Friday Flashback: Batman: Knightfall

Friday Flashback: Batman: Knightfall

You didn’t think the current Batman: RIP was the first time Bruce Wayne’s status as Batman was in jeopardy, did you? No, it has happened before, most famously when Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Norm Breyfogle, Jim Balent, Jim Aparo, and Graham Nolan ran Bruce Wayne’s Batman through the gauntlet, ending in a fateful confrontation with the Venom-infused terror: BANE.

The story was told in 19 parts, in 1993. The official story was contained in Batman, Detective Comics, and two issues of Showcase ‘93, culminating in the milestone Batman #500 with a cover by one Joe Quesada. So just what happened in the story? Well, the Bat was broken, a new bat came to the scene, and, well, things got scary.

It all started when a mysterious figure broke all of Batman’s rogues out of Arkham Asylum. Robin identifies the villain as Bane, a new player who’s strong enough to have “busted up Killer Croc.” First up to “bat” (I made a funny!) were Film Freak and Mad Hatter. In order to make sure his plan to wear down the Batman succeeded, Bane had his henchman Bird keep tabs on the villains. Bane, perhaps worried that someone might get to Batman first, perhaps just mad that they’d tracked him down, brutally beat and killed Film Freak, marking a huge loss in Batman’s Rogues Gallery. Bats and Robin managed to take down Mad Hatter with relative ease, and moved on to the next step.

Amygdala, the big brute with barely a brain, hooked up with the Ventriloquist and his temporary boss, Socko, while they looked for Mr. Scarface. In the background of the story is Simpson Flanders (for our second Simpsons reference in so many weeks here in FF), telling people that the villains are merely “misunderstood,” giving readers a whole new level of crazy to focus on. Robin tangos with Bird and his pet falcon, Talon, as Batman takes down Amygdala (though Crazy McGee and his talking Sock get away).

Zsasz kills some people, Batman snaps and nearly beats him to death, realizing he’s just too exhausted to be dealing with all of this properly. Bane and his band of 60s British band-named henchmen Trogg, Bird, and Zombie, unintentionally spill the plan to Robin as he observes from afar, and the real game is afoot. Robin gets kidnapped, and Croc comes to his rescue, fighting Bane. While Robin and Jean-Paul “Azrael” Valley prep to help out Batman, he takes on a slew of his villains in the gauntlet.

Over the coming issues, Batman takes on Scarecrow, Joker, Firefly, Riddler, The Cavalier (I didn’t say they were all A-list, did I?), Poison Ivy, Scarecrow and Joker again, all the while wearing down more and more. When Joker sprays Crane’s latest fear toxin on Batman, he relives Joker’s murder of Jason Todd, and nearly beats Joker to death, only stopped by an explosive shot by Scarecrow. In the meantime, Bane figured out Batman’s identity, noticing the build and gait of Bruce Wayne matched that of Batman. After Bruce went through the last leg of the gauntlet, singing “Wild Thing,” “Tell Her No,” and finally “You Don’t Love Me,” he went back to ye ol’ Wayne Manor for some much needed rest, only to find Alfred beaten down and Bane waiting patiently to break the bat.

The fight, if you can call it that, isn’t exactly the stuff of legends. Instead, Batman gets the crap kicked out of him, ending in Bane breaking his back and throwing him off a building. You’d think that would be the end of “Knightfall” as the Knight had Fallen, but you’d be wrong. Bruce Wayne was defeated, but several of his villains (including Bane) were still on the loose.

Jean-Paul Valley is named the new Batman by Bruce himself, after he mentions that Nightwing is “his own man with his own responsibilities.” The last few issues of the crossover show his rise as the new Batman, and his hunting down of Bane. Jean-Paul gradually adds bits and pieces of his Azrael arsenal to the costume. In the finale, he rumbles with Bane (in front of an easter-egg familiar-looking young man and his dear old aunt. Go ahead, dig out Batman #500 and turn to pages four and five. Any senses “tingling”?). After the first round ends in a stalemate, Valley makes what later gets called the “Az-Bats” costume, and goes for round two. This one IS an epic battle, ending with Valley defeating Bane, and deciding not to kill him. Robin accepts him as Batman, and the story reaches its end.

With a character that’s prepared for every eventuality, chaos and “gauntlet” style battles are the only way to wear him down properly. That’s why we’ve seen this kind of story happen again and again. The interesting thing about these stories isn’t necessarily just the action, though that’s fun. It’s much more interesting to see Batman, who normally psychologically tears other people down, instead get taken down using his own methods. Valley wound up only being Batman for a short time, with Bruce reclaiming the title within a year. While it didn’t have a very long-lasting effect, the temporary de-throning did establish a couple of important long-term statuses. Bruce Wayne trained against Lady Shiva and her band of assassins during his rise back to Batman, making him a much better fighter, one of the best in the world. Cassandra Cain and Black Canary are the only other two fighters that have held their own against the dastardly female. Also, Bruce recognized his mistake in making anyone so inexperienced his direct replacement. If Batman is truly resting in peace at the end of his current storyline, that may give us some hints as to possible new wearers of the cape and cowl, assuming Bruce Wayne has any say in the matter. Bane, of course, didn’t stay broken either. After several returns, he has now shown up on the latest roster of the Secret Six. As for Jean-Paul, he was comic-book killed, meaning they never saw the body. His name recently reached Rip Hunter’s infamous blackboard in Booster Gold, so we may be seeing him sooner than later. One thing’s for sure, when the Bat falls, there are plenty of people waiting to take his place.

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