31 March 2014

Faster than a DC Bullet: Prose Fiction #7: Batman: Knightfall

Hardcover, 349 pages
Published 1994

Borrowed from the library
Read March 2014
Batman: Knightfall
by Dennis O'Neil

Knightfall is a book of two distinct halves, and the first is definitely better than the second. In the first, a gangster known as Bane decides he is going to prove himself by taking out Batman, and he enacts a massive scheme to deplete Batman's strength in order to do so. Bane himself is the best part of this; far from being the brute thug I'd imagined from the film versions of him, he's a fascinating, semi-heroic character, or at least a character who could easily become a hero with the right push.

The second half of the book tells the tale of Jean-Paul Valley's time as Batman, while Bruce Wayne recovers from his breaking at the hands of Bane. This is less successful, partly because there's so little overlap with the first. Bane is dispatched quickly and easily by the new Batman, who capitalizes a bizarrely small amount on his major accomplishment, and he stays in prison for the rest of the novel. And given how important a character Jean-Paul is in the second half of the book-- he's Bruce's first choice for a replacement!-- he's introduced really late, very shortly before the breaking of Batman. The effect is two halves that don't quite mesh; Jean-Paul should have been more important in the beginning, and Bane should have returned at the end. Without some source of cohesion, the ending is unsatisfying.

Part of the reason I started this project of reading superhero prose fiction was to see how writers rendered the interiority of superheroes in prose. O'Neil actually uses this as a plot point; Bruce thinks of himself as "Batman" up until his back is broken, and then he cannot anymore. But when he adopts other disguises, he also inhabits them completely-- as does Jean-Paul the identity of "Batman." When the narration dubs Bruce Wayne "Batman" again, you know the hero has made a comeback.

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