Knightfall Trade Post: Volumes 2 & 3

batman knightfall volume 2 knightquestBatman Knightfall Volume 2: KnightQuest (DC)
Written by Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Doug Moench & Jo Duffy, drawn by Graham Nolan, Vince Giarrano, Mike Manley, Barry Kitson, Jim Balent, Bret Blevins & Tom Grummett
Collects Detective Comics #667-675, Batman: Shadow Of The Bat #19-20, Batman #501-508, Catwoman #6-7 & Robin #7

Jeepers, I can’t believe I read and reviewed the first Knightfall trade all the way back in 2012. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but then again, my memories of that reading experience aren’t quite as strong as I would like (but that can be said regarding most of my faculties these days). Anyway, after Bane broke Bruce Wayne and Jean-Paul Valley took over in the previous volume, the second is all AzBats, all the time, specifically him meeting Batman’s allies as well as a mix of old and new villains. In the process, it becomes clear to everyone that JPV is out of his mind thanks to all of the programming his dad inputted into his brain in preparation for him to become the Azrael (assassin) of the Order of St. Dumas.

This humongous collection which clocks in at 655 pages includes a healthy dose of issues I hadn’t read before, specifically that crossover with Catwoman where the Cat-Bat dynamic gets flipped around and a Shadow Of The Bat arc that finds AzBats going up against a pair of deranged Clayfaces who happen to have found love in each others’ weird, muddy arms.

Much like the first volume, this was a great walk down memory line for me. I specifically remembered the Joker story that’s packed with movie references including two characters who are clearly Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. There’s also the Abattoir story which weaved in and out of the books more than I remembered. This is a serial killer who targets his own family members. He and AzBats tangled, but the villain got away only to come back into the spotlight further along into JPV’s descent into madness. The important aspect of this story is that JPV lets Abattoir fall to his death which is bad in and of itself, but also leads to the death of one of his family members who was hooked up to an elaborate death trap. At the end of this book, Robin can finally talk to Bruce — who is back in Gotham — and a plan begins to take shape that will get Bruce back in the cape and cowl.

batman knightfall volume 3 knightsend Batman Knightfall Volume 3: KnightsEnd (DC)
Written by Doug Moench, Alan Grant, Chuck Dixon, Jo Duffy & Denny O’Neil, drawn by Mike Manley, Bret Blevins, Graham Nolan, Ron Wagner, Tom Grummett, Jim Balent, Joe Rubinstein, Barry Kitson, Mike Vosburg, Mike Gustovich, Romeo Tanghal, Lee Weeks, Phil Jimenez, MD Bright & John Cleary
Collects Batman #509-510, 512-514, Batman: Shadow Of The Bat #29-30, Detective Comics #676-677, 679-681, Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight #62-63, Robin #8-9, 11-13 & Catwoman #12-13

This one’s all about Bruce Wayne taking over the mantle of the Bat. Well, mostly. Before actually going up against AzBats, Bruce trains with Lady Shiva, the deadliest woman on the planet who kills without thought (as long as she’s not fighting a major character in the DCU). Once he succeeds in that endeavor, Bruce almost immediately leaves and hands the costume over to Dick. This leads to some great moments between Dick and Tim as the former and current Robins as well as a nice story that deals with Dick’s past with Two-Face which has haunted him ever since his earliest adventures as a sidekick.

I loved on the “KnightsEnd” story pretty hard. It’s not the most artfully told tale in the world, but seeing Bruce’s climb back to the top — which includes an encounter where he seemingly kills an opponent — followed by the equally epic battle with AzBats is a lot of fun. I didn’t actually realize that the “Prodigal” story featuring Dick as Batman was in this collection, so that was kind of a nice surprise. The problem with a portion of that story is that Two-Face apparently hacks Gotham’s computer system without any actual knowledge of how computers work aside from the basic idea of binary. I’m pretty far from tech savvy by today’s standards, but I furrowed my brow in confusion at parts of this story.

