Review: Batman: Knight Of Vengeance 1-3

As DC gears up for the release of their ambitious 52 title re-launch, they’re having some fun with the dark and crumbling world at war created by the events taking place in Flashpoint. I have never been a big DC follower, but I have to admit that DC has caught my interest with this ballsy move and I’ve bought a one way ticket on this Flashpoint train to see if its final destination is indeed the Holy Grail of the comic book industry. So, I hit up my local comic shop to pick up my Flashpoint starter kit, and as the cashier is checking out my selections to make sure I’m covered, he asks if I saw the Flashpoint Batman book written by Brian Azzarello with art by Eduardo Risso, the same award winning duo from the 100 Bullets series, to which my response was “That’s all you had to say”.

One of Gotham City’s scum has just shot and robbed a couple in a nearby alley fleeing to the rooftops only to be cornered by Batman, with no place to go but down. You look up from the streets as you see Batman engage the murderer and you swear you can see a small smirk cross Batman’s face as he throws the criminal off of the roof. As he falls, in what seems to be in slow motion, fear washes over you, but you shake it off because Batman has it all under control. As the distance between the thug and the awaiting streets below becomes less and less, you think to yourself, “He has to catch him… he’s just scaring him… but he will catch him…that’s what Batman does, right?”, and at that moment the murderer’s fall is suddenly broken, but not by the arms of Batman swinging in at the last moment to save him, but rather from the hood of a parked taxi on the street below. Welcome to Batman, the Azzarello way.

Has Bruce Wayne lost it? Has the Joker won and finally pushed Bruce to break his one rule? This is Flashpoint, remember, and this world is not the world that you once knew. This is a world where there is no Bruce Wayne, there is only anger and the insatiable desire of a father’s revenge set free on the criminals of the world. In the Flashpoint universe, Bruce Wayne never made it out of the alleyway on that fateful night that would have changed the young boy’s life forever. Anyone with a child will tell you that no parent should ever have to bury their own child, but if you did, what would you do? Better yet, let me up the ante here; what if you were one of the most powerful and influential men in Gotham City, and you had to bury your child after he was gunned down in the very streets that you have struggled your whole life to help? What would you do?

For Thomas Wayne, the answer was simple; justice must be served. If you have no faith or trust in the law officers who have sworn to uphold a corrupted justice system that has been bent from all directions, the only thing left to trust in is yourself. A man who is in a position of tremendous power and influence should use it for good. If that man happens to have lost a loved one to a city crumbling under crime, which bears your last name at every corner, he should use that power to bring justice and hope back to people. From the ashes of a murdered son, a new Batman was born in that alley, and Azzarello’s incarnation of The Dark Knight is an unforgiving Batman who will do what it takes to bring the balance of justice to the streets of Gotham by any means necessary.

I fell in love with Azzarello’s work after reading The Joker, which if you haven’t read yet, you need to, so there was no way I would pass up an opportunity to see what else he could do with the Batman universe. He brings a darker, more rule-breaking take on Batman while keeping the same elements that we all have loved from the previous Batman titles. I don’t want to spoil any of the cool twists of the three-issue mini, because my goal is to get you to pick up series and enjoy this dark new world for yourself. However, I would still like to tease you with some of the more awesome points from all three issues.

Issue 1 opens with Thomas Wayne in his Penthouse penthouse at the top of Wayne Casino. Wayne’s sits across from the shrink sent by his insurance company to determine if he is suitable to be insured. Considering Thomas’ first words to her in the book being “Mrrrrrrrrr”, and the reveal that Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin, is his accountant, it’s evident that this Wayne sees Gotham from different perspective, and will not be the same Caped Crusader that we have all come to know.

With Gotham City turned upside down on its Flashpoint head, it’s still good to see that no matter the universe, Batman still has the incorruptible Jim Gordon in his corner, but in this instance, as Wayne’s Chief of Gotham’s privatized police force, and keeper of all of Thomas’ secrets. Completing this 3 headed beast of justice, tasked with cleaning up Gotham, is Judge Harvey Dent, who still has all of his features intact. Even in a world where Bruce Wayne is not the man under the cowl, The Joker has still found a way to manifest as the flip side to Batman’s coin of justice, and is the focus of Azzarello’s three-issue master piece as the master mind behind the kidnapping of Judge Dent’s twins.

