Knightquest or “The Adventures of Psycho Replacement Batman” definitely isn’t for everybody but it’s an important installment of Knightsaga nonetheless. It’s not as epic as the previous installment. The focus is on how different Jean Paul Valley is as Batman and how he grows more vicious and mentally unstable with every Gotham night. It’s a story that parodies the overly violent, morally ambiguous heroes that showed up in the early 90s and more importantly, Knightquest is a story that proves we can all be heroes, but not everybody can be Batman.
Just like with Knightfall Vol.1, this book is massive. It’s a 655 page tome chronicling Jean Paul Valley AKA Azrael AKA AzBats and his time as Gotham’s protector. I will refer to him as AzBats. Unlike Vol.1, Knightquest doesn’t really have a big over-arcing story and that makes it less interesting and far less essential to read in the grand scheme of things. All you really need to know from this collection of short stories is that Jean Paul took over the mantle of the bat and was a real head-case that was far too brutal with Gotham’s criminals. He did an alright job at first because Gotham was in chaos and needed an extreme Batman to quell the violence, but in the end Bruce recognized that maybe hiring the guy brainwashed by a religious cult wasn’t the best idea.
Since Knightquest is so big–it covers The Crusade storyline from Detective Comics #667-675, Batman #501-508, Shadow of the Bat #19-28, Catwoman #6-7 and Robin#7–I obviously can’t go too in-depth in my review of each issue otherwise this article would be ridiculously long. Which, haven’t you guys noticed how I never divide my long articles into multiple pages that you have to click through? I hate it when I’m reading an article on another website and they pull that crap.
Anyway, after reading through Knightquest‘s multiple short stories with a variety of villains and noting a funny cameo by Roger Ebert in a Joker tale that heavily references classic cinema, I’ve decided to break down Knightquest by its foes. After all, Roger Ebert once said, “Each film is only as good as its villain. Since the heroes and the gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a triumph.”
The Trigger Twins
The book doesn’t exactly start off strong. You can’t create the most ferocious Batman ever and then pit him against two campy cowboys. And they are campy. The Trigger Twins were separated at birth yet still grew up with an obsession for westerns and even rob the same bank at exactly the same moment while dressed in cowboy garb. Think Mary McFly at the start of Back to the Future Part III that’s the sort of clothes they are wearing. You have mega-armor-bloodlust-Batman vs. 2 cowboys in colorful fringe jackets wielding antique revolvers. The story isn’t as bad as it could have been, but it’s still pretty uninteresting and it stretches on for not one, not two, but three issues.
Now this guy I do remember and I hope that he gets revived in the New 52. I know in recent continuity he was killed and the name Tally Man was given to a normal looking guy in a nice suit, but I found him to be boring. Tally Man needs that tight, springy outfit with the top hat and mask with the really long nose. It’s creepy and it’s memorable. Another bald guy in a $3,000 dollar suit isn’t exactly setting our imaginations on fire. This is one of the best original foes AzBats faces and the only one who still popped up in comics once AzBats was dethroned.
To try and establish AzBats as his own hero you can tell that DC tried to give him quite a few of his own villains at first. Mekros is another new bad guy, one who is rather similar to AzBats in that they were both brainswashed. All throughout Jean Paul Valley’s tenure you’ll see him make reference to “The System” as he has these Jason Bourne moments of “How did I just do that?” where he instantly knows how to act in any given situation thanks to the training that the Order of St. Dumas force fed him in his sleep. Mekros is one of the world’s top assassins who hypnotized himself to be murderous perfection. He repeatedly says triggerwords to himself to keep the programming up and running and it makes for kind of an interesting thug, but not a very captivating central villain. Mekros walks around like a big silver Robocop and blasts his way through the mob and fights with AzBats. It wasn’t bad, but it’s not something I’ll want to re-read again.
This is the pre-Paul Dini Mr. Freeze, the one who doesn’t have any real motivation other than he’s evil and likes to freeze things. Basically the cops find a giant piece of ice floating in the river with a body inside. They bring it in and thaw it and low and behold Mr. Freeze is inside, alive, and angry. AzBats walks in, smacks him in the face and the issue is over. There’s a nice amount of suspense before then but this Mr. Freeze is boring and, without his suit and freeze-gun, no match at all for AzBats or the police. He’s not even smart enough to look out a window and see that it’s winter outside and he could just walk out the door to his freedom.
