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After over 12 months and a thousand pages of comics, the epic Knightfall saga finally draws to a close with KnightsEnd. Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham, recovered from the broken back inflicted on him by Bane. He returns to find that the man he left behind as Batman, Jean Paul Valley, has turned from protector to avenger, using increasingly violent methods to stop crime. Although recovered physically, Wayne is not yet mentally ready to seize the mantle back and enlists the help of Lady Shiva, a cold-blooded killer, to help him get his edge back.
Despite being a lot lighter on action, in many ways KnightsEnd is the most compelling segment of the whole Knightfall storyline. It is a fine piece of storytelling, which rounds the saga off in a satisfying and convincing way. It's also a lot deeper than many of the previous entries. The original, Knightfall, was essentially just a series of interlinked stories which saw Batman endlessly battling a range of foes freed from Arkham Asylum. Although excellent, it was essentially one long fist fight. KnightQuest was a look at what happens when the ideal of Batman becomes perverted by violence. KnightsEnd shows what Batman is really all about.
KnightsEnd gives an opportunity to see a new side to Bruce Wayne. He is no longer the consummate warrior and has lost faith in his abilities. Suffering a crisis of confidence, he needs the help of the amoral Shiva to ensure he has the skills needed to continue his crusade. In many ways, it takes the character back to his origins examining both his physical and mental suitability for the role he has chosen.
The style and tone reminds me of the Legends of the Dark Knight series from the late 80s (this is almost certainly a deliberate parallel). It is a lot darker and grittier and focuses more on Batman as a man, rather than as a symbol of justice. It sees Wayne questioning everything the Batman is and does as he anguishes over how his legacy has been perverted by the more violent Valley.
It's also interesting that the book frequently shifts attention from both Wayne and Valley to examine the reactions of Robin (shunned by the new Batman) and Nightwing (feeling slighted that Wayne didn't choose him as his successor) to the return of Wayne. This sub-plot contains some really interesting character development and is a genuine addition to the overall storyline.
Don't run away with the idea that this book is all talk, though. For every image of Bruce Wayne suffering a crisis of confidence or Valley suffering tormenting hallucinations, there are plenty of fights between bad guys and Batmen and, of course, the final showdown between the real Batman and the Pretender. This mix of action and character is really well handled, and it all adds up to a highly satisfying story. The outflow of emotion you feel once the story concludes surprises and demonstrates that a well-written comic can be just as powerful as a well-written novel or film. This brings the whole Knightfall/Azrael saga full circle and feels like a fitting conclusion to an epic journey.
The artwork throughout is excellent. Once again, DC have collected together the finest artists available to them and used them well. Whilst each artist might have a different approach to depicting the Batman and Gotham City, it's an approach which works very well. The artists have clearly been given a brief to work to, so that whilst there are differences, they still fit together as a whole. The dark, grimy colouring and shadowy panels perfectly capture the darkness of Gotham City and the battle for its heart.
The biggest gripe I have is not to do with the quality of the story, but the quality of the printing. My copy is a DC import version (from 1995) and the pages are unbelievably thin. I lost count of the number of times I accidentally turn over two pages at once and starting reading, only to discover that the events on the new page didn't follow on from the end of the last one. It's helped by the fact that the pages are at least numbered, but you really don't want to keep having to glance down at the page numbers to make sure you are still on track!
Price-wise, this will cost you around £10 to buy new. Whilst it's probably the slimmest volume in the series (and so page for page the most expensive), it's well worth the investment. If you've already bought the other books then of course you are going to want to buy this so that you can possess the whole tale. It's a no-brainer and £10 will seem a very reasonable price.
The Knightfall tale might have been constructed to generate publicity for Batman/DC and shift comics, but that doesn't mean that it's been a cynical waste of time. The epic story has been a strong one from start to finish and a worthy addition to the long history of the Batman. This final part rounds things off in fitting fashion and feels like a very satisfying conclusion to an epic journey for both characters and readers.
Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench et al
(c) Copyright SWSt 2013
Batman - Knightfall Part Three: Knightsend is the final collected part of a huge and famous story arc that ran through the weekly Batman comics in the early nineties. It was sort of like his version of The Death of Superman I suppose although not quite as epic and he never actually died. He did though have his back broken by the hulking master villain Bane and it appeared as if his days fighting crime dressed as a giant bat were now only a thing of the past. Bane took control of Gotham and broke the Batman systematically by releasing all the assorted super villain lunatics from Arkham Asylum. Batman completely exhausted himself trying to catch this pantheon of rogues running wild in the city and was in no fit state to defeat Bane when they had their final conclusive confrontation. Now confined to a wheelchair, Bruce Wayne decided that the mantle of Batman had to be secretly passed on to someone else so that the people of Gotham would not think the Dark Knight had deserted them in a time of rising crime and panic in the streets. The man chosen to be the new Batman was Jean-Paul Valley aka "Azrael" - a graduate student at Gotham University who has been unconsciously trained since birth as an assassin for an ancient religious order. Batman and Tim Drake (Robin) had been training Jean-Paul Valley for some time and trying to control his dark side but they felt he was up to the task and ready to step into the famous cape. Jean-Paul Valley rises to the challenge of becoming the new Batman but he enjoys it too much and - mentally unstable - soon becomes out of control. He is much more brutal and violent in his methods than the real Batman was and ignores strict instructions from Bruce Wayne and Tim Drake not to confront Bane.
The maverick Azrael eventually defeated Bane with the help of a new armoured Batsuit and was now a law unto himself and needed to be stopped. Only problem of course is that Bruce Wayne had his back broken and is now in a wheelchair. Or he was anyway. Here he is back on his feet (albeit unsteadily) and must now go and reclaim the mantle of Batman from the man he chose to succeed him. That's the first salient problem with this third collection if you've bought it with the first two parts. A middle story arc entitled KnightQuest showed us how Batman recovered from his injury and tied up a few loose ends from Part 2. It was never released in the collected format though so you go from Batman in a wheelchair to Batman back on his feet and preparing to take down Azrael with no explanation of what happened in between. Very frustrating if your only experience of this arc is through the graphic novel collections. This is an entertaining and solid collection but there are a couple of problems besides the fact that they didn't print the entire collected arc in complete chronological fashion. The first is that everything in the Knightfall storyline pales slightly when we move beyond the Batman v Bane anticipation and resolution of the first part of the anthology. Batman tangling with just about every famous super villain ever to grace the comics was fun and sort of novel and his final confrontation with Bane was gripping with a very unexpected location. When Bane began to feature less and less then Knightfall lost something and never quite got back to its early impact. The other thing about collections like this is that they draw together many issues of the weekly Batman titles and so unavoidably draw in several different artists. It can be slightly distracting at times when the art changes through the book (especially if you have settled into and enjoyed the style of a particular artists) although all of the illustrating and colouring here is serviceable.
The story has a now almost ambulatory Bruce Wayne initially impressed by the fact that Azrael has taken care of Bane. He believes Jean-Paul Valley has proved himself worthy of the Batman mantle on a permanent basis. However, when Robin informs Bruce Wayne of Valley's methods and the circumstances around Abattoir's death (a low level Batman villain who Valley has disposed of), Wayne orders Azrael to relinquish his Caped Crusader duties immediately. The new Batman is in no mood to take orders though and tells Wayne he will kill him if he ever returns to the Batcave. Bruce Wayne must now somehow become Batman again and take down this volatile imposter. The stage is set for a battle of wits between the teacher and this former student. The twist is that Bruce Wayne has to turn to a villain to get himself back into fighting condition. The master assassin Lady Shiva (who is a nasty piece of work and has had several runs ins with Batman down the years) is the only person for the task. These panels are good fun as Shiva pits Bruce Wayne against several martial artists to regain his skills and insists that he must learn to kill if he is ever to be truly worthy of his skills and her training. Bruce Wayne of course would never kill so he has to find a way around this loophole because he needs Shiva's expertise. It's quite a nice touch to have Batman and Shiva in a sort of alliance and him having to outwit her if he is to continue to receive the training he needs to be prepared for the formidable Azrael.
