Debriefing #12: ‘KnightsEnd’

KnightsEnd
Writers: Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Doug Moench, Jo Duffy
Artists: Graham Nolan, Mike Manley, Bret Blevins, Ron Wagner, Barry Kitson, Tom Grummett, Jim Balent
Colorist: Adrienne Roy, Digital Chameleon, Buzz Setzer

Note: This is a discussion of the 2012 release of Knightfall Vol. 3, discussing the first half of the volume which constitutes the KnightsEnd story arc.

After witnessing the depths of Jean-Paul’s descent into The Crusade, Bruce Wayne vows to take back the mantle of Batman. But before he’s up to the task, he begins training with the deadly Lady Shiva, the world’s greatest assassin. Her methods and Bruce’s don’t align and that might just make the difference between life and death for the recovering Broken Bat.

James: This is it. As we’ve discussed the previous sections of the story, this is the arc we’ve been anticipating since the end of our first discussion. Bruce is coming back, Jean-Paul is even closer to the brink of insanity and it finally feels like something truly epic is going to go down, or at least more epic than anything we’ve seen so far. But first, Bruce has to get himself back in shape. And I’ve got to ask what did you think about the pacing of these issues? Too repetitive? Or did you think it had the right amount of buildup to the climax?

Edgar: Ahh, you caught me off guard with that question. It’s a tricky one to answer because I felt that the pages we’ve read so far of volume 3 are very, very good build-up. There is the return of Bruce Wayne and the training process he must go through, an elaborate one I might add, and the closing arc of Jean-Paul, whom we have been following closely for over 600 pages. Oddly enough, I felt their eventual encounter to be what disappointed me the most. It felt like it was going to last a lot longer than it actually does. In fact, I feel the writers make us think it will last many issues, but pull the rug underneath our feet with the ‘light in the pit’ scene. Still, I have to say I mostly enjoyed it. James, where do you stand?

J: I thought it was really good because it does catch you a bit off guard. I was expecting the fight to be a lot more epic and sprawling and instead, most of this arc is a slow buildup of Bruce Wayne as Batman, so much so that it keeps revisiting the same scene where Bruce contemplates taking the plunge off a building but keeps deciding he’s not ready. And I love how the “fight” finally resolves. It’s such a beautiful Bruce Wayne Batman moment. One interesting element that gets tossed into the mix is Nightwing. What did you think of his character showing up seemingly out of nowhere?

E: It comes back to the buildup aspect which I appreciated. In fact, I’m not so certain Nightwing comes out of nowhere. True enough, he has not played an integral part in the entire arc up until now, but I liked that how, as Jean-Paul is tarnishing the Batman image in the eyes of Gothamites, Bruce Wayne calls upon the help of the two people he can trust most, who know him best: the current Robin and the original Robin, who may have become Batman in another alternate universe, so to speak. I liked how he was brought into the story because it felt like something Bruce would resort to when faced with such odds. Do you agree?

J: I think that’s part of it, I think another part of it is that it shows some character growth because back at the beginning of all this Bruce pushed away the help of Robin and Nightwing and now he realized how much of a benefit they are and that he should include them in his plans. I do like how it reminds us that Nightwing could have been Batman during this time but Bruce seemed to respect Dick too much to force him into being someone he didn’t want to be. I think that’s indicative of what I really liked a lot about this arc of the story: for the first time it felt like this was first and foremost a story about the characters. Did you feel that way as well?

E: Well, see, this is where discussions of Knightfall get intriguing. You say it felt like the story was about the characters. On that point alone, I obviously agree, but at the same time, the entire arc has been about the characters. I mean, only a couple weeks ago we were finally giving the writers some praise, a little bit of praise, for developing the character of Jean-Paul and giving him a struggle the readers can hold on to while Bruce is in rehabilitation. I think where its feels most of all that this part of the Knightfall arc is about the characters is that it’s about the characters we have come to know and love. Bruce is back, Dick is back, the new Robin is there to help out, even Catwoman makes an interesting appearance. I love what you alluded to just a moment ago about Bruce not wanting to force Batman onto Dick, yet Dick openly admits he’d do anything for Bruce. It’s those dynamics that make these characters so rich because the history is already there. I’d like to toss the question back to you but in another way. This part of volume 3 does see the end of Jean-Paul Batman’s career. Are you convinced that all those issues dealing with him were sufficiently about ‘the characters?’

J: A brief clarification I’d make about my point on this being primarily about the characters is that I meant more that in past arcs there has been focus on the characters, but it seems that some of the stories they wanted to tell or new characters they wanted to add into the story got into the way of really fleshing out the characters, so that’s more of what I meant, but yes, I’d also say that this is very much a story tied to the development of characters overall, just that I felt this time that almost everything was in service of the characters. As for Jean-Paul’s “resolution,” I certainly think that he’ll struggle going forward, but I think it’s resolved at least his rampant crusade. I doubt everything, such as the visions or programming, will just stop now, but I think he’s on a road to recovery.

E: My mistake, I indeed misinterpreted your question to an extent. Yes, the story is about the characters, although that is sort of by design in this particular instance. Bruce has been gone for so long that he must re-learn and re-adjust to being Batman and overcoming Jean-Paul, not necessarily physically by mentally as well.  It would have been quite a shock had the issues felt more like typical adventures after such a long absence from Bruce Wayne. Speaking of Bruce Wayne, I’d like to know your thoughts on his training, from the individual who trains him, to the multiple tests he faces. What did you enjoy, or not, the most about that part of the story?

