Distributed By: DC Comics
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Every Batman fan knows that the series arc in which Batman faced Bane and lost is one of the most important storylines in the history of the Caped Crusader. I’ve known the story for years, but have just had the opportunity to read a three part trade paperback series compiling the tale of Batman’s fall and eventual comeback as Gotham’s favorite vigilante with morals. The Batman: Knightfall series was a long journey to endure, but I managed to survive to tell the tale.
Batman: Knightfall: Broken Bat is the first in the three-part series and compiles the stories found in Batman #491-497 and Detective Comics #659-663. We come upon a Batman who is physically drained – not yet recovered from an illness – and mentally and emotionally hurting – still feeling the loss of Jason Todd. The new Robin, Tim Drake, is beginning to feel frustrated at his lack of a prominent role in Batman’s nightly adventures. Believing that Jason Todd’s death was his fault, Bruce is unwilling to allow Tim to operate at full capacity as his sidekick, thus sparing the kid the possibility of following in Todd’s footsteps. A relatively new criminal in town, dubbed Bane (as in the bane of Batman’s existence – nice touch there), is bent on the destruction of Batman. To this end, he destroys Arkham Asylum, setting free each and every criminally insane patient residing in the asylum. Batman is determined to return them all to custody before they reek their havoc on Gotham.
Bane’s plan is designed to deplete Batman – to sap him of his physical, mental and emotional strength so that when he finally faces Bane, he will be too exhausted to put up much of a fight. In Bane’s mind, he will have defeated the Batman in every way possible before actually facing him and beating him to a pulp. To me, the whole idea is lame. Is Bane so weak that he has to wait until every other criminal in Gotham has landed his punches before he can take Batman on and destroy him? By the time Bane actually faces the Caped Crusader, Batman is a beaten man. Not that he every gives up outright, but his thoughts turn to discussions of the grave, leading the reader to believe that this is one crime fighter who is preparing for death a great deal sooner than any of us expected.
I did love a lot of the writing in Broken Bat. For one thing, Alfred’s witty sarcasm was spot on in this series. And I loved the parody of talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sally Jesse Rafael as each interviewed Dr. Simpson Flanders, former Arkham psychiatrist and a firm believer in understanding the inner child of the criminally insane. These funny breaks in the story added some levity to what would otherwise be a very dark storyline. The artwork wasn’t what one would consider amazing, but more reminiscent of the artwork of Batman comics of old, with less attention to detail and more attention to color. Batman fans will be happy to see a plethora of Batman foes in this part of the series as we run into old favorites such as The Joker, the Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, the Riddler, the Ventriloquist, Killer Croc and more.
Part two of the Knightfall series is entitled Who Rules the Night and compiles stories from Batman #498-500, Detective Comics #664-666, Showcase ’93 #7-8 and Batman: Shadow of the Bat #16-18. The adventure begins as it ended in Broken Bat – Bane has broken the back of Batman and has left him for dead as he prepares to rule the city of Gotham. Robin, Alfred and Paul Jean Valley (formerly Azrael) bring the broken body of Batman back to Wayne Manor. They call in Doctor Kinsolving, a specialist on spinal chord injuries and friend to Bruce Wayne, using a fictitious car accident to explain away Bruce’s injuries. Kinsolving knows that the story is a lie, but her interest in Bruce goes beyond simple friendship and thus, she decides to offer her expertise anyway and help nurse Bruce back to health. Unfortunately, someone doesn’t want Bruce to become healthy again and so they decide to kidnap Dr. Kinsolving and Tim Drake’s father, another of Kinsolving’s patients. Meanwhile, believing that the Batman is dead, the criminals of Gotham create anarchy in its streets, no longer worried that they will be brought down by a caped vigilante. Paul Jean Valley has been asked by Bruce Wayne to take on the mantle of the Batman in an effort to restore order to the city of Gotham. Unfortunately, Valley’s version of the Batman is tainted by his earlier training as Azrael. This Batman is vengeful and careless. Tim Drake is helpless to stop him. The new Batman doesn’t want or need a partner and he is hell-bent on finding and destroying Bane.
