Batman: The Knight #1 Offers A Fresh Take On Batman’s Origin Story

Turns out there is a lot left to say about the Dark Knight.

Batman The Knight
Batman The Knight

Cultured Vultures spoilers

On the face of it, trying to find a new spin on Batman’s origin story is a bit like the Dark Knight’s war on crime: an admirable endeavour, but ultimately doomed to failure. After all, DC has spent close to 83 years recounting Batman’s beginnings in comics, movies, TV shows, video games and more besides – how much more is there left to say? Quite a bit, actually – at least, that is if Batman: The Knight #1 is anything to go by.

The first chapter in a 10-issue miniseries by writer Chip Zdarsky, artist Carmine di Giandomenico and colourist Ivan Plascencia, Batman: The Knight #1 sets itself apart from other Batman origin tales like Batman: Year One and Batman: Zero Year by putting the focus squarely on Bruce Wayne. Sure, there’s the obligatory foreshadowing of Bruce’s future crime fighting career sprinkled throughout – including a clever supporting role for Bat-villain Hugo Strange – but, there’s not a single bat, much less a Batman, in this opening issue.

Instead, Batman: The Knight #1 dives into a period of Batman’s genesis rarely explored in much detail: Bruce’s school years. It’s a bold choice on the part of the creative team, and boy, does it pay off. This is Bruce like we’ve never seen him before: a wiry youth still honing his legendary intellect and formidable fighting skills and, just as importantly, yet to figure out how to use both of these responsibly.

This journey of self-discovery forces Bruce to contend with his unique position of privilege as the richest person in Gotham City, and the way his wealth and influence leave him free to do – and get away with – almost anything. This is another big swing by Zdarsky, di Giandomenico and Plascencia, and seems almost tailor made to address that “Batman is a rich jerk” hot take that crops up on Twitter with exhausting regularity. Happily, it proves to be another home run for the creative team.

In Batman: The Knight #1 faithful butler Alfred calls Bruce out on the consequences of his nascent, all-consuming quest for justice on those far less fortunate than himself. Upon learning that Bruce has taken up bare-knuckle boxing as a form of combat training, Alfred admonishes him for failing to consider his opponents’ financial desperation – which, Alfred notes, is something they share with the man who killed Bruce’s parents. The message is clear: while Bruce rationalises his back alley brawling as DIY superhero boot camp, really, it’s just a self-serving outlet for his unresolved rage issues that further perpetuates the same class inequality that left him orphaned. That’s a harsh lesson to learn, and Bruce’s horrified expression makes it clear that it will stay with him forever.

This moment is as crucial to Bruce becoming Batman as a bat crashing through his window or his mother’s pearls scattering on a grimy, blood-spattered street, yet it’s something we’ve never seen handled quite so directly before. It’s blunt and effective without feeling overwrought, and further illustrates the many new storytelling veins Zdarsky, di Giandomenico and Plascencia have mined in this ostensibly tapped out origin story.

Of course, there are aspects of Batman: The Knight #1 that will feel less novel to long-time comics readers. The miniseries’ dark tone and quasi-realistic approach is par for the course for the character these days, while its meditation on the repercussions of violence is similar to themes Zdarsky already explores to great effect in the pages of Marvel’s Daredevil. Similarly, di Giandomenico’s moody pencils and inks – while gorgeous, and perfectly suited to the story – don’t break the established Bat-mould, and Plascencia’s eye-popping colour palette calls to mind the distinctive hues used by his cousin, FCO Plascencia, on Batman: Zero Year.

But even this familiarity is arguably a strength, not a shortcoming. See, Batman: The Knight #1 isn’t a reboot, or even a retelling – it’s a whole new chapter intended to slot in-between the parts of a story we already know. So, in that sense, a degree of familiarity isn’t just inevitable, it’s welcome. We want a new angle on Batman’s origin, not an entirely new Batman. And if Batman: The Knight #1 shares a little thematic substance with Zdarsky’s Daredevil run, so what? The modern versions of the Caped Crusader and the Man Without Fear were largely defined by the same creator, Frank Miller, back in the 1980s, and there’s a degree of overlap baked into their shared, operatically-tortured DNA that’s virtually impossible to avoid.

This winning mix of the new and the familiar looks set to continue in Batman: The Knight #2, too. Batman: The Knight #1 ends by teasing a narrative shift away from Bruce’s schooling to his years spent travelling the world, acquiring the special skills his crime-fighting vocation demands – another facet of the Batman origin story typically glossed over via brief flashbacks, and ripe for a deeper dive. Pre-release adverts and interviews hint at appearances by familiar faces from Batman’s 80+ year history like Henri Ducard and Ghostmaker, as well as new characters like master thief The Gray Shadow.

As such, it’s a safe bet that the remaining nine issues of Batman: The Knight will follow this first chapter’s impressive lead and continue to find new and surprising things to say about one of superhero comics’ most retold stories.

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