks far too pretty to touch. After all, you wouldn't want to break the spine.