There are some incredibly popular and influential Batman story arcs that receive a great deal of love, and rightfully so from the nerd community. And I’m with you. Batman Year One is amazing. Hush is incredible. Birth of the Demon is overrated but very influential and important to Batman’s development One arc that I feel is often left out is Knightfall. Right now I want to examine the first third of this epic. Yes it was an event comic designed to sell books, but that doesn’t mean it was of poorer quality. While I recognize a few different authors had a hand in this, I’m going to credit Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench as the largest contributors.
Dixon and Moench’s script works on quite a few levels. The first few issues move fast, almost entirely self-contained and allow readers a chance to revisit the rogues gallery while tying each episode to the larger story, without ever sacrificing the action or pace. Arkham Asylum is a volatile place, with prisoners escaping quite regularly, so why not all at once? This action also helps to set up Bane as a formidable enemy. He respects Batman as an adversary yet is incredibly confident. Bane is one of Batman’s best villains, because Batman never beats him. In the entire Knightfall Arc Batman never triumphs over Bane. This makes it one of the most unique entries the cannon ever.
We all knew Batman was going to lose in the end, that’s how it was marketed. And when Batman is defeated in the now iconic page spread (below) Bane not killing him is more jarring than any death sequence. For all his deaths, no reader thinks Bruce Wayne is ever really going away. But having him loose, crippling him and having him sidelined is more powerful. There he is, our hero, in a wheelchair forced to watch Jean Paul Valley fulfill Batman’s destiny. Fear derives from a sense of powerlessness, and for all the dark Batman tales this one captures this perfectly.
The art for Knightfall does not hold up as well as the story. It is very much a product of the 90s trends, a time when most fans will admit the style was in flux, trying to determine how stylized it should be and often failing to strike a good balance between fantasy and reality. While the art of Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan and Jim Balent is never poor there are few indelible images in this arc.
So what’s better picking up the issues or grabbing the graphic novel?
In this case the answer is a pretty easy. Because this was so heavily marketed these issues are easy to track down and pretty cheap when you find them. However, due to the sprawling nature with issues in all the Batman family books this could be a very time consuming task. Especially since these books will probably never appreciate in value. This arc was first collected in Batman: Knightfall Part One: Broken Bat and released in 1993. At 296 pages it contains all the key issues on this first third of the epic. In 2012 with the release of The Dark Knight Rises Batman: Knightfall, Vol. 1 was released at 640 pages. This edition contains all the supplementary books from the first third. You can find either of these volumes for about $10-15 pretty easily so it is all a matter of how invested you are in the events leading up to the breaking of the Bat.
Knightfall Part Two coming soon.