Batman: The Dark Knight: Knight Terrors
Originally published in 2012, Knight Terrors collects issues #1-9 of Batman: The Dark Knight (vol. 2.)
The newest of the three main Batman titles in the New 52, The Dark Knight benefits from a great name that attracts readers based on the strength and enduring popularity of the Nolan films. Who wouldn’t want to see a comic book spin-off of Batman’s grittiest, darkest adventures on film? Unfortunately, this book is not a spinoff of those movies, nor is it anything like them beyond sharing a title. While The Dark Knight may have borrowed its name from one of the most beloved and recognized elements of Batman lore, it would have done better to have taken some storytelling elements of that film too, namely some degree of nuance and meaningful characterization. Instead, The Dark Knight is the Batman Forever of the New 52- it’s dumb, it’s flashy, and it has absolutely no substance.
The main story, the one featured in seven of the nine issues collected in this book, involves a new strain of Venom being distributed to the inmates at Arkham Asylum. Using their newfound strength, the prisoners are easily able to stage a breakout and once again roam free in Gotham City proper. Batman arrives to clean up the mess and discovers that Two-Face has buffed himself to an enormous size and now insists on being called “One-Face” despite the fact that he still has the very distinct scarring that earned him the Two-Face moniker to begin with. It’s an embarrassing moment for the character and a portent of exactly how bad this book is going to get. Everyone Batman fights is just “the same as always, only featuring super-strength” which doesn’t make for much excitement, especially when Batman discovers the fatal flaw behind this new branch of Venom without even having to do any investigation.
From there, Batman goes on the hunt to track down the mysterious mastermind behind the new Venom, along the way contending with many of his most famous rogues and a new villain known as the White Rabbit. The story is fairly rote and there aren’t many attempts made to spice it up. Scarecrow does his usual fear toxin thing, Bane shows up and talks about how he broke Batman’s back, and then proclaims his newfound intelligence as he sticks to the usual script of throwing things and punching people. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne finds a new love interest, interacts with an unusually jovial and horny Alfred, and interacts with politicians at various fundraisers. The Bruce Wayne sections of the book aren’t great, but it’s a decent snapshot view of the various daily activities the man pursues. Of course, there isn’t much of a characterization to him, and the duality of his life as Batman and Bruce Wayne is never explored, but it’s something positive to draw from an otherwise dreadful story.
Unlike most Batman stories, this one prominently features the Justice League. Superman and Flash play big parts in the story, while Wonder Woman also shows up to explain away the absence of the rest of the group. Unfortunately, both of these appearances prove to be about as unpleasant as the rest of the book. Flash shows up just in time to save Batman, but then promptly injures himself with a venomous plant and must run laps around the globe to prevent the toxins from entering his bloodstream. Cue yet another pointless distraction from the main story. Meanwhile, Superman appears in a near-complete role reversal of the fight between the two icons in Hush, as this time it is Batman who is out of his mind and senselessly pummeling everything. If this kind of stuff is what’s going to happen when the Justice League gets involved in Batman’s solo book- distractions from the main plot, terrible rehashes of things we’ve seen too many times before- then it’s a great idea for them to stay far, far away.
One of the surprising elements of this book is that, for as good as Batman looks and as awesome as he is in select panels, this is actually one of the more incompetent portrayals of the Caped Crusader you are likely to see. He survives fights based on pure luck- sometimes the Venom gets to the bad guy’s head and he faints, sometimes a member of the Justice League shows up just in the nick of time to save him. He does very little on his own here, and it’s important to note that making Batman look like a bumbling idiot doesn’t actually improve the standing of any of the villains featured. So what if Harvey “One-Face” Dent managed to beat Batman in a fight…that still doesn’t change the fact that his new form was an absolutely terrible, one dimensional idea with no room for growth.
There are two original characters with a prominent story in this book. The first is Batman’s antagonist, White Rabbit. She sports one of the typically revealing and embarrassing getups that show as much T&A as possible, but then takes it a step further by throwing on a cotton tail and rabbit ears. This design alone should be enough to cue you in on just how this character is supposed to be enjoyed, but if not then her playful, flirtatious dialogue should definitely reveal that this is a character not meant to be taken seriously or made an enduring part of the Batman saga, but to cash in on pure sex appeal and sell comic books the good old fashioned way. Even if you did find a way to care about her story, this book will disappoint you as she completely disappears from the final two stories on the heels of a significant (though unsurprising) revelation at the tail end of part seven. With the creative team now off this book, it would be no surprise if we never saw the character (or at least this version of the character) again.
