Tales From The Dark Multiverse: Batman: Knightfall #1 – Throwback Review

Tales of the Dark Multiverse: Batman: Knightfall #1 is part of a 10-issue series that puts a new spin on some of the biggest events in DC comics history, by looking at them from alternative realities, where all the wrong choices were made.

Writers: Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins
Art: Javier Fernandez
Colors: Alex Guimaraes
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Released: 16/10/19
Published by DC Comics

The first single issue comic book that ever I bought, as opposed to a collected edition graphic novel or movie adaptation, was issue 19 of Batman: Shadow of the Bat. It featured a man named Jean Paul Valley, wearing a brutal looking variation of the dark knight’s costume, traipsing around like he was Batman. I was so offended by this notion that I scratched a mark across the front cover of that very comic book. Little did I know at the time, that the long running story-line (Knightfall, Knightquest and Knight’s End) of which that issue was but a fraction, would go on to become one of my all-time favourite Batman stories.

Something else I didn’t know at that time was that the man parading himself around as Batman, Jean Paul Valley, would go on to become a huge part of my life as a comic book reader (I own all 100 issues of the original Azrael comic book run and have written a rejected screenplay for an animated movie featuring the character’s origin story). So it goes without saying that anything featuring links to Knightfall, in particular Jean Paul and Azrael, peaks my interest big time!

Tales of the Dark Multiverse: Batman: Knightfall #1 is part of a 10-issue series that puts a new spin on some of the biggest events in DC comics history, by looking at them from alternative realities, where all the wrong choices were made. In the case of this particular story, Bruce Wayne’s Batman did not defeat Jean Paul Valley at the climax of Knight’s End, leaving Jean Paul to wage a religious war against crime for thirty years in Gotham. The result is catastrophic. Without his defeat at Bruce’s hands, Jean Paul’s instability has brought ruin to the city, whose people are now divided into two camps: those who worship “Saint Batman” and those who secretly yearn for someone to save them from Jean Paul’s tyrannical rule. That possible salvation comes in the shape of a man claiming to be the son of the super villain, Bane, as well as the highly skilled martial artist, Lady Shiva. As they lead an assault on Valley’s forces it becomes clear that victory may depend on one man; Bruce Wayne, or what’s left of him. But can thirty years of brokenness be overcome by the former Dark Knight?

Writers Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins do a great job here of capturing the flavour of the Batman comics from the 90’s. If you look at where the character of Jean Paul was at the time in which this story kicks off (a slave to “the system” seeing visions of “Saint Dumas”) then it’s logical to assume that the path he might head down would be not too dissimilar to what we get here.

There is a tendency, for anyone who isn’t named Dennis O’Neil, to write Jean Paul as a religious nut-job with a psychopathic personality. Check out a recent iteration of the character depicted in the pages of Legends of the Dark Knight for a prime example. But to do so is to strip him of all the growth he achieved as a character during the years that O’Neil was writing him after the events of Knightfall. It takes him twenty steps backwards and fails to understand what O’Neil was doing with the character. But Snyder and Higgins set their story at the perfect moment in time to justify taking Jean Paul down the kind of rabbit hole that most other writers should be trying to avoid. For this reason I am able to go on the journey willingly as we see what might have been.

Snyder and Higgins focus on one of the key aspects of Jean Paul’s character that O’Neil was always trying to explore, which was the fact that, Jean Paul’s father not really having been there for him means that he has got some serious daddy issues. He looks for approval from the closest father figure he has had in his life, which is Bruce Wayne, without being emotionally equipped to function beyond what “the system” has programmed him for. And so he remains locked in an internal battle concerning his own identity. That was always the journey of the character that O’Neil played out. The question of, “who am I?” constantly hung on Jean Paul’s shoulders. We find Jean Paul here having decided who he is, and yet still seeking that approval from Bruce, which will never be forthcoming. It makes him a tragic figure rather than a mere nut-job playing at being Batman.

