Title: Batman: KnightQuest (The Crusade) and KnightQuest (The Search)
Creative Team: Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Doug Moench, Dennis O’Neill (writers); Graham Nolan, Mike Manley, Vince Giarrano, Bret Blevins, Jim Balent, Barry Kitson, Ron Wagner, Scott Hanna, Eduardo Barreto, John Beatty, Frank McLaughlin, Josef Rubinstein, Steve George, Ron McCain (artists)
Core Issues: Detective Comics #667-675, Batman #501-508, Shadow of the Bat #19-28, Legends of the Dark Knight #59-61
Essential crossovers: Justice League Task Force #4-6 (The Search); Robin #1, Catwoman #6-7 (The Crusade); Robin #7 (Conclusion)
There’s been a renewed level of interest in the KnightFall saga recently, courtesy of the announcement that the character of Bane is to feature as the (or a) major villain in the upcoming Dark Knight Rises film. Going back over the storyline in the wake of this, however, reminded me of an odd quirk in the publishing of the whole thing – in that a massive chunk of the story as told monthly has never actually been collected in trade – and thus, will never have been read by the majority of the people who’ve sought out the rest of the saga.
In the current print editions, KnightFall consists of three distinct chapters (collected in three separate books). Part one, “Broken Bat”, concerns Bane’s arrival in Gotham and eventual defeat of Bruce Wayne. Part two, “Who Rules the Night”, tells the story of Jean-Paul Valley taking over as Batman, and his initial descent towards being a more brutal version of the hero, before redesigning the costume and then taking on – and beating – Bane himself. The third part, “KnightsEnd”, then sees a healed Wayne return to reclaim the mantle of the bat from the increasingly deranged Valley.
However, when originally published, KnightsEnd was actually the third of a trilogy of Knight-prefixed storylines that ran consecutively from one-another, rather than just being a chapter of KnightFall itself. Indeed, the first edition of the trade didn’t say KnightFall anywhere on the cover – it’s only later ones that called it “Part Three”. And missing completely from any sort of trade collection is the entire middle section of the trilogy – KnightQuest.
Running through about eight months’ worth of comics (but taking in a lot of different titles – the four Bat-books of the time, as well as issues of Robin, Catwoman and Justice League Task Force), KnightQuest actually followed two major plot strands – and referred to each by its subtitle on the banners of the issues. The shorter one, “The Search”, is a particularly odd little tale, in which a recovering Bruce Wayne investigates the disappearance of Dr Shondra Kinsolving – the woman who had begun the process of miraculously healing his injuries through little more than her touch. It loses its way badly towards the end, when it gets bogged down in the sort of story that really doesn’t feel like it has a place in a Batman comic – but in the first half, there’s some decent material, particularly the Alan Grant-written three-part segment set in England, which introduces the UK-based vigilante Hood (of note at the moment due to the character’s apparent planned use by Grant Morrison in Batman Inc).
The bulk of KnightQuest, however, is the storyline “The Crusade”, which sees Jean Paul Valley struggling more and more with the weight of the Batman identity, coupled with his own delusions (brought about by the brainwashing/programming that turned him into Azrael). Along the way, he continually makes tweaks to his costume – until it becomes the fully armour-based suit, complete with extensive weaponry, seen in KnightsEnd – and shows less and less care for the well-being either of Gotham’s criminal population, or even its innocents. This comes to a head with the most significant part of the story, seen in Batman #508, in which Valley allows the serial killer Abbatoir to fall to his death in a vat of molten metal. Although he strictly speaking doesn’t kill the villain, it nevertheless represents a significant watershed moment, as he crosses a line that Bruce Wayne never would have. More importantly, by not bringing the killer in for questioning, he slows down the police in their efforts to track down his latest torture victim, Graham Etchinson – who subsequently dies before he can be found.
At the very least, the Abbatoir story should have made it into collected print somewhere. Anyone reading the story in trade, or years after the fact, would surely be left baffled by reading about a hugely important event in the overall story, but not actually getting to see it happen on the page. The sudden shift in costume between the end of Knightfall Part Two and KnightsEnd is also jarring if you haven’t seen the incremental changes (and the reasons given by Valley each time, as heldover elements of the original outfit, such as a cloth mask and the cape, are increasingly considered detrimental).
As for the rest of the story, there are good parts and bad parts – although in terms of tone and overall quality, it’s pretty consistent with the other parts of the run (the same goes for the art, too – some of it’s good, some of it’s lousy, and whenever Bret Blevins gets his hands on it it’s an absolute joy). Perhaps one reason for not bothering to collect it in trade is that Valley is a difficult character to spend much time with as a lead. One of the storylines, a crossover with Catwoman, shows a conflicted side to him as he becomes obsessed with Selina while chastising himself for doing so – but even that comes off a bit creepy, and in a general sense, as a character whose sole purpose is to be shown to be unfit for his job, he’s largely just irritating. And when I was younger, I thought the “subway rocket” he uses (taking convenient advantage of an abandoned rail station that backs on to the Batcave) was cool, but nowadays its existence, and importance in helping AzBats stop a particular crime, just seems contrived.
Another major problem is that the KnightQuest section is pretty long – the character had to be in the role long enough to make it seem like he was supposed to be sticking around – without the stories ever really going anywhere (beyond nudging him slightly further into demented sociopathy each time), and that too could be a reason for not bothering to collect the issues. Nevertheless, a number of the individual stories feel like little more than treading water – the Joker’s movie-directing scheme might just be his worst plot ever - and, one senses, could have been excluded to at least make a KnightQuest trade that would at least have included the important bits. It’s odd that an entire chunk of one of the most-remembered comics events of the last couple of decades should have slipped between the cracks, but while in some cases it’s justified, there’s much of KnightQuest that shouldn’t be ignored by anyone following the Bat-saga of the ’90s.