A series of dark and twisted tales which let’s the reader into Bruce’s deepest fears.
Batman: Haunted Knight is a collection of three Halloween specials; Fears, Madness and Ghosts. The collaboration being so popular it led to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale coming together again to create The Long Halloween, Catwoman: When in Rome and Dark Victory, both of these I have already read and thoroughly enjoyed which made me purchase Batman: Haunted Knight. Haunted Knight is a part of the Legends of the Dark Knight series.
Although it’s questionable whether Haunted Knight is a part of the continuity, Haunted Knight is set during the early years of Bruce Wayne’s quest to rid Gotham City of crime in Gotham as the Dark Knight.
There are three separate stories in this collected edition with Fears, Madness and Ghosts all being released at Halloween in ’93, ’94 and ’95.
Batman: Haunted Knight Review
Jeph sets the tone as he describes what Halloween means to different cities in America including what it means in Gotham City which is “All Hell breaks loose” accompanied by an image of the Scarecrow riding on horseback. Of course, it wouldn’t be Halloween without the character who’s caused so many nightmares to its citizens.
It doesn’t take long for some action to start as Bruce raids a potential meet up of thugs waiting for Jonathan Crane. At first they plan to try and take him on before being pounded mercilessly by the Batman. He tracks him down and prepares to take him in while commenting on his lack of sleep. Being so early in his career and without a partner at this time this happened a lot.
The artwork’s dated which is to be expected from an early nineties book, it’s hard to say if I was reading this when it came out if I would be saying the same thing. It doesn’t detract from the experience however as Tim Sale always had a way to make the most of the lack of colour and made the whole scene darker. The Legends of the Dark Knight as always more focused on the ‘dark’ aspect of Batman.
There’s a short scene where Gordon finds Batman apprehending Scarecrow. He tries to make small talk with Bruce. It doesn’t work.
Bruce has a gala which he makes an appearance, during that time Crane manages to use his feargas while being detained. Perhaps he had planned to be caught. During the gala Bruce meets a woman who intrigues him…before he can get anywhere with her though the bat signal is on in response to Scarecrow’s escape and further destruction of Gotham’s relay stations.
Fears I sets the tone of what kind of Bruce we’re dealing with. He’s extremely tired and knows it, he managed to allow a thug to get close enough to slash his suit. Scarecrow is causing havoc around Gotham and Bruce seems to be lacking patience to deal with. Full of intrigue and an original story to get stuck into.
Fears II opens up with a Bruce inner monologue about his excuse to have to leave Jillian and what he wanted to say if he could. He also questions why he does what he does. Bruce isn’t as open as this in later books and it’s good to revisit old books from time to time to remember how far Bruce and Batman have
come. Jeph Loeb has a mastery of knowing how to write young Bruce and making him vulnerable without compromising on his mastery.
There’s a sweet moment where Bruce is on a date with Jillian and she probes him about his life. This section is drawn in black and white and personal I thought it was done brilliantly and gives another glimpse of Bruce’s loneliness. Even when he really wants to enjoy life as Bruce Wayne he doesn’t and instead dons the cape and cowl and heads out. Really sad.
Batman chases Scarecrow down again and into a maze filled with poison barbs, Batman is thrashed and collapses from the poison and the tiredess. He should have taken his time off like how he really wanted to.
It’s a sad an melancholic chapter where Bruce’s sadness really comes out and his total determination gets the better of him. It’s a great, well written story so far with Bruce’s conflict between the light and the dark sides in the spotlight.
Alfred follows his suspicions about Jillian Maxwell and finds she is with Interpol, FBI and CIA. Meanwhile Bruce finds his way back home but is in horrific shape which puts him in a toxic shock presented with a nightmare. Jillian comes to visit him before Alfred gets a chance to discuss who she really is. In Bruce’s
absence Scarecrow is allowed to get around a bit more and manages to get at James Gordon.
Bruce uncharacteristically wants to just leave on holiday with Jillian, at this point Alfred finally gives over the information he has on Jillian on a 3 and a half floppy disk!
Batman finds Scarecrow (again) and beats the absolute daylights out of him saving the day. Meanwhile, Jillian’s plot as a goldigger turns out to be true and she leaves only to be on a beach with a message to confess about her previous murders of wealthy single men – Bruce was meant to be the next husband on her list if it wasn’t for Alfred.
Fears III brings Fears to an end and I have to say it was brilliant. Jeph Loeb leads us down a fairly tragic tale into Bruce’s personal life and his loneliness. Yes, Scarecrow was about causing havoc but to me “Fears” was about Bruce’s fears about what lies ahead for him and Batman and how he is likely to be lonely and incapable of a normal relationship. He believes he is serving a purpose to Gotham City and giving up his potential happiness and normality is a sacrifice he has to make rather than on he wants to.
