Debriefing #13: ‘Aftermath’ and ‘Prodigal’

KnightsEnd: Aftermath and Prodigal
Writers: Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Doug Moench, Jo Duffy
Artists: Mike Vosburg, Tom Grummett, Jim Balent, Phil Jimenez, John Cleary, Mike Gustovich, Ron Wagner, Bret Blevins, Lee Weeks, Graham Nolan
Colorist: Adrienne Roy, Buzz Setzer

Note: This is a discussion of the 2012 release of Knightfall Vol. 3, discussing the second half of the volume which constitutes the KnightsEnd: Aftermath and Prodigal story arcs.

After bringing Jean-Paul’s crusade to an end, Bruce Wayne decides to leave Gotham City once more. This time he leaves the mantle of Batman to Dick Grayson. While Dick deals with the aftermath of Jean-Paul’s crusade as well as the effects of Bane’s reign of terror, Tim Drake finds himself dealing with the troubles of balancing his personal life and the role of Robin.

Edgar: And now we arrive at the end of the truly epic Knightfall story. So many plots, so many characters, so many changes, switcheroos and so on and so forth… This final section of Knightfall pulls the rug from under the feet of the readers, at least it did for me. When we last left the world of Batman, Bruce Wayne looked ready to take back what’s his: the costume and the streets of Gotham. But that is not what happens in the first few pages of KnightsEnd. No, Bruce Wayne has some self-evaluating to do and hands the mantle yet again to someone: Dick Grayson, the original Robin. James, my opening question has two parts. First, was the decision to yet again suspend Bruce’s Batman career the right one and, second, was having Dick Grayson as Batman more interesting than Jean-Paul?

James: I’m glad you started with this question because it is the big thing that bugged me about this story arc. Bruce finally gets the mantel back and then he decides to disappear again, not to be seen or heard from in this stint of the story. It is annoying that the writers decided to do that. But, I do like seeing Dick Grayson in the mentor role. That may sound weird, and it’s because I’m not that crazy about him as Batman. I don’t know if it was just the way the writers presented him, but I never was interested in any of his Batman stories and he came across as a tamer version of Bruce. But where it works for me, and where I liked it a lot, is in the relationship between Dick Grayson and Tim Drake. That, for me, made the stories interesting. What did you make of this Batman identity swap and did you feel the same way about the Dick and Tim relationship as I did?

E: I’ll tell you where I think the authors get it right and get it wrong with these final Knightfall stories. Bruce’s decision to hide in the shadows again is really disappointing. I remember that during our previous Knightfall chats, when Jean-Paul was the Caped Crusader, I voiced complaints about the writers ‘stalling’ the return of Bruce Wayne. I must confess that I had the same gut reaction. Why does Bruce not return as Batman just yet? They sort of give an answer, but i didn’t think it was satisfactory. That being said, there is something about Dick Grayson becoming Batman, at least for a while, that appeals to me. Especially after so many stories in which Batman was a delusional, brainwashed nut job, having a far, far more sensible individual play Batman was really cool., Plus, it’s Dick Grayson, the original Robin. It’s like the most logical thing ever and simultaneously feels like a cardinal sin. Only Bruce Wayne can be Batman…and yet…some people might understand how and why Dick could one day be Batman too. It’s complicated and I like that. As for the Dick and Tim duo, it was pretty fun. Very lighthearted, very action packed. Overall I enjoyed it. Speaking of people playing Batman, it kind of feels like Jean-Paul gets the shaft. What did you make of where he ends up?

J: It makes sense that he falls all the way to the bottom, but that issue didn’t come together for me. I think they were trying for a sparse style of storytelling that never came together. It felt too navel-gazing and I’m not sure that it’s completely necessary to spend that much time wallowing in his downfall. I get what they were going for, I just thought that story should have moved along faster, especially since it’s just a one-off issue that’s trying to wrap things up. Instead, it feels like it just opens even wider a loose end that doesn’t come to fruition. What were your thoughts?

E: I thought it was garbage. That’s not a joke. I thought that was the worst story in this portion of Knightfall and maybe, maybe, the worst story of the entire series. It felt like the sort of cutesy plot a cheapo Hollywood screenwriter would concoct on a table cloth. The drunken hobo teaching Jean-Paul about what it means to be a loser and what equality between human beings is all about? Give me a break, what a joke. For a character who was so complex, in many ways, I thought that one-shot nearly did him a disservice. On what I consider a  far more intriguing matter, there is an old villain who comes into play this time, one that we seem to discuss every second week: Two-Face. What did you think of his scheme and, I guess more importantly, what did you think about the way the authors tie Two-Face into Dick Grayson’s past and the pressures that puts on the hero?

