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REVIEW: ‘Batman: Knightfall Omnubus Vol. 1′ presents the Decline and Fall… and Rise again

 
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Overview
 

Story by: Chuck Dixon, Jo Duffy, Alan Grant, Dennis O'Neil and Doug Moench
 
Art by: Jim Aparo, Jim Balent, Eduardo Barreto, Bret Blevins, Norm Breyfogle, Vincent Giarrano, Tom Grummett, Klaus Janson, Barry Kitson, Mike Manley, Graham Nolan, Sal Velluto, Mike Vosburg and Ron Wagner
 
Publisher:
 
FG RATING
 
 
 
 
 
4/ 5


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3 total ratings

 


To sum it all up..

KNIGHTFALL says it all: the descent of the crusader. It is considered one of the most important Batman events ever, so crucial it managed to influence Christopher Nolan to put three of its most significant aspects in his Batman finale, The Dark Knight Rises—antagonist BANE, Broken Batman/Bruce Wayne, and the brutal takeover of Gotham City. […]

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Posted September 12, 2016 by

 
FULL REVIEW
 
 

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KNIGHTFALL says it all: the descent of the crusader. It is considered one of the most important Batman events ever, so crucial it managed to influence Christopher Nolan to put three of its most significant aspects in his Batman finale, The Dark Knight Rises—antagonist BANE, Broken Batman/Bruce Wayne, and the brutal takeover of Gotham City. Started in 1993 and ended in 1994, Knightfall was conceived by the Batman creative forces under editor and legendary writer Denis O’Neil whose primary goal was to see how a certain character named Jean-Paul Valley aka AZRAEL, would be received by comic book fans when he took over the mantle of the Bat from Bruce Wayne, the one and true Dark Knight. Contrary to popular belief, KNIGHTFALL was already planned even before the Death of Superman mega-event conceptualized. It just happened that the latter proceeded first and succeeded in record-sales (read: millions of copies were sold). As a matter of fact, BATMAN #500, the conclusion of the original KNIGHTFALL saga, was the last single-issue to reach more than a million copies sold. After that…the deluge of the comic book market, but that’s another story altogether.

For more than twenty years, the KNIGHTFALL epic was treated to trade paperback editions. First, the primary volume was aptly titled “The Broken Bat” and the second one was “Who Rules the Night?” finale. There was neither “Knightquest” nor “Knightsend” compilations yet until the late 2000s, which the latter was finally compiled and released. “Knightquest” became a reality when DC Comics ultimately published The Crusade-Azrael driven story in 2012 to coincide with The Dark Knight Rises movie. It was labeled as the epic’s second volume compilation, while KNIGHTFALL became the first while KNIGHTSEND the ultimatum, respectively. And finally in 2017, a long-awaited hardcover omnibus deluxe edition has finally come to fruition!

BATMAN: KNIGHTFALL OMNIBUS Vol. 1 reprints the first part of the Knightfall saga, primarily Batman #491-500; Detective Comics #659-666; Showcase ’93 #7-8; Batman: Shadow of the Bat #16-18. The first part is The Broken Bat, chronicling how Bruce Wayne became literally speaking the “broken” Caped Crusader by Bane’s brilliant strategic “running-through-the-gauntlet” plan. The Dark Knight had to recapture The Zsasz, Mad Hatter, Amygdala, Poison Ivy, Firefly, and the combined forces of The Joker and Scarecrow before facing the same mastermind in his own sanctuary. The second arc is strikingly named “Who Rules the Night?” because Gotham City was in chaos and it needed the crusader more than ever. Enter Jean-Paul Valley/Azrael, a former member of the religious ancient cult named The Order of Saint Dumas. He was trained by Batman and Timothy Drake-Robin, and later on, personally handpicked by Bruce despite reservations by the Boy Wonder due to the mental instability the former assassin possessed, especially when triggered by “The System”. As long as Jean-Paul stayed away from Bane, Azrael had the mantle of the Bat. But obviously, Jean was no Bruce Wayne in terms of intellect, patience and control; and Azrael literally bulldozed all the way to confront and challenge Bane, nearly killed in the process. Thus, Jean-Paul resorted to an upgrade, a massive one that presented in the last chapter of this gigantic first volume. Would he succumb to the insidious “System” to get the job done at the expense of the Bat legacy? Or would Bane remain as Gotham City’s master for the long night? Basically, the second act is more brawls and brutal interrogative procedures than the first part, but the creative force of this saga made the pacing was done accordingly; the fight scenes were illustrated as credible as possible; and the climatic moments were as dramatic as many Bat-tales as possible, regarding carrying the mantle of the Dark Knight.