Another key influence for Snyder and Higgins appears to be Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”. It’s a cliché these days to name that particular work as an influence. But it’s almost inescapable. If you look at where we find Bruce’s Batman at the start of TDKR, we are given an almost plausible journey to show how he became that particular version of the Batman. It’s clearly not the same, but with a few tweaks here and there, it very well could be. Gotham City certainly looks ripe for a mutant takeover by the time we reach the end.

Javier Fernandez does a great job on the art work. I love his design of Jean Paul’s evolved Batman costume. It looks like a variation on his famous Knightquest costume, with a bit more medieval knight vibes added in for good measure. Another gripe I have, besides different writers tackling the character, is with different artists who’ve come to draw Jean Paul’s Azrael over the years and their purposeful attempts to simplify his costume. The original Azrael costume, designed by Joe Quesada, is quite simply one of the best costume designs in comic book history. The iconic Az-Bats costume of the “Knightquest” era is also a particular standout for me. So it’s great to see Fernandez putting as much care and attention into making something that looks just as iconic.

This book made me yearn for the days where Jean Paul was a part of my life each month. He’s never been a particularly popular character, no doubt due to the threat he posed to the mantle of the bat. But maybe it’s time for a reappraisal of the impact this character has had upon the legacy of Batman. And maybe it’s time writers like Snyder and Higgins were encouraged to bring Jean Paul back into regular continuity with a monthly title all of his own again. On the strength of this, I’d say he deserves it.


Verdict –
An absolute must-read for fans of 90’s era Batman comic books. Snyder and Higgins do a great job of re-imagining the ‘Knightfall’ legacy, without betraying the roots of the original story or it’s characters.


Review by Bryan Lomax, 08/01/21

Batgirls #1 – Review

This is a comic that will certainly appeal to younger female readers who will instantly identify with the personalities of the three main characters

BATGIRLS #1

Written by: Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad

Art: Jorge Corona
Released: February 2022

Published DC Comics

Described on DC’s website as “the pizza slumber party you don’t want to miss,” this new six-part series by writers Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad is filled with the kind of energy you’d expect to see at, well, a teenage girls’ slumber party!

Ever since Batgirl Cassandra Cain handed over the reins to Stephanie Brown (who, as Spoiler, kicked back teenage-rebellion-style at her criminal father the Cluemaster), fans have been eagerly awaiting a team-up of the two friends. Under the watchful eye of Barbara Gordon, the three move into an apartment on the outskirts of Gotham, away from the mysterious Seer and, hopefully, any criminals who might test their combined strengths. This being Gotham, it isn’t long until Cass has to take down a gang of thugs, leading her and Steph to a hide-out where they kick butt and face down a group of workmen who appear to be under some kind of hypnotic spell. Throw in a spate of murders and a suspicious looking neighbor, and it looks like the Batgirls’ plans for a discreetly led life are going to be short-lived.

This is a comic that will certainly appeal to younger female readers who will instantly identify with the personalities of the three main characters: in Cass we have the quiet, thoughtful one who won’t take things lying down (a nod to her backstory as a trained child assassin); Steph – dressed in her Spoiler costume — is the impetuous, fun-loving one; while Babs/Oracle is the level-headed leader of the group who tries in vain to keep her two friends from exposing themselves to the criminal underworld. Cloonan and Conrad know what make girls tick (or, for that matter, any teenager whatever their gender): Steph is as enthusiastic about who gets first dibs on the top bunk as she is about accompanying Cass on a crime-fighting night-time excursion, and the comradeship and excitement of three friends moving in together is shown through simple pleasures like sharing meals, goofing off and the freedoms offered by living independently from adult male interference.

