Sara's Reviews > Batman: Knightfall

Batman by Dennis O'Neil
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Nov 05, 2011

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bookshelves: fantasy

This is not a brilliant book. But it is entertaining--enough that I set aside the three other books I'm currently juggling to finish this one--and it's in line with my current Batman obsession (for which I blame Batman: Arkham Asylum). Compared to the other Batman novel I attempted to read (The Batman Murders), it's a downright masterpiece.

The action is good--but I have the same complaint I've noted in other reviews: it's very clear the author is accustomed to writing comib book scripts, and not novel-form prose. Comics are a team effort--and the job of description falls to the artist. Hence a notable lack of decent descriptive narrative in Knightfall, alas. O'Neil made some attempts, but they were inconsistent at best. (As an example, a crippled Bruce Wayne is described doing something he probably shouldn't be able to do--and then we're told he's using canes. Now, I'm a super-speedreader, so I probably missed said canes' first mention, but all the same, he switches back and forth from wheelchair to canes with rapidity that even a 'comic-book' suspension of disbelief like mine finds hard to swallow.)

My biggest complaint overall is the characterization, though I'm not certain how the author could possibly have satisfied me, or any other reader: as he mentions in the afterword, Batman has been around as a comic book hero for more than fifty years (sixty plus by now), and has been interpreted in so many different ways, from grim, unbalanced obsessive to self-mocking comedian. It's rather hard to pin down ONE characterization of Bruce Wayne/Batman. My favorite interpretation is not necessarily the next person's favorite interpretation. Some people love Michael Keaton's Batman, for example. I couldn't stand him, though I love Keaton in other things. I love the Batman in the Chris Nolan films, but while I appreciate the camp of the 60s TV show, it makes me cringe and view it as 'not-really-Batman.' O'Neil, I think, in attempting to draw on all the varied interpretations of Batman there were in the mid-nineties, ended up presenting a fairly shallow character. I never got the feeling that Bruce Wayne was truly traumatized by the fact that he was paralyzed. The lack of a sense of time in the book (it seemed bare days or weeks from Bane breaking Batman to Bruce Wayne's full, miraculous recovery, when I guess it was meant to be a year or more) did not help this. Unfortunately, this was a common theme throughout: emotional situations and events, which are incredibly difficult to portray in comic book format but which shine in novel form were glossed over or skipped, seemingly in an effort to 'get on with the action.' If I'd wanted that, frankly, I'd have gone and read the comics themselves. Shandra Kinsolver--arguably a vital character in the Batman-got-broke situation--gets glossed over in characterization. We see she's treating a crippled Bruce Wayne, sure, and she's kind of cool--but we're given no solid reasons for Bruce Wayne deciding (apparently on a whim) to tell her everything and ask her to marry him (unless this is one hell of a patient-in-love-with-his-doctor problem). Naturally this gets derailed, but I would have liked to see a better development of their relationship, which would in turn have made me rather sorrier at her semi-tragic fate.

The saving grace in the dearth of characterization is, I think, the portrayal of Alred and his erstwhile charge-and-employer's relationship. Alfred has long been a favorite character of mine (now set in granite since Michael Caine's performance), and he, at least, does not have a hundred different interpretations of his character to hinder his writing. Alfred is as he always was: steadfast, sarcastic, funny, and more interested in the well being of his surrogate son(s) Bruce Wayne (and Tim Drake) than he is in the pursuit of vigilante justice. Bruce compares their partnership at one point to Wooster and Jeeves, to which Alfred takes mild offense. It is his resignation that finalyl serves as a much-needed slap-upside-the-head for Bruce Wayne, though sadly the author did not resolve how it is Alfred comes back by the end of the book. Dick Grayson, and a number of other characters, were also sadly absent, Dick Grayson being the most inexplicable, since next to Alfred he's clearly established as the closest thing Batman has to genuine family, and should have been handed the cowl over Jean Paul the loony (which, as I understand it, he eventually was, together with an apology from Bruce for being an idiot, in the comics).

The deep flaws in the book notwithstanding, I did enjoy it, and I would recommend it to Batman fans. There were moments of genuine, wicked humor that I was glad to see from Batman (something I loved about the most recent film interpretations of the character), including a response to Gordon speculating that Batman is a ninja: (paraphrased) "I took a corespondence course. It was either ninja or air conditioning repair, and since I already had a black suit..."

And Bane, at least, was a fairly interesting (though again not as well developed as he could have been) villain. Unlike that horrifying version of him in the equally-horrifying Batman & Robin film... I look forward to seeing what is done with him in The Dark Knight Rises...
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