Review: Batman Vol. 10: Knightmares trade paperback (DC Comics)


If the premise was that, sometime after Tom King's Batman run is all said and done, that King would get back together with some of the pivotal artists in and around his run and revisit some of the key moments from a "no holds barred," Elseworlds perspective, I think we might look kindly on that. (It feels as though Sandman has already done this once if not a number of times.)

It is weird, no doubt, to do that mid-story, as Batman Vol. 10: Knightmares does, but when has this abstract, post-modern take on Batman not been weird? Knightmares has received some bad press, as I understand it, but there seems little benefit in trying to wish this volume into something it's not. Alright, it's a bit impressionist, but look, here's a collection of continuity-light Batman stories written by Tom King and with art by Mitch Gerard, Mikel Janin, Lee Weeks, Amanda Conner, and Yanick Paquette, for gosh sakes, ranging from horror to comedy, and with a couple of guest stars I think you'd otherwise love to see in a Batman book. Whatever the reason for Knightmares — writer needs a break (though these are surely writer-intensive stories), let events catch up in other books, or King's Batman is just an odd one — I can't find much to be upset about here.

[Review contains spoilers]

Looking back at Knightmares, I'm hard-pressed to find a sour note. In this collection of issue-long dream sequences, there is, to start with, the kind of Twilight Zone rendition of an adult Batman trying to catch the man who killed young Bruce Wayne's parents, which reveals itself to be the hallucinations (a dreams with a dream) of "Master Bruce," the Bruce Wayne-obsessed boy from Batman #38. That traditional-ish story leads into a nightmarish, bloody fight between Batman and Professor Pyg, most notable for Mitch Gerads' gorgeous, splotchy, psychedelic artwork. If King's antics so far have not pleased you — issues with limited or repetitive dialogue, for instance — probably this is where Knightmares began to annoy you. But for what Knightmares is, King's narration is wonderfully loopy and Gerads' art had to be the best thing on the stands that week, and both of those are better than the alternative.

And King hardly lets up from there, with an issue "guest-starring" (insofar as Batman is imagining him) John Constantine, drawn by Justice League Dark's Mikel Janin, and then another "guest-starring" the Vic Sage Question, with Jorge Fornes at times doing his best David Mazzucchelli impression. Both of these bring Catwoman Selina Kyle back to the fore — such that Knightmares isn't so disconnected after all — with the first of the two imagining what might have happened if Bruce and Selina had indeed gotten married in Batman #50.

I can't tell you what's happening here but I can tell you it's brilliant. Apropos of nothing, some 10 issues after the characters broke up, here's King spinning a romantic, tragic, funny "what if" story with John Constantine buzzing around in the background. This is precisely the story King couldn't tell because, as it turns out, the cards didn't fall this way, but then he goes ahead and tells it anyway, sense and nonsense be damned.

That's particularly true for an issue that barely involves Batman at all (with King, rightfully and gleefully, tossing out the rules of who needs to be the focus in which characters' dreams), as Selina and Lois Lane traipse drunkenly around the Fortress of Solitude for an issue (being Selina's imaginary bachelorette party), drawn with no lack of naughtiness by Amanda Conner. There really seems no point to this other than for King to revisit the hilarious Lois/Selina friendship from Batman #37, but why not? Bruce and Selina broke up, so here's a story that most likely couldn't have happened, but yet it's a whole lot of fun, so again, why not? That King has created such a broad Batman mythos as to be able to tell "Elseworlds" stories within it is reason enough, especially perhaps on the occasion of the tenth collection.

Both the fourth chapter and the final one each cause me to reject the notion that Knightmares doesn't move the ongoing Batman story forward. The fourth chapter — again, Batman's own dream — sees the Question interrogating Selina as to why she left Bruce, and the last is Bruce and Selina talking (and dancing) about the same. Yes, it's highly psychological, and yes, it's all in Batman's head (a mode of storytelling I wouldn't normally favor), but I take what's revealed here as probably true — that Selina left Bruce not because he couldn't still be Batman if they married or because she didn't love him, but because she finally discerned that he didn't love her (having forsworn love in order to be the Batman). That makes a lot of sense to me, and certainly turns the events of the book on their head, and so despite the dreamscape I found myself wholly satisfied.

Not to mention that the final chapter also contains a different kind of dance, a weird sparring match between Bane and the Flashpoint Thomas Wayne. Kudos to Tom King for a story that really is nuts, where the seemingly unrelated Button episode (not even written by King), despite Doomsday Clock's fits and starts, seems to be tying in to the heart of King's Batman tale. For symmetry, one wants to understand whether Bane is in charge and Thomas the lackey or vice versa, and King still keeps that up in the air — Bane is the tougher, though overemotional; Thomas seems the loser of their fight, but cheats to bring Bane low. This is the first we've really seen behind the curtain, to know who's in on this with Bane (figures as widespread as Gotham Girl and Booster Gold's robot Skeets still remain to be explained), so in that way this chapter is rather explosive.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batman Vol. 10: Knightmares

I get it, I do, the difficulty of Tom King pausing his ongoing Batman story to take the seven issues of Batman Vol. 10: Knightmares to muck about with "what if" stories in a series that's already put the idea of "esoteric" to shame. I love it. There's so few mediums you can do this kind of thing with, and so few writers I think that would dare to do it, especially outside the heyday of Vertigo. It's a novel, it's long, and it twists and turns and looks back on itself. I can't wish for comics that take more chances with their storytelling and not applaud this book for doing so, succeed or fail.

[Includes original and variant covers, cover sketches]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batman Vol. 10: Knightmares
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 2 )

  1. I really enjoyed Knightmares (except the first part - I dislike Master Bruce and don't really think he adds much), but it was very weirdly solicited and promoted, which definitely messed with expectations (which were really keyed on the cliffhanger from Tyrant's Wing). I think it'll be really nice when read in an omnibus, but coming into it from Tyrant's Wing w/o any real guide to what's going on is jarring.

    On the big time plus side, the structure and changing artists really, really worked. Just fantastic choices and execution. It'd be cool if (when appropriate) more books did this kind of side-trip to allow a bunch of artists to come in and just rock a book

  2. Dear CE,
    I haven't really been following Kings Batman but you have peaked my interest with your review. Would you reccomend me picking this up as a disconnected read or is the back story needed to enjoy?


To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.

Newer Post Home Older Post