Deciding to make yet another Knightfall installment as the graphic novel to mark the end of my second wave of Batman comics diet has more or less solidified my growing suspicion that I have this neurotic tendency not to make things easy for me every now and then when it comes to reading a story. I deserve a goddamn break from difficult-to-swallow-and-digest sort of comics from a Batman title, do I not? How could I ever allow myself to spend the last two weeks of December reading a 600-plus-paged omnibus concerning a Batman who is not Bruce Wayne underneath the cowl at all? I could never figure out the answer for myself until I managed to finish the said damn thing and write this review at almost four o'clock on a Tuesday morning.
Truth be told, I think the Knightfall series is an important historical artifact that deserves a place in the Batman comics legacy but the three massive volumes are no happy strolls in the park especially when that park is located in Gotham and the caped crusader supposedly guarding said city and its streets is just as mentally unstable as the next Arkham Asylum patient. The most disheartening piece of information I could give to you if you ever want to read this is that the first volume features Bane who is a character you will either like or despise, and that Bruce Wayne suffers a serious spinal injury courtesy of aforementioned jackass.
And then he assigns the Batman title to a man named Jean Paul Valley who was a pretty cool guy at first when he was just playing second fiddle as Azrael. However, as soon as he puts on the Bat-cowl, something immediately feels off. Suddenly, you're reading about a Batman who is utterly, selfishly and holyjesusfuck insane and extreme on his methods and overall modus operandi as the new sheriff in godforsaken Gotham City. The only good thing that ever came from Jean Paul becoming the new Batman is the fact that he was able to beat the crap out of Bane but the readers merely traded one devil for another. Tim Drake as Robin is justifiable with his concerns regarding Jean Paul's painfully slow descent to madness but Bruce and Alfred have to go to another country so he could get heal and recuperate so Tim's on his own about that. Sorry, bro.
Every Robin needs his own cavalry.
Meanwhile, Jean Paul Valley continues his run as the Batman, putting the dark on the Dark Knight and turning the knight part into a symbol of horror. His costume also becomes a full-metal one that is regularly maintained like a well-polished nightmare. It's worth noting that the more he upgrades it, the crazier he also seems to get. BECAUSE IT'S A METAPHOR OF IRONY SYMBOLIC OF HIS OWN MENTAL AND MORAL DECAY, YO. But there's no keeper for Jean Paul Valley--unless you count the two delusions in his head called Saint Dumas and his abusive father who take turns having arguments concerning ethics and the holy mission Jean Paul must fulfill (did I mention that they both only exist in Jean Paul's head?). But it's not a party yet. Oh, no. Throw some mob strife and rampaging low-class criminals into the mix as the city's asshole mayor and Commissioner Gordon with the rest of GCPD having little disagreements of their own and you got yourself an un-fun orgy that breed the most exquisite hellish scenarios. With, of course, regular doses of Catwoman, the Joker and Clayface just to make it extra special.
The heap of steaming bullshit you just read is covered by this second volume.
And you know what? I still encourage you to read everything. Oh, yes. There are unavoidable troubling moments when you'd feel as if you're being punished for reading through this mess but your attention span and patience will be later rewarded once you do encounter the Catwoman and the Joker stories which for me are the strongest and most entertaining of the omnibus itself. I hated Jean Paul Valley at first instinct myself but found him becoming more complex, conflicted and multi-layered issue after issue that I find my hatred lessening, and my sympathy...still lacking. I pity the bastard but I will never, ever forgive him for his actions. But I understood his pain more than anything which is why I think I'm a little afraid of this version of Batman. As disgusted as I am with Jean Paul Valley roaming around wearing a symbol of the childhood hero I've always looked up to when he doesn't deserve that honor, there are those brief glimpses readers are offered into his humanity, scarce as it may be at this point, and they do make a tiny portion of my soul ache. I will maintain that Jean Paul Valley is one of the most detestable, sickening and pitiful characters you will ever encounter, but he is also one of the most nuanced and fascinating anti-heroes you will never stop reading even if your only goal is to see his downfall unfold. Oh, that time of reckoning will happen, so you will pick up the third volume right after this like I would because you have officially become a part of the wreckage, so you might as well see it all the way to the end.
Knightquest: The Crusade is absurdly compelling. Comprised of seventeen issues ranging from the Batman, Shadow of the Bat, Catwoman and Detective Comics titles, it's guarantee to kill something inside you while you read about the daily struggles and ridiculously violent and condescendingly moral ways of a man who is so starkly different from Bruce Wayne as Batman, and yet he is also arguably a better fit for Gotham's criminal atmosphere. I may not agree with his methods. I may want to punch him in the brain, but he's the devil that I know and cannot un-know after this. I think both Knightfall: Broken Bat, the first volume, and this one are a mixed bag. They both have flaws and redeeming qualities. Tonality-wise, they're vastly different but they both concern two characters that are polarizing and challenging to have any sort of sympathy for. As collected works, they'll make you queasy and rage-quit a few times if your heart is simply not in it, but I advise you to stick around and just have fun with it. There were a few awesome character moments in between that can be funny (Jean Paul's hilarious pent-up sexual anger towards Catwoman; the Joker making a movie about the death of Batman) and downright chilling (that storyline about mothers from distant countries selling their babies to be adopted by Gotham-based parents; Gordon's confrontation with Jean Paul Valley as he demonstrates just how deeply he believes in Batman as symbol of hope for the city he loves; and how utterly betrayed he is to find out that this is not the partner he had worked and built a relationship with anymore).
In a nutshell, I struggled with this volume but when all is said and done, I thought that Knightquest: The Crusade was a remarkably eye-opening experience even if it darkened a space in my head a little. Jean Paul Valley as the central figure of this collection was consistently enthralling even when I outright hated his stupid face. He has allowed me to contemplate about my own belief system and set of values. He has further enhanced my love for Bruce Wayne as Batman. The writers who handled Jean Paul's characterization (Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, and Alan Grant) deserve all the applause in the world--as well as a light slap in each of their cheeks for making me undergo a reading experience so rife with annoyances, grievances and holyjesusfuck moments.
Pick this up at your own risk. You have been sufficiently forewarned.