Shiny Shelf


Batman: Gotham Knights #50

By Mark Clapham on 22 February 2004

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

‘Gotham Knights’ has been a blighted title since its inception. When it was created to replace ‘Shadow of the Bat’, following the long ‘No Man’s Land’ crossover, it was to fulfil a specific purpose – both ‘Batman’ and ‘Detective Comics’ concentrated on Batman himself, with the latter using the Gotham police as a supporting cast, so ‘Gotham Knights’ was lumbered with the task of maintaining the large ‘Batman family’, the group of minor heroes surrounding the Dark Knight. The problem is, these characters just aren’t that interesting, and Batman doesn’t benefit from his loner status being diluted by a ‘family’ set-up. The result was tedious, continuity driven Batsoap. The artists were usually pretty competent, but the writing – from Devin Grayson and, latterly, Scott Beatty – was mediocre at best for the first 49 issues. The only reason to ever buy an issue of ‘Gotham Knights’ was for the eight page ‘Black and White’ back-up strips, which often boasted stellar talent and good ideas. In these instances, wading through the main story was always a chore.

With issue #50, a change of approach has arrived. The monochrome supporting act has gone, but thankfully this has been replaced by a main story which is actually readable. New writer AJ Lieberman has set himself an ambitious project for his first storyline – writing a follow-up to last year’s Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee Bat-juggernaut ‘Hush’. The titular villain from that arc is back, and looking for revenge. The issue starts out with him attacking a former ally rather than an enemy, dropping the Riddler out of a very high window. The story then skips back a week, showing what Hush has been up to, while Batman spots a woman he knows to be dead. The tone is that of a hard-edged conspiracy thriller, opening and closing with acts of violence, taking in manipulation, corruption and misdirection along the way, and set in a sprawl of locales from penthouses to penitentiaries via the backwoods. There’s quite a high body count, and the story moves quickly. Lieberman’s writing is taut and to the point, while the art (from Al Barriobuevo and Francis Portela) is straightforward but stylised. The pacing of the issue flows well, with rows of small panels during the slower, chattier moment and larger panels when the action explodes.

While it doesn’t feature the ‘Bat family’ heavily – only Batman and Oracle appear in this issue – the new-look ‘Gotham Knights’ retains its remit to be the comic that deals with the wider scope of the Bat books, taking in some of the minor characters and linking the continuity of the more standalone titles together. Sensibly, Lieberman concentrates on some of the most interesting characters in Gotham – the villains. While previous writers of this title have plumbed the depth of boredom by exploring the relationship between Robin/Nightwing/Oracle et al (usually in painful pop psychology terms – Nightwing is like Batman’s son, so that makes him Robin’s older brother, etc), Lieberman gets far better mileage out of how the bad guys think and interact with each other.

While ambitious, using ‘Hush’ as a starting point is a useful message for what differentiates ‘Gotham Knights’ from the main ‘Batman’ title – while ‘Batman’ has the big star talent and major events, ‘Knights’ is the book where the repercussions from those events occur. With ‘Detective Comics’ concerning itself with small-fry, low-key crime stories (see Eddie’s review for more on that title’s current malaise), ‘Knights’ is really the only place where the events of the big showstopper stories can play out and have a wider impact. Lieberman seems happy to play with this bigger picture – not only does he bring back Hush, he also picks up on elements of the ‘Bruce Wayne: Murderer’ storyline.

While it’s unlikely to sweep the Eisners, this new ‘Gotham Knights’ is a decent read and a strong use of the property. For a book that has been virtually unreadable up to now, that’s achievement enough.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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