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Batman – Knightfall (Review/Retrospective)

This March sees the release of Batman vs. Superman. To celebrate, we’ll be looking at some iconic and modern Batman and Superman stories over the course of the month.

Knightfall is one of the definitive Batman stories.

That is, to be clear, not the same as saying it is one of the best. Knightfall is far too chaotic and disorganised to rank among the best Batman stories ever told. This becomes particularly obvious when the story enters its second and third act, as everything falls to pieces and the saga sort of sputters out rather than coming to a clear end. Indeed, this problem can be seen even in the nineteen-issues-and-change introductory arc; the creative teams start with a strong focus and clear direction, but this quickly descends into anarchy as the story builds a forward momentum.

Batman just snapped...

Batman just snapped…

At the same time, there is something striking and ambitious about Knightfall. It is no surprise that Denny O’Neil considers it one of his crowning accomplishments as editor of the line. Asked to name his favourite Batman arc, O’Neil replies, “I guess it would be Knightfall because it involved me so deeply–I worked on it as a comic series, a novel, and a radio show. It was a very steep mountain to climb, but we climbed it and that was satisfying.” There is no denying the influence and success of the arc.

In some respects, Knightfall is an astonishingly cynical piece of work. It is quite blatantly designed as a crossover with a high-profile guest cast and killer high concept. Indeed, Knightfall could be seen as a headline-grabber in the style of The Death and Return of Superman, but with the added hook of Batman’s iconic rogues gallery. After all, it was the nineties, the era of sensationalist headline-grabbing sales stunts. It could be argued that comics (and mass culture) have always been stuck in this cycle, but it was particularly evident in nineties comic books.

All of Batman's greatest adversaries... ... and Maxie Zeus.

All of Batman’s greatest adversaries…
… and Moench.

However, Knightfall has two core virtues that go a long way towards excusing the confusion and excess at the heart of the story. The first is that there is a sense that the writers seemed to have a (very) rough idea where they would like to end up, even if the journey was not mapped in advance. While the plot resolves with a convenient and contrived twist, at least it does not hinge on Bruce magically waking up from a coma. More than that, though, there is a sense that Knightfall is actually trying to say something about its central character.

For all the noise and static along the way, Knightfall is essentially a story about Batman means in the context of the nineties.

Armoured and dangerous...

Armoured and dangerous…

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Batman – Vengeance of Bane #1 (Review/Retrospective)

This March sees the release of Batman vs. Superman. To celebrate, we’ll be looking at some iconic and modern Batman and Superman stories over the course of the month.

Bane is a fascinating creation, arguably the most important addition to Batman’s rogues gallery since Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams created Ra’s Al Ghul in the early seventies.

There have been important villains added since. Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee created Hush, a character who has subsequently been developed and expanded by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen; Hush has popped up with surprising frequency in various Batman media, even being incorporated into the weekly series Batman Eternal in a major way. It will be interesting to see how Lincoln March and the Court of Owls endure after Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo finish their run on Batman. Still, Bane towers above all of those.

"When Gotham is ashes..."

“When Gotham is ashes…”

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Batman: Sword of Azrael (Review)

This March sees the release of Batman vs. Superman. To celebrate, we’ll be looking at some iconic and modern Batman and Superman stories over the course of the month.

Given how messy Knightfall ended up, readers would be forgiven for assuming that the Batman editorial staff had been making it up on the fly.

To a certain extent, the editors and writers were effectively making it up as they went along. According to writer Greg Rucka, the big Batman events of the nineties were not so much mapped out as loosely plotted. The creative talent had some vague idea of where they wanted to go and what they wanted to accomplish, but not necessarily the particulars of how they would get there or how they would accomplish it. After all, Rucka’s novelised adaptation of No Man’s Land had a different ending to the comic book because the novel had to be finished ahead of time.

All fired up...

