Are you ready to continue with the “Knightfall” saga? When last we left Gotham City, Azrael took over as a terrifying armored Batman and he fought a bizarre assortment of mob enforcers and cowboys. This time, we’re looking at “Knightquest: The Crusade Volume 2”, and we get a couple of classic villains and more bizarre behavior. Also, he redesigns his armor twice.

Before we get to the story where the Joker kills Siskel and Ebert, I need to tell you about “Bloodlines”. While this was going on, there was an event than ran through all of DC’s annuals. The premise was basically that aliens had invaded and were killing humans for their spinal fluid. But some of their victims survived and gained super powers from the attack. So every single annual introduced a new hero or villain and almost all of them were garbage. A few of them spun off into short-lived series, many never appeared again, and some of them were cannon fodder for crossovers. The one success was Hitman, who had a long-running series by Garth Ennis and John McCrea. That was a great book and you should read it. I just want to tell you some of DC’s official descriptions of these “New Blood” characters and keep in mind, there are more.

-Anima: “animus-summoning grunge rocker”

-Edge: “blade-hurling community hero”

-Hook: “hook-handed former soldier”

-Jamm: “prodigious surfer dude”

-Myriad: “personality-absorbing assassin”

-Nightblade: “Chinese-American regenerating martial artist”

-Pax: “last of his race, space shaman”

-Razorsharp: “sword-armed hacker”

This is all ridiculous. And I am only bringing it up because this book includes appearances by not one, but two Bloodlines characters. I was not at all prepared for that. It should be noted that, the very same year, Marvel introduced new characters in all their annuals, too. But those were worse because they were all polybagged so you couldn’t leaf through them to see if they were bad. They were. Captain America met a cockfighting-themed hero.

OK, let’s get to the book. This one includes Detective Comics 671-675, Batman: Shadow of the Bat 24-28, Batman 505-508, and the lead story from Showcase ’94 7. Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan kick things off with a three-part Joker story in Detective. Now, I love the Joker. And the art in this story is great. But it is not a good story. I would actually call it the worst of the AzBats run, and how crazy is it that his worst story features the Joker?

The premise here is that Joker is making a movie about the death of Batman and intends to kill Batman on film. It’s not a bad idea, but because the Joker kidnaps a Hollwood executive to get funding, plus Siskel and Ebert for running commentary on his work, it turns into a tired attempt at satire. Basically, it’s three issues of dad jokes about making movies. I am astonished that nobody says “More like Hollyweird”. I like that AzBats and Joker fight on a giant keyboard, and I like that AzBats saves a college student and gets kind of obsessed with her, as if she’s going to be his new love interest. Then it turns out she was getting paid by the Joker the whole time. Also, Joker figures out that his Batman is a different person, before AzBats breaks both of his arms.

A single-issue of Shadow of the Bat brings back that crazy Vince Giarrano art for an Alan Grant story about people stealing babies from illegal immigrants. Boy, this would be a very political story now. Then we get an issue of Batman that sets up the main story for the book – obscure villain Abattoir returns. He appeared once, years earlier, and his whole deal is that he’s a serial killer who only kills members of his family. Here we learn that he lives in a family crypt so he can gain energy by sucking on a bone now and again. It’s unnecessarily gross, but also pretty darn effective. He doesn’t seem like a major threat, and the fact that he’s a significant figure in AzBats’ tenure just tells you that things are going to get weird. This ends with the first redesign of his armor, which is mostly just some tweaks to the helmet, chestpiece, and cape.

And that brings us to Shadow and the first Bloodlines character- Joe Public. He’s a super-powered gym teacher (because what comic-reading kid didn’t idolize gym teachers) who can absorb the strength and powers of any one person until he gives it back. So he’s a very specific Parasite. Also, Joe Public’s costume is hilarious – they’re going for a patriotic theme even though neither his powers or backstory support it and also he wears mirrored sunglasses and it is ridiculous. Anyway, he and AzBats face the Corrosive Man, another forgotten villain who’s made of acid. AzBats is a jerk to Joe Public throughout and Joe doesn’t really pick up on it. It’s actually quite fun because it’s a bizarre villain, a misbegotten hero, and an off-brand Batman. It feels like a knockoff DC comic.