As a father of twin 11-year-old daughters, I was completely onboard with this comic; it doesn’t patronise the target audience, the ear for dialogue is deftly tuned in to how teenagers actually speak, and the affection the characters feel for each other is beautifully realised through Jorge Corona’s impressive artwork; he captures the attitudes of the three perfectly, making them recognisable through a series of sideways glances, defiant scowls, and hesitant expectation (in one page, wherein Bab’s excitement at revealing the bat-bikes is matched by Cass and Steph’s disappointment on seeing them, the individual characteristics are illustrated so effectively, the scene would have worked even without dialogue). It’s also to Corona’s credit that he doesn’t resort to the anime-like frenetic expressions (jumping up and down, arms waving, etc.) that can sometimes render teenage characters silly; these three are all-business, albeit with a streak of fun.


But enough of this old man’s ramblings, this is what my daughters had to say about Batgirls #1:

“We liked Cass and Steph the most, and the bit with the bat-bikes was really funny. The story was gripping and the way the girls spoke was really cool, especially Steph’s sarcastic “Decisions, decisions” when Babs offers her a choice of Pot Noods or Pot Noods. Looking forward to the next issue!”


Reviewed by Christopher, Daisy and Robyn Witty


Detective Comics #1043 – Review

Jason Todd leading a Suicide Squad-like team of undead supervillains? Sign me up for that one!


Detective Comics #1043

Writer: Mariko Tamaki (Fear State: Nakano’s Nightmare Part 1) and Matthew Rosenberg (What the #!$% is Task Force Z: Finale).

Art: Dan Mora (Fear State: Nakano’s Nightmare Part 1) and Darick Robertson (What the #!$% is Task Force Z: Finale).

Colours: Jordie Bellaire (Fear State: Nakano’s Nightmare Part 1) and Diego Rodriguez (What the #!$% is Task Force Z: Finale).

Letters: Aditya Bidikar (Fear State: Nakano’s Nightmare Part 1) and Rob Leigh (What the #!$% is Task Force Z: Finale).
Released: 28/09/21
Published by DC Comics

Mayor Nakano puts some heated negotiations with Simon Saint on hold in order to catch a breather. But once he sends everyone home for the night a group of armed men storm the building and attempt to kill him. He escapes, with the aid of the Batman, only to find himself caught in a situation that might prove to be much worse.

This issue doesn’t have a right lot of plot going on. Instead, writer Mariko Tamaki presents us with a prolonged action set piece, in which Mayor Nakano shows why he was once a cop. He’s a man of action, not one to shy away from a fight, and quite willing to get his hands dirty. He proves to be much tougher than the typical bureaucrats that have sat in Gotham’s mayoral office over the years. Anybody remember Mayor Armand Krol?

I do struggle in placing the story that is running in Detective Comics right now neatly alongside the stuff that is going on over in Batman. I just mentioned Mayor Krol. But back in the days when Krol was mayor (that would be the mid nineties folks!), we had at least 4 monthly Batman titles and I had no problem keeping up to speed with where each one of them was in the main overarching story. I appreciate that James Tynion IV has the story that he wants to tell and Tamaki has hers, but I feel as though they’ve not been organically woven together into the current “Fear State” epic that has currently taken over the Batman line. If you take them both at face value then it seems to me that characters have the uncanny ability to be in two different places at once as convenience seems fit.

It’s a shame because the Hugh Vile storyline (yes, that’s still going on) feels like a major storyline that deserves to be held in its own vacuum. But it’s suffering as a result of needing to fit within the greater world of everything that is going on with Fear State. There’s so many balls right now that are being kept in the air that it’s hard to know which ones are genuine game changers and which ones are just passing through. Take the men that storm Nakano’s office for instance. The impression given is that Simon Saint has no idea who they are. So who are they? Where did they come from? Do they have something bigger planned? And did they really need to be introduced in the midst of everything else that is going on?

The back up story gets us ready for what is sure to be a bonkers ride in the new Task Force Z monthly. Jason Todd leading a Suicide Squad-like team of undead supervillains? Sign me up for that one! It features some nice art work and some particularly nice colours from Diego Rodriguez.


Verdict –

Heavy on action but light on plot, Detective Comics #1043 is mostly concerned with the character of Mayor Nakano, showing us there is more to him than your average bureaucrat.


