Debriefing #11: ‘Knightquest: The Crusade’ part 2

Knightfall: The Crusade Part 2
Writers: Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Doug Moench
Artists: Graham Nolan, Vincent Giarrano, Bret Blevins, Mike Manley, Jim Balent
Colorist: Adrienne Roy

Note: This is a discussion of the 2012 release of Knightfall Vol. 2, discussing the latter half of The Crusade and Robin #7.

Jean-Paul Valley’s career as the Caped Crusader continues as Bruce Wayne remains missing in action. Our new hero struggles with the demons wrestling inside him, pushing him to some extremes and thus compromising Batman’s image. More villains take their shots at the new Batman, among them Corrosive Man, Abattoir and the Joker, the latter whom obtains the help of some notable film connoisseurs…

James: After a bumpy season with Jean-Paul’s Batman, This second section of the Knightfall arc, The Crusade, seems to settle down into being a series of a lot of smaller arcs that are sort of connected, but not as over-arching as say The Breaking of the Bat. This means that Jean-Paul is in a new season of being Batman because he has to spend time learning about who these foes are and where they might be. What did you think of Jean-Paul as he tried to fill the shows of the world’s greatest detective?

Edgar: The Knightfall saga, if it may be called such, is getting a bit better with every segment, if you ask me. Whereas it began in murky waters all those hundreds of pages ago with the introduction of Bane, it has now taken on a life of its own, all this despite the absence of Bruce Wayne (we’ll get to that a little later, though!). I think the writers grew a little more comfortable using Jean-Paul as the protagonist the more issues they wrote. It still isn’t exactly as it was with Bruce, but nor should it since they are not the same person, character-wise. What struck me, and I’d like to know if you have any impressions on this, was how the authors attempted to humanize Jean-Paul to an extent, what with the first story featuring the Abattoir villain (rescuing children on a bus) and the illegal immigrant and lost baby story.

J: I agree that it seems like the writers have finally gotten comfortable with Jean-Paul. For the first time, I feel like he’s come into his own as a character and I think a large part of that, for me, they start to humanize him. We get glimpses of it before with Catwoman, but now when faced between saving innocent human lives or bringing down the villains we see that Jean-Paul isn’t quite as merciless as his crusade on crime leads us to believe. And, for once, I actually thought the visions haunting him had some emotional weight because you see there’s a clear tension between the heritage of his father and the brainwashing of the Order of Dumas and it finally clicked to me as something important to understanding the Jean-Paul character. What did you think of those “visions?”

E: They do help establish, or further establish I should say, the battle for Jean-Paul’s mind and soul, a battle he may or may not have control over. It’s one of those comic book elements that can be understood and accepted on multiple levels. Obviously, there are certain fantastical elements to the Batman stories that allow for some crazy occurrences to happen, so in that sense a reader can accept the idea of these huge apparitions. On the other hand, they may just be a fabrication of his mind, in the sense that no one else can see them, but they are really happening, only just to him. Speaking of investigating, this Batman has to tackle some new and old foes in this portion of the book. I was wondering, a bit like last time, what you thought of this rogues gallery, and I’ll be more specific with my question, who was your favourite villain appearance, old or new, and who was your least favourite?

J: My favorite of this stint would have to be The Joker. I’m sure we’ll delve more into why in a bit, but all I’ll say for now is I love the plot they gave him for this section because it fits perfectly with his character. A lot of the other villains I didn’t care for. I think this is where this book suffered the most because a lot of these villains are not that interesting. If I had to pick a worst it would probably be Clayface 3 because he acts all conflicted and tragic and then straight-up murders people brutally and doesn’t seem to care. That bugged me because it made the attempt to humanize his character feel cheap.

E: Interesting choices. The Joker is certainly given one of his more memorable plotlines, one that actually takes him out of Gotham City to set his plan up, which was a unique touch I didn’t expect. With the Joker, it’s important for the scheme to balance two things which on first glance appear as mutually exclusive:: the real sense of danger, that Batman can die, along with a sense of fun, if twisted fun. The villain I actually loved most, but we don’t see enough of (and i’m uncertain if he is a new character or an old one) is Corrosive Man. He looks amazing and his skill set is similar to that of Mr. Freeze but I found him a lot more dangerous. I really liked the concept of Corrosive man. For a least favourite, it’’s funny, but I would have to say Abattoir, despite that I felt his story began interestingly enough. By the end however, I thought he overcomplicates matters too much. On a related topic, it felt as though one story involving a villain would begin for an issue or two and then suddenly another one would be added on to that, usually connected, loosely perhaps, to the original thread. Did that work for you?