The second is Lieutenant Forbes, one of David Finch’s creations in the pre-New 52 The Dark Knight title, and a police officer skeptical of Jim Gordon’s work on the force. He is totally dedicated to bringing the man down, and serves little purpose to the main story. In a book that already resembles a sideshow circus, we didn’t need yet another distraction from the main story with this guy doing his level best to make Gordon miserable. Gordon’s story focuses on how weary he is of Gotham and his work as police commissioner, a problem compounded by the growing discord between himself and the GCPD. This might make for a more intriguing story in the hands of a more able writer, but here it reads as just more filler.
Things improve a bit with the standalone story “Madness.” Here we see Batman track down the cause of a recent outbreak of irrational actions taking place in the town. Cops are murdering one another and a presidential candidate murders himself on live TV, so Batman goes into the Gotham underground to find out who’s really behind all of it. Outside of some decent fight scenes, nothing in this story is particularly exciting or impressive, but it makes a great relief from the banality of the previous tale by being reasonably well told and totally coherent. The bad character moments and awful dialogue that plagued the first seven parts of this collection don’t show up here, and therefore this one-off is the single redeemable story of the Knight Terrors collection.
The last story is a Night of the Owls tie-in entitled “I Can No Longer Be Broken.” The Dark Knight moves out of the spotlight and a Talon named Alton Carver takes center-stage. We learn that this particular Talon is awful at his job but was nonetheless revived with all of his comrades for the enormous invasion of Gotham seen in the main Batman title. This story is much more intimate, however, as it sketches a brief origin for the new character and shows him getting beat up by both Batman and his intended assassination target, Lincoln March. It demonstrates all the usual qualities of a bad crossover book by being completely dull and pointless (bonus points for managing to go against the history and one of the most important themes of Scott Snyder’s main Court of the Owls tale,) while also killing the pacing of the main book and throwing in far more questions than answers. This problem is compounded by the fact that this story concludes the collection, and the cliffhanger ending feels inappropriate given all we’ve seen to this point, not to mention adding more unfinished business on top of the White Rabbit ordeal is no way to satisfy readers who have stuck through this entire saga.
Most of the hype this book received was because it features the artwork of David Finch. Unfortunately, this book is graced not only by his artwork, but also by stories co-developed by himself and writer Paul Jenkins. As usual, a story drawn and written by the same person ends up being extremely thin and little more than excuse to squeeze in as many characters as possible. It’s the near inevitable result when you turn a superstar artist loose to draw whatever they please, and in the hands of all but the most astute and versatile creators, it ends up being a cameo fest where the focus is far more on the art than on the story. We see this time and again in this book, as pointless cameos are thrown in just to satisfy the artist’s need to draw EVERYTHING in the DC universe. Wonder Woman, Deathstroke, Joker, Clayface, all show up for less than a combined total of six pages, with an even less notable impact on the story.
This book emphasizes gore more than any other current title, so expect to see lots of blood and guts as things progress. Finch handles these moments expertly, giving them a suitable amount of grittiness and using them for the shock value they are very clearly intended to provide, and in general he does a great job with his layouts and the drawing of all those characters that have no excuse to be in the story. The fight scenes are big dumb fun, typically poorly resolved and thought out, but they always look reasonably good.
The few faults revolve around the particularly terrible re-designs (One-Face and Bane, all muscle and no subtlety) and in Finch’s rendering of Jim Gordon. Gordon’s nose is completely flat, like it may be broken, but this wasn’t mentioned in the main Batman title and doesn’t play a part here either. Gordon is one of the easier characters to capture, which makes his odd appearance here even more surprising. Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, and Batman all look great while the average looking guy with a distinctive mustache has absolutely no expression and a mangled nose.
While Knight Terrors is theoretically a solid book for newbies to learn about the many sides of Bruce Wayne and his enormous gallery of foes, there are just too many terrible moments and forgettable stories to make this worth your time. The villains are the same tired clichés we’ve seen a billion times before, as is the story, and the artwork focuses too much on blood and gore and cameos at the expense of genuine storytelling. This is a collection that won’t have any appeal to longtime readers because of the sheer amount of repetition and embarrassing character moments, while newcomers could do far better even among the current crop of Batman titles.