End Of An Era
If you’ve been reading my Batman Graphic Novel Canon Read Through then you’ve seen many classic moments thus far. However, none are as infamous as the Knightfall arc. It’s tough to truly go into this book without expectations and prior knowledge of it’s events, making it harder to judge it’s impact. However it is undeniable that this really shook up comics in the 90’s and is often cited as Bruce Wayne’s lowest point.
I really enjoyed Sword Of Azarael and absolutely loved Vengeance of Bane so I’m very excited to tred the pages of this famous plot once again.
So let’s dive in and see the events that occurred leading up to the breaking of Batman.
Breaking Out The Asylum
The book picks up immediately from The Vengeance Of Bane, with the new enemy of Gotham launching a full attack on Arkham Asylum. We see Jeremiah Arkham, fresh off the pages of The Last Arkham, held hostage, by The Joker, unable to qwell the madness that has been released. It’s nice to see the characters evolution from the warden into madman. Not only does this opening show the breaking down of established figures, it also signifies what danger the inmates will cause now unleashed upon the general populous.
Bane has started a fire and caused madness to spread like a virus. Batman is the only cure. This begins the main theme of the first part in the Knightfall arc.
Throughout the Knightfall arc Batman must recapture the escaped insane asylum inmates and bring back order to the city. A monumentous task, It proves to be his breaking point and the main focus of this tale.
The Fire Rises
Whilst the early issues that centre around Batman rounding up the villains can be inconsistent (I’m looking at you Mad Hatter) there still is a real thrust to the story hidden within it’s background. This revolves around Bane cunningly observing and learning the tactics of The Dark Knight.
Whilst Batman is aware of Bane he is still unable to dedicate any major time to him due to the escapees. In all honesty I wish that Bane had’ve operated in the dark until his reveal, his actions unknown to the caped crusader. It would’ve provided a shocking entrance and climax to this part of the arc. What we have here though is still the next best thing and it’s wonderful seeing the almost ‘Cold-War’ campaigns that the two launch on each other.
Overall, Bane provides an interesting mystique to the book and is certainly the most appealing aspect of these repetitive issues.
One of the downfalls of the book is how long it drags the build up for. Whilst I can certainly see why DC did this (they wanted the reader to feel the turmoil and exhaustion that Batman does) it certainly slows the pace down.
That’s not to say it’s terrible, but attempting to read it in one go as I did might not be the best move. I wish they had summed up the capturing of the Asylum inmates in three issues rather than the ten they chose. Clearly they wanted us to doubt The Dark Knight and even if I felt at times that it was misguided, they definitely did accomplish this goal overall.
It certainly feels more connected than the disjointed Strange Apparitions and the slow and methodical destruction of The Dark Knight by Bane certainly is fun to read. We watch Batman’s stubbornness aide his downfall, refusing to accept help from Robin and his allies he is as much to blame as Bane. As a reader I felt the destruction he suffered at the hands of his new enemy was deserved.
This is one hell of a Dark night
Bane Discovers Batman Is Bruce Wayne
The main problem that I have with the book is in the manner that Bane discovers Batman is Bruce Wayne. Countless villains prior have been unable to unearth the secret. Bane on the other hand is able to accomplish through glancing over the Billionaire at one of his self hosted gala events.
This should have been a dramatic turn of events that lead to him unmasking the Dark Knight in combat, humiliating him and learning his true identity in one fell swoop. However, here it is washed over and leaves no real impact.
It’s very similar to the way that John Blake, in The Dark Knight Rises, discovers the identity as well. A problem many fans had with that film. Bane merely looks at Bruce, realises that the playboy persona is a facade and makes up his mind that he is Batman.
In my opinion there are several different ways that the identity could have been observed and this is the least gripping or enthralling method that they could’ve chose. Bruce is an expert of playing a persona and Bane stating that ‘I know my opponent intimately’ does not excuse the discovery. The fact that there are several repetitive issues that could’ve been replaced with Bane slowly stalking his opponent and learning all his intricacies is not lost on me. It should have been a bigger moment that felt more earned by the foe, unfortunately it comes as a disappointment.
I imagine that this will annoy a lot of fans and it was certainly a moment that almost ruined a lot of the goodwill that the book had built thus far. If you like it, that’s fine, I just didn’t.
Bane Breaks Batman’s Back
After completely destroying Batman’s will and forcing him to run an exhausting gauntlet Bane finally confronts The Dark Knight at Wayne Manor.
It’s a highly climactic and thrilling moment that cements Bane as one of the best villains ever. His plan has worked, Batman’s legendary status is shattered and no more. Now Bane is in Bruce’s home, telling him that it is over….and there is nothing that anyone can do about it.
