Tales from the Dark Multiverse — Batman Knightfall
Written by Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins
Art by Javier Fernandez and Alex Guimares
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
While the title may be Tales from the Dark Multiverse, there’s a distinctly Elseworlds feel to Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins and Javier Fernandez’s twist on Batman's memorable 1993-1994 "Knightfall" arc. For longtime readers, this saga was about the return of Bruce Wayne after having his back broken by Bane and his mantle usurped by Jean-Paul Valley - but what if that wasn’t the case? Thanks to their expanded page count, Snyder, Higgins, and Fernandez deliver a solid and largely satisfying dystopia, exploring Gotham City as it cowers in the shadow of Azrael.
Having defeated both Bane and Bruce Wayne, Jean-Paul Valley’s descent into bloodlust and madness has only worsened in Tales from the Dark Multiverse: Batman Knightfall. Evoking bits of "Cataclsym," Gotham has become an isolated, suppurating police state under Azrael’s eye — although given the inherently religious iconography of “Saint Batman,” one can’t help but wish there was a little bit more of a pointed commentary given the increasingly aggressive theocrats taking power in the real world. Still, Snyder and Higgins make this world look bleak as hell, with Jean-Paul’s lieutenants exacting bloody judgment and the original Dark Knight being held in the most harrowing of prisons.
And given that Knightfall was a sprawling epic in its original incarnation, Synder and Higgins do great work with an expanded page count, delivering fun callbacks such as the return of Lady Shiva as well as introducing new elements of the mythology like the son of Bane. There’s a sense of scale here, as they’re able to introduce Azrael’s Gotham before showing it destabilizing under the weight of revolution - and for the most part, it works. Even though we all know how the story ends, Jean-Paul has been built up to be a significant threat, both with his army of minions and his steady supply of Venom - but at the same time, the multiverse also rhymes, as we see the return of Batman all over again to knock out this pretender.
Artist Javier Fernandez also delivers some killer work here - even back on his work on Detective Comics, he’s been known for delivering some dense panel layouts that never feel cramped, which helps make Tales from the Dark Multiverse feel like an even more hefty read. And for the most part, his character designs sing - in particular, I like Azrael’s “Robin” Torchbearer, who looks exactly what a young agent of Saint Dumas might look like, while the son of Bane evokes Bruce’s old Tengu outfit from the original Knightfall. Batman himself is the only spot where things get wonky a bit, but ultimately I think that the script contributes to this just as much as the actual character design. Alex Guimares’ colors are solid, but occasionally a little oversaturated with the Azrael red motif throughout - he actually excels less with the artificially dramatic lighting and more when he’s able to let characters be themselves, such as the son of Bane and Shiva discussing strategy in the sewers.
The only place this story truly stumbles is in the finale - the use of nanotech as a catch-all in superhero comic books feels more contrived than necessarily awesome, allowing characters to sprout whatever superpowers they need for a particular situation, whether it’s razor-sharp bats or electrification powers. (Although I’m sure one could make the same argument with Batman’s bottomless utility belt!) But it’s really Snyder and Higgins’ full-on bleak ending that feels less like a twist and more undercuts the story as a whole. Ultimately, if the new regime feels just as bad as the old one, has anything really changed at all? More setup with Azrael’s conqueror might have established this twist better, or even just a greater look into their general viewpoints of this brave new world.
As a longtime fan of the Elseworlds stories, Tales from the Dark Multiverse is a worthy successor to the throne. Utilizing an expanded page count, Snyder, Higgins and Fernandez start these one-shots off with a bang, delivering an action-packed story that will satisfy many 1990s Batman fans. While there are some opportunities that might have been missed in the micro scheme of things, Tales from the Dark Multiverse — Batman Knightfall feels like a big summer blockbuster. In many ways, it feels like the inverse of the old saying: while more things feel the same at the end, it’s seeing the changes along the way that make this book such a fun read.