The cover art of issue #2, by Dave Johnson, also Azzarello’s partner in cover art art crime during his 100 Bullets run, gave me goosebumps filled with anticipation for what madness awaited me in the second act. Issue #2 brings the Oracle character into the picture, although brilliantly not as you remember her from the DC Universe proper. Oracle aids our darker Dark Knight and Chief Gordon in tracking down the whereabouts of The Joker. As Gordon does some foot work with the bread crumbs of clues The Joker has left behind, Batman sets out on a more direct and physical interrogation of the scum of Gotham, in hopes of gaining intel. What I loved about this series of panels is 1: the fact that it shows the darker methods of Thomas Wayne’s Batman compared to Bruce’s and 2: some of the thugs in the bar that consciously or subconsciously resemble some of Eduardo Risso’s character designs from 100 Bullets.

The Joker, sensing the inevitable confrontation with The Batman closing in, begins setting the stage for the most viscous or sadistically hilarious, depending on what side of the sanity coin you land on, joke ever pulled. As Gordon finds the trail’s end at old Wayne Manor, The Joker has a chilling moment with Dent’s kids, telling them that they only know joy and fear in their short lived lives and how, “They’re all that matter. You lose one… you’ll go crazy. You lose both? Can you–should you–imagine life without those anchors? Or course not… you’ll go mad”, and after the finale of this issue, you just might go mad yourself. The events that end issue 2 rock the foundation of all that you thought you knew, while chilling you to the bone courtesy of the level of madness The Joker has fallen to. I found myself staring stunned, appalled, and excited all at the same time as I reread the final moments of the book.

When looking at the cover of issue #3, you can get an idea of what’s up, but if you can’t, I don’t want to be the one to spoil it for you. Issue #3 opens with Batman crashing into Wayne Manor moments after the madness and shocking reveal that ended issue 2, springing into doctor Wayne mode, triggering Thomas’ memories of the events that took Bruce’s life. It’s during this flashback that we see how the death of Bruce effected the Waynes and the lines that both crossed trying to fill the void. All the while, The Joker beats Batman over the head with a ball peen hammer, of course. There is a great moment where Batman has The Joker in his clutches, explaining how he has the opportunity to rewrite the Wayne story while erasing the butterfly effect of hurt, loss and madness following the death of Bruce, as blood drips down his face from under the cowl resembling tears of blood, which in my opinion, could of have just as easily been the title of the series. Azzarello wraps up this unhinging three-issue mini with a beautifully crafted exchange between Batman and Joker that ends fittingly, and sadly, the same way it started… in loss.

I loved this mini series, which proves to me that this is an awesome time to get into or back into comics. Throughout the first issue, other staple Batman rogues and their fates are mentioned, with one villain making an unforgettable appearance, leaving you with comic blue balls, wanting more of Thomas Wayne’s Batman and the stories that bridge the gap between the time of Bruce’s death and the start of this arc. Azzarello’s take on the Batman also shows that in a world where a “hero” is willing to cross the line of the justice system by becoming judge, jury and executioner, you are only opening the door to a dark world that eventually consumes everything. Simply put, Bruce Wayne must survive so that a man with a stronger will power can don the cowl of the Caped Crusader, and Thomas and Martha Wayne must die. In a world without Bruce Wayne, weaker single-mindedness prevails spiraling Gotham City out of control.

In closing, I have to say that DC’s Flashpoint gives an interesting platform for the writers to go nuts and play around with DC’s most well-known characters, to see what outrageous twists and turns they can bring to a DC world at war, before it all rights itself through the DCNU rebirth. So far, the main Flashpoint storyline hasn’t disappointed me, and I’m digging the new takes on some of DC’s old faces. DC’s plan is working. It’s mainly because of the new DC titles that I have started a pull box at my local comic shop, and for someone who has never kept up with monthly comics on the reg, that’s a big step towards a life committed to the love of comics. I have never read a single Wonder Woman comic, but for the sole reason that Azzarello is at the helm, I have put it on my list. Chalk up one more fan of DC to fight the good fight alongside our very own Rob Eddleman. Well played DC…. well played sir.

–GUZMAN 2011

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