The corporations are using nerve gas to kill every animal in “the rainforest” (no specifics are ever given as to which rainforest where) so that the world will be okay with them bulldozing it down and building parking lots and shopping centers. Catwoman is meeting with a radical environmentalist cell that wants to turn the gas against the corporate suits and kill them all. These hippies all know Selina Kyle and Catwoman even asks them all what they think of Selina Kyle, but even though her mask leaves little to the imagination and they are talking in a well lit room, nobody puts 2 and 2 together. I zoned out of this story almost instantly but gradually focused more and more as AzBats showed up. He’s extra creepy in this one, instantly finding himself attracted to Catwoman, but Catwoman instantly recognizes that this isn’t the real Batman and even makes comments that suggest Jean Paul Valley is impotent. Catwoman’s look is kind of odd, too. I think it could have been one of the best Catwoman suits had the hair not been pouring out the back of the cowl.
I mean she looks good there, right? I’m even okay with the purple color of the suit. Catwoman’s look can look good with a cowl or with a domino mask and no cowl, but cowl + hair doesn’t look right at all. And one of the most bizarre choices in the occasional use of Catwoman’s claws–no, not the classic claws on her fingers, but for some reason she also has claws that pop out of her feet. It looks really bad, but not as bad as artist Kelley Jones’ cover of Batman #503.
It’s like he said “Ya know who would make a great Catwoman? Lilly Tomlin!”
It’s impossible to not read this Joker in Mark Hamill’s voice. Although Knightquest has some really bad villains, it also has one of the better fanciful Joker stories you could ask for. It’s one that’s very reminiscent of the more fun Animated Series episodes. Joker is directing a movie called The Death of Batman. He’s kidnapped producers, hired an actress, bought a few hired guns, got a cameraman to follow him around, and even kidnapped Siskel and Ebert to follow him around for advice on how to make a great movie.
Again, Jean Paul Valley comes off as creepy and stalkerish when it comes to the young starlet in Joker’s film and Joker, like Catwoman, instantly recognizes that this isn’t the real Batman. There are plenty of cool references to your favorite motion pictures. You’ll see nods to Casablanca, Terminator, The Wolfman, and more. Keep your eyes peeled. The only thing that threw me off about this 3-part story was when the artist made the mistake of giving Siskel and Ebert guns in one panel.
A mother sells her baby so she can afford to save the lives of her other 4 starving children. Now she has tracked the baby to Gotham where she hopes to find the child and buy it back. I don’t know who is taking care of her other children while she is in Gotham or how she managed to earn enough money to travel to buy her child back or how she got to Gotham in the first place, that’s never explained. Jean Paul complains a lot about how boring detective work is. A rich couple who are offered the chance to buy a baby ask “It’s not illegal, is it?” and the bad guy is like “Of course not! Now we can’t talk here, so meet me in the park after nightfall with $30,000 dollars cash.” and the rich folk are cool with that. I dunno it wasn’t that great of a story. Even though it ends on a happy note it left me with too many questions about Rosemary and her baby. Obviously, after the police give her the child back they would deport them since they’re illegal. Then it’s right back to whatever unnamed impoverished country they came from.
Whenever AzBats teams up with Joe Public (a high school gym teacher turned patriotic superhero thanks to a bite from an alien) to stop Corrosive Man (A murderer who developed acidic skin after being struck by lightning while in contact with chemicals) you’re definitely scraping the bottom of the barrel. The 3-part Catwoman arc may have tested my patience, but this single issue team-up adventure was immensely skippable.
The Three Stooges
This was really bad and I’m surprised that Doug Moench wrote it. Basically AzBats needs to stop three street thugs and he teams up with Ballistic, who was a new hero that DC was trying their hardest to promote. He…sigh…he was bit by an alien just like Joe Public was only the bite activated a dormant “meta-gene” and now police officer Kelvin Mao has really tough pink skin and Predator-like fangs sticking out of his chin. It’s also really odd that all of these team-ups are coming at a point when Jean Paul upgrades the batsuit again. I never got the sense that the change was anymore than aesthetic. The three punks they team-up to fight are essentially the three stooges. They do a lot of slapstick stuff that’s very silly and doesn’t fit the overly dark tone of Knightquest. At all. I lazily skimmed through this chapter until Bruce Wayne actually made a cameo. I couldn’t have been happier to see him again. These bit-by-an-alien superhero team-ups were getting old fast. Plus, up until this particular chapter, Bruce and Alfred haven’t been seen at all. The whole storyline of Tim Drake’s dad and Shondra Kinsolving being kidnapped hadn’t been touched. Not that their story fits with what’s happening in the issue. It’s a real non sequitur, as is a brief cut to Tim Drake running home to get some sleep. Both scenes act merely to remind fans that our true heroes haven’t been forgotten nor has the bigger epic that readers had grown accustomed to when reading Knightfall Vol.1. Sadly, this whole stooges storyline stretches two entire issues! Amazing, right? I admittedly glanced through part 2 so I could move on to something better…instead I saw the cover for Shadow of the Bat #26 in which AzBats is fighting a giant snake lady.
