Friday, 9 November 2012

‘Batman: Knightfall Part One: Broken Bat’ (DC Comics)

Being realistic, I knew (months ago) that there was no way I’d be getting to see the latest Batman film when it came out. Other commitments, and some prohibitive London cinema ticket prices, mean that I am very much a ‘wait until the DVD’ kind of guy. I’ll get round to it eventually and it’s not as if I didn’t read the novelisation in the meantime.
I had another plan though. While such a big deal was being made of the film, why not go back to the comic book where it all began. I read the ‘Knightfall’ series way back in the mid-nineties, enjoyed the hell out of it if I recall correctly, so it was definitely time for a re-read.
With this in mind, I bought the first volume and… promptly forgot about it. That’s the way I roll these days :o) That and the fact that Hope has started pinching my comic books so she can read them herself. I’m cool with that although I am really glad that I sold my ‘Walking Dead’ collection…
Anyway, the book. Did it hold up as well as I’d hoped it would (it had been a long time…)? Well, yes and no. Mostly yes actually.

A rocket attack on Arkham Asylum heralds the darkest days that Batman has ever known. All of his deadliest enemies are in the horde of madmen streaming into the night… And they are all coming for him, all at once. Batman must face the likes of the Joker, the Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Amygdala and Zsasz if he is to protect the innocent folk of Gotham City and he wasn’t in top shape to begin with. If Batman is still standing at the end of it all there is an even greater mystery to be solved. Who ordered the rocket attack on Arkham Asylum? Who wants Batman brought to ruin so badly? Who is… Bane?

When I first read ‘Knightfall’, all those years ago, it was my first experience of seeing a hitherto ‘invincible’ superhero brought low. That, and the ‘Death of Superman’ storyline, left a real impression on me. Fast forward a few years though and the whole concept feels a little, well… passé. We all know that superheroes don’t die and there’s nothing so big that they ultimately can’t come back from. How did ‘Knightfall’ hold up in the face of my jaded attitude? Surprisingly well actually.

What you have here is a plot that is relentless in terms of what it throws in the way of a Batman who was struggling to get back to full health as it was. The pressure doesn’t stop for a second; if anything it just grows. As soon as one villain is dealt with, Batman must immediately go onto the next one; no time to rest, not even time to catch his breath. A plot like this should feel like a video game with Batman beating his way through the henchmen to get to the ‘end of level boss’. It really should but it doesn’t. For every bad guy (and lady) that Batman takes down you are left in no doubt as to the cost that he pays for it. Some of the artwork looks dated now (at least it does to me, it was the only thing that jarred here) but it does an amazing job of showing you just how drained Batman is after each encounter. You can’t help but feel for him, especially as you know what is looming on the horizon. And talking of which, who is that bloody huge bad guy lurking in the shadows? Why has he got such a big grudge for Batman? This revelation is a little bit of an anti-climax but it’s the resulting fight that we came for and that doesn’t disappoint.

A little extra knowledge of events leading up to ‘Knightfall’ will help you get more out of the story (‘why was the Riddler pumped full of Venom?’ and ‘what was Batman recovering from?’) but the book is surprisingly self contained and doesn’t need an awful lot of background knowledge to dive in and get going. I wish more comic books could be like this (yep, I’m looking at you Marvel). ‘Knightfall’ is a very dark read and nothing short of compelling. As soon as I can, I’ll be picking up the next two volumes to see if that standard is maintained.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

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