Review by Win Wiacek
In the 1993, 2000 and 2018 25th Anniversary edition of Knightfall, Volume 1 ended with the still utterly shocking moment of Bane breaking an exhausted Batman’s spine.
Bane’s reign begins in ‘Who Rules the Night’ by Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan. Alfred and Robin intercept the ambulance carrying their shattered friend and mentor, yet saving his life proves a touch-and-go proposition, and in the interval the Ventriloquist is reunited with his malevolent master Scarface. Gotham is a city at war and soon Boy Wonder and ex-Azrael Jean-Paul Valley prowl the rooftops trying to stem the tide.
A sidebar reveals the thwarting of Two-Face’s latest murder-spree. ‘2-Face: Double Cross’ and the concluding ‘2-Face: Bad Judgment’ (Doug Moench and Klaus Janson) depict the Double Desperado setting up a hangman’s court in a tragically confused attempt to convict Batman of causing all the former prosecutor’s problems.
In ‘Knights in Darkness’ (Moench and Jim Aparo – sample art left) the brutalised Wayne regains consciousness, but lacking his fighting spirit. Faking a road crash to explain his injuries, Tim and Alfred consult a doctor in an attempt to restore the billionaire’s shattered spirit and broken body, whilst Bane mercilessly consolidates his hold on the various gangs and rackets. Tim also carries out Bruce’s wishes and offers Jean-Paul the role of Batman.
With Gotham now a criminal’s paradise, ‘Lightning Changes’ (Dixon and Nolan) has the inexperienced Batman and Robin team wiping up street scum, under strict instructions from Wayne to avoid major threats. Valley, however, seems to be slowly coming unglued, using excessive force and chafing to test himself against Bane.
A final diversion comes from Alan Grant and Bret Blevins (sample art right) describing the sinister Scarecrow’s grandiose and clearly crazy plan to turn himself into ‘The God of Fear’. It also features juvenile ideologue and criminal genius Anarky.
The Beginning of the End starts in ‘The Venom Connection’ (Moench and Aparo), as Jean-Paul’s ruthless savagery and burgeoning paranoia drives a wedge between him and Robin. In the Batcave, Jean-Paul realises he is still subject to the programming that created Azrael when he falls into a trance and awakens to find he has designed deadly new high-tech gauntlets to augment his war on crime.
Things are pushed to fever-pitch with ‘The Devil You Know’ (Dixon and Nolan) as the augmented, ever-angry and clearly losing it Batman breaks Bane’s henchmen out of jail and follows them back to Bane, only to fall before his sheer power and ferocity.
There’s a two-part conclusion. ‘Dark Angel 1: the Fall’, by Moench and Aparo sees Batman frantically escape certain death at Bane’s hands. A retreat to the Batcave has Azrael’s submerged programming taking temporary control to devise a technological armoured suit to turn Batman into a human war-machine.
The infuriated Bane wants a final confrontation and solicits a highly public duel in the centre of Gotham. ‘Dark Angel 2: the Descent’ (art by Mike Manley) sees a catastrophic clash that comprehensively crushes Bane and publicly proclaims a new, darker Champion of the Night. As Batman narrowly chooses to leave Bane a crushed and humiliated living trophy rather than dead example, Robin realises something very bad has come to Gotham.
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.