J: I’ll express initial disappointment that it wasn’t Ra’s al Ghul. I was really pulling for him to be the guy who trains Bruce, but I think Lady Shiva is similar enough to explore similar dimensions of the Wayne/al Ghul relationship. She’s a killer, Bruce isn’t. Therefore, she looks down at Bruce as weak and seems to place him into these situations where he should kill, even to the point where Bruce seems to be entertaining the notion of doing just that because it seems to be the only way out. I think that’s what I liked the most because it allows the story to reinforce how Bruce’s Batman operates from a very different sense of justice than Jean-Paul’s Batman. And it never comes off as contrived or on the nose. You?

E: LOL, yeah I also was hoping for an appearance from Ra’s al Ghul. Imagine my surprise when it’s this characters I’ve never heard of. You mention that her will to kill helps differentiate Batman from someone like Lady Shiva, but I was under the impression that the same dichotomy characterized the Batman- Ra’s al Ghul relationship, or is that just Christopher Nolan brainwashing me? Anyways, I thought the way the very first few pages tie into the training was kind of clever (i really had no idea, first, who lady Shiva was, or second, why she was fighting a cripple!), and some of the battle sequences were very nicely shown on the page. In fact, this was one of the rare time in Knightfall (volumes 1, 2 or 3) when I was impressed by the art, especially whenever Bruce fought someone at night. Did the artwork leave any impression on you?

J: I did think that the artwork was a lot stronger in this section and that a lot of the fights had a much more natural flow than some of the previous sections. I’m not sure if the Orient inspired story got the artists’ creativity working overdrive, but I did think this section had some striking and wonderful imagery. I also loved the demon bat helmet Bruce Wayne wears during his whole training phase. It’s perhaps a bit too silly and obvious, but on the page it looks great.

E: Interesting. I’m glad we agree on that. Now, keeping with Bruce’s training sessions, i did like how the readers got the internal thoughts of Bruce as he realizes what he is still lacking and how he is gaining his old reflexes back. That was a neat little bit of insight for the readers. Nonetheless, there were moments when I thought the locales of the fights were, let’s go, going overboard to a degree, like the one that occurs in the street in Gotham during traffic hour. Did you have any issues with how the sessions panned out?

J: I thought that whole progression was actually a cool, gradual shift from the rural environments that the fights begin to into a more urban area as Bruce Wayne becomes closer and closer to being able to take on the mantel again. But yes, the one fight in the middle of rush hour did seem a bit too much, although I have to admit I enjoyed how that fight resolved. I thought it was both telling of where Bruce Wayne was at as well as probably a realistic way a fight like this would probably end if you’re fighting on the side of a highway! The training section does feel a bit fantastical, almost mythical, and I embraced that as part of the draw. One element that did nag at me is the Catwoman story, what did you think of that issue?

E: liked it and there a couple critical reasons why. First, it showcased both Batman’s in action, epic action in fact, and by doing that highlighted, in the biggest way possible, why Bruce is the one true Caped Crusader (moral code,if you will). Another reason was that it brought Catwoman back to the fold, if only briefly, in a pivotal way for her.  She has always straddled the line between friend and foe, never being completely one or the other, which extends to her relationship with Batman and we had already read an issue in which she, instinctively, recognizes that Jean-Paul is no Batman by any means. I felt it gave that part of the story a small sense of closer. How about you?

J: I agree that all those elements work, but what bugged me was the actual plot. She’s going after some guy who has this chip that can save her friend, but I didn’t care. Maybe if you read the issues before this in the Catwoman series, you’d get that payoff, but I feel like it forced a story into this arc that didn’t seem quite right. I wish they had found something that worked better for the overall arc, it came across as coming into the middle of a story and I think that hurt it, just a bit. Obviously all the character stuff that happens as a result of that plot I thought was fantastic. Do we want to talk about the Bruce Wayne/Jean-Paul showdown in a bit more detail?

E: Sure. As I wrote earlier, that was maybe the one thing that kept this part of the story from being great. I wasn’t even asking for an awesome physical contest between Bruce and Jean-Paul for that matter. A mental, psychological battle was good enough for me,and we do get some of that. My only qualm is that after Jean-Paul is so adamant about being the one true Batman (he even yells that very line in Bruce’s face numerous times), it felt like that simplest little thing, something that, to my knowledge, has nothing to do with Jean-Paul, is his undoing as the Caped Crusader. James?

J: I liked that it ended up being more about the characters in the end. It could have been a spectacle like the Bruce Wayne vs. Bane fight, but instead it becomes about contrasting their methods, showing how Bruce is much more of the thinker while Jean-Paul is just about throwing his rage as hard and as frequently as he can. And that final moment I thought was a beautiful way to finally bring Jean-Paul to the truth in a way that felt very much how Bruce Wayne would deal with the situation. A more understated, but still powerful, way to bring an end to Jean-Paul’s Batman.

E: It was the light through the pit’s hole that I felt was misplaced. That symbolism belongs to Bruce, and Jean-Paul is not Bruce. Why would that put the contest to an end for Jean-Paul? Details, maybe, nitpicking even, but I couldn’t help but feel at odds with that choice. Anything else you want to tackle?

J: I think we’ve covered all I have to talk about. KnightsEnd is a satisfying conclusion to this arc. I appreciate that it takes its time and builds to its conclusion and it also finds a way to do it that fits the characters. To me, this is the finest section of the story so far and gives me a sense of why this story is so highly regarded for a number of Batman fans.

E: it’s pretty solid. I was excited to Bruce Wayne again. There is a cathartic feeling when reading this story. I like to think that was by design on the part of the writers. They knew that the longer they held back on Bruce, the more ludicrousness from Jean-Paul we witnesses, the real Batman’s return would pack terrific emotional resonance. Love that original Batman outfit. And…Bane?… one section left!

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