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Welcome to 3R or Ray’s Retro Reviews! The background behind the 3R concept is: I had read comics throughout the 1970’s to the mid-1990’s, took a LOOOOONNNNGGGGGGG hiatus, and then upon discovering About Heroes in 2007, I got back into individual issue comics. But I had missed a lot, during which comics had gone into quite a few transformations. So, in back-tracking and discovering these previous stories for the first time, it occurred to me that there were probably other people that are in my position. (Or better yet, people getting into comics for the FIRST time!) It’s for them in particular that 3R is devoted to. I’ll focus on previously published comics, in single-issue form, trades, omnibuses, etc. that are at least 2 years old or more.
I could think of no better storyline to inaugurate 3R than the inspiration for the current box office smash: The Dark Knight Rises. Of course, I’m talking about “Knightfall”, “Knightquest” and “Knightsend”.
“Knightfall”: Okay, here’s the nutshell plot: Bane is the son of a political prisoner, born incarcerated on the Caribbean island of Santa Prisca. However, his father escaped, and Bane (through the corrupt court system) was decreed to serve his father’s sentence. So, while doing so, he educated himself, and also became a prime physical specimen. Then, he underwent a clinical trial for a drug named Venom, which had killed all previous test subjects. The drug enhances physical strength and prowess, but is addictive as Bane would discover. With this new drug and his superb physical and mental agility, he sets off to defeat Batman.
Bane’s plan? First, blow open Arkham Asylum releasing the Rogue’s Gallery upon Gotham City. At this point, Batman has been mopping up the Gotham underworld nonstop for days, and is already running a fever, in addition to being exhausted beyond belief. But, not willing to spare one second to rest, over the next several months, he manages to re-capture nearly everyone that escaped from Arkham. It’s then, that after deducing Batman’s identity, with Bruce Wayne at the end of his tether, that Bane ambushes him in Wayne Manor, and breaks Wayne’s back. Bruce Wayne is now a paraplegic and Bane becomes the new king of the Gotham criminal underworld…
But not for long. While Bane consolidates his power, Bruce asks Jean-Paul Valley aka Azrael, the guardian of an ancient order known as the Sacred Order of St. Dumas (supposedly a splinter group of the Knights Templar) to take over the mantle in his absence. Jean-Paul agrees…and unleashes a response to the growing crime in Gotham that no one could have anticipated. Unlike Bruce, who has ethics and principles that he upholds when he combats crime, Valley has no qualms whatsoever. His approach is pure Machiavelli: The ends justify the means. This means, that JPV in the guise of Batman uses what could politely be called “excessive force” in dealing with criminals. In addition to which, he also begins developing more offensive weapons for “Batman” to use…all this leading to the inevitable confrontation with Bane. (or should I say, “Batman #500?”)
In the end, JPV/Batman kicks Bane’s ass, and Bane endures the biggest humiliation in conceding to Batman. Thus begins a new era in Batman…
“Knightquest”: This was a series where two storylines were going concurrently. The main story (”The Crusade”) was JPV’s tenure as Batman, and how he handled the crime wave that endured in the wake of Bane’s defeat. The other story (“The Search”) was that of Bruce Wayne and Alfred’s search for Jack Drake, Tim Drake (Robin)’s father, along with Dr. Shondra Kinsolving, Wayne’s physical therapist. Both Drake and Kinsolving had been abducted by criminal elements for nefarious purposes. Upon finding them, Bruce Wayne’s spine is healed! Meanwhile, JPV (partly due to his indoctrination in the brain-washing techniques of the Order of St. Dumas) is slowly going insane and out of control. Methinks me sees another confrontation on the horizon…
“KnightsEnd”: Bruce Wayne, though physically recovered, now has to re-train himself in order to get the Mantle of the Bat back from JPV. The majority of his training is presided over by the assassin, Lady Shiva, in which Wayne is forced to fight various lethal opponents, finally culminating in Wayne “killing” an opponent (per Shiva’s instructions) and her approval. Wayne is now ready to finally confront JPV. Now, if you’re anything approaching a Batman fan, do I need to even bother telling you what the outcome will be?
MY THOUGHTS: Like many DC fans, I was shocked when Bane actually broke Batman’s back. That was a milestone moment. But, it was even more of a milestone moment (not a good one), to have JPV take over the mantle and amongst other things, change the tactics and costume, so that for “Batman #500” could inaugurate a “new Batman”. As far as I was concerned, if anyone was to take over the mantle in Bruce’s absence, it should have been Dick Grayson. (They covered that issue in a scene where Robin meets up with Nightwing and explains that JPV is now Batman per Bruce’s request. Nightwing asks, “And he didn’t ask me?” Robin asks, “ Would you have come?” Nightwing replies, “If he needed me.” Robin: “But would you have WANTED to come?” Nightwing: “No.” Robin goes on to mention that because of that, Bruce didn’t bother asking Nightwing, knowing that Dick Grayson had become his own man) Then, they revisited the issue when Nightwing took Bruce to task during his re-training, for leaving Gotham in the hands of a psychotic religious fanatic. I could only agree.
That’s why it was such a relief when Bruce finally gets the mantle back at the end of “KnightsEnd”. In spite of the fact that medically speaking, one usually doesn’t recover completely from a broken spine, (and certainly not to the extent that Bruce Wayne did!) I put aside my intellectual objections and went with it. I, like many others, wanted Bruce back in the Batman costume.
That’s also why I never bothered reading any of the “Knightquest: The Crusade” storyline in single issues. And strangely enough, for the longest time, they were never collected in trade form. The “Knightfall” and “KnightsEnd” storylines were collected and issued in trades, for several printings. But not “Knightquest”…until 2012. I’m assuming in anticipation of the release of The Dark Knight Rises, just about all relevant comic issues were collected and released in new trade editions (“KnightsEnd” will be released in September) and that included “Knightquest”.
So, I checked it out, for the first time in nearly twenty years. IT SUCKED.
The villains in the “Crusade” storyline were strictly third-rate (a pair of twin blonde cowboy gunslingers, complete with six-guns?) The November 1993 issue of Detective Comics was devoted to an assassin that Gotham’s top gangsters had helped commission with the help of the CIA and a program called MK-ULTRA…all ideas and terms that a JFK assassination conspiracy researcher would understand, considering that Nov ’93 was the 30th anniversary of JFK’s murder! My God, even DC Comics was getting on the JFK murder conspiracy bandwagon! Have they no shame? The only interesting villain was the Joker, but they had him decide to make a movie of him (the Joker) killing Batman, by luring him into situations that the Batman would normally intervene, except these situations were staged by the Joker, using actors and actresses that he hires to portray perpetrators and victims! Part of me wished the Joker had succeeded!
Kind of interesting that long after this storyline, Bruce Wayne “disappeared” for a time, and this time, DC did the right thing and had Dick Grayson take over the mantle. (Yes, I know Dick also took over the mantle in “Prodigal”, but that was after Bruce came back, and decided he needed further seasoning once JPV was vanquished.)
Considering the myriad of talent on these books, I would have to say that the artwork was first rate. I always like the Batman artists of the late 80’s to early 90’s era. I think that there was great writing as well, but the entire “Bane saga” for me was just too much of a gimmick. And of course, we all know that DC has learned its lesson about gimmicks…right?
As the great Eric Idle would reply, “Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say no more…”