Who Rules the Night was alright as story arcs go, but I found myself becoming bored with it all. The Batman / Two-Face story is well done, but I found myself asking why it was included except as a bit of filler while the writers figured out what to do with Batman and his injuries. The Scarecrow tale that features Anarky gave us a bit of insight into the origin of Scarecrow, but I couldn’t understand the significance of Anarky’s presence. He did voice the theory that evil only existed in Gotham because the Batman exists, which reminds me of the famous gunfighter theory – if an undefeated gunfighter exists, they will always be haunted by the appearance of yet another gunfighter seeking to take away his title. Other than that, the presence of Anarky was uncalled for. The kidnapping of Time Drake and Dr. Kinsolving is never solved in Who Rules the Night. Don’t look for it in part three of the trade paperback series – it’s not there – but I have a feeling that the rescue of Kinsolving and Drake lifts Bruce Wayne’s spirits a bit and allows him to see that his life as Batman is not yet over.
This brings me to part three of the series, Knightsend, which compiles the stories in Batman 509-510, Batman: Shadow of the Bat # 29-30, Detective Comics #676-677, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #62-63 and Catwoman #12. It is here that the series becomes interesting as Batman goes to Lady Shiva for training. Bruce feels that he has lost his edge as Batman and needs Shiva to bring that back. Lady Shiva sees this as an opportunity to mold a new assassin of sorts. She has a need to taint the morally stable Batman and thus she sets up a test for him. Using a disguise to kill a martial arts master, she then gives the disguise to Batman to wear, thus ensuring that the students of the martial arts master will seek revenge on Batman. Batman grows stronger as he defeats every student that opposes him, but he refuses to turn his back on the morals that made him what he is. Meanwhile, Paul Jean Valley has literally gone mad with visions of his former life of Azrael invading his present life as Batman. As he tears through Gotham, indiscriminately killing and maiming villains in a quest to find the man who killed his father, Nightwing and Robin keep tabs on him. When the real Batman returns, they want him to be ready, armed with the knowledge of the broken mind of the man Valley has become.
Knightsend to me will always be the battle of the bats – one using cunning and skill, the other using armor and other nifty little gadgets. The story was great in that we are given the opportunity to see what makes Bruce tick. We are allowed insight into Bruce’s mind as he struggles to return to his former self, battling the demons that threaten to keep him from his true goal – to return to the city as its crusader once again. However, in order to do so, he must defeat Paul Jean Valley in all of his madness. Great story and great fight scenes, but something’s missing – continuity. In their effort to tell the story of Batman’s fall and eventual rise, the powers that be left a few things out – important things. Who Rules the Night ended with Bruce Wayne and Alfred flying off to find Tim’s father and Dr. Kinsolving. Along the way, they discover that Catwoman has stowed aboard. We then skip forward to Bruce Wayne’s training in Knightsend. We know that Drake is saved, but we don’t know how. We have no idea what happened to Kinsolving – did Bruce reveal his true identity to her as he had been thinking of doing in Who Rules the Night? Catwoman is still in the picture, looking for some neural thingamajig that will save a friend of hers, but what happened while she was with Bruce Wayne on the plane and how did she know where to find this neural thingy anyway? Unfortunately, all of these little bits and pieces have been left out and we, the readers, are left scratching our heads.
In my opinion, fans of Batman are better off not even bothering with the Batman: Knightfall trade paperback series. If you can get hold of all of the comics that cover this story arc, you’d probably be better served than reading the Knightfall trade paperbacks. You’d probably be poor of pocket afterwards, but you’d be better apprised of the goings on in the Knightfall series. At least you’d be spending good money on the whole series rather than spending good money on buying a trade paperback compilation that only reveals a part of it.