J: It actually did. I liked that instead of having self-contained plots over a couple of issues that there were a number of villains that Batman had to remember were out there. Also, I would forget about them and they’d pop up and I’d go “Oh yea, I forgot about them.” It gave the sense of a larger world where there’s always multiple villains out there that Batman has to be aware of. It was definitely one of stronger elements of the book. However, one fairly self-contained plot is the Joker story, which I’m sure both of us are eager to talk about because it features something we both have a passion for: movies!

E: Yes, yes. In essence, the Joker has decided that, in order to finally be rid of his most hated foe, the Batman (even though he does not know at this point that the Caped Crusader has changed identities), he decides to basically make a film about the event itself. A documentary of sorts in that he will trap the Batman in one of his dastardly schemes, and have cameras shoot the event. The thing is, not only does he go to Hollywood to ask for a budget and a crew, but in order to, how shall I put it, find inspiration and construct a proper plot, he gets a few pointers from two critics, who go unnamed if I remember correctly, but they talk and look like Roger Ebert and the late Gene Siskel. Go ahead James, I can tell you’re licking your chops. What did you think?

J: First off, I thought this plot was great because it played on one of the core elements of what makes Joker tick: he’s a showman. He likes making these dramatic, theatrical plans. And it’s funny because Ebert and Siskel point out that Joker kinda sucks at making a good story. It’s messy, it plays fast and loose with narrative structure, and he doesn’t have an inciting incident that makes the conflict personal for Batman. It’s a delightful, meta moment where the writers get to criticize their own stories and I thought it was a lot of fun. Also, there were so many movie references!

E: Yes, the Joker employs some hapless goons to wear Wolfman and Frankenstein costumes which immediately alert Jean-Paul that, obviously, something is amiss. I like how you pointed out how the authors take advantage of their Siskel and Ebert characters to criticize the Joker’s methodology. It kind of gives them an opportunity to wink at the readers. So many of these comic book stories, certainly those concerning superhero characters and whatnot, are mostly ridiculous and should only attract little children and adolescents, yet here I am in my late 20s reading them and enjoying them. I agree they use that well. I also like how the Joker goes back to the producers for more money when his first attempt to kill Batman fails. It’s like a bloated epic, the budget of which was underestimated and now the producers have to save the project. Now where have we heard that before? One last note, I wonder if it is mere coincidence that authors wrote this sort of plot given that, by the early 90s, two Batman films had just come and a third was on its way. I don’t know if that meant anything, really, but it struck me as a funny coincidence.

J: I hadn’t thought of that. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve seen the Burton films so I couldn’t say whether or not they’re making a comment on those films. I’m sure we’ll check them out at some point so maybe we’ll have an answer then. I am curious, what did you think of the last issue, Robin #7, which is actually part of an arc DC didn’t include in full in this volume, where we finally catch up with Robin and Bruce Wayne?

E: Ah, the big question. You know, James, upon reading those pages I felt it was very, very strange, but I quickly reminded myself that there is a lot more story to come so I’m sure we’ll better understand what Bruce Wayne went through during the past, oh I don’t know, 700 pages. I say ‘strange’ if only because Bruce just pops up. Poof, Bruce is back, apparently in good health, he even explicitly says as much, and wants to take back the mantle of the Batman. Again, I’m certain there is a lot more coming up in volume three. How about you?

J: It felt like we had missed a good chunk of story so I do hope we get some hint of what happened because it seems like that would be essential to Bruce returning. It does feel like it’s time for that showdown to approach, but I also like that Bruce is going to have to train to get back up to par..and that it’s going to probably involve a character I always enjoy seeing from. I’m ready for the next volume.

