Batman In Print – Knightfall (1993) – The Venom Connection

Batman #499: “The Venom Connection”

Written by Doug Moench, Art by Jim Aparo

Edited by Dennis O’Neil

By John A. Butz

“The Batman…is…not…back.”

 

All things change.  It is the nature of the world.  Nothing is constant.  Within the context of story, the teller of the tale is there to highlight the journey from one point to another, to show us the way that the protagonist changes.  As a work of fiction, KnightFall is very much focused on the process of transformation.  Transformation is a part of the super heroes tale, the path from man to superman.  The entire mythos of the Batman revolves around the process of choosing to become something, to leave behind the bounds of mere mediocrity and rise to the heights of human capability, to fall into the depths of society’s darkness and the stop the descent right before you hit the bottom.  KnightFall looks at the reverse of that, the fall from greatness to crippled weakness, the drive of a System that makes you into something against your will.  Through the mirror of Jean Paul Valley we meet Bruce Wayne.  Through the breaking of Bruce Wayne we meet Jean Paul Valley.  The two men and their respective journeys reflect and inform the way each man changes.

The Venom Connection is a return to form for the KnightFall creative team.  Jim Aparo and Doug Moench pick up where Graham Nolan and Chuck Dixon left off in Lightning Changes.  They choose, wisely in my opinion, to ignore the events of the God of Fear arc, focusing instead on the diverging paths of Jean Paul and Bruce Wayne as both men travel closer to their eventual clash.   The rising darkness in Valley is matched by Bruce’s rising desire to save the kidnapped Dr. Kinsolving.

The plot follows Robin and Jean Paul Valley as they continue to fight crime and hunt down Bane, in defiance of Bruce’s orders.  Meanwhile Bruce Wayne calls upon his considerable intellect and resources to hunt down the kidnappers from Lightning Changes.  Along the way he meets up with Catwoman in her civilian identity of Selina Kyle, and they leave the country, destination Santa Prisca.  This leaves Tim Drake alone with an increasingly unstable Jean Paul Valley.  Jean Paul begins to tap aspects of the System, his deep mental conditioning courtesy of the Order of St. Dumas, to allow him to begin to design his Rob Liefeld inspired claw gauntlets.

Ok, I don’t know for a fact that they were inspired by Leifeld, but once we get to full AzBats mode, the plethora of pouches is a sure sing of Liefeld-ification…that man does love his pouches.  And I don’t really like Leifelds art.  His lack of proportion, indulgence in ridiculous armor and weaponry, and inability to draw any character in a proper perspective did comics of the ’90’s no favors, and we will see the negative impact of his style on the art of Batman in the next graphic novel.

There is a lot of excellent metaphor in this book.  Bruce Wayne, confined to a wheel chair, weak and diminished physically but still seeking to be a hero provides sharp contrast to Jean Paul Valley donning his bladed gauntlets for the first time, beginning the long process of hiding himself within a suit of armor that gives him physical power.  Where Bruce continues to show he is as much The World’s Greatest Detective as Caped Crusader, Valley continues to show he is little more than a thug grasping at the title of Dark Knight.

This issue is very well plotted, with several strong themes.  The art is uniformly excellent, which is what I exact from Moench and Aparo by now.  There is very little to nit-pick here.

On the downside, this is the issue that really begins to move towards darker-and-edgier territory.  To do so it has to make some pretty difficult-to-accept leaps.  We are expected to believe that Bruce Wayne, super-intelligent detective crime-fighter, doesn’t realize that Jean Paul is very unstable.  We have to accept that somehow Oracle, the information broker to Gotham’s crime fighting elite, hasn’t noticed the fact that Valley is being incredibly violent as she scans the vast amount of radio traffic and web data that allows her to find any given criminal in Gotham that a plot requires her to find.  We have to accept that Tim Drake hasn’t spoken to Bruce at all about his concerns.

These facts would have been easier to accept if not for the presence of the God of Fear arc.  What the heck was everyone doing for three issues while Jean Paul ran around fighting the Scarecrow?  Hanging out on the beach and drinking mai tais?  Studiously avoiding each other?  On vacation?  The tight plot that would have made perfect sense if this book had followed directly on the heels of Lightning Changes is utterly lost with the intervening miniseries.  It was a poor editorial decision to include that divergent storyline in the graphic novel, much less the actual print run of KnightFall.  It hurt the rhythm, flow, and believability of the characters actions.

The importance of good editing in serialized storytelling can not be stressed enough.  When you are juggling different authors and artists, story lines diverging from and converging on each other, different interpretations of a character, different approaches to storytelling, all wrapped up inside the same storyline and the same publication, you need a good editor…and a spectacular one would be even better.

When Dennis O’Neil is in the big chair, the story has a very strong direction and a very strong central theme.  Yes, there are variations and differences as the writers and artists change issue to issue, but O’Neil’s central vision drives the story forward.  If he is not around, things suffer from a lack of unified vision.

This is a good issue and it ties in very cleanly with the imminent climax of the story arc.  I like the way that the characters are forced to change and grow as events play out.  I like the way Jean Paul starts to change his exterior to match the changes to his interior, in direct inversion to the way that Batman , trapped in the crippled body of Bruce Wayne, continue sot show that he is a hero regardless of the mask he wears.  This is a pivotal comic in Who Rules The Night, and I really enjoy reading it.

 

“Not good enough?  Because Killer Croc Hurt me back in the beginning?  Because Bane walked right past me in contempt?  Never again Boy Wonder…NEVER AGAIN!”

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