Marvel recently ran a bunch of "Noir" titles, which for all intents and purposes were a series of Elseworlds mini-series, putting their characters into crime noir stories and using the word "Noir" in the title. I mention this because if it had been DC who had gone for this name convention, there is no doubt in my mind that this comic would be named "Batman Noir."
Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso continue their track record of excellent collaborations here, with the middle chapter of what could have been utterly uninteresting. It's far removed from the rest of the "Flashpoint" story, as Thomas Wayne and Jim Gordon both try to save Harvey Dent's children from the murderous Joker.
What we get, though, is a dark but enthralling story, with both Wayne and Gordon scrambling to find the new location of the Joker, calling in markers and hitting up crime scenes to figure out where the children are captive. On that level alone it succeeds, bringing the reader through a dark and disturbing rendition of Gotham where there's as much detective work as there are monstrosities. And if that's all you got from "Flashpoint: Batman: Knight of Vengeance" it would be a victory.
But since this is a twisted version of the DC Universe, Azzarello and Risso serve up much more. They take full advantage of the opportunity handed them to mix things up. Jim Gordon has no children, but there's a familiar face sitting in the Oracle chair. The Joker, likewise, will be someone you recognize. Even Martha Wayne gets tied into the reshuffling of events, her presence in Metropolis during the meteor shower (depicted in "Flashpoint: Project Superman") a key plot point. These reveals are meant to surprise and delight the readers, and guess what? It totally works.
It doesn't hurt, of course, that Risso and Patricia Mulvihill continue to turn out gorgeous art. From the Penguin striding down the day-glo colors of the Wayne Casino (which is as gaudy and busy as it should be), to the dull green CRT screen light of Oracle's headquarters, every scene is dripping with atmosphere, a distinct location in a visual sense. It's a gorgeous book, and well worth reading and re-reading to drink it all in.
If the conclusion next month of "Flashpoint: Batman: Knight of Vengeance" is as strong as the first two chapters, we're in for one hell of a ride. But regardless of how it all pans out, there's enough here to make you gasp and jump (along with some truly nasty surprises) to entice you on board for this latest chapter. If all tie-ins to event comics were this strong, we'd be that much richer for it.