Knightfall Descends, collecting issues #7-13, as well as issue #0, of Gail Simone’s run on The New 52 Batgirl, is more varied in terms of stories in comparison to the first six issues collected in The Darkest Reflection, but the variety offered here makes this second volume another engrossing read, with each issue, especially in the first half, offering smaller stories before enveloping into a more serialized direction for the second half, but with various aspects of the future story set up to take us there.
Sometimes that can kind of come across as a little inconsistent when reading a trade paperback, at least for me, but when the work is as good as it is here and with many of the stories being set up by Simone as brilliant as they are, it seems churlish to complain, so I won’t, but for anyone who just wants to read one story across an entire TPB, then Knightfall Descends is not going to be that, at least in comparison to volume one and what is set to come in Volume 3, with issue #13, the last issue in this volume, setting up a blisteringly intense cliffhanger that will see you running to the third volume, which crosses over with the acclaimed Death of the Family story arc. If that’s not enough to get you excited, then I implore you to check your pulse.
With each issue written by Simone, art across all eight issues by Adrian Syef, Ed Benes and Vincent Cifuentes and colours once again from Ulises Arreola, this second volume of Barbara’s journey in The New 52 is a perfect combination of strikingly wonderful artwork, beautiful, vibrant colours, engaging writing, superb characters, great story telling as well as bouts of shocking violence. It’s brilliant.
Things get of the a wonderful start with an exploration of Barbara’s origins in issue #0, A Fire In The Heavens, exploring Barbara’s journey to becoming Batgirl, her first encounter with Batman, the differing costumes she wore before ending on a final panel that is hauntingly chilling for the fact that it stops just before The Joker paralyses her. That the story is mostly positive but then abruptly stops just as the darkest part of her life is about to befall her is powerful stuff.
We then find ourselves in a glorious two parter, A View From Above and No Darker Shadow, where Barbara’s battle against the villain Grotesque finds our engaging heroine encountering one of The Joker’s henchman who was present at Barbara’ shooting. It’s a great plot twist and the encounter between Barbara and Danny, the henchman in question, does bring up some interesting points. For starters, I have read some negativity about this “retconning” of certain aspects of The Joker’s shooting and Barbara’s decision to let him go at one stage and then forgive him in No Darker Shadow, but for me these elements are actually what made me enjoy it as much as I did. To have a character like Barbara, who is fully capable of damaging Danny for his involvement in her attack, is bold and unique and I actually like that Simone takes the story that way instead of just throwing in a moment where Barbara loses her cool and beats the crap out of him, like any other comic book character would be written to do. Instead Gail Simone uses this to tell a story of forgiveness and redemption. Batgirl essentially lets Danny escape not of the goodness of her heart, but to track down Grotesque, who, despite being the central villain, is someone whose plan and motivations and manoeuvering in the story are essentially a MacGuffin of sorts to tell a more interesting story going on around it.
The final moments of No Darker Shadow, where Danny dies in Barbara’s arms, telling her he was the one who called the paramedics after her attack is a wonderful moment and the image of Batgirl cradling his dead body in the rain, a terrible person who has achieved a sense of redemption despite the bad things he has done, is indicative of Simone’s Batgirl run not wanting to just dissolve into simple stories of good vs evil. There are no black and whites to be had in this central story central to No Darker Shadow. It’s all about the shades of grey.
As all of this is going on, James Gordon Jr shows up, Barbara’s brother, and it’s clear that Simone is possibly going to give us a truly evil character. The flashbacks that come from Barbara’s mother, her explanation as to why she left, hints at a dark psycho drama about to explode, but before we get to that we get a quick cross over with Night of the Owls that will simply leave you wanting to run off and read that entire arc, but Simone uses the story to set up the story of Strix, one of the many Talons’ who are attacking Gotham City on a grand scale. Annoyingly this cross over ends with a cliffhanger that you will need to go to the Night of the Owls graphic novel to see completed, one of the best “Batfamily” story arcs ever and which I hopefully get a chance to explore in a future Comic Flashback.
The rest of the volume is then dedicated to the villainous Knightfall and her three deadly followers; Katharsis, Bonebreaker and Bleak Michael. This part of the story is superb in every way. Complete with brilliant action, some of which takes up full panels with incredible, bone crunching violence, issues 10-13 sees Simone on top form, brilliantly torturing characters with full on drama, intense scenarios and dark psychological horror that pushes Batgirl into a mature and decidedly adult realm, that goes to show how fully messed up villains can be. A character like Grotesque really comes across as a cliché compared to Knightfall and James Gordon Jr, but it’s okay since the story about Danny was really the point there. Here, we see Barbara go up against some very messed up people, with messed up ambitions and it all, once again, makes for a truly wonderful read, but one more akin to travelling through forty miles of bad road in a car with no brakes. Intense, fun, but you’ll really want to take a breather when done.
There is one moment when Knightfall, aka Charise Carnes, falls into the trap of delivering a monologue on her backstory, which really ought to be a cliched moment, but when the words and the character and the motivations are as dark and interesting as this, it’s a time when the use of cliche is totally forgivable, especially as it comes after she inflicts serious, physical damage to our heroine.
Best of all, this story arc also throws in Kate Kane for a cameo appearance and the result is fantastic. Any regular readers to Comic Flashback will know that I adore the character of Batwoman, and whilst her appearance here is more or less an extended cameo, to see this amount of bat costumes and red hair on the one page is just fantastic and Simone really gets to have fun in writing these scenes. I would love nothing more than to see Gail Simone write a series on Kate, or have a Barbara/Kate team up happen, and it’s the icing on the very dark cake that is Knightfall Descends.