Review by Bryan Lomax, 05/11/21

Detective Comics #1041 Review

One of the more interesting aspects of the current run of Batman comics is the fact that Bruce no longer has the endless wealth that he once had at his disposal. This means Batman has become more like a street rat, operating out of the sewers, without the security of his old bat-cave…


Detective Comics #1041
Reviewed By Bryan Lomax

Writers:
Mariko Tamaki (“The Jury Part 1”) and Matthew Rosenberg (“What The #!$% Is Task Force Z Part 1”).
Art: Dan Mora (“The Jury Part 1”) and Darick Robertson (“What The #!$% Is Task Force Z Part 1”).
Colours: Jordie Bellaire (“The Jury Part 1”) and Diego Rodriguez (“What The #!$% Is Task Force Z Part 1”).
Letters: Aditya Bidikar (“The Jury Part 1”) and Rob Leigh (“What The #!$% Is Task Force Z Part 1”).
Released: 10/08/21
Published by DC Comics

Batman is called out by “The Jury”, a host of Gotham’s criminal underworld, led by Penguin, the Falcone’s and Mr Worth. But when he shows up to meet them, in order to answer for his “crimes”, he finds himself dealing with those who are unwilling to listen to reason. Batman is caught in a trap that might tether his very soul to that of another: Hugh Vile.

I would love to know just what information it was exactly that Oracle gave to the authorities in order to facilitate the release of Bruce Wayne. Mayor Nakano still appears to be clueless about Hugh Vile’s involvement in the whole affair, but surely that would have been the first piece of information that Barbara would have handed over! It only adds to my frustration over the sloppy handling of the story in the last two issues.

Aside from that though, writer Mariko Tamaki goes some way to winning me back on this issue. I like the motely crew of second string villains, led by Penguin, now referring to themselves as The Jury. Each one of these guys on their own probably doesn’t pose much of a threat to Batman. United, however, they may prove to be more than effective as a collective adversary. I think this is proven by the end of Tamaki’s story, in which Batman finds himself in quite the predicament, albeit one that reveals a rather interesting link to Huntress that has the potential to go to some exciting places.


One of the more interesting aspects of the current run of Batman comics is the fact that Bruce no longer has the endless wealth that he once had at his disposal. This means Batman has become more like a street rat, operating out of the sewers, without the security of his old bat-cave. This sometimes results in moments of humour, such as the one Tamaki gives us here, in which Bruce scares a woman carrying her groceries when he climbs out of a sewer grate.
These moments of Bruce struggling to live the life he once lived without the resources he once had also make me long for, perhaps a more valuable missing piece, Alfred Pennyworth, the father figure that Bruce is now lacking and yet sorely needs. Seeing him calling Oracle about business, inside a diner with public gawkers, is somehow one of the saddest reflections of just how far he has fallen from the ivory tower. Dare I say, he seems quite pathetic these days, when dressed in his civilian clothes!


Matthew Rosenberg’s B story, “What The #!$% Is Task Force Z Part 1”, is a really great start to a Deb Donovan adventure. It is filled with intrigue as the no nonsense reporter begins investigating the apparent disappearance of bodies from the Gotham City morgue. Rosenberg has a real knack for dialogue and the art from Darick Robertson is very easy on the eye. I’ve said before that I am really enjoying the Deb Donovan character. But, on the strength of Rosenberg and Robertson’s work here, I’d go so far as to say that, if these guys were assigned to a Deb Donovan monthly title, I’d be the first in line for a pre-order.


Verdict:


Mariko Tamaki shows us just how far Bruce has fallen and how, now more than ever, he is in need of allies. Backed up with excellent artwork from Dan Mora and Jordie Bellaire, she is able to give us a really great character study of Bruce Wayne/Batman, as he struggles to maintain the vigilante life-style without the resources he once had.

4/5


Reviewed By Bryan Lomax – 22/9/21