Overview: In Knight Terrors: Batman #1, Bruce Wayne finds himself trapped within his own nightmare at the hands of a new villain known as Insomnia.
Please Note: This comic book review may contain spoilers
Knight Terrors: Batman #1 begins in years past. Batman (Bruce Wayne) sports an action figure-worthy blue scuba Batsuit and stands before a giant tank of water. He reflects on how his enemies are constantly trying to get inside his head through mind games and concoctions. Flashes of Joker, Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, and Dr. Hugo Strange come to mind.
When Alfred Pennyworth questions it, Batman assures him that he will be using techniques used in Nanda Parbat to isolate his fears. Now, he’s going to isolate and learn how to keep others from using those fears against him.
Batman takes the plunge, and visions of his parents’ murder flash before him. While a repeat of Batman’s origin is the least interesting launching point for Knight Terrors in theory, Guillem March pencils an incredibly effective, stylistic, and haunting opener. It’s tense and colored wonderfully by Tomeu Morey, telling the entire origin in visual cues and imagery, almost like procedural photographs, while a grown Batman relives his torment in the background.
When Batman resurfaces, he succumbs to the realization that he’ll never be over the night that Joe Chill murdered his parents.
In the present, a young Bruce Wayne runs down Crime Alley, called to by the voice of a ghostly Thomas Wayne. It’s a voice that’s asking Bruce to join his parents in death, but Bruce knows better. This is a nightmare. Shortly before, Dr. Destiny (John Dee, also see The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman) was murdered in Arkham Asylum, and something took over Dee’s, then knocked Batman out.
Young Bruce Wayne, trapped in a nightmare world, dodges his mother’s pearls, then finds himself in the Monarch Theater. Bruce expresses annoyance at the reuse of the Monarch Theater setting (last used by Joker in Joker War), which offers a brief moment of levity to the comic by Writer Joshua Williamson. It also helps reaffirm the tone of this story and reminds readers that Batman is a seasoned veteran of mental torment. It’s great for newcomers hopping onto an event book, but it’s also rewarding for longtime fans in the sense that we know that Williamson is giving us a Batman with over 80 years of history.
Then the rug gets pulled. A camera projector plays a movie on the screen at the Monarch Theater, and Bruce sees himself, sees Batman, battling monsters. Somehow, he realizes that his body is being used by Deadman and that Deadman’s interference is keeping him from breaking this nightmare. Bruce touches the theater screen. It eats him, then spits him out in a graveyard behind Wayne Manor.
Bruce sees the tombstones of his parents, then of Alfred Pennyworth and Dick Grayson, Damian, and everyone he’s ever loved or mentored. Not impressed, Bruce demands to know who’s doing this and why. A villain known as Insomnia reveals himself, telling Bruce that he needs to find the nightmare stone. Dr. Destiny hid it in one of the other heroes. If Bruce can find it, the long nightmare will be over.
This is where the issue gets a little hairy. The gymnastics it takes to accept that Batman sees a flash of video of himself and somehow deduces that his body is still operating in real time, being played like a marionette by Deadman comes across as rushed and forced. For the sake of the issue, readers have to just accept it, so we can get to the bones of the plot — a nightmare-fueled fetch quest.
Bruce, naturally, ignores the request. Insomnia reanimates the dead, including a Selina Kyle in a wedding dress, using it to taunt Bruce into taking on the nightmare stone case. Bruce belittles insomnia, but then something wells up inside of him. He vomits a bloody sack, which hatches a giant bat with a gun for a head.
Insomnia tells Bruce that his nightmare has a mind of its own, and it shoots wildly at Bruce. Though he tries to dodge it, he can’t escape his own monstrosity and succumbs to a gunshot wound. Then, Bruce transforms into a darker Batman, one resolved to go deeper into his own nightmares and regain control from Deadman. Insomnia warns Bruce that the deeper he goes, the darker and more monstrous of a nightmare he will create. Batman does this anyway, entering a cowl-shaped cave that transforms him into Joe Chill on the night of the Wayne murders.
On the one hand, the art by March and Morey has been beautiful, dark, and even disturbing in a few panels. This issue really allows March and Morey to play in the realm of nightmares and horror, and they don’t disappoint. On the other hand, what starts out as an interesting scenario falls prey to something of a trope in the past few years of Batman comics.
This transformation of Bruce into a Batman who embraces guns feels like just a reverberation of what’s going on in the main Batman book, wherein writer Chip Zdarsky is using the backup personality of the Batman of Zur En Arrh as a foil to Bruce. Prior to Zur En Arrh, Batman fought a cold, mechanical “evil Bat” in the form of Failsafe. When Williamson was filling in on the main Batman book after James Tynion left, Williamson introduced a character called Abyss, who was roped into a plot wherein Lex Luthor was using Batman Inc. to create Batmen to serve his own goals. A few years ago, Tom King brought in Flashpoint Batman as a foil to Bruce, literally pitting father against son in the penultimate “City of Bane” storyline. Not to mention, Scott Snyder has spent a great deal of time building out a whole multiverse of “other Batmen,” including The Batman Who Laughs.
The point is… we’ve had a lot of “evil Batmen” and foils of Batman running around. The ending of Knight Terrors: Batman #1 seems like Williamson and team are adding yet another to the pile. While it’s too early to tell how this story will go, the idea of yet another foil to Bruce is a bit of a disappointment.
In the backup, Robin (Damian Wayne) is on a quest to learn how to stay awake, so he can defeat Insomnia. He braves sandstorm and fights for his life in order to gain this knowledge, just as Knight Terrors is about to begin. Written by Joshua Williamson and drawn by David Lafuente with colors by Rex Lokus, it’s a cute, zippy, and upbeat narrative thread. It very much feels in character with Damian, and it ends with a promise of a follow-up in Knight Terrors #3.
Editor’s Note: DC Comics provided TBU with an advanced copy of Knight Terrors: Batman #1 for review purposes. You can find this comic and help support TBU in the process by purchasing this issue digitally on Comixology through Amazon or a physical copy of the title through Things From Another World.