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Bye Bye Bats
Batman - Knightfall Part One Broken Bat
Member Name: SWSt
Batman - Knightfall Part One Broken Bat
Advantages: Emotionally engaging storyline; excellent artwork
Disadvantages: Individual parts are quite similar
Knightfall is the epic storyline that shook the world back in 1993. Fresh from killing off Superman, DC also removed Bruce Wayne as Batman and placed the cowl in the hands of a more violent replacement. Broken Bat is the first part of an ambitious storyline which lasted for over 12 months and shook Wayne's World to its core.
Drug-enhanced Bane has come to Gotham City, intent on pushing the Batman to his limits before destroying him and taking control of all criminal activities in Gotham. To start his plan, he launches an attack on Arkham Asylum, releasing all of Batman's deadliest foes. An already debilitated Batman must track down and stop all these villains without respite before they can wreak havoc on the city.
In some ways, Knightfall shares a lot of DNA with the more recent Batman RIP storyline. Both saw Bruce Wayne incapacitated and removed as Batman; both saw another character assuming the mantle of the Bat; and, if you are of a cynical turn of mind, both were designed to generate publicity and shift comics due to the controversy they generated.
As a story, however, Knightfall works better. Whereas Morrison's RIP epic relied on a lot of confusing sci-fi babble, Knightfall is more straightforward and grounded in reality. It's a more believable tale (that even the strongest man can be ground down and broken by extreme pressure) and a lot easier to follow. The fact that it is closer to our own frame of reference makes it a lot easier to identify with Batman and the concerns of his friends and allies for his health. Much though I enjoyed (most) of the RIP series, I never felt that emotionally engaged with it. Here, thanks to some excellent writing, it's almost impossible not to feel a deep sense of sadness as you witness Batman's gradual physical and moral decline at the hands of an enemy who relentlessly and remorselessly tests him to destruction.
Comic books are often too readily dismissed as "just for children", but Knightfall proves otherwise. There is some superb writing on display here, in terms of the structure and depth of the story, the dialogue and the way characters are depicted. The plotting is strong, secure and logical, the characterisation convincing and the tone consistent with what we know about Batman's character. This latter aspect is no mean achievement. Given the number of writers who contributed to the various parts of Broken Bat, it would have been easy for inconsistencies to slip in. Instead, the whole thing has a consistent feel to it, so that each part feels like it belongs to the same over-arching storyline, not merely a short story.
You could argue that Broken Bat is a fairly simple tale at heart. Each part essentially consists of Batman tracking down and defeating one of his enemies (The Riddler, Firefly etc.), before collapsing in a heap from exhaustion then setting off to do it all again. Belying this apparent simplicity, the writing sets off a genuinely emotional response (particularly when the story is read for the first time). Surely that is storytelling (in any medium) at its finest?
It's also true that you probably need to have read some of the titles preceding this (or at least their plot summaries) to fully understand some of the references. If you haven't read Sword of Azrael or Vengeance of Bane, for example, you will be puzzled by the origins of both Jean Paul Valley and Bane himself. Similarly there are instances of dialogue which refer back to Batman's earlier adventures (why Batman is so debilitated before he even starts to track down the Arkham villains; Azrael's disastrous encounter with Killer Croc) and so on. Whilst these are not absolutely essential, they are part of the wider story arc, so it's helpful to have read them.
Like parts of the storyline, it's all too easy to dismiss the artwork in this volume as "simple". It is certainly very different in style from today's darker, more realistic drawings and perhaps more the sort of artwork that people associate with comics - relatively simple images of characters, large blocks of a single colour, simple facial expressions and so on.
Again, however, they are surprisingly effective, capturing the spirit and tone of the narrative. Knigthfall features the work of some of the top artists at DC at the time, including the superb Norm Breyfogle and Jim Aparo, who were renowned for their depictions. As with the script, the presence of so many artists ran the risk of the tale developing an inconsistent look and feel but whilst there is perhaps a greater variance in the style of the artwork, it still works well. Here we get multiple interpretations of the world of Batman and his foes, but each adds something to the tale. It's hard to point to a single part and suggest that the artwork is weak. There might be some which you prefer to others (I'm not overly keen on Kelly Jones' interpretation), but none which are awful.
Knightfall might have been designed with the selling of comics in mind, but it's nice to see that DC took the time to ensure it was a strong story, too. This first part of the epic saga sets the tone for what is to follow and is an interesting and fun read that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.
Despite being almost constantly in print since around 1994, Broken Bat has held its value pretty well, so a copy is going to cost somewhere between £12-15. It's well worth it, though. This is far from being a one-read wonder and I have lost count of the number of times I have read it over the years.. It's an important part of Batman's history and an essential title for any comic lover.
Knightfall Part 1: Broken Bat
Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon et al
Titan, 2012 (reprint)
© Copyright SWSt 2013
Summary: The start of one of Batman's greatest ever adventures
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