This is a heavyweight collected edition, comprised of the following contents: BATMAN: VENGEANCE OF BANE SPECIAL #1, BATMAN #491-500, DETECTIVE COMICS #659-660, SHOWCASE '93 #7 and 8 and BATMAN: SHADOW OF THE BAT #17-18. I'll divide this review into significant parts worth noting, and therefore the content may be semi-spoiler-ish. Thread lightly in case you feel like reading this one yourself. If not because the length looks to be a handful, then I hope my summary and analyses would suffice your curiosity of what this omnibus entails.
ON BANE AND WHY THAT IS AN APPROPRIATE NAME
Admittedly, I didn't try to notice just how many issues and titles I was reading which isn't difficult to do (at first) because this is an an engrossing read right from the very start with that Bane special which told us his origins as a child who was born and raised inside a prison. I only remember Bane very briefly in Batman: The Animated Series and never cared much for him. When Nolan turned him into a chief villain in the last film of the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, I remember being intrigued about his interpretation because it was a stark contrast to what I believed him to be growing up. Reading Knightfall solidified that prejudice, however. As much as I enjoyed his origin story (which included his transition to becoming Bane), I found myself starting to care less and less for this asshole as the issues progressed on. In fact, I will state from here on out that I think Nolan's version of the character is more honorable and more nuanced and interesting to see in action. Here in the comics he just comes off as a fool with the most vapid of reasons for 'breaking' Batman and conquering Gotham City. It's almost laughable. There was nothing formidable or intimidating about this big guy at all.
I think because of the roster of artists and writers for this series (we have Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench and Alan Grant, to name a notable few), there was an unavoidable inconsistency in Bane's characterization. With his origin story, he was primed to be an excellent Bat-villain; but then other writers start having different interpretations of his personality and motives in the next stories that what I understood about him in entirety is that he's a character whose arrogance and bloated sense of worth outweigh his actions and accomplishments (a questionable estimate in itself too). You never root for this asshole no matter what happens (well, that's not completely true; there was that moment in the later issues that my money was on him. Let me expound on that later).
Knightfall is primarily known for the climactic events when Bane 'broke the Bat'. For the non-comic book-reading population, they also know about this because of Nolan's movie. And you know what? They're better off not knowing the details in the comics itself because I myself was absolutely livid and utterly furious with how that scenario played out. I really do prefer the movie's take on it, only because Bane was actually generally likable in the film (in spite of his role to play) and his breaking of Batman's spine made more sense and did not make me feel dirty at all. In the comics, it was completely a douchebag move. Like some creep, Bane merely waited until Batman is at the end of his physical limits (and even then Bats fought back like a champ). It was gross. I wanted to drown myself in a bathtub filled with scalding water just to cleanse myself with that demeaning discovery. It was such a shameful ordeal for everyone involved in writing that, and for anyone who read it. Batman was broken by a piece-of-shit buffoon who cannot even hold a fucking torch to the reputation and terror that the Joker and Ra's Al Ghul are known for. Batman was broken because he was already battling an illness (minor spoiler: he had pneumonia) and he also had to clean up after Arkham Asylum's inmates started roaming around the city. With the stress Batman is undergoing personally and the commotion he needs to deal with, it was shocking he could still walk, let alone fight. That's the Batman we all admire and root for!
But then here came some mediocre douche who was so cowardly and self-entitled; only dangerously powerful because of some venom he injects in his body, and he broke Batman's spine and acted as if it was a world record, never-been-that-before feat of strength and cunning. I cannot stress how much I was literally SCREAMING at the screen while I was reading this ("You don't own shit, Bane! You're a shit! FUCK YOU!" was what I shouted, I think). I was so disgusted with everything that I put off reading the next issues for at least another whole day. When I did come back to it, Bane was thankfully not the center of the stories anymore--but I can't be joyous about that yet because the asshole is replaced by another douchebag named Jean-Paul Valley.
SWEET VALLEY HIGH-STRUNG BATMAN PRETENDER!
