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Starting this October, DC Comics is descending into the nether regions of the Dark Multiverse with a series of prestige format one-shots reinterpreting some on the iconic publisher's most treasured event storylines of all time through a distorted lens.
First out of the gate is Tales From the Dark Multiverse - Batman: Knightfall #1, written by the Dark Nights: Metal maestro Scott Snyder and Deathstroke's Kyle Higgins, with superb art by Javier Fernandez (Justice League) — and SYFY WIRE has a striking preview of this unsettling alt-universe gem alongside revealing commentary by its acclaimed best-selling writers.
Warning: Spoilery details ahead!
This 48-page nightmare revisits the 1993-1994 Elseworlds Knightfall storyline where Bane breaks Batman's back and Jean-Paul Valley takes up Bruce Wayne's mantle to become the sadistic crusader named Azrael. However, this time we're in a frightening iteration of these events tainted by the Dark Multiverse where Azrael has ruled Gotham with a clawed gauntlet for the past 30 years after a shattered Bruce Wayne failed to take back the Bat cape and cowl.
Jean-Paul Valley, feared and revered as Saint Batman, has turned Gotham into the metropolis of his tortured dreams, a place where murder is commonplace and criminals exist in a state of constant unease all in the name of justice.
Into this maelstrom rises an unlikely hero as hope seems lost: The Son of Bane.
Batman veterans Snyder and Higgins are well acquainted with the intimate corners of the Dark Knight's domain, and here in this alarming story, Bruce and his conflicted alter ego enter a shocking world of pain courtesy of Saint Batman and his need for paternal approval from the troubled billionaire avenger who chose him as his temporary replacement.
Reading it as a kid in the '90s, Snyder admits that Knightfall was the first time that he felt Bruce might not come back.
"I felt those things were really at stake and that the whole DC Universe might change," Snyder tells SYFY WIRE. "In terms of the meaning of this story and the indomitable spirit of Bruce, the fact he can come back from anything, we wanted to re-explore that. Right now people are concerned about the world in all kinds of ways. Everybody is fighting with each other, everything is divisive and there's a feeling of anxiety. Tales From the Dark Multiverse says if we don't take the right path or if a hero makes a bad choice, anything can go any way possible, so every choice is of paramount importance right now."
Here Azrael's disturbed psyche pushes him to sadistic lengths with Broken Bruce by keeping him wired up in Wayne Tower. Higgins believes the severed head was Snyder's idea!
"It came out of us talking about what might Jean-Paul Valley, whose emotional and mental foundation was never really that solid, as we saw in Knightfall with the amount of St. Dumas conditioning starting to seep in, what would that look like extrapolated out across 30 years where there was nobody there to oppose him?" Higgins explains. "From there the question became 'Did he kill Bruce or keep him alive?' Immediately the idea of keeping him alive is far more interesting. It's interesting to explore the idea of a man who knew he wasn't the best choice and he was in over his head.
"I think there's always been a bit of an inferiority complex for Jean-Paul Valley, and that plays into that idea of why he'd keep the man who chose him, and who he beats, alive for all these years," he adds. "He wants his approval. Once you have that core, the rest of the story starts to unlock. When you get to that reveal on a page turn it definitely leaps out and catches you off guard."
Snyder considers the whole point of the Dark Multiverse stories is allowing writers and artists to go places they wouldn't otherwise go imaginatively with these pivotal moments in the DCU mythos.
"We wanted it to feel like 15-20 years had passed and this is now not just a Gotham, but a whole DCU wildly transformed by this one pivotal event," Snyder notes. "So it requires pushing to their emotional extremes, their psychological extremes, the narrative extremes. I was just excited that Kyle was going as far with it as he was. To his and Javier's credit, I really just served with some of the prompts with it and all this great stuff, Son of Bane, Azrael as broken king, was more their doing. So it was huge fun to see a prompt of the Dark Universe do exactly what I was hoping it would do when given to great writers and artists, to open up all new worlds of possibility. It feels like if fans love these worlds and characters enough, hopefully they'll bubble up into the real DCU as well. We want them to feel like complete nightmares and dreams, but also ones that threaten to become material at any moment."
Javier Fernandez's operatic art and terrifyingly elegant rendition of the Venom-fueled Saint Batman matches up perfectly with Snyder and Higgins' harsh story.
"I had followed his stuff from afar, and in a world like this everything has to be designed: characters, locales, an overall aesthetic," Higgins adds. "Javier, on a tight deadline, rose to the challenge again and again. Riccardo Federici designed our Saint Batman and our first pass at our Broken Bruce; then Javier came in and designed everyone else, including the final form of Bruce, which is really the stuff of terrors. His art adds such a weight and gravitas to the world that the images almost don't need words. And that's the best feeling as a writer. It's like catching lightning in a bottle."
Snyder knew Fernandez from Justice League Dark and had been dying to work with him for a while.
"I have nothing but praise for him," Snyder says. "It's a pretty big deal to work with people that not just tell the story but elevate it beyond what you thought was possible, and really walk away feeling proud and grateful to be part of something like this."
Enjoy our 11-page preview plus concept art in the gallery below, then tell us if you'll venture deep into the Dark Multiverse when you snag a copy of Batman: Knightfall #1 landing on Oct. 16.