J:I thought that was probably the worst part of this arc! I didn’t understand Two-Face’s reason’s for singling out Robin. It didn’t make any sense. I do like the idea of him bringing down the justice system as a form of self-loathing, but then they had to work in all the Robin stuff which never clicked at all for me. It felt forced, a way to retroactively make Two-Face close to someone he’s been fighting for years now. What’s changed? Nothing. That, to me, felt like another cheap writing trick that never payed off. What did you make of that?

E: Yeah, this is a really tricky part of KNightfall to evaluate and talk about. Coming back to the reality that Dick Grayson is Batman, I liked how it lent a sense of importance, and  some emotional weight to his arc at the Caped Crusader. Conversely, I think the writers take a gamble by  alluding to something that happened years ago in only God knows what issue of Batman  (the whole matter of Robin goofing up on a case against Two-Face which led to a someone’s death). I, personally, hadn’t read that book, so on a personal level it was somewhat difficult for me to just accept that as such a huge plot device. I like how you point out the silliness of Two-Face suddenly ‘realizing’ that Robin is, all of a sudden, the real bane off his existence. Where did that come from? I bet you that will never happen in another Batman story again. Next issue, Two-Face hates Batman I bet. Something I was really impressed with this time around, something I criticised the last couple of times we touched the subject, was the artwork. Man, I don’t know what happened between part 5 and part 6, but I thought this was a serious upgrade. Do you agree?

J: I noticed a significant step up in the art as well. I do think this stint of the series trickles in a few new artists, but I also think it might just be that over time the artists who have been around for a while have gotten a lot better at drawing. It still isn’t the most spectacular stuff, but it’s above average and there are a number of panels where I thought, “man, that looks pretty good.” I think it also might be that we’re also getting out of some of the bulkiness of other characters and the characters in most of these stories are a lot more elegant and sleek in design than say characters like Bane or Jean-Paul’s Batman. Kudos to the artists on this stint of the story. I’m curious, what did you think about all the time this story spend on the police force?

E: Hmm, I’m not sure the story did spend THAT much time on the police force. Well, maybe there was more effort into giving Gordon some emotional weight. There are some critical scenes between him and his wife, who works in the same office (something I was unaware of, I guess I’m still learning the ins and outs of the Batman comic book universe) and that was sort of neat, although I don’t think that added much to the actual Batman story, but whatever,, gotta give Gordon some love sooner or later. I liked how he was was concerned about the fact that there are three Batmans (which of makes those final ‘revelation’ moments in Dark Knight Rises all the funnier, unintentionally). I’m not sure I answered your question actually. Mind offering your own opinion on the matter?

J: Maybe it’s just me, but I felt like this section of the story spent the most time with those characters. Not a whole lot, but it felt like a significant step up. I liked seeing how all of these events had shook up Gordon and he’s not quite sure what to think about Batman. I also liked how you’ve got the scenario where the prisons are overflowing because Arkham is being repaired. Those sections felt smart to me, like the writers sat down and thought about how events from the early issues of Knightfall would play out long term of the system and how it might make things tense between the various members of law enforcement. I would have liked to see more of that.

E: Okay, I better understand what you’re getting at. It’s funny, even though I remember that issue (or couple issues) involving the overflowing prison boats and island, Blackgate or some or other I think, I didn’t think that gave the police force that much more of an arc, or that much more of a presence. I’ve always felt the stories, the good ones, awarded decent time to show what the GP thinks about the Batman and the criminal and how they operate. I guess it was kind of neat for events of the past to reverberate in current issues. That’s a pretty cool notion you pointed out, one I myself didn’t even think about when reading the book! Remaining on the topic of villains, I nearly forgot that another villain, not exactly a classic one, returns to fight the Batman: the Tally-Man, who I actually thought was dead! What you think of his sudden return?

J: That was a nice little issue. It was cool to see how someone only Jean-Paul dealt with came back and has a beef with Batman and of course Dick is like, “who is this guy and what’s really going on here.” I’m not sure I thought the whole mommy issue element of the story worked, but I liked seeing the Tally-Man come back. He’s the one new character to come out of this story that has stuck with me. I don’t see him becoming a regular, but I think he works at least for this story. Your thoughts?

