Batman: Knightfall, by Dennis O’Neil — a book review

BatmanKnightfall

This is a review of the novelization of the “Knightfall” storyline that spanned an entire year of Batman comics during 1993-1994. Actually, three separate storylines: “Knightfall”, “Knightquest”, and “KnightsEnd”. The novel itself was first published in 1994, some twenty-five years ago as I write this review.

So . . . not exactly a timely review. The book was republished in trade paperback format in 2004 by Barnes & Noble Books, and you can find it fairly cheap on-line. That’s where I found it. At the time, I was searching for an economical copy of Greg Rucka’s Batman: No Man’s Land (which I found, and will be reading soon), another novelization of a comic book storyline that I never read in the comics. The final season of FOX’s series Gotham was said to be based, at least in part, on the “No Man’s Land” storyline. I thought I would read it to wash the aftertaste of the series finale out of my mouth.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the character Bane also appeared during the final season of Gotham. I was familiar with the character from the movie The Dark Knight Rises and from the video games, but I wasn’t seriously reading comics during the time Bane made his debut in the comic books. Since I had already decided to fill in some of my knowledge gaps about Batman history, I doubled down and decided to read Batman: Knightfall prior to Batman: No Man’s Land. It was time for me to get the whole story behind Bruce Wayne’s time off from being Batman and discover what was the deal with Bane and the Batman sub Azrael.

Dennis “Denny” O’Neil was no stranger to me either. He is a comic book legend, both at DC Comics and Marvel (at Charlton Comics as well, if we’re going to be thorough). As part of the vanguard of the hippie generation of comic book writers and artists, he was responsible for his famous run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow (with Neal Adams), revitalizing Captain Marvel after DC inherited the character, and as the editor during Frank Miller’s landmark Dardevil run as writer/artist. Plus, he was the group editor for the entire Batman line of comics during the “Knightfall” run, which made him uniquely suited to writing the novelization.

It’s no surprise to me that O’Neil knew how to string sentences together and tell an entertaining story. Batman: Knightfall is an entertaining read. Don’t let anything else I might write after this sentence detract from this. I enjoyed reading the novel, probably more than I would have enjoyed reading the various comic book collections telling the same story. Or stories, to be more precise.

That’s my chief criticism of the book. It is not one cohesive plot, just like it wasn’t in the comics. The three connected stories in this book are the same three storylines presented in the comic books. The first involves the introduction of Bane and how he finally ends up breaking Batman’s back. The second involves the concurrent storylines of Azrael’s reign as the new, deadly Batman and the adventures Bruce Wayne (not Batman) gets into while trying to regain his health. The final storyline is how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman again.

Sure, you might say this sounds like the typical three-act structure of any novel. I agree with that, to a degree. However, for this to be the case, in my mind, Bane would have to figure in the third act as well. He doesn’t. He’s soundly defeated by Azrael in the second act while Bruce is dealing with a completely different villain who happens to be the brother of the miracle-working Shondra Kinsolver who is making Bruce a whole man again. But, that villain is discarded when Azrael becomes the Big Bad of the final act. Much of the plot seems disjointed. Even after Bruce Wayne is healed physically, he is no longer mentally in a place where he can easily become Batman again. There’s another sideplot where he goes to get his mojo back with Lady Shiva by sitting naked in the snow. But, if you think Bruce Wayne isn’t going to regain the cape and cowl of the Dark Knight again, you really haven’t read a comic book before.

In spite of this slightly schizophrenic plot structure, which I realize was unavoidable, this remains an exciting, pleasurable read for me. I feel like I’ve crammed a ton of Batman history into my brain in a short amount of time. Aside from Bane, Azrael, and Kinsolver, I learned more about the Tim Drake Robin and his father, who I’ve been aware of only peripherally, and I now know that Alfred resigned from his position for a while. I also learned that the 1990s version of the Batmobile was a modified Maserati. Who knew?

I’m not going to ruin everything about this book for you if you haven’t read it yet. I am going to add one thing, though. I consider myself to be a left-leaning Centrist most days, but the ending of the Azrael storyline may be just a little too liberal even for me. As interesting as the Jean Paul Valley character could be to me, I think Batman could have come up with something better, regardless of how much guilt he felt for putting a psychopath in charge while he was gone.

‘Nuff said.

Firewater’s Batman Novelization Report Card: B

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Not a bad reading choice for filling in some knowledge gaps or providing some light entertainment, but this book won’t change your world appreciably.

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