This series has jumped from delivering my favorite issue of the entire run to my least favorite. It’s not a bad issue per se, but so much of what I enjoy about Batman: The Knight, and what it’s supposed to be about, gets lost among all the other distractions. Between bringing back Anton as a narrative focus and introducing a new main antagonist for the series finale, there is hardly enough time to actually see Bruce train to become the Batman we know and love.
I had thought that Anton/Ghost-Maker had left the story for good at the end of issue #6, and was annoyed when he showed up again here. It’s not that I intrinsically hate the character, but he completely derails the narrative focus whenever he’s around. I counted, and only about seven out of the twenty-eight pages in this story get to be about Bruce’s training between when he stops thinking about Anton and when drama erupts surrounding Anton. Fans of the character may be interested in seeing so much time devoted to Ghost-Maker’s origin, but it does little to serve this story and causes it to become unfocused.
It’s a shame that it was given so little time in the story, because I think that this month’s training subject, mental control, is an interesting one. It makes sense that Bruce would want to abandon all emotions and psychological barriers so that he could completely devote himself to the mission. When he starts working with his teacher Daniel, Bruce is forced to question how far he’s willing to go. So much of Batman’s character is psychological, and seeing that as something that Bruce actively constructed is a fascinating perspective. Daniel represents the absolute extreme of cutting one’s self off from emotion to the point of sociopathy. Confronting that possibility forces Bruce to realize that his emotions are an invaluable and inextricable part of himself.
Unfortunately a lot of this character examination is told, not shown. Everything I listed above is spelled out either by Daniel in long, expository monologues, or in Bruce’s narration about what he thinks of Daniel’s views. Contrast this with last issue, which showed how Bruce’s relationship with Zatanna reflects differing perspectives on what magic is and how it should be used. It’s important to present the themes of a story with story telling, as opposed to simply having characters be mouth pieces for the message you want to get across. I think a lot of these problems are again a result of how little time can be devoted to this part of the story. Were there more time to let everything breathe and develop naturally, it would be more compelling.
The scenes with Daniel all take place at sunset, which means that Di Giandomenico gets plenty of opportunities for his favorite artistic flair: faces half lit by a single light source for dramatic effect. For the most part here it’s effective. Bruce’s conversations with Daniel maintain an ominous tone throughout, and the art is able to convey a constant sense that Daniel isn’t to be totally trusted. The cathedral windows, in addition to being beautiful to look at, act as a constant way to set stage lighting. The fight that erupts when the mansion is attacked later in the story is also very well illustrated. The action is constant and the billowing capes and clothes swirling about in the storm make for a really nice effect. Di Giandomenico definitely has a dramatic flair, and this is an issue where he gets to let that shine.
That fight takes up most of the back half of the issue and like I said, it’s an exciting fight in isolation. However, it springs up out of nowhere and for the majority there is little to no context or explanation as to why this is happening. It’s all so sudden that it can be easy to get whiplash. Of course what is later revealed is that the fight is a way to set up the conflict for the series’ finale.
It would seem that Bruce’s training has not gone unnoticed, and Ra’s al Ghul has been sending members of the League of Assassins after him. If Anton was a distraction from what this series was supposedly about, then this is an entirely new level. From the tagline on the cover, “The final test begins” it’s clear that fighting Ra’s is meant to be a culmination of what Bruce has learned so far, but it feels so out of place. Not every character has to be a part of Bruce’s backstory, which is saying nothing of how it brings into question how O’Neil’s original Demon saga makes any sense (though who knows what’s canon anymore). Ra’s was famously part of Bruce’s origin story in the movie Batman Begins, and I think it worked there, but that was partly because as a movie it necessarily had to condense continuity and introduce the main villain in a way that ties in with the rest of the plot. There is no such requirement with comics, and if anything it harms the narrative universe by making everyone so closely related. It makes everything feel small.
- You want to learn more about how Bruce met Ghost-Maker
- Bruce’s mental discipline is an aspect of the character you want explored, but don’t mind it being cut short
- You like beautifully drawn fight scenes and dramatic conversations
Batman: The Knight #8 gets far too distracted by all of the disparate plot elements it wants to introduce, causing it to lose focus on Bruce’s character development which is what the story was supposed to be about. Anton’s return feels like an intrusion as Bruce is forced to constantly think about what he’s doing. The story is as well illustrated as always and the brief moments we get to see Bruce grow into Batman are well done, but that is quickly derailed by the introduction of a series main villain that feels unnecessary.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided a copy of this issue for the purpose of this review.