Debriefing #10: ‘Knightquest: The Crusade’ Part 1

Knightquest: The Crusade Part 1
Writers: Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Doug Moench, Jo Duffy
Artists: Graham Nolan, Vincent Giarrano, Mike Manley, Jim Balent
Colorist: Adrienne Roy, Buzz Setzer

Note: This is a discussion of the 2012 release of Knightfall Vol. 2. Because of the length of the volume, this section will discuss the first half of Knightquest: The Crusade, going up to Catwoman #7.

Jean-Paul Valley, under the mantel of the Batman, has defeated Bane. But this is just the beginning as the new Batman begins a crusade against crime. His excessive methods and more elaborate and militaristic gear makes Jean-Paul a much more lethal and ruthless Batman. And with a new Batman, a new set of villains begin to pour into Gotham.

Edgar: And so now we enter the middle portion of the epic Knightfall story. You and I are talking about the first 300 pages of volume 2, more or less, and at this stage in book 2 readers have not been given any indication of what Bruce Wayne is up to. We do, however, get plenty of Batman given that Jean-Paul has taken over the mantle since the end of the first book. At this stage, there is a lot of effort into really making Jean-Paul, for all intents and purposes, THE Batman we are supposed to be interested in. James, at this stage in the game in volume 2, do you think the authors have successfully transferred the role of central protagonist over to Jean-Paul as the new caped crusader, or were you constantly wondering ‘Hey, where is THE REAL Batman?’.

James: I don’t think the transition over to Jean-Paul as Batman works in this section. I did like it in the previous section where you had this struggle between his brutality and what Batman represents as he eases into the role. Here, he goes raving mad, starts having visions and begins modifying the suit with all this sharp weaponry and I thought the character went off into the deep end fast. It would have been interesting to see the character end up here eventually, but he seems to flip out all of a sudden and become downright psychotic and I didn’t buy it. As for Bruce’s absence, it was another element I didn’t understand. I liked seeing Jean-Paul as Batman early on, but I think it worked because you still had Bruce and Robin around which served as a strong contrast to Jean-Paul’s Batman. Here, Bruce is gone and Robin is delegated to only a brief mention every now and again. Without them, I think this new Batman is too jarring of a transition. What are your thoughts?

E: It’s interesting that you allude to the transition from Bruce Wayne to Jean-Paul in the first book and how the latter had to ‘ease’ into his role as Caped Crusader, because that was one of the elements that did not quite work for me in that volume. I’ll agree with you on the fact that as a hero, as the main hero in fact, it is a jarring transition given his, let’s call it, mental conditioning which dictates that he should behave as an assassin would. In the previous book, there were hints that it had to do with some conditioning performed by a mysterious cult, and, credit where credit is due, I actually think that works a little bit better this time around because now we have more time to understand Jean-Paul’s inner thoughts. I still don’t understand what his visions are about nor why their messages contradict themselves, but at least this time it felt like the inner struggle, was more fleshed out. Speaking of which, what did you make of the few chapters where Jean-Paul tries to understand who he is and, in some ways, temper his violent behavour?

J: That bit of the story never clicked for me. I get what the writers are going for, I understand how it gives Jean-Paul this tragic side, but I didn’t think it was as much of a struggle as the story wanted me to think it was. When in the midst of the action, it never felt like a factor, like is he going to kill this guy or not? It came across as too tempered. If he had been flat out killing guys before or came really close, I might buy it. But after sparing Bane in the last showdown, I felt like that arc of his character had already played out, like I knew he wasn’t going to kill from this point out, even if his methods are extreme. I’m curious, shifting from the hero, what did you think about the villains in these stories?

E: Ah, I knew that had to come at some point. If I may, I’d just like to add one more thought on why I kind of like Jean-Paul inner struggle, very briefly if I may. I think that he sort of functions as the opposite side of the same coin, with Bruce Wayne representing the other side. In essence, whereas Bruce literally conditioned himself to become what he is (or ‘was’ at this point in Knightfall), Jean-Paul has been conditioned by others and because of that, the struggle to me feels more like it has greater depth now that the authors have given it time to breath a little and, for the Jean-Paul uninitiated, explained it a little. Okay, the villains, it’s a neat little thing the authors do in this book. They are essentially giving the new Batman a bunch of his own super villains, further emphasizing the transition from Bruce to Jean-Paul. Visually, some of them were appealing, such as the Tally-Man, while others looked more like jokes than anything else, such as the two country  hicks with six-shooters. I guess I’m a little mixed on them. The authors also struggle with how to develop them as well. The Tally-Man’s backstory is given as he’s fighting Batman, which I thought was weird. What about you?

J: I liked The Tally-Man. I agree the exposition for his character was handled awkwardly, but I thought he’s an interesting inverse of Jean-Paul. While both are out for justice, it’s clear that The Tally-Man crosses a line Jean-Paul hasn’t/won’t cross. But a lot of the other new villains were terrible. Cowboys? Really? Really? And then there’s a train heist, too? I know some of the regular Batman villains are quite silly and out there, but I thought that was just too silly. Also, the hitman robot guy I think was another attempt to have a darker version of Jean-Paul, but I didn’t care much for him either. So yes, it’s a mixed bag, but I do like that they’re trying to give him a new rogue’s gallery. What did you think about Catwoman’s appearance and her story?