Lady Clayface & Clayface III
This was an interesting look back at the overly confusing history of Clayface. Back when there was Clayface, Clayface II, Clayface III, Clayface III’s wife, Clayface’s child, etc. etc. etc. Here you get to see Lady Clayface and Preston Payne, the clayface who had to live in a containment suit because his touch would burn things. The New 52 is a great opportunity to redefine Clayface, but it hasn’t happened yet. Instead he’s just been beaten up. A lot. Here we see Mr. & Mrs. Clayface try to get their kidnapped child back. It’s horribly drawn and kind of a snooze.
Gunhawk & Gunbunny
Just looking at the names, you know this isn’t even worth talking about.
It might surprise you to know that the main villain of this 655 page tome is none other than Abattoir. Who? Abattoir, a psycho leftover from the Arkham breakout in volume one. He’s obsessed with killing members of his family tree and “consuming their souls”. Abattoir cuts throughout the last half of the book. The Clay-couple are trying to get their kidnapped child back from him, the three stooges characters are trying to get a bounty on Abattoir’s head, and even when the other villains aren’t connected to Abattoir in some way, AzBats is brooding over how he can’t find this madman. The events in the Abattoir stories are very dark. It all opens with the murder of an entire family, cannibalism, and Jean Paul cowering at hallucinations of his father and Saint Dumas. Obviously, the climax of Knightquest isn’t as famous as Knightfall so I won’t give any of that away, but AzBats conflict with Abattoir is the most important stor of the entire book and actually held my interest even though I think AzBats should have been more than capable of handling this guy in their very first encounter. He’s like a less threatening or memorable Zsasz. And it is Abattoir who sets into motion the return of the true Batman, Bruce Wayne. These final chapters will definitely get you excited about what’s to come in volume 3 which comes out this September.
And before I head out of the content section I just want to ask: Why is it so hard for Gordon to identify who Batman is? Joker sees that AzBats isn’t Batman, Montoya sees it, and Catwoman sees it. Come on! He should be smarter than that. Even the Gordon in Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is oblivious. Nolan’s Gordon is terrible with faces, but somehow never forgets a coat. Other things worth mentioning is that Nightwing is still MIA without any excuse given and the art in Volume 2 is better than in Volume 1. There’s more detail and more variety in colors. The only problem is that the over-the-top 90s designs of AzBats and his original enemies are so laughably bad that it can get distracting.
There isn’t any. But you’re getting an almost 700 page long comic book for under $20 bucks so who are you to complain?
The value on this thing is kind of a mixed bag. Yes it’s at a very affordable price: 655 pages for $29.99 in store ain’t bad and getting it for $17.48 at Amazon is a steal. Ya know how many issues of Batman you can buy for $29.99 today? Around seven. However, even though the price is cheap, the re-readability is low. Other than the Joker story there’s really not much here that I would ever want to come back to one day. Still, if you’ve never read AzBats’ story before, you can’t beat $17.48.
I feel like there was a lot left out. It would’ve been nice to have broken up these chapters with a glimpse at what was happening in Robin and more importantly, to have included The Search portion of Knightquest. From what I understand, that story has been cut out of this 3-volume collection and Alfred and Bruce’s “search” for Tim Drake’s dad is a very important part of Knightquest. In fact, when Bruce Wayne finally shows up toward the conclusion of this book he is already healed. Anyone who reads this brand new 3-volume series never gets to see how Bruce recovered! Nor do they get to see how Drake’s father was rescued. It’s totally cut. Instead volume 2 is The Jean Paul Valley show. It’s one big book about AzBats who most folks don’t like. I know I don’t ever get the urge to read his stories again.
Knightfall Vol.2 is far, far from the must-read that Knightfall Vol.1 was and most of the time it doesn’t even feel like you’re reading a Batman comic, but it’s still an important chapter in the Knightsaga and if you haven’t read it before, you really can’t beat the $17.48 price over at Amazon.