I finished reading Batman: Haunted Knight, part of the not-quite-a-series cycle by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, about a week ago, and have been giddy about it all that time. Now, I’ve come across a lot of disdain for BHK, and I suspect that it’s mostly because it dared to be on the same breath as the fanta-marvelous Long Halloween. So let’s get that out of the way: As it is, too many comic books will suffer if you put them beside Long Halloween; that there’s so much hate for BHK, I think, points to the overall judgment that it’s an “unworthy” companion-of-sorts to one of the best Batman runs in the history of ol’ Bats. Do I personally think that it’s comparatively an inferior comic? Naturally. But do I think it’s a horrible comic book? No, not at all; it’s a fairly competent pub, this anthology of three stories. And—I’m actually rather grateful to Haunted Knight for giving me what I’ve been looking for in the Batman mythos, high and low—Batman’s mom, Martha Wayne.
It’s occurred to me before—when I finally started paying attention to Bruce Wayne, haha—that so much of Bats’ angst has been about Dr. Thomas Wayne. In his proto-Caped Crusader dumps, he asked for a sign from his father, all while talking to a bust of the deceased Doctor. It’s Dr. Thomas Wayne’s medical profession that Batman keeps citing, whenever he allows himself to whine about how tired he is, yadda yadda, how he does sometimes wish that Batman wasn’t a necessary thing. It’s Dr. Thomas Wayne’s legacy, his house, his reputation, his example that must be followed, and yadda and yadda and yadda.
And Martha Wayne? Oh, she was there. The token flashbacks to the night of her death, that running reminder of her pearls and Bruce’s boyish insistence that she wear them—her pearls, her pearls, her pearls—and that it’s her lifeless body on Crime Alley, too, right beside that of Dr. Wayne’s. But there’s never really been anything more than that. There was the token, consuming grief for his mother, sure—but nothing so monumental, so involved-with-legacy, so forcefully affecting as how Dr. Thomas Wayne haunted his son Bruce.
Batman: Haunted Knight gave me a greater haunting in Martha Wayne. I finally got to witness more of the dynamic between mother-son, and I finally see the extent of the grief Bruce held for his mother. I’ve never seen it addressed as thoroughly as here—in the story “Madness,” where Batman hatefully chases after the Mad Hatter, naturally a pyschopath who’d perverted the Alice in Wonderland stories. Because for Batman, it’s a greater perversion—this particular, second-rate villain touches on something raw and primal and deeply hidden away in him, that special something, that special story he shared with Martha Wayne and with her alone.
There are three stories collected in Batman: Haunted Knight. Aside from “Madness,” there’s “Fears“—which recounts Batman’s brush against The Scarecrow—and “Ghosts” a ridiculous Batman-riff on A Christmas Carol (yes, another one!). I thought “Fears” was the best of the three, despite my gratefulness to “Madness” for its contribution to Martha Wayne’s much-ignored legacy. It’s a tired Batman, a Batman who believes that The Scarecrow didn’t reach deep into his fears, a Batman who also incidentally gets seduced. There is a lot of Sassy Alfred in this one, too, and we could all use more Sassy Alfred. And a lot of my favorite panels of the comic book come from “Fears,” actually. What “Ghosts” has going for it is that Bruce Wayne spends much of the story in his pajama bottoms. Fine. If it had gone deeper, if it took itself more seriously and not just lazily ran after the Dickens yarn, the Ghost of Christmas Future would have been fucking awesomesauce. Oh, and “Madness,” by the way, has a running parallel is Jim Gordon and his niece / adopted daughter Barbara. So. Fuzzies.
Here are some more of my favorite panels from Batman: Haunted Knight. I really, really, really like how Batman’s cape looks like an inky, wispy creature. Oh, and the second photo, the one where Batman clutches an ivy-covered wall and slides down from it in utter defeat—pretty much my GPOY for Flu Friday. Sigh.
Oh, and: Happy birthday, Batman. I’ll see you around.