What Bane unleashes is unforgiving, brutal, merciless and by far the worst punishment that we have ever seen dealt out on Batman. It spans an entire issue and the fact that this is the only focus during this section means that we are right there with Batman. Through it all. Unable to look away or help our hero at his lowest point.
It’s hard to deny how well crafted the destruction of The Bat is in these final moments and when Bane finally breaks Batman’s back it feels almost like a euphoric release. Death is at Bruce’s doorstep and The Dark Knight is no more.
There is no denying that Dixon has pulled off one of the greatest moments in the run thus far. It truly is a landmark in The Dark Knight’s history, a shining example of just how human the Batman is and a testament to how powerful Bane is.
In the aftermath, the writer manages to tell a story of human endeavour, paralysis and a city without hope. Circumstances which cause a new hero to rise.
With Batman gone, Bane begins to take over the city, starting with the gangs. There is a huge slaughter that Bullock likens to ‘The Godfather Part 4’ and it certainly feels similar to the gangster series in tragedy and violence.
Bruce sinks into a deep depression, unable to move and broken in both body and spirit he passes on the Bat mantle. Jean Paul Valley readily accepts it and takes up the role of the caped crusader.
I love the way that in Batman’s absence criminals begin to think that they will no longer be policed and force the city to descend into a cesspool. This is why Jean Paul needed to accept the cowl, psychologically just the idea of the Batman Legend makes wrong doers think twice.
It’s a shining example of just how deeply Dixon planned this out and stellar art (noteably from Klaus Janson) helps to elevate his engrossing story.
The Rise Of Azarael
Azarael is almost the opposite of Bruce. Upon taking up the mantle he Juxtaposes the original Batman’s ideology and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
Through his arrogance, carelessness and brutality Jean Paul becomes tyrannical in his rule of Gotham. He transforms into the master of fear and scares criminals to the point that they would never think to return to a life of crime. It’s clear throughout that the order of St. Dumas still hold power over him and he struggles constantly with morality.
Tim Drake soon warns Jean Paul against this lack of decency but it falls on deaf ears. Eventually it grabs the attention of Anarky, another of Gotham’s anti-heroes. Anarky, not realising that Batman has changed begins to blame him for all of Gotham’s problems. The two duel, with Scarecrow added into the mix, in what is a thrilling arc and Jean Paul’s first real test. This chapter would go on directly to influence Arkham Knight and it’s brilliant to see it’s origins within this Shadow Of The Bat section.
Whilst these provide excitement and action within the book, it’s still hard to really find Jean Paul likeable in these early chapters. I view him as the ‘adult’ Batman. Similar to a 90’s action hero he has complete disregard for his actions but doesn’t really have the charisma that the movie stars possess. He would rather take the villain down than save the life of a victim and we see this illustrated several time. For someone who is Batman he doesn’t feel very ‘Batman.’
Somehow it still works though. In seeing just how unfit for the role that Jean Paul is we desperately want Bruce to heal and strip the mantle from the new vigilante. This makes all of Bruce’s agony and depression that much more gripping and his struggles with regaining his will and prowess is one of the highlight aspects of the story.
Azrael vs Bane
In building his strength, arsenal and skill, Jean Paul decides that he is ready to take on Bane. It’s a hot headedness that leads to one of the most triumphant moments in the run thus far.
After capturing Bane’s henchmen, Jean Paul frees them and follows them back to Bane’s lair. It’s quite an ingenious trick that leads him right to the villains hideout and their showdown is very epic.
After a lengthy battle and using his upgraded gadgets and costume, Jean Paul is able to do what Bruce was unable to. The Batman finally beats Bane. Bane begs Batman to kill him, Jean Paul beats the aspects that Dumas have engrained into him and let’s him live. Justice has been served. It’s a really thrilling section of the story that allows the Knightfall arc to end on a high note and gets you invested in the new vigilante.
In the end you are left feeling excited to see how the arc will carry on and if Bruce will ever stand up and take the mantle back.
Whilst Batman Knightfall may be difficult to grasp for newcomers due to it’s reliance on the already established canon this should be seen as a right of passage for any seasoned fan.
This is probably one of the most infamous stories in Batman canon for a reason. It is the true fall of a hero, expertly crafted by writer and artist.
Sure, There are a lot of repetitive issues early on that slow the pace but when this book gets going IT GETS GOING!
There are huge shake ups to the Batman universe and this book mixes the themes of tyranny, despair, depression and self empowerment in ways that are rarely seen within the comic book media. We see the rise and fall of characters on both sides of the fence and this book reaches mythological status with it’s similarities to a classic Greek Tragedy.
I had a great time reading Batman Knightfall and certainly recommend that you pick it up just to see how vast and wide it’s influences are. This is a groundbreaking story that truly signifies the end of an era.
It gets an…
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