A return to Batman and the Abattoir story involves three minor criminals based on punk versions of the Three Stooges. And the narrator describes them as “six months into the bizarrely bitter break-up of Gotham’s post-punk answer to Seattle grunge”, which is really funny and I kind of want to do a Doug Moench deep dive in the near future. Anyway, this establishes that Abattoir has one living cousin, Graham Etchison, and then the hit Bloodlines character Ballistic appears. He’s a guy with a lot of guns and some alien features (spikes coming out of his chin) and also a mohawk and he is basically a member of Youngblood. He and Batman bicker about Abattoir and fight the Three Stooges for a full issue before Ballistic decides to leave down. He would return years later to die during Infinite Crisis.

OK, here’s where it gets crazy. We jump back to Shadow of the Bat and you need to know that writer Alan Grant is obsessed with Clayface. All of them. This story focuses on the third and fourth Clayfaces – Preston Payne and Lady Clayface. Preston has melty skin and lives in a protective suit and needs to kill people with his touch to ease his pain. Lady Clayface is a more traditional Clayface with the shape shifting and they’re in love. They’re hiding out on away from society after the last time Alan Grant wrote them, and in the backstory, Lady Clayface gets pregnant with a clay-baby. They name him “Cassius Clay”, which is pretty funny. Anyway, Abattoir kidnaps their shape-changing baby and demands that they bring him his cousin in exchange. This is needlessly complicated and maybe antagonizing a shape-shifter and a man with a death touch is a bad plan. But somehow it works and AzBats ends up fighting the Clay Family while Abattoir makes off with his cousin. And then he puts said cousin in a deathtrap where he lays on a bed of nails while the weight on his chest slowly increases. It’s maximum pain and Abattoir thinks that’ll make him stronger.

I have to note that the Clayface mini-arc features the perfect AzBats moment. Once Claybaby is safe, AzBats kicks Clayface III’s ass and then reflects on how one day that baby will be his enemy and he’ll have to do the same thing. So not only does he vastly overestimate the length of his Batman tenure, but this guy looks at a baby and thinks about how one day he’s going to beat it up. It’s ridiculous and perfect. Bruce Wayne would be working out a way to keep the Claybaby on the right path, and AzBats is just hoping it makes a move.

We get a little break for Showcase in a story written by Peter David with art by P. Craig Russell and Michael T. Gilbert, and it’s fantastic. AzBats hasn’t responded to the Batsignal and Commissioner Gordon’s wife is in danger. The GCPD has apprehended Penguin, but he won’t tell him where she is, only that she dies at midnight. The whole thing is Gordon interrogating Penguin and both of them realizing that they don’t play the same role in Batman’s life that they used to. AzBats shows up at the end, having rescued Sarah. He just ignored the Batsignal because he was already on the case. I don’t think this story has been included in other reprints and it’s very good.

Next, Detective introduces artillery-themed villains Gunhawk and Bunny. They’re ridiculous and I feel like other writers would have made them a satire on American gun obsessions, but Chuck Dixon thinks guns are cool so they don’t play that way at all. After one issue with them, Batman brings up Abattoir and the big issue where a fight leaves him hanging over a vat of molten metal. And then AzBats is tormented by images of St. Dumas and his father, one demanding that he save Abattoir and one demanding that he kill him. Unable to choose, he leaves Abattoir to dangle until he loses his grip and falls to his death. And as a result, nobody knows where Graham Etchison is and he dies alone. This is the beginning of the end for AzBats.

Shadow has Gordon confronting AzBats over this and it’s a very good story of Commissioner Gordon kind of mourning the Batman who was his friend – by this time, he’s certain it’s a different guy but he assumes the original is dead. And this leads AzBats to redesign his armor again, mainly switching out his cape for metal strips. Even though that look didn’t last long, it’s kind of the iconic look for him. AzBats merchandise usually features this third armor but with the first helmet. A last issue of Detective wraps up the Gunhawk story and pits AzBats against the GCPD.

All in all, the Detective issues are kind of a letdown here. Even the Gunhawk ones aren’t really bad but that Joker story is such a bummer. As for the rest, well, I like the over the top Nineties vibe of the Bloodlines characters even if I don’t care about them in the slightest. Abattoir proves to be a more effective villain than he should be, the Clayface story is a lot of fun even with the two Clayfaces that nobody cares about, and the two Commissioner Gordon-centered stories are excellent. It’s a lot more uneven than the first “Crusade” volume, but the highs are definitely higher.

Next time we’re going to see what Bruce Wayne has been up to this whole time and it’s… kind of disappointing. Like, if you think the explanation for why his back heals will make more sense than in The Dark Knight Rises, well, you’re going to want to sit down for this.

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