Debriefing #9: ‘Knightfall: Who Rules the Night’

Knightfall (1993) Part 2 (Who Rules the Night)
Writers: Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Alan Grant
Artists: Graham Nolan, Klaus Janson, Jim Aparo, Bret Blevins
Colorist: Adrienne Roy, Klaus Janson

Note: This is a discussion of the 2012 release of Knightfall Volume 1. Given the length of this volume we are discussing the second half of this book, the story arc known as Who Rules the Night.

Batman is broken. With Arkham’s finest still on the loose, Gotham still needs its dark crusader and Bruce Wayne passes the mantel onto Jean-Paul Valley, a man from a troubled past as Azrael, a brainwashed assassin. Will the cape and cowl set Jean-Paul on the path to redemption, or will the newfound power drive him to become a merciless crusader?

James: I don’t know about you, but I thought the breaking of Batman came really fast. I was expecting it to be the climax of this volume. Instead, it’s the halfway point that bridges the book into the aftermath of Bane’s victory. Moving forward, things do change drastically. But my question is do you think the second half of the volume has enough momentum to keep you engaged or does it run out of steam before the end?

Edgar: A few days ago when we chit chatted about the volume’s first half, I was less than kind towards that section of the story. In the case of the second half, I found myself to be much, much more engaged primarily because the stakes have changed so drastically now. Bruce Wayne, for the first time since I have been reading the Batman comics, is out of commission. Not permanently of course, but enough for the dynamics between heroes and villains, and even amongst the heroes, to be significantly different from what we are accustomed to reading and seeing. I don’t think this portion is perfect by any means, but it is a huge step up from the first. It takes chances and pays off many of them. How about you?

J: I, too, liked this change of pace. The book spends a more time following arcs instead of a series of episodic adventures. We get a two issue Two-Face story and a Three issue Scarecrow story and I feel like investing more in less goes a long way to making the stories more nuanced, while a lot of the first half felt a bit scatterbrained as we jumped around from issue to issue. I also like seeing what the aftermath of losing Bruce Wayne as Batman would be like and how someone else taking on the mantel would make for a different Batman. What did you think of Jean-Paul Valley as Batman?

E: My only qualm is that Jean-Paul’s ‘descent’, if you will, happens a bit too quickly. It feels as though maybe Bruce should have been more careful in his selection of who would wear the outfit. What did you make his Jean-Paul’s behaviour?

J: Seeing a Batman who is brutal and extreme makes for a compelling change. All of a sudden, you’ve got a Batman who’s a lot more excessive and the line between him and his enemies becomes thinner. I like that he’s that way right from the beginning. It serves as a strong contrast to Bruce, but I can certainly understand how someone might think it happens too fast, especially because only a few issues into him being Batman he’s already becoming quite mad. I think part of the problem is that you’ve got four issues until he’s given the cape and cowl and by about five or six issues later he’s reaching the zenith of this transformation into something beyond Batman. It does feel rushed. It would have been better if they saved some of that for the next arc of the story. What did you think of Bruce Wayne’s story while all this is going on?

E: Ha, ha, I must admit to liking that very much. He requires some time, naturally, to heal his wounds to a certain degree and for Alfred’s drugs to take effect, but once he awakens and is relegated to a wheel chair, his dedication to sleuthing and crime fighting is too strong to keep him passive, a bystander while everything happens around him. I think, even despite the fact that Bruce is in no condition to be Batman for a while, the authors had to do something with the character, otherwise the most important figure of the plot is reduced to cameo appearances, which would have been strange. The little adventure, which doesn’t last too long but still, the authors give him is a lot of fun and speaks to how obsessed Bruce is about crime fighting. It also felt really different. I mean, it’s Bruce in a wheelchair and he’s still out and about! What about you?

J: I liked that even though he’s down, he’s not out and that he still ends up having his own detective adventure that’s a lot more personal than his Batman adventures. However, I wish that the story spent a bit more time with it. I think it would have been cool to see whole issues. Like maybe the Detective issues could be Bruce Wayne recovering and doing some sleuth work and the Batman issues could be Jean-Paul’s war on crime. Still, it’s a good way to keep Wayne in the story and feel like he’s doing something valuable, even though it’s not as Batman. Speaking of issues, this section has two-one off stories, one from Showcase ‘93 7 and 8 involving Two-Face, a flashback, and the other, Shadow of the Bat 16-18, involving Scarecrow. What did you make of those?

E: It seems as though, with the exception of our Dark Knight Rises talk, we have been discussing Harvey Dent ‘Two-Face’ for the better part of a month now. I may have underestimated how important he is in the Batman cannon. Well, about those mini stories per say, I can’t say I was too enamored with the one dealing with Two-Face. It felt to me like the one subplot in this second half of volume 1 where the authors were committing the same mistakes as the first half, namely, being too episodic, which halts the momentum of the overall story. Ultimately, the point of that is for Bruce, now still very hurt and tired, to somehow awaken from his coma and murmur with great difficulty that Robin makes good decisions as a crime fighter. So what… I did however, like the Scarecrows story because that at least related, in part, to Jean-Paul’s career as Batman. It also was the first time in the entire volume where I felt the quality of the artwork was on the upswing in a big way. What about you?