E: I thought that was a very funny issue. Now, I don’t know how funny it was SUPPOSED to be, but I had a good chuckle, precisely for the reasons you described. The Tally-Man wants vengeance against Batman for scarring him, in this case literally (and that was kind of funny too), but the fact is that, as you wrote, Dick has no clue what the f- is going on here. That was a cool trick the writers pulled off, the mixups and confusion that can arise when multiple individuals take on the mantle of the Bat. As for memorable ‘new’ antagonists, Corrosive Man, dude, Corrosive Man. We need him to return! Getting to more important matters about the story, there is a big character moment late in the book when Dick and Bruce have a rather tense talk. It is certainly supposed to feel epic, emotionally at alest. Did that work for you?

J: Yes and no. I felt some of the tension between them came off as a bit too forced. I get their relationship is tenuous and that’s why Dick became Nightwing, but I didn’t quite think they would be that tense. Still, I liked the resolve that comes out of that and I think it makes for a nice moment where you see that Dick and Bruce are similar and different in certain ways and they respect each other for that. Hopefully that make sense. What did you think?

E: There one question that raced through my mind as Bruce and Dick have their heated chat is ‘Did they really, honestly, never talk about this? Ever? After all these years?, I suppose in that sense you and I are on the same page, wherein the authors sort of, I don’t know how to put it, artificially created tension in the sense that something that I had always assumed was water under the bridge suddenly becomes huge. As your wrote however, it concludes with a nice moment. The father-son line felt right, I liked that bit quite a lot. Speaking of Dick and the multiple Robins, Tim is having a rough time during this portion of the story. The authors really hammer home that being Robin, one whose real self actually has a life (unlike Bruce Wayne), is tough. Did you like that?

J: I do like that we’re spending time with Robin. He felt like he was constantly getting sidelined, by Batman in the first arc and then by Jean-Paul. I like how Dick makes him part of the crime-fighting duo more and actually hears him out on some things, even if he disagrees. Dick has been the guy getting sidelined in the past, so he lets Robin step up in his role more. As for Tim’s story, I thought it worked. You get that Spider-Man vibe where he has to juggle real-world relationships with his dad and his potential girlfriend, but he’s also dog tired because he’s out fighting crime every night. I think we get it in just the right amount. It never comes across as overtaking the story, but it’s there enough to remind us that he has a life beyond Robin. I’m glad they did justice to his character before this whole epic came to an end.

E: Heh, Spider-Man vibe. That’s a pretty apt comparison. That didn’t hurt that portion of the book, mind you. I thought it was rather interesting and made for some neat moments, like how Dick, as Batman, at one point tells Tim to go to bed since it’s a school night, which is something we don’t think of when reading these stories. Time is just a teen, he has to succeed at high school, not just kicking the Joker’s tail. I also really enjoyed the issue when Dick agree that he and Tim should their own hunches as they track down an enemy. I read that a little differently maybe. Dick is never going to be a great Batman, so there is still a degree of uncertainty as he performs his duties, so he lets Tim, who is a smart kid, take over a portion of the investigation and hunting. That was cool. Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?

J: I think we covered just about everything I can think of. In closing, I think we both agree that this arc starts off with a pretty cheap trick of shuffling Bruce out of the story again, but I think the result is satisfying. I really liked the Dick/Tim relationship in this story. It made this arc of the story for me. As a wrap-up to Knightfall, I think it fails, if only because it doesn’t feel like Bruce has really come back, but as its own story I thought it worked well.

E: I wouldn’t say Knightfall ‘fails’. Recalling some of our previous exchanges as we went along through the various parts, I believe I was slightly more invested in Jean-Paul as Batman than you, so on that level, Knightfall works. It gets to the finish line battered and bruised, maybe, I can agree with that, but it gets there ultimately. I will go back to the one criticism I’ve brought up I don’t know how many times in these 6 chats: stalling. Sure, it’s called ‘Knightfall’ so presumably Bruce must fall, figuratively and literally, but they make it last so long, to the point where when it seems liek Bruce can legitimately become Batman again, they delay it…again.

J: And where the heck is Alfred?

E: Yeah, where the heck is he? I honestly don’t know. It’s weird, I should have made a note of it and i’m kicking myself for having not done so, but there is a moment, somewhere in this third book, when an episode of something I swear on we DID NOT SEE is referenced. I’m wondering is there are side issues to Knightfall that explore other things. Are you aware of anything like that?

J: Yes, I am. That’s one thing I did some research on and while we get the big arcs, I know a part of the story that a lot of people consider essential has not been released in any of the Knightfall trades. That arc is called The Search and it’s basically the stuff Bruce did while Jean-Paul was going on his Crusade. Maybe if we got that we wouldn’t be complaining about Alfred and Bruce missing so much. Hear that, DC? Release The Search and we might like you’re story more!

E: Hmm, both intriguing and annoying….Oh well.

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