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

The Story: I would’ve staged an intervention for you, Martha, but they weren’t invented yet.

The Review: While the bulk of DC’s alter-reality stories come under the Elseworlds imprint, Flashpoint and most of its tie-ins follow more of Marvel’s What If…? tradition, positing new continuities on the face of specific divergent events. Knight of Vengeance has really risen to the top of the heap, however, because not only does it use a slight change in circumstance to create a whole, new, complete reality, it does so with a wonderful reflection to the one we all know.

The whole premise of the Batman mythos relies on convincing you that a man, in reeling with the pain from a traumatic event, can choose to focus his pain in a way that would otherwise seem insane.  But while Bruce had the adaptability of his youth to keep him in (relative) control, the death of their son drives Thomas and Martha against the wall of life, which adults of course see so much more acutely.  The madness of their current lifestyles is the result of each taking a different path to manage their anguish, but on parallel lines.

Like his son of another lifetime, Thomas’ work as Batman comes less from nobility and more from a desire for revenge, one that in the senior Wayne’s case is much less contained, as his bloody, unarmed assault on Joe Chill shows.  While her husband’s violence targets perpetrators of crime like the one that shattered their lives, Martha’s comes from a more complicated source: the unfairness of losing her own child for no reason while other children get to live.

That’s what makes her depraved acts against the Dent children at once horrifying, but also desperately sad and futile.  When she loses all veneer of levity in a fit of rage against Thomas for managing to revive the daughter Dent (a feat he failed with his own son), we can see Martha’s madness is only an act, a twisted kind of therapy to distract her from her pain.  But once forced to confront the undeniable facts of her child’s death, craziness gives way to unfathomable grief.

There’s a twistedly beautiful symmetry in these later scenes between this truly estranged couple, in that their macabre intimacy channels the one that has always existed between the Batman and Joker of any continuity.  Their motivations have always been obscure, to the characters closest to them and even to us, their audience.  Yet both come closest to having the full measure of the other, and in some ways, they are in total sympathy as only the truest lovers can be.

How very appropriate then that Thomas and Martha share a moment of tenderness on the promise that he will do all he can to restore the world to what it once was.  But all Batman stories, even out-of-continuity ones, eventually flow towards tragedy; hope rears its head only to make the tragedy even keener.  And as a chance to change the past doesn’t equate to a chance to make things right, we experience with Martha the despair of a story that can have no happy end.

No amount of artistic realism can possibly capture the complexity of emotion and meaning in this issue.  Risso creates a collage effect within the pages by using panels of almost abstract imagery that link and build upon each other, generating a powerful impact on your senses.  What you get out of Risso’s art is a series of impressions so indescribable they’re almost subconscious, yet they let you feel exactly what you should be feeling.  Kudos also to Mulvihill’s low-key colors, making everything look as if they’ve been washed out, either by rain or tears.

Conclusion: Whether Azzarello intended to or not, he’s turned out a multilayered story that works and can be dissected on many levels, and is completely reader-friendly and approachable at the same time.  For that it deserves the highest praise possible.

Grade: A+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Man, I sure hope those Dent kids pull through okay, as they basically get forgotten about halfway through.