Flashpoint: Batman – Knight of Vengeance #3

Secret Avengers #15

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When I reviewed Batman: Knight of Vengeance #1 a few months ago, I ended that post with the following sentence: “I do fear, however, that as the story progresses more of its pages will be devoted to straight-ahead action, and I hope that’s not at the cost of us really coming to learn how different Thomas Wayne’s world is.” If you’ve got a bun and some ketchup, I’d like to eat those words, please.

In its last two issues, Knight of Vengeance did everything I hoped it would, and better than I anticipated. Creators Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso deliver a serious look at a world where Thomas Wayne, not Bruce, is Batman, and the result proves thrilling, not to mention a little unnerving. I haven’t been following the main Flashpoint series, but I’d say that KoV is required reading regardless. It takes full advantage of everything a premise like Flashpoint‘s promises, and at the same time it provides an excellent stand-alone comic book.

Despite my change of feelings towards KoV, a lot of the praise I gave that first issue still holds true. Eduardo Risso’s art here is of a quality unmatched. It’s creepy and gritty and makes great use of empty space, giving this story an unsettling noir tone; you always feel as though something sinister’s around the corner, and usually you’re right. Colorist Patricia Mulvihill compliments Risso perfectly; her stark palette (heavy on grays, reds and blacks) conveys just the right moods for this dreary alternate world. It’s very telling, I think, that the brightest thing on most of these pages is the red circle that surrounds Thomas Wayne’s bat emblem.

Though he’s certainly no slouch (and I’m quite looking forward to his Wonder Woman), writer Brian Azzarello really surprised me with this book. I mentioned that the first issue was very action-heavy and didn’t feel incredibly dissimilar from a standard Batman story, except perhaps for the more extreme violence perpetrated by Thomas Wayne. As this series carried on, things got more and more psychological, leading to some outright disturbing passages, and even a little bit of serious emotion as this third issue’s climax sets in. It turns out that in a world where it was Bruce Wayne killed by Joe Chill (a nice alteration made by Reverse Flash, I must say), it’s not just Thomas who’s affected — Martha, too, has her own coping mechanism; she has become the Flashpoint universe’s Joker. If you think the idea of an older lady supervillain is silly, don’t worry; her character’s incredibly disturbing, and is actually written fairly similar to Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Joker in The Dark Knight. In KoV #3, Thomas Wayne must battle his other half face-to-face. I can’t think of a more different story from the usual Batman fare than this, so Azzarello and Risso score bonus points for uniqueness.

(SPOILERS AHEAD) As Thomas and Martha Wayne reach their final showdown in Wayne Manor’s gardens, I found myself pretty shocked by the route Azzarello took to resolve the story. Some of that comes, I think, from not actually following Flashpoint; Thomas’ knowledge of the way things should really be seems sudden, although I suppose there have been vague references throughout this miniseries about the world being wrong. But his face-to-face confrontation with Martha finds some surprisingly poignant emotional ground, especially when Thomas tells her that when things are set right Bruce will follow in his father’s footsteps. I really like scenes where heroes are forced to affirm their decisions, as awful as the consequences may be, and this provides a great example. When Martha meets her ironic end a few pages later, I felt a little drained. For a miniseries that opened with seedy casino deals and breakneck action, the conclusion here’s not anything like what you’d expect. It almost makes me want to follow Thomas back into Flashpoint to see what happens to him next. Almost.

Knight of Vengeance is a series that I suspect readers will turn to long after Flashpoint has been mostly forgotten. It’s an alternate universe story done right, with incredibly compelling twists and real consequences. I suppose it’s too much for ask for Azzarello and Risso to take up a monthly Batman book again?

tags: batman, brian azzarello, eduardo risso, flashpoint, knight of vengeance

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