We were at Borders on Saturday killing time while they changed the oil in my truck over at Wal-Mart. I did a search at one of the catalog computers for “Batman,” and to my surprise and delight (yes, friend, delight) they had a copy of the Batman: Knightfall BBC Radio drama right there, in-store, sitting in the audio book section.
If you’re even remotely a fan of Batman (or radio drama — pick your loser index), and you haven’t heard it yet, you should pick this up. It’s available a few places online, not that difficult to get, and runs around twenty bucks. It was produced by the BBC in 1994, adapted and directed by that great impresario of the modern radio drama, Dirk Maggs, and of all the many adaptations of Batman comics these last seventy years it is easily the most faithful to the source material. There are a few minor changes here and there — Tim Drake is not yet Robin as the story opens, and the departure and return of Alfred is tweaked a bit to give the story sort of a happy ending — but by and large, this is Knightfall as you would have read it in the pages of the Batman titles.
It covers the entire humongous arc, from the Sword of Azrael mini-series, through to the end of the three-part Knightfall saga — Knightfall, both halves of KnightQuest, and KnightsEnd. With so much story crammed in there, it’s a little surprising to see it all fit so neatly onto three CDs.
The amount of material sounds like a hindrance, but it winds up being one of the keys to the success of the presentation. There’s so much to get to that things move incredibly, almost impossibly fast, jumping around from scene to scene so rapidly that by the time you’ve been listening for five minutes, you’ve given up trying to figure out everything that’s going on and are just along for the ride. This, like the original that ran through Batman and Detective Comics over fifteen years ago, isn’t a story that stands up well to close scrutiny. Maggs and his crew were wise to adopt a pace fast enough to keep you from realizing how stupid a lot of this is.
Except for Kerry Shale’s incredibly irritating take on the Joker (which sounds especially dated after Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight), the voice cast is terrific. Bob Sessions takes the lead as Batman, and his version could not be more different than the Michael Keaton/Kevin Conroy voice that most Batmen have affected since 1989. The Bob Sessions Batman isn’t a raspy whisper — it’s big and booming, and menacing when it has to be. With nothing but sound to tell the story, this Batman is by necessity a lot more talkative than I would ever want him to be ordinarily. For the radio drama form it works beautifully; Christian Bale’s hoarse growl might be all right for one or two lines, but it wouldn’t play so hot as a narrator.
Some of you have probably heard this before, but if you haven’t I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a shitload of fun to listen to, equal parts thrilling superhero adventure and warmly nostalgic cheese. It’s one of the best Batman productions, in any form.