Batman: Knightfall Vol. 3 – Knightsend review

I’ve had this mammoth of a book sitting on my desk for about five weeks now, never finding the time to tackle its 647 pages until last night. I was sick of putting the task off over and over again so I stayed in to read the last 400 pages and the best complement I can give is that not once did it feel like a chore. Not at all. This was a very, very enjoyable read and it even left me wanting more. The most important thing for me to note is just how important this book is for Dick Grayson. You see, not only does this book contain Knightsend and its aftermath, but it collects Prodigal, the tale of Dick’s tenure as The Dark Knight as well!

Presentation

Exactly like the last two volumes, this one utilizes the thick newsprint kind of matte off-white paper that some might not like but I personally enjoy because it reminds me of the first time I ever read these stories. The thicker paper also makes for a larger book that isn’t very comfortable to hold in your hands so you’ll likely want to read it at a table or desk. It looks great and makes for a pleasant read at home but it’s terrible for travel. Then again, if you only read comics on-the-go and own a Kindle you could download this for only $14.99.

The cover is my one complaint about the book’s presentation. Was anyone else underwhelmed by the cover? I really liked the other two Kelly Jones covers used for the first two volumes but this one looks awful to me. The cover from Legends of the Dark Knight #63 or even Showcase 94 #10 would have been much better than this. I don’t even know what they’re doing here. Are they fighting? Are those seriously the fighting stances they are going with? Why is Azbats arching his back so much? I don’t even think that make sense anatomically.

Content

Since this book features Knightsend, Knightsend: Aftermath, and Prodigal, I’ve broken the content section of this review into three parts so I can focus on each event individually. But before we get to that let’s talk about the stuff that wasn’t collected.

What’s Missing?

Knightfall, Vol. 3: Knightsend opens with a “The Story So Far…” forward just like Volume 2 did and just like Volume 2′s forward, this one sucks. I don’t know who writes these forwards but I’m pretty sure they haven’t read these books. Volume 3′s forward mentions nothing about how Bruce mended his back for this adventure and describes Abbatoir falling to his death along with his hostages in the previous installment. Well, Abbatoir did fall to his doom, but he only had ONE hostage and that single victim did not fall, he was left to die in a dungeon where a contraption stacked weight on his chest every hour… which is sort of the opposite of falling when you think about it. Moving on from the terrible forward we get into the real content which is made up of the following comics:

  • Batman #509-510, 512-514
  • Batman: Shadow of the Bat #29-30, 32-34
  • Detective Comics #676-677, #679-681
  • Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #62-63
  • Robin #8-9, 11-13
  • Catwoman #12-13
  • Showcase 94: Azrael #10

You’ll notice right away that there are some gaps, but don’t worry! Those individual issues were a part of the Zero Hour event which dealt with weird alternate timeline stuff that had Alfred Beagle and an un-crippled Barbara Gordon who phased in and out of existence for like a day.  Had those comics been included it would have been horribly distracting and disrupted the flow of the book. So losing those comics isn’t a negative, losing The Search and Robin #0 is! These Knightfall volumes have made for some fun reading and a nice walk down memory lane but they are far from a perfect collection. Volume 1 was missing Sword of Azrael as well as several prologue issues that showed how Bane first entered Gotham and snapped Killer Croc’s arms and another story about Riddler experimenting with venom. Dropping those stories weakened Volume 1 but nowhere near the extent that The Search‘s absence hurt Volume 2. The Search was a story about how Bruce rescued Tim’s father and, most importantly, healed his own spine! The breaking of the bat was THE most important element of Knightfall yet Batman’s recuperation was dropped entirely. Those who have read Volume 2 were likely very surprised to turn the page and find an upright Bruce without any explanation. Robin #0′s absence might go unnoticed to some but longtime fans hoping for a new printing of Prodigal will catch it immediately. Robin #0 is the true first chapter of Prodigal and the very first appearance of Dick Grayson as Batman! I don’t understand why it wasn’t included.

Lastly, there was a story called Troika that was about Bruce’s first major case after taking the mantle back from Dick Grayson and I think that that might have made for a more satisfying conclusion. The elements of Troika are established in Prodigal but left unresolved in this collection and if it had been included it would’ve made for a more exciting and less abrupt ending.

Knightsend

Knightsend is a totally different book from Knightquest. When I reviewed Knightquest I broke it down according to the villains Jean Paul Valley faced. I thought it would be a unique way to approach such a vast book that had no over arcing story. Volume 2 was basically a collection of short adventures starring psycho Batman AKA Azbat and although it’s unique compared to all other Batman TPBs, it’s also not very re-readable. Knightsend on the other hand is all about the over-arcing story. The word “end” is in the title and an end is exactly what the numerous creative teams that worked on it strove for. Knightsend has the focus that Knightquest didn’t. And even if I wanted to write it from the villain angle I couldn’t because even though Lady Shiva and a few gangsters show up they are all secondary. This isn’t a villain-of-the-week short stories collection. Knightsend is about an unbearable responsibility and the one man finding the strength to take it on again and another man who has been utterly destroyed by it. The drama doesn’t come from fights with costumed villains or threats to the city, but it comes from Bruce’s struggle to rehabilitate his body and Robin and Nightwing’s efforts to take the city back from Azrael.