I liked the way here too that the original Robin Dick Grayson (now a costumed hero known as Nightwing) was brought in by Bruce Wayne to help in his quest to take control of Gotham again. Grayson and Tim Drake's Robin must break into the Batcave and find a way to monitor the movements of Azrael's renegade Batman. The Batcave is nicely deployed too for the final showdown. These elements of detective work and Bruce Wayne using his brain as much as his brawn are welcome elements very much in key with the comic and character. One other thing that is certainly in favour of the collection is that it clocks in at well over 300 pages so you certainly feel like you got your money's worth although it doesn't take as long to read as a truly complex artistically consistent Alan Moore type graphic novel. I think that out of the artists here that Graham Nolan and Barry Kitson fare the best. The comic is fairly action packed and straight ahead and only really begins to falter and lose its way when Jean-Paul Valley has visions of his dead father and The System (the secret order that trained him) almost enter the story as an entity in themselves in surreal form. It becomes a bit pretentious at times and slows the story down but never to a drastic degree. The last third is inventive though and almost cinematic with the final showdown in the caves below Wayne Manor. It terms of guest stars the main one here aside from Lady Shiva is Catwoman and she's used well. Knightsend is certainly worth reading if you are a fan of Batman but it isn't something you can just pick up in isolation and jump into. You really do need to read the rest of the Knightfall arc too and even then there will still be one or two plot threads that are somewhat confusing if you don't have any knowledge of this era of Batman. It isn't as good as the first part but this is a good solid comic and a decent way to end the trilogy.
The final chapter in the Knightfall storyline is arguably the weakest of the three stories in the series. A big gap occurs between episodes Two and Three and where we last saw Bruce still paraplegic, here we see him back up non his feet incredibly and, although weak, training for his return to the streets of Gotham as The Dark Knight and more than a little disgusted and disturbed by what his protege has done with his name......
Unfortunately, the new Dark Knight is less than happy at giving up his position and Bruce has to prove himself first to his successor before he can prove his recovery to himself. It is a good storyline with some great scenes and some very tense moments but, ultimately, it never quite lives up to the high standards set in the first two volumes.
In that respect, it is very much like The Return Of Superman storyline that followed the Kryptonian's apparent "death" in that everyone wants to see the hero broken, not so much returned to his former glory. An absence of much of Bruce's miraculous recovery also does not help, making this feel like one of those old cliff-hangers that would carry on in the next episode by suggesting that what you thought you saw happen at the end of the last episode was in fact wrong!
There is a lot wrong with this final chapter but fortunately, there is also a lot right!
The artwork is once again impressive and, aside from a few niggles, it is good to see everything brought to a tidy conclusion. And IT IS GOOD to see the true Batman returned to his proper place but it also would've been nice to have seen this stretched out a little longer with more plot devoted to Bruce's presumably gradual recovery!
Overall, this is essential reading for anyone who has read this far but be prepared to be a little frustrated, a little disappointed and also a little sad that it has all been concluded so quick! If the writing and the atwork wasn't so good, you would have good reason to complain. As it is though, these almost make up for what is something of a flawed end to a brilliantly conceived story-line!
Bruce Wayne completes his improbable recovery from his broken back and is ready to resume his role as Gotham's protector. But Jean Paul Valley, the man who now patrols the night as a vicious and violent Batman, is not willing to give up his new identity. Driven to the brink of madness by inner demons, the new Batman seeks to destroy Bruce as they meet in mortal combat.