Comic Review: Batman: Knightfall, Book III

Published: 1993-1994
Written by: Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant
Art by: various

DC Comics, 645 Pages

Review:

Well, I should start this by saying that Knightfall, Book III was much better than Book II but it still wasn’t on the level of the vastly superior Book I.

Azrael is still Batman at the start of the story but Bruce Wayne comes back to claim the title and eventually outwits Azrael, exposing him as a total wackadoo. This surprisingly happens in the first third of this thick collection of issues. But I was fine with that, as Azrael’s horribly designed ’90s extreme cliche of a costume was hurting my eyes and my logical brain.

The second third of this book follows the aftermath of the massive Knightfall storyline while the last third of the book is a storyline called Prodigal.

I really liked the aftermath and Prodigal stuff, as even though Batman takes the mantle back, he then leaves and gives the reigns over to Dick Grayson, the original Robin and current Nightwing. Seeing Grayson as Batman with Tim Drake still as Robin was a neat experiment and was fun to read for fans of both of those characters.

There is a pretty large story involving Two-Face within the larger Prodigal crossover event and that was the highlight of this collection for me. But we also get good bits with Killer Croc, who hadn’t been seen since Bane broke both of his arms, and the Ventriloquist. I also enjoyed the Catwoman stuff.

Knightfall, Book III really salvages the gigantic epic after Book II kind of shit the bed. And in the end, I’m glad that I committed to reading the nearly 2000 pages of the Knightfall saga.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other books in the Knightfall saga, as well as pretty much any Batman story from the ’90s.

Comic Review: Batman: Knightfall, Book II

Published: 1993-1994
Written by: Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant
Art by: various

DC Comics, 643 Pages

Review:

I really loved the first book in this series. However, this one was a big drop off from the events of the first.

The main reason is due to Batman not being in this book until the very end. This was the ’90s and Azrael was Batman and he was a walking ’90s cliche in the worst way possible. For a fan of what Batman is and what the spirit of his comics are, this doesn’t fit that mold.

Now I get that this “breaking of the mold” schtick was intentional, it just doesn’t make for good reading outside of a decade where violent antiheroes were the norm. I understand why people are nostalgic for this huge mega event that spanned a year or so but I didn’t read this when it was current and I’m looking at it with fresh eyes.

The fault doesn’t necessarily fall on the writers as there are things I enjoy about the writing but Azrael is such an unlikable asshole, which he’s supposed to be, that I want to see him fail and I can’t cheer for him. But being that he is the star of this saga, at this point, really bogs the overall tale down.

Plus, I hate his costume, it’s hard on the eyes, completely nonsensical and where are the other heroes in the DC universe that wouldn’t let this guy operate like a maniac. Doesn’t Tim Drake have Superman’s phone number? Robin is just sitting around waiting for Bruce to come home? Why doesn’t he talk to Gordon about it and develop a plan to bring in the Justice League?

I think that this also suffers from a complete lack of Bane, who was defeated at the end of Book I. I guess I had always assumed that Bane as a threat stretched across all three giant books in this saga.

This installment is also mostly devoid of villains that we know and care about. It’s as if new villains were brought in to establish a new generation of rogues for Azrael to face but they all mostly fall flat and weren’t really seen again or in any significant way after this lengthy epic.

In the end, Bruce Wayne comes back to Gotham and is disgusted by how his legacy has been handled by his hand picked successor. So hopefully the third book gets things back to form. But at the same time, why in the holy hell did Bruce Wayne choose Azrael to be the next Batman? His track record before this was shit.

Anyway, I’m hoping that the third and final book rights the ship.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the other books in the Knightfall saga, as well as pretty much any Batman story from the ’90s.

Comic Review: Strike!

Published: 1987-1988
Written by: Chuck Dixon
Art by: Tom Lyle, Romeo Tanghal, Don Gidley

Eclipse Comics, 203 Pages

Review:

My review here covers Strike! issues 1 through 6, as well as the Strike! Vs. Sgt. Strike one-shot that capped off the story.

I wanted to read this, as I used to see Eclipse titles a lot when I was really young but I never picked them up because I was a Marvel/DC snob. Also, I’m a fan of Chuck Dixon and this was something he wrote early in his career before achieving greatness with BatmanThe Punisher and his epic run on G.I. Joe, a few years ago.