E: Yes, there must be a payoff to all of this, whether that means Bruce vanquishing Jean-Paul in a brawl or somehow succeeding in reasoning with him, that remains to be seen. I find myself in a curious situation because last month you and I chatted about Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, and during that talk I expressed misgivings about the portion of that film during which Bruce rehabilitates, and yet I somehow wanted just that in this book. I guess I don’t know what I want… I can think of one more thing I’d like to talk about (don’t know about you): the new batsuit! Yup, Jean-Paul decides to toy around yet again with the visual style and technical side of his armour. Any thoughts? As disappointed as last time?

J: I thought it was better. Not quite as bulky and ridiculous as the previous one. Also, I thought it was more striking. However, the ridiculous pace at which the costume is changing is one of those silly things that I know people criticize superhero comic books for a lot because it does feel like a gimmick, something they change up just to get more attention. I did think it was an improvement, but like I said last time, the original works so well because of how elegant and iconic it is and that’s something this Batman look doesn’t have at all.

E: I’d like to go back and flip through the pages of volume 2 just to see the order in which Jean-Paul modifies his armour and costume. There was a moment in this book when he has to enter a hospital and take down some ludicrous, gun-toting crazy who carries a chaingun or something in the same vein and Jean-Paul equips his costume with side arm automatic rifles. It’s extreme, way too extreme for Batman, but it got me thinking about the fact that the upgrade was done in order to combat a specific villain. Did he do that earlier on as well or just on this occasion? I don’t remember, I should check into to that. You know what, that does make me think of something: there is a big, dramatic rooftop scene between ‘Batman’ and Commissioner Gordon. Any thoughts?

J: I liked that exchange because one thing that Jean-Paul’s Batman is that he’s a very solitary character and that means there are a lot of relationships the original Batman has that he abandoned and I like seeing that those characters are still around and that, at least in Gordon’s case, they’re not okay with this new Batman. I think it’s overdue, honestly, and made for one of the best sequences in the book.

E: Yeah, it was about time somebody gave a mouth full to Jean-Paul. I actually like it because it furthers complicates that character as well: just as some issues attempted to humanize him, there are also clear indications that his prior training, brainwashing if you will, is preventing him from being the sort of Batman Gothomites can trust and love. I liked the scene. Anything else, James?

J: The art in Shadow of the Bat #24 was spectacular. I’ve always enjoyed Vince Giarrano’s art the most in these volumes, but man, that issue is easily the standout issue. The art is stark, bold and the way it’s organized is fantastic. I thought that alone made it the best issue of this section of comics.

E: Oh dear, I feel as though the way it impressed you should have me recognize which story you are referring to… Maybe the art didn’t hit me in the same way. Which story is this?

J: The Immigrant: Rosemary’s Baby.

E: Ah, yes. Yeah, that did look pretty good. I didn’t think it stood out that much from the rest, but I appreciated the differing styles when the story shifted from present day Gotham to that character’s life back in her home country. It was good, although I’m not as enthusiastic about it as you. I don’t think there was one standout issue so far as artwork was concerned. The only image stuck in my mind, and this might sound silly, was late in this volume 2 when Batman surprises some character entering a dark hotel room with a whore. He taps him on the shoulder, the chap turns around to see Batman and the next panel is us seeing a huge silhouette of Batman with a ray of light emerging out of his chest (new suit again) like a big robot, Day the Earth Stood Still-style, I don’t know why exactly, but that hit it me, what can I say.

J: I did think the art, in general, was a step up from what we’ve seen in the past. There were some good visual sequences and some moments that stuck out to me, but I think we might have ruined ourselves with all the great art we got to see from Tim Sale. This just doesn’t come anywhere close to comparing to the art in The Long Halloween.

E: Comparing anyone’s art to the work of Tim Sale is  a tall order. I think the fact that him and Loeb had this self-contained stories to come up with helped. I don’t know if there was such a plan from the start with the Knightfall arc. I think that just about does it for me, I’ve got nothing left. I have t say, I am genuinely excited to read volume 3. Bruce is back and now things get really interesting.

J: Agreed. It is sad that Jean-Paul has finally come unto his own as a character only as we’re gearing up to see Bruce take it all back, but I think that means the stakes are even higher and I’m hoping for an epic showdown.

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