Thursday, April 4, 2013

Don't Miss Thursday Review: Batman: Knightsquest

Remember when I said I wasn't going to do comic book reviews?  I lied.  Well actually last summer I reviewed Batman:  Knightfall and then Batman:  Knightsend, but I hadn't realized DC Comics had (in part thanks to "The Dark Knight Rises" bringing interest to that plot from the 90s) finally released the middle part of the story "Knightquest" in paperback.  So just for the sake of completeness I will talk about this.

You probably don't remember, but in Knightfall, the evil Bane came to Gotham City and defeated Batman, breaking Bruce Wayne's back and leaving him crippled.  Bruce picks a security guard and former assassin named Jean-Paul Valley to take over for him.  At the end of Knightfall, Jean-Paul defeats Bane with the help of some sweet new armor that has shuriken launchers and claws.

Knightquest picks up as Jean-Paul now gets to be Batman on his own terms.  Bruce Wayne has flown off to search for Robin's dad and a missing doctor and so Jean-Paul is left to his own devices.

Bane has left a vacuum in Gotham's criminal organizations and someone has to fill the void.  That someone turns out to be a lot of freaks and weirdos.  First is a pair of twins who dress like Jon Voit in "Midnight Cowboy" to stage a bunch of daring robberies.  There's also a freaky assassin named the Tally Man who was a contract on Batman (really the other one but he ain't particular) and some lesser Batman foes like Abbatoir, the Corrosive Man, and the Clayfaces.  The latter two necessitates Jean-Paul making Batman's armor even more badass.  The picture shows evolution of Batman's costume from the tights and cape lying on the ground to the more armored look on the right and finally to the awesome really armored version on the left that comes equipped with flamethrowers and rockets and stuff.
Evolution of the Batmen (and also Bane)

Of the more well-known villains, Jean-Paul does tangle with Catwoman, who in this case is actually on the side of good as she tries to foil some eco-terrorists.  Then later the Joker shows up to create a movie of killing Batman.  In the process the Joker murders both Siskel and Ebert.  And Jean-Paul would have done the smart thing by killing the Joker if the cops hadn't shown up.  Yes, the cops save the Joker...and then promptly let him escape.

Later Jean-Paul does actually kill a villain, at which point Bruce Wayne (who's been magically healed) decides his protege has gone too far and needs stopped.  Because we need to keep criminals alive to kill again.  (Honestly, has anyone ever done the math on how many people the Joker's killed in 70 years?)  Not that I think we should kill everyone, but maybe after the sixth time the Joker breaks out to go on a killing spree we might finally say enough is enough.

Anyway, I always feel sorry for Jean-Paul because he was a character designed to fail.  He was designed with too much baggage for anyone to ever seriously think he would stay on as the Batman for very long.  The writers weren't playing fair, making him too unstable and uncharismatic to ever be a serious contender to the cowl.  They were probably afraid if they installed someone like former Robin and current Nightwing Dick Grayson (as Grant Morrison did in 2009) the audience might actually not care if Bruce Wayne came back and then how do we keep publishing Nightwing and all that?  It's the kind of dirty dealing from the bottom of the deck that sunk Conan O'Brien on the Tonight Show a few years ago.

Of course I liked Jean-Paul because he had a sweet costume.  A cape and tights are fine, but why have that when you can have flamethrowers and rocket launchers?  Duh.    And really he's even more of a tragic character than Bruce Wayne.  He never even met his mother, was brainwashed from birth to be an assassin, and had his father die literally on his doorstep with this big new job as the assassin Azrael.  He really got the shitty end of the stick.  Part of it is too I like to root for the underdog and since everyone (even the writers) were pulling for Bruce Wayne, I would go the opposite way.

If there is one big problem in these comics it's that you have like four different writers and so Jean-Paul's personality becomes a bit uneven between them all--something definitely noticeable in a collection like this.  Sometimes he seems pretty sane while other times he seems much angrier and crazier.  And in the Catwoman issues he's an undersexed boob.  So it seems the writers weren't really on the same page.

There are a couple of problems with the actual collection, not the actual story.  For one thing they put some of these out of order.  It was annoying they start with the first two parts of Batman vs. the Midnight Cowboy robbers and then leave that off for a few other issues before getting back to it.  And it's never clear what happens when Batman and Robin were fighting each other in the Batcave.  That was probably in an issue not included.  That's the second problem that people on Amazon have noted.  There's about 8 issues missing, most of them dealing with Bruce Wayne's activities.  The good thing is all of those are online, though they're $2 apiece.  Of course this collection as it stands is 656 pages so I can see where they decided that another 160 or so might get a bit too cumbersome.  But they could have at least grouped all the stories together in the right order.

Anyway, I was glad I finally got a chance to read all these.  I'd read the novelization back in the 90s but that leaves a ton of stuff out.  I'm sure at some point I'd actually go and read the entire arc in the proper order because I think it's one of the great Batman storylines.
Tomorrow Box Office Blitz Continues!


  1. You're admitting to us that you've lied on your blog? How interesting!

  2. I've never read the Azrael run, but I've never heard of anyone rooting for him. Way to root for the underdog Pat.

  3. A while back I had a debate with The Boy about whether Batman and Iron Man were basically the same superhero. What separated them was that Iron Man was all gadget. You never got the idea that Tony Stark was worth anything on his own. He probably couldn't punch his way out of a wet paperbag (a/k/a Gwyneth Paltrow's personality.)