This comic was entertaining, energetic and colorful. I really liked it and it made me disappointed in my nine year-old self for sleeping on the indies in an era where there were so many great titles to choose from outside of BatmanSpider-ManX-Men and G.I. Joe.

The story follows a teenager living in the harshest parts of Baltimore. One of his best friends has become a major drug dealer in the community and other gangs tend to be a problem for the law abiding good people of the neighborhood. When the teen finds a special belt, hidden in his attic, it gives him super strength and physical invulnerability. Initially, he uses his powers to steal money from his drug dealer friend in an effort to better his and his mother’s lives. But ultimately, he grows, matures and becomes a hero.

The comic is an attempt at creating a modern adaptation of a public domain comic book character from the 1940s: Sgt. Strike. This was given a youthful, urban twist and some of the dialogue is kind of cringy in 2019 with the over the top street slang and for some pages having “faggot” on them every other panel. However, this is also a product of its time and colorful, expletive language helped sell comics to kids that mostly just had family friendly superheroes to choose from.

Strike! is a fun, late ’80s, action, crime, sci-fi story. There are gangsters, aliens and flashback stories to World War II featuring the original Sgt. Strike. It’s maybe even a bit ahead of its time as it sort of fits with the ’90s “extreme” edgy boy shit that ran rampant through comics a few years later.

What this made me realize, is that I need to pickup and review more titles from Eclipse.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other comics from Eclipse.

Comic Review: Batman: Knightfall, Book I

Published: 1993-1994
Written by: Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant
Art by: various

DC Comics, 634 Pages

Review:

I’ve put off reading the Batman: Knightfall saga for so long because of two reasons. It’s spread out over three massive books and each of those books is pretty pricey. However, Comixology now has the first book available for free to Unlimited subscribers and they just had a big sale on the other two books. So I was able to get this whole thing for about $8.

So now that I have this series in my possession, I can start reading all 2000-plus pages of it. Yes, it’s a real monster – big enough to rival the mass of Bane on the cover.

Over the years, I’ve acquired a few of the issues within this massive saga but it started to come out as I was going into high school and I moved to a much smaller town where I couldn’t buy comics. So I never really got to read it, even though I’ve come to know the story fairly well.

The story, mostly penned by Doug Moench and Chuck Dixon, is quite good. There are a lot of layers to this massive story, as there should be due to how much material it has between its covers. However, some things do feel a bit rushed, as there isn’t much build worked in to the major plot developments.

For instance, Batman is broken pretty quickly in this saga. And then Azrael is given the mantle of Batman and immediately, he acts like a psycho in how he fights crime. He’s a dick to Robin, he almost lets a kid die to pursue the baddie and he retrofits the Bat-suit with claws and spiky, metal shit. I think it would have enriched the story to show Azrael slowly slip into this aggressive new Batman.

Still, that doesn’t hinder the book very much, as there are so many other characters and situations to track through this volume’s 634 pages.

I was surprised to see Azrael actually defeat Bane in this book, as it is only the first third of the saga. So I don’t really know what that means going forward and I was pretty sure that Bane’s fall would be at the end of this huge saga.

This is absolutely quintessential ’90s Batman though. And that’s really what’s so great about it. Bane is the perfect villain for this era and Azrael is a very ’90s twist on heroism. I even enjoy Azrael’s cringeworthy Bat-suit because despite its awfulness and nonsensical design, it fits the era.

Additionally, the art in every issue collected in this giant piece of work is damn good. I’ve always been a big Graham Nolan fan and his work here is some of his most memorable.

I’m glad that I finally read this. It exceeded any expectations I had for it, even if I thought the narrative was choppy in parts. But I also attribute some of that to this story being a big crossover with multiple writers.

If you haven’t read Knightfall, you probably should.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other books in the Knightfall saga, as well as pretty much any Batman story from the ’90s.

Comic Review: Batman: Vengeance of Bane, Issue #1 – First Appearance of Bane

Published: December 31st, 1992
Written by: Chuck Dixon
Art by: Graham Nolan, Eduardo Barreto, Adrienne Roy, Glenn Fabry

DC Comics, 56 Pages

Review:

Chuck Dixon really is a master of his craft. I always loved his Batman work, as well as what he did with The Punisher and G.I. Joe. And usually first appearances aren’t very good in retrospect. However, Dixon made Bane a true heavy hitter with just this comic.

