Few sequences in superhero storytelling have become truly iconic, creating an image ubiquitous enough to be replayed and retold across our popular culture. The origin story of Batman is among them, with the sequence of Thomas and Martha Wayne gunned down in an alley becoming so universally known that it has almost crossed the threshold into parody. As a result, the idea of a narrative diving into Bruce Wayne's early days can be daunting—but it's safe to say that Batman: The Knight #1 rises to that task. The debut issue gives Bruce's origin the atmospheric, introspective, and thoroughly-entertaining treatment it deserves, without resorting to playing the hits.
Subtly starting in the aftermath of the Wayne murders, Batman: The Knight #1 chronicles Bruce's journey into young adulthood as the trauma of the ordeal begins bubbling up to the surface. As Bruce figures out how to move forward from the life-altering tragedy—while reconciling with the influence of Alfred, his childhood friend Dana, and psychiatrist Hugo Strange—his mission to do what's right grows clearer.
In the eyes of some Batman fans, Bruce's unflinching determination to do what's right borders upon sociopathic, and you can feel the flickering flame of that obsession across the pages of Batman: The Knight #1. But at the same time, Chip Zdarsky's script brings a much-needed humanity to the gradual build of Bruce's story, and goes to some clever lengths to frame it as an earnest underdog story. Instead of highlighting the ways Bruce's wealth could help him in his crusade, the issue acknowledges the opposite. As a person, Bruce's social status and upbringing has led him to be profoundly lonely, with only a few key relationships keeping him even remotely grounded. As a potential agent for change, Bruce's wealth prevents him and his potential crusade from truly being taken seriously. There's something about that interpretation that is refreshing to explore, and as Bruce's persists in spite of those challenges, it becomes one of the most emotional aspects of the comic.
It feels impossible to imagine anyone outside of Zdarsky—who has blended altruism, vigilantism, and humanity across so many of his recent series—penning this narrative. On top of that, the issue itself is simply so well executed, jumping back and forth between scenes from Bruce's childhood, a therapy session with Hugo Strange, and various scattered nightmare sequences to create a mesmerizing effect. If this one issue is any indication, other attempts to tell this sort of Batman story—either in standalone installments, flashbacks, or in the background of five seasons of Fox's Gotham TV series—feel like a quaint slow burn by comparison.
What also helps Batman: The Knight #1 stand out from previous origin stories of its kind is Carmine di Giandomenico's stellar artwork. The aesthetics of the issue, with angular faces and precise details, blend two extremes—a refined sensibility and a scrappy underbelly—to beautiful detail. In a roundabout way, it helps inaudibly convey the core theme of the book—that Bruce hypothetically "has it all" in his current circumstances, but still wants something more for himself. There's absolutely a lesser version of this comic that defaults to the brutish greys and cold colors traditionally associated with Batman, but Ivan Plascencia brings a visual warmth when the story really needs it, either with the subjects in a panel or using the world around them. The use of purple and pink in two key sequences, in particular, only transfixed me more the longer I looked at them. And Pat Brosseau's lettering accentuates the extremes of Bruce's status quo, with wide individual letters that physically take up more space than in most superhero comics, but that feel like they're constantly in motion towards Bruce's future.
There have been no shortage of stories exploring Batman's origin, which makes the subtle nuances of Batman: The Knight #1 read like a revelation. The issue takes what initially existed in a trio of Bill Finger-penned panels in 1940's Batman #1—young Bruce Wayne growing from a vulnerable child into a skilled detective, scientist, and fighter—and expounds upon them with a modern sensibility. While that would potentially be a compelling enough gimmick in its own right, the creative team of Chip Zdarsky, Carmine di Giandomenico, and company turn it into a tale that is stylish, scrappy, and refreshingly thoughtful. If this first installment is any indication, the ten-issue adventure of Batman: The Knight is one that is definitely worth taking.
Published by DC Comics
On January 18, 2022
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Carmine di Giandomenico
Colors by Ivan Plascencia0comments
Letters by Pat Brosseau
Cover by Carmine di Giandomenico