Every issue of this series has been about Bruce developing a different skill in his journey to becoming Batman, and the lesson of the month in Batman: The Knight #5 is espionage.
While keeping the same format for 5 issues so far (and presumably for the next 5 issues as well) does start to get a little formulaic, getting to see Bruce grow and develop is a treat, especially given how static a character Batman often is in his stories. The series really hammers home just how much Bruce is in over his head. He’s impulsive and often makes assumptions about how best to approach a situation, only to realize how much he has to learn. Every new encounter offers some way to push the boundaries of what he’s able to accomplish as he learns from the world’s best. That’s not to say that he only ever fails; this issue we see him start to apply the skills he’s gained from previous teachers to complement his strategies for the present challenge. This kind of continuity between issues helps keep the chapters from being overly disparate, and shows that Bruce is becoming the renaissance man crimefighter we know.
Bruce’s growing skillset is not the only way the story hints at what is soon to come for Bruce. His future dual life as vigilante/playboy is alluded to a few times as his teacher discusses the importance of masks and presenting yourself as someone you’re not. They also mention the importance of having a “cave” you can retreat to and prepare. It’s a bit on the nose, but still fun to see where the seeds for future ideas get planted. The story uses art for foreshadowing as well. In addition to conventional examples like the literal shadow of Batman being cast over Bruce, it also shows up in more subtle ways. For example, at one point while Bruce is donning a disguise for a mission, the scar he wears is almost identical to the one he uses in Batman: Year One to explore the East End.
Despite the new elements brought by this issue, the overall story’s format does cause some problems. Because each skill, and by extension every teacher, now only gets one issue, it often feels like we are not given enough time to really explore them sufficiently. The storyline with Ducard and the Gray Shadow felt more fleshed out because the two of them both got to share their issues, so the overall narrative was less one-note. Here, by the time we get engrossed in this story it’s over and off to some other locale next month for a different lesson. Despite the fact that we get to see Bruce’s skills from previous teachers, we don’t get much in the way of Bruce fully coming into his own for his arc here aside from a bit of pickpocketing near the end.
The fast pacing is compounded by the heavy use of narration to frame the story. This gives the impression that it’s a flashback being told by Bruce as opposed to experiencing it first hand. It’s a thematically appropriate style given the type of story this is, but it does create an extra layer of separation between the reader and the story. With so little time already to get fully immersed in what’s going on, that effect becomes noticeable.
Part of the problem with not enough narrative space is due to the presence of Anton. I remain conflicted about his inclusion in this story. On the one hand, giving Bruce another character to interact with helps keep the story from getting monotonous, and his distinct personality works well as a foil. On the other hand, he can at times feel like a distraction from what the plot should be focusing on, i.e. Bruce’s personal journey of growth and discovery. It’s also hard to buy that Bruce has spent so much of his training with someone who has never been mentioned until now.
Carmine Di Giandomenico continues to use light and shadows to create drama and tension throughout the story. A major part of espionage is blending in to a crowd, and Ivan Plascencia’s bright, chaotic colors of the party scenes are easy to get lost in. The more intimate moments are also well handled, like when cramped panels and dark tones create a claustrophobic and tense scene of Anton seducing a target. However sometimes there are panels that appear far too sparse. The lack of background can make a scene feel empty and the space could be better utilized. The goal may have been to focus on the people speaking, but there’s too much negative space. It’s not a prevalent problem, but it’s a noticeable flaw in an otherwise beautiful book.
- Secret spy Bruce Wayne is the type of adventure you like
- You’re excited to see hints of the man Bruce Wayne will soon become
- You like an episodic approach to Bruce’s lessons
Batman: The Knight #5 offers a glimpse into the covert aspects of Batman and the root of many of the key elements of the character. Seeing Bruce being forced to learn to channel his rage into a more refined approach is a nice contrast to the hypercompetent Batman that we usually see. That being said, the formula that this series is starting to develop can make it feel as though there is not enough time to fully explore the settings and characters that are presented in one issue before moving on to the next. Bruce learning the spy game is interesting and at times thrilling; it could just use more space to really flesh out the concept.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided a copy of this issue for the purpose of this review.