    (Ba dum bum!)

    So now Batman has rocket launchers and flamethrowers and isn't so much the Ninja-ish assassin-turned-good envisioned in the first of the Christopher Nolan movies, or the detective-with-gadgets that Batman was for so long, but is simply a darker, more depressed, but less alcoholic Iron Man.

    I mean, that's fine if that's what you want for a superhero, but I thought the appeal of Batman was that he was a detective, and a great fighter, and that he hung in with Superman and Wonder Woman et al not by virtue of having Space Bat Armor but by virtue of being so freaking smart and physically disciplined.

    Of course, that's the take that Christopher Nolan showed, too, maybe without meaning to do so: from the first movie (whose name I can't remember and per Offutt/Rusty I'm not supposed to Google stuff or I'm admitting defeat or something) where Bruce Wayne learned how to fight for real, without gadgets, to the last, where Bruce Wayne basically helicoptered the bejeezus out of everything. That was true for "The Dark Knight Returns," too, but at least there it made sense: Batman made the supersuit specifically to fight Superman. He didn't use it to beat that weird kid in the dump.

    So I think something is lost when Batman just flamethrowers people. It's like when Coke decided to chase Pepsi.

    As for the rest of your review: seriously? Just kill people? The problem is not Batman not killing people without due process -- you realize you're suggesting letting a deranged unstable assassin decide to execute criminals, rather than trying the criminal -- the problem is that the society Batman lives in in the comics is so incapable of taking care of its prisoners that they keep escaping. So I take with a grain of salt your suggestion that superheroes just kill people, assuming it's not meant for real-world situations, but even in comic world situations, superheroes are a response to supervillains, an escalation of the justice system from regular cons vs. regular cops to supercons vs supercops -- but to suggest that different rules should apply to the supers vis a vis justice and due process would seriously distort the world they are presenting.

    Which, as I think of it, would be fascinating. OKAY, let Batman kill anyone he wants. Has there ever been a storyline where some superhero did that and the others had to try to bring THAT superhero to justice?

    If there hasn't, then maybe the Scarlet Knight ought to come out of retirement!

    1. I hate to side with Frank Miller, but that part of "The Dark Knight Returns" where Batman finally kills the Joker (rather gruesomely) actually made sense. I mean you've been fighting that guy for 30 years and he's killed how many people? Thousands? At that point it's just common sense that if you hand the Joker to the cops he's just going to break out again and wreak more havoc.

      And (spoiler alert!) when Jean-Paul "kills" Abbatoir it's actually the same philosophy Christopher Nolan used in "Batman Begins" where he didn't directly throw Abbatoir to his death, but he didn't try to save him either.

      When the Scarlet Knight gets pissed off enough at criminals she never actually kills them; she just breaks a few bones to put them into the hospital for a few months. Then they might have second thoughts before returning to crime.

  4. Jean-Paul Valley was designed to be the opposite of Bruce Wayne, so that you appreciated Bruce Wayne that much more, someone who had seen crazy s...tuff and not turned out crazy himself.

    As for killing someone like The Joker, yes in an ideal world he would have been executed (even if you don't think execution fits in an ideal world), but he's also clearly insane. How much is he really responsible for his actions, even when he seems rational and calculated when he commits them? The ultimate Joker story would finally explain the character, but then you'd have readers who wouldn't understand how he could still be entertaining as a villain after that. By the way, someone described as a genius like Doctor Doom is exactly the same way. He's insane. It's maybe time Marvel, I don't know, admitted that?

  5. Maybe judge Dredd could team up with Batman and excise judgement on these criminal types after they're caught.

    And if you google something then you've already lost the battle for knowledge. At this point I'm not sure how that's possible, but I'm apparently the guy who believes that now so...

  6. Well written review. I don't much read comics anymore but you make we want to change my mind. I prefer just watching animated series.

    1. Really, you can read comics on that newfangled tablet of yours so you don't even have to go to the comic book store to buy them.

    2. I've tried it and I don't like comics on the tablet. I don't know why but it's just not the same experience as reading a book.

      Plus to tell you the truth, the art in most comic books has really gone down hill. It used to be that you'd have tons of panels (like 8) per page and a lot of content.

      Now comic books don't have as many pages and they'll have maybe two panels per page or mostly just one.

      I don't like it. I feel like I'm getting gypped out of a story by having them string it along to sell more issues. It's part of the reason I abandoned comics. I think it's hard to get your money's worth anymore.

  7. Incidentally it's sadly ironic now that in this review I mention how the Joker kills Siskel and Ebert in one issue and it turns out to post on the exact day Roger Ebert dies. Funny how life works out. (I had actually written the review a week or so ago so maybe I had a premonition...probably not.)

    1. I'm going to miss Ebert's reviews a lot. I felt like a truly wonderful man had left us today when I heard the news. It's just awful.

  8. Yeah, I agree with your points about how Azrael was designed to fail. I read somewhere he was meant to parody the gritty unstable anti-hero that was popular in the nineties, a way of saying how horrible these anti-heroes are and how great Bruce Wayne is in contrast. But those razor-bats Azrael used were pretty sweet. Shing! Shing!

  9. Holy neutronium, I think its time for the utility belt!



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