E: LOL, yeah, the robot assassin character… Again, a great looking character, but so poorly written. Talking to himself all the time with lines like ‘The phoenix will survive the chaos.’ Come on guy… Catwoman. Yeah, I really did not expect her to show up, primarily because the authors had been spending so much time in creating a new rogue’s gallery, so to suddenly have a classic antagonist feature was unexpected. As far as the story is concerned, my answer is twofold. First, I was not enamoured with the actual plot, that is, the whole ordeal with bio-toxins and some sort of international conference. I could’t get my head around who wanted to use the stuff and why by the midway point. What I did appreciate, on the other hand, was how Jean-Paul was attracted to her. It spoke to how powerful of a presence she is. Not only does Bruce have a fascination with her, but so does Jean-Paul. What about your thoughts?

J: I like that Catwoman is the first one of Batman’s “allies” who figures out that this is a different Batman. Given how close the characters have been in the past, it makes sense that she’s the one who can get close enough to see the change and know it’s not the same man underneath. And I agree that the actual story is rather weak. We’ve mentioned it before, but what do you think about Bruce Wayne dropping out of the main issues altogether?

E: We agree on Catwoman then. I love that she does not even know that Bruce is Batman, but she can tell Jean-Paul is not the real Batman. That’s awesome. The absence of Bruce is a sore thumb I find. Now, I respect the intent of the authors. They want to make Jean-Paul as interesting and as complex a character as Bruce Wayne was. I have no problem with that in principle. That being said, it is a little weird that, after 300 pages, we haven’t seen Bruce Wayne at all. Who really thinks Bruce Wayne will never be Batman again, honestly? We know he’s coming back at some point, don’t tease us by not using him at all for so long. Plus, I was genuinely curious to know what he was doing with Alfred. Where do you stand?

J: I agree. I’m not one of those stalwart Bruce Wayne is Batman or else fans, but I think his part of the story is important to tell. I want to watch his recovery alongside Jean-Paul’s crusade as The Dark Knight. I don’t think it would take away from this transition if maybe a couple of pages an issue we got an update on what he’s doing. I think it would have been cool if one title was dedicated to Jean-Paul (say Batman) and then the other could be about Bruce Wayne (say Detective Comics). Bruce is a presence in this story that needs to stick around because I don’t think there’s enough to Jean-Paul to sustain this story.

E: I seem to remember you writing that comment in our previous discussion, about dividing the Bruce Wayne and Jean-Paul stories per book, Batman and Detective Comics. I think that would have been a fantastic idea. Given that Bruce Wayne is physically incapable of being Batman, he must now solely rely on his detecting skills, which are second to none. His absence leaves a big hole in the story and, as you put it, the dichotomy between Bruce and Jean-Paul is a great topic for exploration, especially considering where each character is in their respective careers. I guess we’ll get something at some point, I just think’s it’s taking a longer than it should.   I know you wanted to share some thoughts on the artwork. Go ahead.

J: Once again, the art in this book doesn’t do much for me, but this time I have some complaints about character design. I hate the Jean-Paul Batman look. To me, it screams of this unwieldy, blocky mechanicalness of something like a Transformer. What made Batman such an iconic character is how bold and striking he was and I think this new Batman look is an eyesore. I think you could have made a deadly looking Batman but kept the elegance of the original look. Did that bug you at all?

E: I think it’s a case where the intent is striking and ripe for some compelling material, but, ultimately, the execution is lacking. Keep in mind that Jean-Paul is obsessed with the idea of being a better Batman. He is more extreme than Bruce Wayne, something detectable just from observing his behaviour. That, in turn, plays into what he wants to get out of his costume, to make it his own. Now, that’s the ‘intent.’ The issues arise with regards to the execution, which is all over the map. I like the new hood (or is that supposed to be a helmet? I’m not even sure), but the artists go overboard with the design and, quite frankly, calling the new Batman a Transformer look-alike is not a bad comparison, which is unfortunate. It really is not that interesting and strays too far from what somebody should look like as Batman. I’m not even clear on how the heck he makes use of the outfit. It looks so heavy, like those costumes from the Joel Schumacher films. Just to return briefly on the topics of Jean-Paul’s character arc, there are some appearances made by these visions, something we didn’t really get in the first book. Did you think those were effective or more confusing, especially for newcomers to that character?

J: I wasn’t crazy about the visions element of it. I don’t mind him struggling with the assassin programing he’s been ingrained with, but I thought the visions were too out there. I’m not sure if I’d call them confusing, but I didn’t find them particularly memorable or striking. It doesn’t have as much resonance as it could, at least for me. I think that was one of the weakest storytelling elements in this stretch of the story. How about you?

E: I agree. I was just curious to know what you thought about them because I got the sense that they are supposed to mean a lot, but I don’t think the authors do an effective job at executing that potential. It feels like one of those details that people more familiar with the character would know, but otherwise it is more confusing than anything else. I imagine that it s byproduct of diving head first into a run of comics without doing any research on characters, although why on earth would anyone do research for a comic book… Anything in particular you want to discuss. I think i’m pretty much done for what we’ve read?

J: This is my least favorite stint of this story so far. I like some of the directions they try to take, but it never comes together into something satisfying. The new rogue’s gallery needs some more interesting characters, Jean-Paul goes over the edge too fast for me and most of the stories in these issues weren’t compelling. I’m hoping the return of Bruce can knock this series back on course, but for right now, the story’s lost me.

E: Well, I certainly like the part of the story focussing on Jean-Paul’s personal journey wherein he wants to be a better Batman and feels he must fight off the conditioning received by the assassination programme. I can’t disagree with you on the fact that the villains are not as compelling as they could have been (I do think they look good, but the writing to make them feel important is poor and at times awful). And, yeah, it feels like the authors are time wasting again. We know Bruce is out there somewhere, we know he’ll come back, just throw us a bone. Nobody’s going to bed thinking Jean-Paul is here to stay as the Caped Crusader.

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