J: I had the same initial reaction about the Two-Face story being too episodic, also, since it’s a flashback it feels like it ruins the momentum of the story. However, I think that’s the problem of reading this series in a volume because when it came out, this would have been a two issue spinoff from the story that, while related to the story, wouldn’t be seen as part of the core story arc which is playing out through Batman and Detective. Even then, as a standalone story, it’s just okay. I agree on the Scarecrow story. It works a lot better because, one, the artwork is a big improvement over what we’ve seen so far in this series, and two, because it does feel like it is part of the ongoing, forward momentum of the story.

E: Interesting that you refer to the original manner in which the books were published in support of the Harvey Dent story. Now, I didn’t read Knightfall back in 1993 (92?) so there is no way of saying this with certainty, but I feel as though it would have felt even worse than it did when I read it recently. I mean, these issues were coming out only once a month I believe, so to have to wait two months for the story to get back on track…Yeesh, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed that. About the Scarecrow issues, there is one detail, which I thought was interesting, that maybe I took umbrage with, which was the inclusion of a character named Anarchy. I had no idea who this fellow was. Now, that in and of itself is not a fair criticism. I can’t bemoan the story just because I didn’t know a character, but what exactly did he add to that subplot in your opinion?

J: I could pull out the argument that he’s supposed to be a darker version of Batman, but when you have a Batman like this, I think you don’t really need to have a character like Anarchy around. He does feel out of place in the arc and I don’t think he adds anything substantial to this subplot, so I’d agree he’s an odd inclusion into the story. Also, a side-note on the release of issues. How it would have worked is that every month there would have been a new issue of Batman and Detective, but you also might have an issue of one of these side-plots come out in the same month. So you wouldn’t be waiting two months for the story to get back on track, you’d just have the option to pick up this sidestory. Just wanted to make that note before we got messages from all the comic book buffs.

E: Yes, they are not to be trifled with. Heaven forbid! I imagine that we should tackle some of the latter issues of this volume, when Jean-Paul gets his chance (two in fact) to face off against Bane. For me, those moments worked quite well overall. There was a visceral quality and tempo about them that I felt the Bruce Batman Bane encounter lacked (for reasons we have already discussed). There is also the matter of Jean-Paul ‘pimping’ the Batsuit in some powerful ways. What are your thoughts on the Jean-Paul story in those final few issues?

J: I did find it funny that Bruce Wayne’s only advice is don’t go after Bane and Jean-Paul is almost instantly like “screw that, I’m the gosh-dang Batman!” I did like seen that Jean-Paul was driven not just to be Batman, but to be a better Batman. Now, his definition of what makes a “better” Batman conflicts with a lot of what Bruce Wayne represented as Batman, but I do think there’s something to be said for how Jean-Paul gets results a lot faster and quicker. Of course, he’s crossing some lines along the way, which gets into the whole argument of over whether or not the ends justify the means, which is why I think he makes for a compelling take on Batman.

E: Well, the most obvious point of interest is that his appearance helps him differentiate himself from Bruce’s version of that character. The costume looks like something a villain would wear, which I thought was a pertinent touch. On the topic of his methods, I love how he goes about his business, not because it’s better than Bruce’s technique, but that it is a more character driven way of differentiating himself from Bruce. Jean-Paul is convinced he is better than the original Batman, or can be better, and even though he gets the results, the challenge is posed to the reader: Is this new character better than Bruce? Even Robin admits, in the final frames of this volume, that Jean-Paul has earned the right to become the new Batman. Deep down inside though, I think readers, or at least I did, know that the only true Batman is Bruce Wayne and it’s because of his more, let’s call it, honourable tactics. What did you make of the Jean-Paul Bane fights?

J: It was a fight where you weren’t sure who was going to come out on top, hence it’s more suspenseful than the first showdown. I do like how Jean-Paul almost snap at the end and finally kills but then finds that restraint that does, in some ways, make him worthy of the Batman name. And while I certainly can see how people would be left with misgivings, and there are certainly some unresolved issues, I think in that moment I agree with Robin. He’s earned the cape and cowl…at least for now.

E: I think it is those misgivings, as you say, that make this story arc all there captivating. Jean-Paul has restrained himself, but that didn’t not squash all of my doubts surrounding him. I suspect that the next portion of the story will enlighten us on why he behaves the way he does. It’s hinted at ever so briefly in this volume, but left mostly mysterious. On the whole, I was relieved by this second half of volume 1. Dramatically, it flows much better and the characters developments are far more satisfying, even though Bane is seen even less.

J: Yes, the second half of this book is a step in the right direction. I’m one of those people who always likes seeing things flipped around and shaken up in stories and I think the aftermath of the first half of this volume is a great setup to explore an interesting and different take on Batman. There are still some missteps, the story is not as taut as it could be and some of the one-offs feel a bit extraneous, but otherwise, I have to say I enjoyed this half quite a bit. Looking forward to seeing where things go from here.

E Looking forward to that myself. Count me as a fan of the story at this point. And, let’s not pretend we aren’t excited for it, the return of Bruce Wayne with his cape and cowl. Gonna be bad ass!!! Fanboy time!!!

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