There are many, many Batman origin stories, but, judging by its first issue, few are as ambitious or explorative as Batman: The Knight.
A 10-issue miniseries that charts Bruce Wayne’s emotionally fraught odyssey from vengeful boy billionaire to the world’s greatest detective begins cuts straight to the core of what makes a troubled young man do terrible things in its first installment. A superhero romp this is not: Chip Zdarsky and Carmine Di Giandomenico have tossed Wayne into a gauntlet of growing pains and hubris, where psychological distress is just as vital to the story as its gorgeously rendered fist fights.
It’s mean, it’s moody, it’s good.
Who is making Batman: The Knight?
Batman: The Knight #1 unites Eisner Award-winning writer Chip Zdarsky with artist Carmine Di Giandomenico. Both have had recent brushes with Gotham City: Zdarksy wrapped up a 6-issue run on the anthology series Batman: Urban Legends last August while Di Giandomenico illustrated three issues (#991-993) of James Robinson’s short stint on Detective Comics. The issue is colored by Ivan Plascencia (a frequent collaborator with Di Giandomenico during his run on The Flash) and lettered by industry stalwart Pat Brosseau.
What is Batman: The Knight about?
Batman: The Knight #1 isn’t so much about how Bruce Wayne started on his path to the Batcave, but what he was feeling when he did it. This issue traces Wayne’s last disastrous semester at Gotham Academy: He’s tormenting bullies, generally freaking out his would-be girlfriend Dana Dunlop, and sneaking out of his mansion to pummel strangers in underground fight clubs. Bruce is, putting it gently, a mess, and his dutiful butler Alfred Pennyworth is at the end of his tether.
This is why Dana suggests that he see her family psychiatrist, a curious doctor who finds Wayne’s plight intriguing and is really pushy about conducting shady hypnotherapy sessions. The doctor is a the young villain Hugo Strange, an alarming presence that adds a substantial amount of peril to the issue. Strange’s conversations with Bruce are presented as the one relatively stable element in Batman: The Knight #1 while every other sequence in the issue plainly articulates how close he is to losing himself to anger. Readers will quickly recognize where the real danger lies for Wayne in this story; the danger isn’t just on the streets, it’s in this room.
Why is Batman: The Knight #1 happening now?
It’s the year 2022 and DC must have some kind of mandate that every generation gets its own Batman origin story. Batman: Zero Year was published nine years ago, Batman: Year One is 35 years old, and the sooner you decide not to do the math on how old The Untold Legend of the Batman is, the better. Besides, there’s a Year Two Batman movie coming out this March, which just might send moviegoers and lapsed comic readers running to their nearest comic book shop to check out what this Bruce Wayne character’s been up to over on the printed page. Publishing a new origin story for Batman right now is a well-timed move on DC’s part.
Is there any required reading?
The short answer is no. This is an origin story, don’t be ridiculous.
However. If Batman origins are a dime a dozen, at least DC has had the wisdom to let each new take tackle a different aspect of Bruce Wayne’s formative years. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Zero Year depicts Batman’s first (or zeroeth) year as an overeager vigilante who may just be in over his head; Frank Miller and Dave Mazzucchelli’s Year One explores how Batman and then-Lieutenant Jim Gordon’s relationship evolved over the course of their first year in Gotham; Len Wein, John Byrne, and Jim Aparo’s Untold Legend ties the Batman’s origin to Robin’s and presents both as legacy characters: Bruce was technically the second Batman after his father’s one adventurous night as the caped hero (a story adapted from Detective Comics #235) while Dick Grayson was technically the second Robin, following Bruce’s first costumed foray as a masked Gotham City avenger.
Each story is great on its own and they all have something unique to offer. They’re not necessarily required reading, but it is fascinating to see how the Batman saga clicks into place by reading these seemingly disparate stories. It’s still early days, but The Knight has the goods to become the latest essential example of how Batman’s story continues to remain fresh even as our real world continues to change around him.
Is Batman: The Knight #1 good?
If you’ve been reading Zdarsky’s ridiculously good Daredevil run and have often wondered how he might tackle a run on Batman, you’ve just hit paydirt.
The Knight is a more grounded origin story than what we’ve seen before. The grappling hooks, the escape artistry, the muscle car, those are miles down the road. Zdarsky isn’t interested in racing to the familiar touchstones in Bruce’s long journey towards Dark Knightdom; he’s more invested in Bruce’s brilliant mind. And at this point in the story, Bruce’s brain is being pulled in all sorts of directions.
Bruce’s regular nightmares are point-blank recreations of the night his parents were murdered, the mugger’s gun barely obscuring his remorseless grin just before the weapon erupts and Bruce is shocked awake. And Bruce wakes up and finds that he’s still angry. He trains his body as a gymnast with no real goal in mind and releases his pent-up frustrations on nameless (and economically desperate) adversaries in Gotham’s underground fight clubs.
Di Giandomenico goes to great pains to make sure Bruce’s small tortures show on his face, his body, and his hands. The toll Bruce is paying is noticed by the people who care about him the most and this makes Bruce’s interactions with them that much more painful to read. At one point Alfred calls him spoiled, rich brat, and you can almost hear the agony in his voice. Zdarsky is incredibly adept at scripting deeply human moments and Batman: The Knight #1 has a real doozy.
One thing that becomes patently clear in this story: Young Bruce wants to punish people who hurt other people, and so he does with alarming cruelty. Alfred sees this, fears this, and out of love starts Bruce down a path with consequences neither of them can possibly comprehend. Later, Bruce tests his growing deductive mind against an adversary in a scene with the kind of thrilling dramatic height you just don’t read in a first issue that often. Wayne, still a kid, gets his first taste of justice and discovers that he likes it. But what terrible things might he do as he navigates this new pursuit?
It’s a wild question, given what’s unearthed in Batman: The Knight #1, a fascinating and frightening new take on the Batman myth.
One panel that popped
Wherever Bruce finds himself next, one things’ for sure: It’s gonna hurt.