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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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Peter Milligan’s Run on Detective Comics (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

Peter Milligan’s run on Detective Comics was cut unfortunately short. After writing six issues of Detective Comics, the writer felt a little over-stretched, and so decided to concentrate on more personal projects. While that’s entirely understandable, it’s also a little unfortunate. Milligan’s work on Batman is rather underrated and often overlooked. Grant Morrison’s decision to build some of his extended Batman run off Milligan’s Dark Knight, Dark City helped bring some exposure to Milligan’s work on the character.

Despite the brevity of his run, Milligan is incredibly influential when it comes to the character of Batman. His work prefigures a great deal of the nineties. The way that Milligan seems to play Detective Comics as an existential horror story feels like it sets the stage for the extended collaboration between Doug Moench and Kelley Jones on the main Batman book during the mid-nineties. Although he didn’t stay to see the idea through, Milligan did play a (very) small part in the development of Knightfall.

Hanging on in there...

Hanging on in there…

Even outside of the general mood of Milligan’s work on the title, and demonstrating that a Batman comic could work as a horror story, even Milligan’s individual stories are influential. Dark Knight, Dark City is major influence on Grant Morrison’s work on the character. Perchance to Dream on Batman: The Animated Series seems to owe a debt to Milligan’s Identity Crisis, imagining a version of Bruce Wayne who is not Batman. (Something Morrison revisited during Final Crisis.)

However, perhaps Milligan is most influential in his portrayal of Gotham itself, offering us a damaged Batman protecting a haunted Gotham.

Knight clubbing...

Knight clubbing…

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The Adventures of Batman & Robin – Bane (Review)

To celebrate the release of The Dark Knight Rises, July is “Batman month” here at the m0vie blog. Check back daily for comics, movies and television reviews and discussion of the Caped Crusader.

I figured that, with The Dark Knight Rises being released this week, it was worth taking a look at another portrayal of the film’s villain, Bane. While the character appeared in the dire Batman & Robin, he also featured in an episode of The Adventures of Batman & Robin, the rebranded Batman: The Animated Series. While the portrayal of the villain is undoubtedly much better here than in that awful Joel Schumacher film, there’s still a lot of room for improvement, and a sense that the writers and producers weren’t entirely sure what to do with the character.

No Bane, no gain!

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The Dark Knight Rises 101: Or, Tell Me About Bane…

Read our in-depth review of the film here.

To help get everybody in the mood for The Dark Knight Rises later this month, I thought it might be worth taking a look at the third film in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, the sequel to both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

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A Bluffer’s Guide to the Dark Knight Rises Rumours…

This week has been a bit of an early Christmas for movie geeks such as myself, with Warner Brothers unveiling both the teaser poster and the teaser trailer to The Dark Knight Rises, the much-anticipated closing chapter to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. When we know a bit more later in the year, I’ll dig into the movie in a bit more depth, but it occurred to me that a lot of fans on-line are throwing out concepts and references that might seem a bit foreign to the uninitiated. I can’t imagine how strange it must be for a non-comic-book-fan to hear titles like Knightfall or “Lazarus Pits” thrown into casual conversation. So I’ve put together a bluffer’s guide to all the speculation and rumours, so that you can hopefully understand a bit more of what nerdy geeks like myself are talking about when we casually reference stuff like “I will break you!” It should be stressed that all these are 100% rumour, and not meant to reflect the film, but to help understand geeky references in discussions about the film. Sort of like a handy guide to the “offside rule”in soccer or such.

Welcome to underground comcis culture...

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