If you’re a big fan of any sports film (particularly the Rocky flicks) or really dug the training/rise moments from The Dark Knight Rises you’re going to enjoy Knightsend. Almost the entire story is about Bruce training to strengthen his body and restore his lost confidence after getting thoroughly destroyed by Bane. To do this he seeks tutelage under Lady Shiva. This is a dangerous method but an effective one because Lady Shiva can train Bruce to Batman-levels of awesomeness faster than anyone else in the world, but it comes at a price: her workout regiment is just as likely to kill Bruce or force him to break his one rule as it is to toughen him back up.

While Bruce is training we get to see a lot of Robin and Nightwing who were sorely missed from volume 2. Dick has actually been absent for most of the Knightfall saga and anyone who has read this series knows it. Nightwing’s lack of envolvement in such an extreme situation made every fan scratch their head. But when he shows up here it’s not only a blessing for the fans but he seems to almost represent the fans. He expresses the very thoughts of the readers when he confronts Bruce with (and I’m paraphrasing): “Why the hell would you choose the guy you just met–a guy who has been brainwashed by a religious cult since childhood mind you– to be the new Batman over me?” Seeing Nightwing stand up and state the obvious will almost make you want to sit the book down so you can clap your hands.

Another great thing about this story is that you get to see Dick and Tim hanging out more. They have great chemistry and it makes for some fun adventures, but best of all you’ll get even more of that when you reach Prodigal in the final half of this tome. As for Azbats, he has gone totally bonkers and the system/hallucinations he sees are beginning to conflict one another. He’s also added a flamethrower to his suit so he can roast criminals. In short, after witnessing the gauntlet Bruce has to run to get to Azbats you’ll be on the edge of your seat during the final confrontation because you want Bruce to whoop this guy so, so much.

Knightsend was a phenomenal read with only a few drawbacks in the art which would get really inconsistent as the multiple artists would draw Bruce and Nightwing’s heads differently from panel to panel and story to story at times. And the Catwoman comics were a distraction as well. The story would’ve been better had it kept to the point of view of the immediate bat-family rather than switching to Catwoman and her hunt for a medical device in the possession of gangsters. I was especially pleased to see a smart police department, full use of the city so it felt like a big sprawling place, and they finally address what happened to Bane. Great stuff, just wish we had seen how Bruce repaired his spine before we jumped into all of this.

Knightsend: Aftermath

Aftermath serves as a really nice and highly necessary breather between Knightsend and Prodigal (especially when you read almost the whole thing in one sitting like I did).

Robin:   Nobody deserves a rest more than Tim. When things turned to hell, Bruce left Gotham and Nightwing was nowhere to be found and that left Tim to hang out with Jean Paul. Say what you will about Knightfall being a great Batman story, in my book it’s Tim Drake who came out of this looking the best and nobody ever seems to talk about that. Tim Drake was there to help Batman throughout the Arkham breakout but it was a thankless job as Batman was a complete jerk to him the entire time. Then Tim’s father was kidnapped but instead of getting to leave Gotham to rescue his dad he was ordered to stay behind and help the new Batman, Jean Paul Valley. This was when thing got even worse for Tim as he was not only beaten by Jean Paul but he was blocked out of the cave and forced to go solo. The guy has been through a lot and now that it’s over he just wants to catch some Zs but can’t. Not that there’s some overwhelming threat keeping him from bed, no. The crimes he faces at night are rather routine, it’s his home life that’s getting in the way now. His dad has a new lust for life and wakes up Tim at the crack of dawn every morning to go fishing, buy a new car, give him concert tickets, or to try and set him up with a hot girl from school! It’s a fun read and so is his nightlife as Robin. This story plays out like Die Hard but instead of a renegade cop it’s a drowsy teenager. Imagine of John McClane dosed off while crawling through the ventilation system, that’s what Robin: Aftermath is like and it’s pretty amusing.

Catwoman:   We catch up with Catwoman as well but…really, who cares? After seeing all the chaos Azbats caused at Wayne Manor I doubt many readers are clamoring ”How’s Catwoman dealing with all of this?!”

Azrael:   If you’ve read any of the first three parts of No Man’s Land that I reviewed recently, you know that Jean Paul Valley survives the battle in the batcave. No giant stalactite fell onto his head or anything. Instead he’s out on his own. Totally alone and without any purpose in life. Azrael’s aftermath tale is the story of his first step toward redemption. It’s a quiet, simple story that’s well illustrated and might even make you sympathize for Jean Paul a little.

Prodigal

Prodigal may be one of the most important Dick Grayson stories ever published but it still could’ve been so much more. After waiting throughout all of Knightfall for him to make an appearance and (on a much bigger scale) fans waiting to see him put on the cape and cowl for the first time in 54 years, you’d think that DC would’ve given him a much stronger over-arcing story. Instead Prodigal goes the Azbats route seen in Volume 2 and simply has Dick (I refuse to call him Dickbats. I know many of you call him that, but I won’t. Same goes for calling Detective Comics “Tec”) face a different villain in each issue. You’ll see him fight Ratcatcher, Tally Man, The Ventriloquist (who it turns out did not die in Volume 1, instead he just shot his hands and passed out I guess. I always thought he died!), a giant hybrid birdman named Steel Jacket, and Two-Face, who serves as the biggest threat at the core of Prodigal.

