Batman Knight Of Vengeance, which follows the storyline of the Batman featured in Flashpoint, is as two-sided as Two-Face’s coin. On one side, it’s a fascinating story. An in-depth and unbridled look at what Batman could be if the restraints of his history were removed. This is an unhinged Batman; a Dark Knight that learned all the wrong lessons the night his family was murdered. On the flipside, it’s all a little too reversed, everything is almost exactly the opposite of what it is now, which takes some gravitas out of the story.
You can’t fault 100 Bullets writer Brian Azzarello for that, I’m fairly sure he was given a set of parameters to work within by Flashpoint architect Geoff Johns. Johns was smart to change Flashpoint Batman to Thomas Wayne instead of trying to push an alternate look at Bruce Wayne. It allows this Batman to grow inside of his own story, free from any expectations or baggage. Thomas Wayne’s Batman is a ruthless killer on a violent mission. He’s the perfect Batman for the Gotham City shown in Flashpoint. There’s no mercy for this Batman, he kills off criminals like a cancer. It’s a line we all wanted to see Batman cross, even if we wouldn’t admit it.
Azzarello brings his considerable talents to bear here. You can tell he’s having a wonderful time turning everything about Batman into something darker. Azzarello is born to write this kind of noir, violent, street grime story. Thomas Wayne is more of a mob boss here, at least in attitude. He’s hateful, belligerent and cruel. Bruce Wayne’s Batman was a symbol of justice; his crusade was pure and helped him find his humanity. Thomas Wayne’s Batman is a symbol of revenge, so his crusade has poisoned Wayne’s soul and destroyed his humanity. He’s immensely unlikable as both Thomas Wayne and Batman, but you’re still drawn to his story.
Batman: Knight Of Vengeance does a great of setting up the players without reducing itself to a boring set-up story. Azzarello knows we’ve all said, “Why doesn’t Batman just kill these guys” at some point and he relishes in showing us what that would be like if he did. It’s a moral decay, something we don’t think about with normal Batman. Everything there is about saving, about bringing Gotham City back from the brink. Here Batman doesn’t care about anybody or anything except his mission to kill criminals. That lack of a moral center bleeds into this Gotham and Azzarello paints that on every page. I’m also looking forward to the Joker angle, since Azzarello’s Joker book was so brilliant.
The too-reversed problems is a flaw in the design of the story, not Azzarello’s writing. Here Commissioner Gordon knows who Batman really is; Harvey Dent is a yuppie jerk, the Penguin works for Thomas Wayne, etc. There’s no subtlety to the story, there are no shades of grey, just hard and fast reversals. I guess that with this being the work of the Reverse Flash there is some symmetry to the goings on, but it still makes the story a little less powerful.
Eduardo Risso’s art is, as always, glorious. He has such a unique style, a morbid blending of noir pulp imagery and horror comics. Risso takes facial cues from the old EC Comics work and adds the comic book flare to it. The sense of horror, the desperation, it’s all sitting just below the surface. Batman: Knight Of Vengeance feels like The Dark Knight Returns taken a step further. I don’t mean to imply that this is equal to The Dark Knight, but more that it gives us a glimpse of what a driven Batman with a skewed moral center would be like.