There is one large problem with this collection, even at 647 pages, it’s not really a full story. Bruce Wayne just comes back with very little explanation. That story was told as “The Quest” in various titles like Shadow Of The Bat, Legends Of The Dark Knight and even two issues of Justice League Task Force that have never been collected, but would make a nice little companion book. We also get no real explanation for why Bruce decides to take yet another break from being Batman or even where he goes during the “Prodigal” story. I understand that you can’t collect everything that pertains to this epic story, but some of the things left out make this feel overly devoid of context and reason. Now that I think of it, it probably would have made more sense to include “The Quest” issues in this book than the “Prodigal” one. Maybe I’ll make my own bound collection of “The Quest” issues and the missing Bane appearances before the “KinghtFall” story proper.

I’m far from the most impartial judge of these issues. I clearly had a few problems and even a few more that I didn’t mention but seem minor in retrospect. Still, having three huge volumes that collect so many of my first Batman comics, plus ones I never got around to thanks to the limitations of allowance, is a delight. Whenever I get more shelf space, these will be proudly displayed, possibly with a few action figures. I think I’ve got the one of Bruce in his Bat-themed ninja training gear somewhere in my collection.

Trade Post: Batman Knightfall Volume 1

Batman Knightfall Volume 1 (DC)
Collects Batman #491-500, Detective #659-666, Showcase 93 #7-8, Shadow of the Bat #16-18 & Vengeance of Bane
Written by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon & Alan Grant, drawn by Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan, Jim Balent, Bret Blevins, Klaus Janson & Mike Manley

You guys, I can’t tell you how excited I was when I saw that DC was re-collecting the Batman Knightfall story. If you’re unfamiliar with early 90s Batman comics, a weakened Batman went up against a new bad guy on the street named Bane who released all the villains in Arkham. After trying to stop and recapture all the bad guys, Batman finally goes up against Bane and — as you can see on the cover to the left here — Bane breaks Batman’s back. After this, a guy who has been hanging around for a little bit named Jean-Paul Valley, also known as Azrael, gets named the new Batman. JPV’s a little nutty to be nice about things and Robin realizes this is a problem, but Bruce is worried about finding Tim’s kidnapped dad and their shared doctor who Bruce wants to tell he’s Bats. There’s a lot going on, but what else can you expect from a 630 page book?

The reason I was so excited about this book — and the two that come after it — is because these were really my first Batman comics. I’d read one or two before and knew the character from the Adam West TV show, but these were the first ones I collected. The death of Superman got me into that book and the breaking of Batman got me into this one, I guess I was a little morbid as a kid. Anyway, while I have most of the issues collected therein, this is the very first time I’ve read them in order. I got many of the issues piecemeal, read them and then promptly placed them in bags and boards.

I was surprised by a lot of things reading through this book. First off, I was shocked that Kelly Jones didn’t do any interiors, only covers. This surprised me because what I remember about these stories is mainly his covers (as well as the gatefold foil Joe Quesada one for #500). I was also surprised at how quickly they got to breaking Bats. I assumed it would be towards the end of the book, but it actually takes place around the half way point.

My other surprises were more story based, so they deserve their own paragraph(s). I should note that, even if this book was a complete artistic embarrassment, I would love it because it’s so near and dear to me. While I didn’t think it was embarrassing at all, I was surprised at how flimsy Bane’s reasoning is presented in the book. We see his origins in the Bane one-shot, but his reasoning doesn’t make much sense. Why does he care about Gotham or Batman? Because some guy told him how great it was? I assume the intent is for Bane to compare himself to the highest physical specimen and win, but that falls apart when you release an army of madmen to bend him so you can come in and break him. Along similar lines, I have no idea why Bane hangs out with the trio of goofballs he does, Bird, Trogg and Zombie as they don’t do a whole lot for him.