Dick’s past failure against Two-Face is addressed in occasional flashbacks but the actual issue that shows how things really went down, Robin #0, isn’t included. Robin #0 is also the first real chapter of Prodigal so I’m dumbfounded as to why it wasn’t added to this book. That said, you’ll still be able to follow why exactly Dick is so nervous about confronting Two-Face on his own. What isn’t so clear is why Two-Face now seems to hate Robin so much. He says that the Arkham shrinks made it clear to him that his real hatred is at Robin but it never goes into detail. There’s no memorable moment that comes from Two-Face, even the final fight between him and Dick is…well I’m having trouble thinking of it right now and I just read the book a few hours ago. The plot that Two-Face has on the other hand, is pretty cool. With Blackgate doubling up due to Arkham being in ruins as a result of Knightfall, Two-Face is released due to a clerical error. This had me rolling my eyes at first, but ultimately it was used in a pretty interesting way. Two-Face, obsessed with how the justice system doesn’t work and we might as well rely on the flip of a coin, sets out to hack the criminal database so that everyone in processing is guilty. He makes even more changes too, like guys who are supposed to be out in 3 days are now listed as being in for 3 years and guys who should be in for life are getting out…now. Of course there are written records as well and the second phase of Two-Face’s plan is to blow up the city archives. Sure, Two-Face could’ve had better lines, the final fight could’ve been a lot better, and it would’ve been nice if the chaotic records storyline hadn’t been swept under the rug so neatly in the final page (something like “Gordon and the police seem to have the records under control now.” or something like that) but overall I enjoyed the Two-Face story. It’s the other villains that fell flat.

All of the other villain stories are really weak. Ratcatcher makes a whistle that calls a bunch of rats, Ventriloquist is poisoning heroin addicts, Tally Man’s reappearance was totally unncessary and he was drawn horribly in comparison to his appearance in Volume 2, and I don’t know what the hell the Steel Jacket guy was all about. Steel Jacket was the worst part of the whole thing. The final chapter of Prodigal cuts back and forth between a really interesting conversation about what comes next for the mantle of the bat and a cartoonishly drawn story (women with giant anime eyes and male characters with wonky bodies) about Tim trying to bring down a flying steel bird. Steel Jacket, according to what I just read online, was a bio-engineering experiment. He’s half-man, half-bird so his bones are hollow. The hollow bones make him light enough to fly, whatever I’ll bite. But then whoever made him gave him a steel suit to wear and if you played Family Feud and the question was “Name things that are heavy?” You can bet your ass “steel” would be right up there. Go slap a helmet on a condor, I’ll wait. That bird isn’t going anywhere.

Even though the villains suck, the real draw of Prodigal is the comradery between Dick Grayson and Tim Drake. Seeing these two fight crime together is wonderfully entertaining and after reading this and Grant Morrison’s recent Batman & Robin run I’m convinced that Dick Grayson is a better character for partner stories than Bruce Wayne by a wide margin. His inner monologue is lighthearted and fun and the chemistry he has with both Damian and Tim is always a joy to read. We should have a book that pairs Red Robin and Nightwing up or Robin and Nightwing. Or perhaps a series that partners up a different pair of Robins every few months?

Back to the story at hand, I enjoyed Prodigal. I wish it had a stronger over-arcing story rather than these rather forgettable shorts, but it was still a lot of fun seeing Dick Grayson under the cowl. Dropping Robin #0 was an odd choice and without The Search packaged in somewhere along the way we don’t really get why Alfred isn’t hanging around (he didn’t want to see Bruce go back to such a dangerous life again and get himself killed–like in The Dark Knight Rises) to help Dick and Tim clean up the cave. I only wish that the ending had been more satisfying. SHOW SPOILER ▼

Supplimental Material

None. But it’s a 647 page whopper of a book for a pretty cheap price if you buy it online so there’s no reason to fret.

Value

This book has a high level of value. Prodigal alone has only ever had one other TPB. That TPB is hard to find and the price reflects that (you may find it on eBay for under $30 if you’re really lucky) so seeing it finally on the shelves again is long overdue. That said, the conclusion to Knightfall is great and it and Prodigal combined make the $29.99 cover price quite fair and the $18.57 price tag over at Amazon well worth it!

Overall

It’s a must buy for anyone who has been reading the Knightfall saga from the beginning and a must buy for fans of Dick Grayson who have been desperate for a new printing of Prodigal. The story only slips up occasionally in Knightfall and Prodigal deserved to be more of an epic than it was but overall it’s a highly enjoyable read. I was able to read almost the whole thing in a single night I was so wrapped up in it and it’s a very, very big book at a highly affordable price. Is it the definitive version of these stories? Absolutely not, there’s a lot of material that’s been cut out that needs to be put back in. But as it stands, this is the best version you’re going to get right now.

SCORE: 8/10

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