Review by Win Wiacek
The early 1990s were troubled times for the American comic industry, with speculative collectors rather than fans driving the business. With vapid ploys and fleeting trends fuelling frantic mass-multiple purchases by buyers investing in variant-covered issues, major publishers were driven to design bold stunts just to keep the attention of their once-devoted readership.
In 1992 DC began their epic Death of Superman arc, and immediately afterwards introduced a similar tradition-shaking, continuity-shattering epic for their other iconic household-name property. Groundwork had already been laid with the introduction of Jean-Paul Valley, a mild-mannered student utterly unaware he had been programmed since birth by his father and an ancient warrior-cult to become a hereditary instrument of assassination (see Batman: Sword of Azrael).
KnightFall, and the subsequent KnightQuest and KnightsEnd, follow the brutal fall, replacement and inevitable return of Bruce Wayne as the indomitable, infallible Batman and was a spectacular success from old guard writers Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench, showing the true value of proper storytelling. It also proved the unshakable power of established characters, as the world was gripped by the Dark Knight’s horrific defeat at the hands of a blatantly superior nemesis.
In 2012 DC finally began collecting the entire saga into three huge chronological paperback compilations, improving on the slimmer 1993 editions (reprinted as the 25th Anniversary editions). Whilst still not truly complete, this render the tale a far smoother and more readable experience for older fans and curious newcomers, and for the wealthy customer the 2017 hardback Omnibus presents the work of primary artists Jim Aparo (sample art left), Norm Breyfogle and Graham Nolan (sample right) at a larger size.
This collection begins after Bane has released all villains from Arkham Asylum, intending they wear Batman down before Bane makes his move.
The primary content not in earlier editions is ‘Vengeance of Bane’ by Dixon and Nolan, wherein the hulking brute is fully revealed and exposed. Years ago, on the Caribbean island of Santa Prisca, the ruling junta sentenced a baby in his father’s stead to life on a hellish prison rock. His only non-hostile contacts became his faithful lieutenants, Trogg, Zombie and the Americano Bird, whose tales of the Bat in Gotham City fired the eternal prisoner’s jealousy and imagination. When an adult he was already strong enough to cripple thirty inmates, and selected for an experimental medical process. He was fitted with biological implants delivering doses of a stimulant drug directly into his brain, enabling him to swiftly multiply his strength and speed at the press of a button. His eyes turned towards Gotham and the only rival he could imagine.
Knightfall is Bane’s rise and fall story arc. He arrives in Gotham, frees the inmates of Arkham Asylum, and Batman is exhausted after recapturing most. That’s when he’s confronted and defeated by Bane. The Batman identity passes to the former Azrael, who it turns out is still deeply affected by his programming. He eventually beats Bane, but is this new Batman actually the worse threat? The story continues in Knightquest.
Complex, brutal and relentless, Knightfall often stalls due to overambition and many contributors’ individual gifts are lost in intersecting, overlapping storylines obscured by numerous plot threads simultaneously unfolding. Thankfully, strong editing rescues the saga from confusion as Gotham’s strongest will triumphs in ominous advance of greater trials to come.
This is 640 pulse-pounding pages, and there’s something particularly enticing about these colossal mega-compilations: proven, familiar stories in a huge, wrist-numbing package offering a vast hit of action, suspense and solid entertainment.