Another problem I had which might have come from seeing how well this source material was handled in The Dark Knight Rises was that I didn’t get the impending sense of worry and doom with this story that I got in the film. Bane not only releases every crazy into Gotham and breaks Batman’s back IN FRONT OF PEOPLE, but also starts taking over all of the crime in the city, but the normal people we see don’t seem super upset or worried about it. The story lacks a sense of larger urgency that the film absolutely nailed. This is not helped by the inclusion of the Shadow of the Bat issues included in this collection which come right after JPV went out as Batman for the first time and give you three issues of Scarecrow trying to become a fear god, JPV being crazy Batman and Anarky trying to kill both of them. These don’t really help the series along and slow things WAY down, but I’m glad they’re in there. Maybe it would have been better to put them later in the book? But then they’d come after JPV made the AzBat armor…hmm

Okay, that was a good deal of complaining and critiquing, but I still really enjoyed reading this book and not just because of the wonderful trip down memory lane. Watching Batman getting so worn down facing also-rans like Firefly was actually pretty amazing. And, man, that scene where he fights Bane and gets broken? Still gives me chills. So intense. I also liked how JPV goes over the edge bit by bit. I mean, he’s clearly a terrible choice for Batman, but Bruce is not in his right mind, his brain’s as broken as his body, so it kind of makes sense. Plus, JPV was apparently hanging around before all this and was being trained by Batman and Robin. I’m pretty excited to break into the next book and see how his books hold up.

Ah, I’ve got one more complaint or more positively, a suggestion. It would be nice if there was a trade collecting some of the stuff that leads into this book. Bane appeared in a few other comics that are referenced several times that I’d like to read, but it’d also be cool to get a little bit more of JPV’s back story. Sure, I’ve got the Sword of Azreal trade on my shelf (and plan to read it again soon), but that’s a pretty old and, I assume, out of print book that I’m sure other people would like to read. Similarly, I noticed from looking at the second Knightfall volume I have and the information out there for the third, there’s a lot of stuff that’s still not collected like the Justice League Task Force stuff and a few other tales of Bruce Wayne running around trying to save Tim’s dad and their doctor. It’s entirely possible that these trades will get made in the future, especially if the planned Knightfall ones do really well, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Maybe I’ll just make my own!

Best Of The Best Trade Post: Starman Omnibus Volume 2

starman omnibus 2STARMAN OMNIBUS VOLUME 2 (DC)
Written by James Robinson, drawn by Tony Harris, Craig Hamilton, John Warkiss, Steve Yeowell, Matt Smith, JH Williams, Bret Blevins, Guy Davis, Wade von Grawbadger, Chris Sprouse and Gary Erksine
Collects Starman #17-29, Showcase ’95 #12, Showcase ’96 #4-5 & Starman Annual #1
For the secret history of how I got to read Starman for the first time, check out today’s Ad It Up which features an ad for the Starman Secret Files & Origins. After having my mind blown so many years ago by the adventures of hip new hero Jack Knight and his journey from 90s hipster to legitimate superhero, it’s actually been since then that I’ve read Starman because of the terrible way the comics were collected (yearly issues pulled out to make their own themed trades, etc.). I was really jazzed a few years ago when DC announced they were going to give this beloved series the same treatment as Jack Kirby comics and reprint everything (and I mean everything) chronologically.

starman 17I thought about saving my reread for the day I had all the Omnibi in my hands, but couldn’t resist. I tackled the first one a while back and didn’t write about it on the blog and then much later I finally got around to reading the second volume. The task is a bit daunting and a little scary because what if I don’t like it as much this time around as I did back then? I had the same fear when I reread Preacher, but I wound up liking it even more. Would that be the same case for Starman?

Mostly yes with a little bit of no. Yes because it’s still a book of amazing quality and no because it doesn’t feel quite as special because this style of storytelling has gone on to become the norm at least at DC (you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a legacy character these days) though not always done this well. While reading through this volume it hit me why the book has resonated with me so much: it’s a book that deals with all these crazy elements like supervillains and demons and magical posters, but it doesn’t let that get in the way of the characters who, after a time, don’t consider these things to be all that crazy. I don’t mean for that to sound like they see these things as blasse necessarily, just that it’s a part of everyday life for these characters, which is something that many superhero comics seem to forget. There’s a difference between boredly talking about a supervillain threat and having a normal conversation with your dad about all the villains you’re trying to keep track of.

starman 22Also, the fact remains that Starman is not really a superhero story. It’s a story about a son (Jack Knight) trying to find a relationship with his father (Ted Knight, the original Starman) and see where that relationship goes once they start having some things in common. Yes, those things happen to be fighting villains and keeping Opal City safe, but Robinson never lets that detract from the emotions and story taking place. It’s also about rehabilitation, if not redemption, especially considering the evolution of The Shade and this volume’s introduction of Bob Benetti, a villain for hire who just got out of jail and is thinking about going back to a life of crime.

