We’re three parts into what DC has decided is the nine-part “Knightfall” saga, and it’s only going to get crazier from here. Last time, Azrael took over as Batman, built himself some armor, and thrashed Bane. Bruce Wayne went to England to try to find Robin’s father and his doctor, apparently assuming that the guy who was still prone to fits of violence, exacerbated by masks and costumes, could probably keep a handle on things. And now it’s going to get weird as we head into “Knightquest”.
There are two components here – “The Crusade” is the adventures of AzBats and “The Search” is Bruce Wayne’s adventures in England. We’ll get to that in a couple of weeks. This week, it’s Batman: Knightquest – The Crusade, Part 1“. And it’s wild. This hefty volume reprints Detective Comics 667-670, Batman 501-504, Batman: Shadow of the Bat 19-20, Robin 1-2, and Catwoman 6-7. That’s right, Robin’s solo title launches in the midst of all this.
It begins with the first two parts of a crazy-ass Chuck Dixon story. As I mentioned last week, it opens with two Old West-themed villains coincidentally showing up to rob the same place, realizing that they’re twins separated at birth, and deciding to team up. It’s wild. Also, they’re presented as a reboot of DC’s Western heroes, the Trigger Twins. Dixon went through this phase where he revised a lot of Western characters as villains, and I feel like maybe it led to a big storyline in Nightwing years later. Meanwhile, AzBats discovers that Batman has another vehicle in the cave – a rocket powered car that uses the subway tracks. You can imagine why Batman didn’t use that. If not, you figured it along with AzBats when he ends up headed straight at an oncoming train.
Barely surviving that only convinces him to learn the subway schedule better, which means invoking the System, otherwise known as the mind control program that still takes him over. Meanwhile, Robin learns he’s been locked out of the Batcave and has to break in because he’s got stuff there. AzBats catches him and there’s a fight which leads to Robin leaving with his own Robin car and launching his own series. And thus, the first two issues of that spinoff are included. It should be noted that the first several pages of the first issue involve AzBats, and then it’s just Robin. The first issue ends in a cliffhanger, so they include the second issue just so we know Robin doesn’t get killed by a guy with a shotgun, but it’s weird to just break from the story to follow Robin for 45 pages. I appreciate the obsessive thoroughness, but it’s weird.
Also? I know I’ve been goofing on Chuck Dixon (and will do so in the future), but he was a good Batman writer and his work on Robin and Nightwing is excellent, and this was a nice reminder of how much fun that series was.
From there we jump to a two-part Shadow of the Bat story that pits AzBats against mob enforcer the Tally Man. I liked this a lot, though it’s not at all crucial. Alan Grant liked to focus on side characters and how they’re affected by Batman, so AzBats is more just this weird instrument of violence who crashes through the story. The art by Vincent Giarrano is crazy – I like looking at it, but it doesn’t look like a Nineties superhero book. It looks like an indie book, and I wasn’t sure the Tally Man was human until the end because he’s always depicted as rising up from the ground without a suggestion of legs. The lighting is weird, and it all kind of reminds me of Keith Giffen’s Trencher style. It’s great, but it’s a strange fit among all the other classic-style artists in this book. Graham Nolan, Tom Grummett, Barry Kitson, and the other artists here are all super clean and then this crazy Giarrano art shows up. Oh, there’s a weird ending where AzBats does something to Tally Man that makes him feel sick and the cops are horrified when they find him, but they don’t tell us what it is. This is revealed eventually, but not for a long time. (He carves a bat symbol into Tally Man’s chest.)
Over in Batman, AzBats faces yet another mob enforcer, this time a brainwashed guy in armor named Mekros. That’s three mob hitmen in a row (counting the Trigger Twins as one character), because all the major villains showed up in “Knightfall” and it’s a little too soon to reuse them. I like this story and the parallels it draws between the two armored, brainwashed combatants.
Back to the Trigger Twins and another rocket subway fight, and it’s just a straight up action movie issue, leading into Dixon’s last issue in this collection, where Mr. Freeze comes back to life. Don’t worry about the mechanics of that, because this issue doesn’t. But it is a fun story that’s mostly set in the GCPD building and focuses on Renee Montoya. I also like Mr. Freeze seeing AzBats and wondering just how long he’s been gone. Clearly he woke up in the far future! AzBats has no idea who Mr. Freeze is because he’s bad at research, which is another nice bit. It’s really just housekeeping, since Mr. Freeze was casually killed in a miniseries a few years earlier, and I’m a big Freeze fan.
That brings us to a crossover between Batman and Catwoman. It’s a four-parter about eco-terrorists and a gas that’s rather tastelessly called “Xyklon-C”. Yikes. Putting that aside, I really like this story. AzBats is emotionally stunted and overwhelmed by Catwoman and he clearly assumes that her relationship with the real Batman will carry over with him. Every one of AzBats’ narrative captions about her is hilarious and creepy and clearly intentionally so. He even admits to “shameful dreams”. For her part, Catwoman knows he’s not the real Batman because the real one “reeks of pheromones” but AzBats is “virtually sterile”. Hee! I kind of feel like Doug Moench and Jo Duffy inadvertently wrote a comic about incels before that was even a thing Anyway, Commissioner Gordon also gives voice to his suspicion that this is a different guy, and that becomes a big thing in the next volume.
Reading these for the first time in a while – they’re surprisingly fun. I haven’t read the AzBats issues in a long time, and when they’re not taking up a year of Batman continuity, they’re a blast. Even the dumb stuff is dumb in a way that makes for some good reading. I’ll just warn you that the next volume is a lot more uneven, but despite the preponderance of mob enforcers, I recommend the first part of The Crusade.
Next week, we get a Joker story. You might be excited about that, but I’d ask you to rein in your expectations. But we also get the most pointlessly creepy Batman villain ever, an excellent Penguin appearance, and a story devoted to two of the minor Clayfaces. I can’t even pretend I’m not into that.