Shiny Shelf


Batman: Knight of Vengeance #1

By Mark Clapham on 07 July 2011

I’ve not been following DC’s Flashpoint crossover at all, but I find anything by the team of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso hard to resist, so I picked up ‘Knight of Vengeance’ with the certainty that this particular collaboration, lauded for ‘100 Bullets’, can be relied upon to produce good work.

Well, ‘Knight of Vengeance’ is very good work, a beautifully assembled comic that just happened to leave me cold.

We’re in parallel universe/alternative timeline territory here. Thomas Wayne survived the shooting that killed his son Bruce and wife Martha, and runs a casino while spending his nights as Batman.

Wayne has got both the Penguin and Jim Gordon – head of a privatised Gotham police force – doing his bidding, but when District Attorney Harvey Dent’s children are kidnapped by the Joker he decides to intervene directly.

This older, more bitter and merciless Batman is right up the alley of the creative team behind the brutal ‘Broken City’, and the joyless luxury of Thomas Wayne’s world is reminiscent of the feuding families of ‘100 Bullets’. This Batman isn’t just harder, he’s a killer, with a string of dead villains behind him and another by the end of this issue.

Azzarello and Risso are right at home with this level of wince-inducing violence, and with a general milieu of corruption and deprivation. Azzarello’s writing is pared back to the point of parody, with Thomas Wayne occasionally doing little more than growl as Risso’s art is given space to shine.

And shine it does: this is a beautiful looking book, and while Azzarello’s dialogue is sparse that’s only because the writer can trust his artist to sell the emotion and atmosphere of the story. From sunlit penthouses to dank sewers, Risso’s work is as superbly composed as ever, with Patricia Mulvihill filling the light spots with vivid colour. The last page in particular is gorgeous, a Ledger-like Joker silhouetted against a storm-lit window as the Dent children cower in the foreground.

It’s a very well put together book, and in terms of sheer technique it’s probably as good or better than anything else being published at the moment. But I didn’t really like it.

The concept of an older, murderous Batman is possibly too suited to this team’s talents, to the extent that it doesn’t really stretch them at all, instead feeling like a parody mash-up of what Batman would be like in the world of ‘100 Bullets’. While the execution is beautiful, the story itself lacks energy, and there’s a real feeling that, yes, this is exactly the comic you’d expect from this concept and these creators, no more and no less.

My apathy may also be due to my age and the amount of times I’ve been around the storytelling blocks of superhero comics: I find it very hard to get excited by this kind of ‘everything has changed, everything you know is wrong’ alternative timeline story.

(That is as much a problem with me as with comics – there are only so many permutations these characters can go through, and if you stick around long enough everything will come back around again, sooner or later. The comics readership should, ideally, cycle with new readers being surprised by the same old tricks – but I’m still here.)

Readers with less comics under their belt may still find themselves surprised or shocked by a world where various familiar characters are dead and others have different allegiances. To me, it all feels very familiar, a feeling not helped by the fact that the normal DCU has been getting more brutal for a while now.

If you want to read a comic where Bruce Wayne’s dad is a kill-happy bastard of a Batman, this is as good an execution of that concept as you’re ever likely to see. Personally, I’d rather be reading either a comic with the normal Batman being heroic, or a properly harsh noir story from Azzarello and Risso, rather than this unholy fusion.


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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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