Jean Paul Valley Of Death
Batman Knightquest is the direct sequel to the thrilling Knightfall arc. A run which saw Bruce Wayne’s Batman destroyed and the rise of a new hero in the cape and cowl.
Of course any change is often met with controversy, we’ve pretty much witnessed it everytime a new actor is cast as the Caped Crusader or The Joker. Ben Affleck got it, Heath Ledger received it worse and it’s easy to imagine the backlash that such a shift would’ve caused.
I’m interested to dive into Jean Paul Valley’s time as the Dark Knight and see if his ousting was justified. I’ve never read this book before so it will be interesting to see if the motives of DC are clear throughout or if they were just testing the waters with a new face.
So let’s dive in and see if Batman Knightquest is that bad…
New Day New Man
From the off the main focus of the book is Jean Paul finding his feet as the new Batman. Due to indoctrination by the order of St. Dumas. The new vigilante is ruthless and unforgiving. He vastly juxtaposes Bruce in almost every aspect. Whilst others may find him unlikeable due to these characteristics, I found it a fascinating and relatable tale that subtly showed the depth of Bruce’s kindness and self control.
Most of us granted with super powers or the ability to strike fear would probably end up corrupted and we witness Jean Paul become a victim of this. This in a way speaks volumes to just how good Bruce is at heart and due to the polar shift Robin desperately wants the old ways back. This makes us side with Tim Drake immensely and it’s good to finally see a Robin that I truly feel a kinship with.
This is a new Batman in every aspect. From his methods, suit and even down to the Bat Train instead of mobile…nothing is the same. New isn’t always better though.
Batman’s new villains
Much in the same way that Bruce’s villains were a reflection of himself, Azrael’s also act as a black mirror. They exist in the realm of hyper violence, people indoctrinated into a certain lifestyle and way of thinking that bears heavy disregard for empathy.
Throughout the book we see Azrael take on newer foes such as The Tally Man, a uzi toting assassin who shares many similarities with a Spawn Villain. Merkos, a self hypnotised assassin who feels as much part of a system as Jean Paul does and many more.
From his encounters Jean Paul realises these kinships and solely begins to question his own motives and actions. It’s a great psychological take that is as much a deconstruction of the character as it is 90’s comics.
Whilst none of these villains quite match the levels of characters like The Joker and Two Face, they still have their worth. They are there to make us question the hero and provide us with the wish to see Bruce return to the cape and cowl.
My Problems With Jean Paul Valley
My main problem with Jean Paul Valley lies in the fact that he spends all of his time as Batman. We rarely see the vigilante unmasked and due to this he becomes harder to relate to. Without a personal side to the comics I was unable to connect with the character in the way that I had Bruce.
Batman before this was a family man, Bruce was just as much part of the books as Batman was and I often preferred the human side that was portrayed through his normal state. The fact that Jean Paul rarely interacts with anyone other than criminals makes him seem abnormal. He has no life outside of the mask and due to this seems like a one dimensional character.
I don’t detest him but it would’ve added more depth to Knightquest if we had’ve seen how he acts when not in the costume.
The Death Of The Batman
One of the highlights of the book is ‘The Death Of Batman‘ Storyline that involves The Joker making a movie around the death of The Dark Knight.
The plot has some great Hollywood homages in and nods to Psycho, Indiana Jones, Casablanca, The Wolfman, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even stars Siskel and Ebert. Whilst the premise is goofy it’s still carried out in a fun way that won’t have you shaking your head.
I really recommend that you seek out this section even if you don’t wish to read the entire Knightquest storyline. It has jokes, action, humour and nice little Easter eggs for any movie aficionado.
The Abattoir plot revolves around Batman stopping a maniacal serial killer. Whilst it is rather disjointed, it serves more as a signifier that Jean Paul is not Batman. During capture Jean Paul has a choice. He can either save the murderer or let him die.
Jean Paul chooses the latter and I felt that this was the real turning point in the Knightquest story that let the audience know that he was always going to be a slave to his inner demons.
It has been created to let us know that Paul is not the good man that Bruce was and isn’t fit for the part.
Gordon confronts him and informs the new Dark Knight that one of Abattoirs victims could have been saved had he not let him die. He shuns Batman and smashes the signal. We know that Jean Paul’s reign is coming to an end and there is only one man capable of doing it.
The Return Of Bruce Wayne
Bruce Wayne returns. Whilst now fully healed in body (a journey that is missing from this collection but soon to be released in the hardback omnibus) he is not mentally ready to take on the role again.
It’s strange to see Bruce happy, no longer the Batman he focuses solely on finally living a life as Bruce Wayne. That is until he sees the Batcave.
Completely changed he realises that Jean Paul was the wrong choice and this is confirmed when Paul refuses to give up the mantle. The two clash and Bruce is easily defeated. Jean Paul rides off into the night victorious, unaware of Bruce and Tim’s plan.
The book ends with Bruce leaving to take a crash course in martial arts to ready his body for his inevitable seizing of the cape and cowl and it sets up Knightsend beautifully.
Batman Knightquest is weaker than Knightfall in many ways. It has no real thrust to it other than showing just how unfit for the role Jean Paul is. It’s a slow burn that has some inconsistent issues, acting more as supplemental material to the overall fall and rise of the Batman arc.
However, that are some enjoyable moments and elements that would often be seen as goofy are given severity due to the skill of Chuck Dixon‘s writing.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Knightfall. As a standalone story it doesn’t really work and will probably not have enough standout moments to really please casual fans. This plays best as a set up to what is to come with the return of Bruce Wayne.
Knightquest gets a….
Leave a comment whether you agree with my ranking or not.