The volume is jam packed with goodness, including our heroes facing a demon whose domain resides inside a poster, the first meeting between Golden Age Doctor Fate and the Shade, a pirate-themed Talking With David, Jack Knight teaming up with Wesley Dodds (the original Sandman) in modern times, the Legends Of The Dead Earth annual which was actually pretty fun, Jack doing a solid for the original Mist, a Christmas issue, the trippy origins of the blue skinned Starman Mikaal and the introduction of a lot of time-displaced citizens to Opal. There’s a lot going on, but you get the feeling that Robinson had a game plan from the get go. The poster story is introduced fairly early on in the book, but not really focused on and solved until a while later. Yes there are arcs and more finite storylines, but it’s not like a comic today where it feels like every six issues something new happens because it’s supposed to. This flows like a rive and takes all kinds of twists and turns that are a delight to follow. There’s also lots and lots of references to upcoming storylines.

starman 28And it’s not like just Jack Knight gets the best moments. The last two issues  of this collection are some of my favorites and involved Mikaal in the 70s and Bobo Benetti dealing with a moral quandary that ends in a pretty great and unexpected way. This book contains one of the few occasions in which I didn’t want to erase the Royal Flush Gang from existence.

I can’t believe I’ve gone this far without talking about Tony Harris’ art. I mistakenly thought that he did all of the issues until he eventually left the book, but there are plenty of other artists jumping in here and there to do sequences, short stories, fill-ins or random other stories like the Showcase bits. Of course, seeing earlier Guy Davis and JH Williams III is a lot of fun. There are very few art missteps in this whole volume, which is impressive considering how much ground the book covers.

In addition to the reprinted comics which I love, the book also has a great deal of extras. There’s a forward by Harris (whose style has completely changed since the 90s) about his first meeting with Robinson while on a kind of press tour that’s really interesting and a nice look into the world of comic book collaboration. The back of the book has a series of journal entries by the Shade that I didn’t read through, a look at many of DC Direct’s Starman-related products (I want to get my hands on that Tim Bruckner statue) and then Robinson’s ongoing Time’s Past series of afterwards which include a story by story rundown of where he was coming from, what inspired him and/or what he was trying to accomplish with that story. I would anxiously flip to the back after finishing a story to get some inside scoop on the creative process and then jump back to read the next story.

zero month posterIt’s almost a little sad reading this book for a few reasons. First off, Robinson doesn’t seem to have been able to get back up to this high level of writing since, though I do appreciate him using Mikaal in Justice League, but that book’s got a mountain of problems well before Robinson came along. It’s also kind of sad to think that this comic probably wouldn’t get made today. At least not by DC or Marvel, though it is kind of funny that even Starman rolled out of a big event (in this case Zero Hour). Maybe I’m being pessimistic, but a book that’s so densely packed and featuring a cast that includes a hipster, an old man, a gay blue alien, a few Golden Age villains-turned good guys and a family of Irish cops doesn’t sound like the kind of thing the Big Two would sign off on now. You might say “Well, it could be an Image book,” which is true, but what makes Starman so special is that Robinson was able to carve out this little world for himself inside the greater DCU. He pulled from what else was going on around him, using new and established elements and wove them all together into this great thing that’s hard to really describe. Sure, it would have been cool as a book set in it’s own universe, but we wouldn’t have the Shade or the Scalphunter ties or the occasional visits with other heroes and, at least to this longtime comic book fan, that makes the book all the better.