Madness begins with a monologue from Barbara Gordon (I presume) and James Gordon. He mentions adopting Barbara, I did not know that! It turns out it is true and was retconned after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Anyway, we swiftly move on to the subject matter during this years Halloween celebrations – the Mad Hatter and Batman.
The artwork is pretty much identical to Fears as it probably should be when helmed by Tim Sale. Batman thinks of the Mad Hatter and how he disturbs him even above Joker, Scarecrow and Two-Face because of how he perverts his childhood memories of ‘Alice in Wonderland‘. When you think about it is a bit weirder than the other named villains and in Madness he has kidnapped some children. After a brief chase Mad Hatter gets the better of Batman on a one v one which is a bit of a surprise considering Mad Hatter isn’t the most combat gifted villain. Then again, we are still in Bruce’s early days…
We get to see a bit more of the Gordon household and James’ strained relationship at times with Barbara. We also get a glimpse into Bruce Wayne’s childhood the night of his parents murder, they were reading Alice in Wonderland before they left to watch The Mark of Zorro. Now we know why he doesn’t like the Hatter so much.
Following the argument with her Dad, Barbara flees the house and lands herself into trouble with some thugs in skull costumes, she manages to get away only to be found by the Mad Hatter. At this stage she had clearly not donned the cape of Batgirl or had any training as she appears to be a weak and defenceless girl. The scene with the thugs is a bit grim and unless I’m mistaken they were possibly going to rape her. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale do have a habit or producing dark scripts and images but never quite like this. I’m not complaining, it does give it a sense of realism and that Gotham City is a real city with real crime.
Struggling to get up from the clash with Hatter, Batman is delusional and slips into madness which I assumed would be the theme of the book anyway. So far, Madness is turning into a really gripping dark tale with a lot of inner monologues and dark thoughts by all involved. Mad Hatter exemplifies the madness with his really odd and nasty presence.
The weirdness continues as Barbara is invited for tea with The Mad Hatter. Despite being terrified she stands her ground and doesn’t accept the tea – she just doesn’t like tea (who doesn’t like tea?!). Batman’s found in a bad state by Leslie Thompkins, a very old friend of Bruce and the Wayne family and one I’m quite familiar with.
Batman is patched up just in time to join James Gordon before they raid the tea part. Batman analyses the situation methodically trying to figure out the best approach to keep the kids, and Barbara, safe before James Gordon steams in. Together, they take Hatter down and Barbara is safe. Batman goes home and rather than avoid his problems takes them head on and starts to read Alice in Wonderland.
It’s not a short issue in particular but many of the scenes were drawn out and explored in depth. A good story if not a little slow. Much like Fears, Madness explores what Batman is thinking rather than what Batman is doing. Haunted Knight is especially good for those who want to know what’s going on in Bruce’s head.
Ghosts starts the night before Halloween and a gala Bruce is attending is targeted by Penguin who looks more like an actual Penguin than I’ve seen in any book. A bit more action than Fears and Madness as we watch Batman beat the living daylights out of Penguin before an awesome mid air chase begins. Batman, as he often does saves the day and captures the villain which brings about an end to a bit of welcome action after some bleak storylines in Haunted Knight.
Bruce retires home to an empty and dark looking Wayne Manor, consistent with the darkness and loneliness explored in Haunted Knight.
Bruce is visited by the ghost of his Father while in bed and you can see that it is the first of three visits much like A Christmas Carol. Bruce tries to make sure he is aware this is poisoning and not his actual mind playing tricks on him. The second visit from Poison Ivy makes him think that she caused it but she swiftly reminds him she is locked up at Arkham. Ivy shows him a vision of his younger days at Halloween dressing up as Zorro – another throwback to that fateful night his parents were shot. Ivy shows him his days before Year One while in Paris and stumbling upon and saving Lucius Fox. We see how abrupt and already committed to Batman he was back then, to honour his parents.
The last visitor, as you’d expect is the Joker. Joker reminds him that people are as scared of him as they are of the villains he catches and the two of them are not as different as they make out to be, a theme Joker brings up a few times in Batman books. The vision ends with Bruce Wayne seeing his own grave and how little of a legacy he left – making us think that the Batman’s biggest fear is to have not made a difference and forgotten. We see Batman taking heed of his visions, calling Lucius Fox to start the Wayne Foundation. Is this a selfish act? Does he want to make a difference or just be remembered? From this Halloween night one things for certain – Bruce Wayne has to change.
Batman: Haunted Knight is a GREAT collection of stories surrounding Halloween. It’s fairly old and you can see that in the art but the writing is magnificent. If you like books about what makes Bruce Wayne who he is then you’re going to love this book as he delves very deep into Bruce’s deepest fears and thoughts. However, Fears, Madness and Ghosts are very slow and there isn’t much action so if you prefer the blockbuster fights and showdowns you’re going to be disappointed.
Last update on 2020-12-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API