This is sort of a prologue to the events of Knightfall, which was one of the biggest and most prolific Batman story arcs of all-time. It’s mostly known for being the story where Batman had his back broken by Bane, a plot point that eventually made its way to the big screen in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.

This story goes way back and actually introduces us to Bane as a child. It shows how he loses everything from his childhood, is raised in a prison and how he becomes the man that really controls that prison and everyone in it.

Vengrance of Bane also gets into how Bane got extremely intelligent and how he learned about Batman and got the drive to make his way to Gotham City to challenge its famous and revered protector.

Chuck Dixon tells a great, fluid and rich story in just these 56 pages. Even though Bane is clearly a villain, it’s hard not to have some sort of sympathy for him, seeing how he came to be. Now you certainly don’t side with him but this does more to flesh out this character in one story than most first appearances come close to managing.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Chuck Dixon’s work on Batman titles, especially the massive Knightfall storyline.

Comic Review: Batgirl: Year One

Published: September 3rd, 2000 – December 31st, 2000
Written by: Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon
Art by: Javier Pulido, Robert Campanella

DC Comics, 203 Pages

Review:

Batgirl: Year One has been paired up in a trade paperback format with Robin: Year One in some releases and for good reason.

Mainly, this is done by the same creative team and it has a similar tone, art style and narrative structure.

This was released a year before Robin: Year One and is equally as good, if not a wee bit better. Reason being, this has a threat that feels larger, a plot that’s more cohesive over the multiple issues, as well as more characters that come into the story in ways that really help to flesh out Barbara Gordon’s origin.

Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon wrote a body of work that is close to being a masterpiece and is one of the best Batgirl stories ever produced, hands down.

Just like with Robin: Year One, which I already reviewed, I absolutely love the art of Javier Pulido and Robert Campanella. It has a pristine look while also looking retro for the time where this is set. It has a similar feel to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Batman epics, also from the same time period, and it even kind of channels elements from Batman: The Animated Series, which was still very fresh in people’s minds in 2000.

If you know Barbara Gordon, this book just feels right. Contrary to a lot of her more modern stories, this is the Batgirl I want to read about. I have loved this character since first experiencing her on the ’60s Batman TV show. While that was campy as hell, Barbara always resonated with me and I always loved when she showed up alongside the Dynamic Duo.

Batgirl: Year One is a classic in my opinion. It isn’t something that I hear a lot of people reflect on but it was a real high point in the careers of all the creators involved and for the character.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Robin: Year One, as well as the Batman related books by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.

Comic Review: Robin: Year One

Published: September 3rd, 2000 – December 31st, 2000
Written by: Scott Beatty, Chuck Dixon
Art by: Javier Pulido, Robert Campanella

DC Comics, 203 Pages

Review:

I loved this miniseries when I first read it back when it was collected into a trade paperback form around 2001. I actually pick it up every few years because it just hits the right notes for me and I’m a lifelong fan of Dick Grayson.

I absolutely love the art style here by Javier Pulido and Robert Campanella. It fits the story well and it also gives it a similar tone to the classic Batman events that Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale were doing in this era: The Long HalloweenDark Victory, Haunted Knight and Catwoman: When In Rome.

This was also written by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon. Beatty had worked on a few Batman related books and Dixon was one of the top Batman writers of the ’90s with his massive Knightfall arc and the creation of Bane, Birds of Prey and Stephanie Brown.

The story is exactly what it implies, it follows Dick Grayson in his first year as Robin. It does a great job of examining the struggles he faces with his new life, responsibility and how bringing a child into the crime fighting world weighs heavily on Batman, Alfred and James Gordon.

This is comprised of four double sized issues. Each issue works as a standalone story with its own tale. However, it still forms a larger arc, as we see all the key crime fighting heroes evolve due to Robin’s inclusion in their lives.

We get to see Robin go up against several notable villains, the biggest of which is Two-Face, who pops up in more than just one of the four issues.

I really liked the first chapter though, which saw Robin take on the Mad Hatter, one of my favorite villains and one that always seems to be underutilized or just used as an easy, humorous foil that is typically taken down with ease.

We also get to see Mr. Freeze and some lesser known villains but the story really takes a turn towards more serious stuff when Robin leaves the Bat-life behind and starts training under Shrike.

This is such a good series and while it is very much centered on a young Robin, it’s a story every Batman fan will probably love.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Batgirl: Year One, as well as the Batman related books by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.