UGH. Remember a while ago I said that there was a moment while reading Knightfall that I actually rooted for Bane, the bane of every sane human's existence? Well, that happened because someone I equally despise decided to challenge him to a death match and that douche in question was named Jean-Paul Valley who started out as a pretty cool secondary character when he was just his own hero (a.k.a Azrael), helping out the good guys. But things got sour pretty quickly when he was tasked to put on the Batman cowl in the meantime while Bruce recuperates. And the son of a bitch loved it and enjoyed beating up thugs and criminals way too much. It was like watching a substitute teacher take over a classroom with utmost aggression in spite of his inadequacies for the job. In Jean-Paul's case, it's his lack of discipline and moral resoluteness. I kept cringing in every fucking moment he would choose callous pragmatism and violent means which one time almost cost an innocent life. It was so horrible. While Bane made me scream in fury and frustration, Jean-Paul made me want to go to a corner and just...cry.
It just goes to show that there is a certain level of nobility and greatness that you expect from Batman as an ideal. And Jean-Paul may wear the costume all he likes but he isn't upholding the values Bruce Wayne instilled. One time he even bragged about his focus being on the DARK as oppose to the KNIGHT job description of the title. What a piece of shit. One of my favorite small moments was during The Devil You Know issue, where Bane said it best when he claimed. "So I have brought ruin to Wayne. And his neophyte brings ruin to the Batman." Heck, I applauded that asshole's poetic observation, and y'all know by now I hate him.
The Robin for this series is Tim Drake who can be a buzzkill sometimes, yeah, but in this occasion, his trepidation and desire for caution around the Batman pretender are very valid and reasonable. But no one listens to Timothy, especially not Jean-Paul whose pages upon pages of monologue and action sequences were so unsettling to watch unfold. I think my enjoyment for the story also suffered. I have no kind of sympathy whatsoever for the supposed hero I'm reading, and the mediocre villain he had to defeat. Srsly, fuck them both. So it's been a really a tight competition between them regarding to which character I loathed the most for this volume (minor spoiler: no one wins that title once I finished the book. I pitied Bane in the end while I eventually and begrudgingly accepted that fucking Jean-Paul will have to do as Batman for now).
Before I close this part of the review, I would also like to add that as much as I hated what I'm reading, it doesn't mean the writing and illustrations are lackluster or bland. I might be hating on the characters but that's because the writing for their characterizations are outstanding in the first place.The later four-hundred pages of the first volume for Knightfall are centered around the detestable Bane and jean-Paul as they struggle to define the world in their narrow-sighted terms and misguided actions. Bane failed in his shallow crusade to be a self-made champion of the weak because all he is was a flawed mechanism of his own ruin. Meanwhile, Jean-Paul chose to cross certain lines Bruce could never afford to do, and it therefore placed him in a position where he can very much become the villain himself if he ever forgets the values he's supposed to stand for. With that in mind, someone really needs to take away the costume from him before it gets worse. But then again, where's the fun in that for the second volume?
Almost all Bat-villains make their appearances as well such as the Joker, Scarecrow, Poison-Ivy, Catwoman, Two-Face, Amygdala, Scarface and the Ventriloquist, and Anarky. There are some humorous Harvey Bullock scenes as well (he delivers a lot of great zingers). Different writers and artists collaborated for the issues and this could either be a pleasant experience or a confounding one if you're more into a consistent art styel and technique. Mine was on the former. I really didn't mind the visual variety because I was engrossed enough with the stories and plot lines to pay a closer attention. The one time I did start to notice the illustrations is during the Scarecrow-centered issues because the detail and panels layout in those were fantastic to browse through.
* The first volume had enough action and substance to keep you going. The astonishing length will be intimidating at first but the reader will not find it hard to get into the meat and bones of the story after a while as long as he/she also learns to trust the writers with where they're headed; even during the moments they have to get inside the heads of extremely unlikable if not downright unremarkable main characters, such as with the case of Bane and Jean-Paul Valley.