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Despite the assemble of writers and artists in this long story, the pacing was (and still is) incredibly smooth and highly accessible to read as shown on how one chapter ends with a cliffhanger to make the readers glue on to the next issue and so on. The build-up towards Bane is well-placed to the point of deconstructing already the strengths and weaknesses of the holders of the mantle of the Bat, as well as the main antagonist’s brilliant mind and his physical prowess. It took Azrael to “play fire with fire” against the new overlord to finally usurp the latter once-in-for-all, making somehow the new Dark Knight acceptable in that point of Bat-history until things go spiraling and went almost out of control, as what the Bat-creative team originally intended, if ever DC Comics releases the Knightquest omnibus hardcover deluxe edition sooner or later. Dramas are presented to spice up the difficult transition between Bruce to Jean-Paul, and later on, Azrael to Robin, for it was difficult to carry on the legacy the predecessor left behind. Yet, KNIGHTFALL was the by-product of the nineties where exaggerations were the new norm. Dark themes were staple reading in the mainstream comics then as shown in the Death of Superman and other superhero comic events like X-Men: Age of Apocalypse and the Ron Marz-Green Lantern run. The only consolation here was Bruce Wayne ended up “broken”, not “dead” (even during Grant Morrison’s Batman run, Bruce ended up traveling from one historical period to another, not “dead” per se. Moreover with Scott Snyder’s take of the Caped Crusader who ultimately cheated “death” by the healing liquid as explained in HeavyWeight chapter). Well, my only misgiving in this narrative is the writers’ turning of Bruce’s apparent ignorance of handing over the keys of Gotham to his unstable and violent ward, instead of his true protégé and successor, Dick Grayson, who appeared rarely in most of the saga until the third arc, Knightsend (hopefully again, DC releases this one in hardcover treatment). And, aside from Bane, the writers did a good job of portraying villains as effective banes to both Dark Knights. The Zsasz gave Bruce a very brutal psychological and physical confrontation that hastened Batman’s already deteriorating conditions. Anarchy literally pushed Jean-Paul to killing mode if not for a douse of humanity left in the latter’s psyche. The Joker and Scarecrow’s terror tactics were well-choreographed to the degree these madmen could have taken Gotham if they were “discipline” enough, plus the flashback of Bruce’s greatest failure then (i.e. Jason Todd). Moreover, Catwoman was rather ambiguous though that’s what made her “catty” until Ed Brubaker redefined her in early 2000s. Bane’s henchmen were no stooges either, though as expected, both Caped Crusaders gave them a serious beating before the well-deserved face-offs. Henceforth, writers led by Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench did a wonderful job of being a well-oiled unit in making KNIGHTFALL Vol. 1 as cerebral and exciting as ever.

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Since KNIGHTFALL was a Batman-wide comic event, a couple of illustrators (and inkers) delivered their own artistic interpretations as the events unfolded towards the last panel and page. The greatest strength these artists was their collective mastery of the visual sequential paneling they executed that was in-synched to the overall narrative, even when flashbacks took center stage during Bruce and Tim’s case with the Two-Face prior the main event. A mixture of strict four-to-six panels to splash art pages displayed was in almost perfect harmony with the writers’ respective script to make this epic a smooth sailing and thrilling visual reading experience. The most visible hiccup here was how each artist drew Azrael/Jean-Paul’s mechanical Bat-gloves, particularly the fingers. In Batman titles, there were entirely neither jointed nor intricate illustrations, unlike the Detective Comics version, even in close-ups or highlighting these menacing weapons. These undertakings were quite understandable given the nature of work in mainstream comic industry, but these alone are quite annoying to view from one chapter to another unless one prefers the story over artistic interpretations.

Also, the book’s spine is still the old-fashioned, straight-and-glued type, making reading this monster volume a true challenge—holding lots of pages instead of letting these flip back. Why DC Comics still apply this cumbersome method when book bending is not a trademarked or copyrighted stuff? I’m still wondering, DC Comics.

BATMAN: KNIGHTFALL OMNIBUS Vol. 1  is a superior read. Its overall sequential paneling is layered with plot twists and suspenseful moments on whether or not Batman survived literally the gauntlet thrown by the muscular but intelligent antagonist. It is little wonder why this event remains influential after more than two decades, even revisiting and/or re-imagining how the Dark Knight confronted this fatal moment and how he raised the occasion. And, the patience of subjecting this one to an omnibus status is absolutely paid off. I really hope KNIGHTQUEST and KNIGHTSEND would be subjected/given to this high-end hardcover deluxe treatment sooner than later.


Paul Ramos

 


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