All fired up…

Reading Knightfall, it quickly becomes clear that the writers had no real idea about how they wanted the story to unfold. The event has a fairly solid first act, but its second act is cluttered and much of the resolution is messy and unsatisfying. At the same time, it is clear that the writers had some idea of what they were doing and where they were going; at least in the beginning. As much as the sprawling nineties even might bungle the pay-off, it benefits from a very careful and meticulous set-up.

A lot of the key elements of the Knightfall saga were set up and signposted ahead of time. The months leading up to the start of Knightfall in April 1993 were quite busy at the Batman offices. Shondra Kinsolving was introduced in November 1992. Bane was introduced in a special one-shot in January 1993, The Vengeance of Bane, that provided the back story of the new antagonist. Bridging these two milestones was the miniseries Batman: Sword of Azrael, introducing the character who would step into the vacancy left by the broken bat.

Medallion man.

Medallion man.

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Superman: The Animated Series – Knight Time (Review)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

It’s always fun to compare and contrast Superman and Batman, partially because they are two of the oldest and most iconic superheroes in popular culture, but also because the lend themselves to contrast. Superman is all smiles and primary colours, while Batman is shades of grey and shadows. It’s fun to see the worlds of the two superheroes overlap, if only because they are so radically different in tone, atmosphere, mood and content.

While World’s Finest brought Batman and the Joker to Metropolis to play with Superman and Lex Luthor, Knight Time sees the Man of Steel substituting in for an absentee Batman in Gotham.

I gotta get me one of those...

I gotta get me one of those…

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The Death & Return of Superman Omnibus (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

The Death & Return of Superman stands as one of the most influential and iconic Superman stories ever told. It was certainly the best-selling, even if that doesn’t necessarily make it the most-read, due to the nature of the nineties comic book speculation market. Read today, separate from all the hype and publicity and novelty items, it’s a very interesting part of the character’s lore. It’s certainly an ambitious tale, epic in scope. However, it’s very clearly disjointed and oddly paced and often demonstrates a strange disconnect with its own subject. A story with the title The Death & Return of Superman should probably offer some profound insight into its lead character. This just feels like a series of plot twists peppered with some casual observations.

Death of a hero...

Death of a hero…

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My 12 for ’12: The Dark Knight Rises & Blockbusters with Brains…

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #1

There’s a popular idea that just because a movie makes a lot of money, or just because it attracts a large audience, or just because it features fantastical elements, that it is somehow unworthy of discussion and debate. The Dark Knight Rises has been a divisive film, sparking a lot of debate about its relative merits and those of Christopher Nolan, the director and co-writer. Following on from the massive success of The Dark Knight, Nolan opted for an unconventional approach for his sequel. Structurally and tonally, The Dark Knight Rises represented a significant departure from The Dark Knight. While the The Dark Knight had been an urban crime thriller exploring the wake of 9/11, The Dark Knight Rises was an epic social drama pondering how divided American society had become.

It isn’t quite as fantastic as The Dark Knight, but it was strong, bold, vibrant and challenging film making – proof that budget does not belie brains.

darkknightrises57

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12 Movie Moments of 2012: The Dark Knight Returns (The Dark Knight Rises)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #6

Ireland got an IMAX screen this year. Well, it had an IMAX screen before, but it shut down before The Dark Knight kick-started the whole “watching cool movies in IMAX” thing. Evidently, watching Liam Neeson talk about Everest wasn’t nearly as exciting as watching Batman flip over an articulated lorry. Christopher Nolan shot a large percentage of The Dark Knight on IMAX, but he shot even more of The Dark Knight Rises using the special cameras.

As such, I was delighted that Cineworld and The Irish Times organised a special screening of The Dark Knight Rises in early December, even though the cinema had only reopened after Nolan’s epic was available on blu ray. It’s an oft-cited criticism that the third part of Nolan’s Batman trilogy featured surprisingly little Batman. I’d disagree, and instead suggest that the film made excellent use of its large cast – and when Batman appeared on screen he carried the weight that he deserved.

The sequence in which Bruce leads the Gotham Police Department on a merry chase while pursuing Bane and his terrorists is the perfect example, a fantastically constructed action sequence that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about the cast at that moment in time.darkknightrises15a

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