By: Brian Azzarello (writer), Eduardo Risso (artist), Patricia Mulvihill (colorist)

The Story: There’s only one way to hurt Batman’s feelings: keep him out of the loop.

The Review: When DC announced plans to relaunch their entire line in September, I wrote that it didn’t really matter how much continuity they keep or discard, so long as they simply produce good stories. Batman – Knight of Vengeance is a perfect example.  Even though it turns the entire Batman universe upside-down, leaving virtually no character or element unchanged, the story still works—in many ways even better than some of the Batman titles we have now.

Part of this series’ success has been Azzarello’s ability to create a completely realized world and draw you deep into it without reservations.  He doesn’t waste time explaining who’s who and why some things are the way they are.  He just lets the characters interact with each other and their environment as naturally as possible, trusting you to deduce some of the continuity details for yourself.  In other words, he assumes you’re smart enough to catch on without explicit help.

This may explain the brevity he applies to his script, which features no narration to speak of and very sparing dialogue.  As in life, a lot of the most significant information you get out of the issue comes from what’s left unsaid than anything in particular the characters say.  Oracle doesn’t have to explain why she reacts, “…No.  Jim, no,” upon the discovery Commissioner Gordon didn’t deliver her intel to Batman; she and you both know what he plans to do with it.

The near speechlessness of the characters effectively accentuates the increasingly sick sense of fear you feel as the story proceeds closer and closer to the antagonist at the heart of this issue.  It’s easy to presume the Joker will be one demented soul, and seeing how sweaty and panicked everyone becomes at the mere mention of the name encourages you take the villain seriously.  But the fact Joker specifically has it out for kids really tells you this is no run-of-the-mill jester.

The worst part is you have no choice but to witness the clown’s atrocities firsthand, even as the nauseous feeling in your gut grows more acute with every page.  Azzarello times the whole sequence in Wayne Manor with psychological precision, the horrific details of what’s happening dawning on you split-seconds before they’re revealed, but never losing impact as you almost subconsciously resist that something so awful could happen—which they inevitably do.

The final panel of the issue bears a revelation so dreadfully perfect that you can’t help admiring Azzarello’s ingenuity even as you gasp.  It’s a twist both totally unexpected, making your brain go through mental calisthenics to process it, and also completely predictable, especially when you reread some of the earlier monologues.  Suddenly certain words take on whole new life, and you’ll be slapping yourself in the face for not having realized it earlier.

Risso’s uses series of panels, not only to drive the suspense through the roof as he draws out each grisly moment until every ounce of emotional impact has been milked, but also to enhance the impact by constantly adding one new, burdening detail after another.  There’s nothing beautiful about his art’s look, but with his impeccable taste in storytelling choices, he can make anything look good.

Conclusion: Call it an Elsewords, alternate universe, or out-of-continuity story, but regardless, it’s a great one.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I have to wonder how many times Oracle screws up her intel delivery to Batman because one of her cats decides to sleep/walk across one of her many keyboards.  Considering what I know about cats, I’d say it’s probably all the time.