Knightfall Volume 1
Writers – Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, and Alan Grant
Artists – Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan, Jim Balent, Bret Blevins, Klaus Janson, and Mike Manley
Late at night, I’ll think about comic book collections I want to read and check my local library system to see if they are available to be borrowed. I have been trying to rectify some comic book blind spots and one in particular was Batman: Knightfall. I was able to request it and read it before the release of The Batman.
The Knightfall event kicks off with the origin of Bane and his upbringing on the island prison Santa Prisca. He has dreams in which he slays an evil bat creature and believes it’s his destiny. He meets a prisoner named Bird who tells Bane of his home, Gotham City, and its protector Batman. Bane, alongside Bird and his compatriots Zombie and Trogg, escape the prison and head to Gotham. Bane’s plan is to destroy Batman and take control of Gotham for himself. His plan: free the prisoners of Arkham Asylum to wear down Batman and get a better understanding of what makes the Caped Crusader tick. A tired and weary Batman must run the gauntlet apprehending his most notorious villains, knowing that Bane will be the final combatant. Batman knows he’s the only thing standing between Bane and his prize. The fight between Batman and Bane has a shocking ending, that will set up a new status quo for Batman’s family and closest allies.
At first glance, we see Batman like we have never seen before. Both Alfred and Robin both offer Batman support at home and on the streets of Gotham but Batman brushes off their help and advice at every single turn. Batman’s thought process of being the only one that can stop Bane shows a lot of hubris on Bruce’s part and his pride will end up causing his fall later in the story. There is a lot of tension between Batman and Robin, ever since Tim Drake’s father re-entered the Boy Wonder’s life. Batman is trying to protect Tim from getting hurt and overly involved. When Batman does allow Robin to help, its in a very minor way. This is the first time I ever encountered Tim Drake’s Robin at the beginning of his career and I can see why so many comic fans like him. Tim, although limited in his actions thanks to Batman’s helicopter parenting, is able to learn about Bane’s plot against Batman and Gotham, find the elusive arsonist Firefly, and help stop Riddler from killing a daytime talk show audience.
The villains used throughout the crossover run the gamut from the mundane to the maniacal to the monstrous. Batman’s first few battles involve the Mad Hatter, the Ventriloquist, Amygdala, and Zsasz. He has such a hard time fighting these relatively minor villains that he starts to worry about how he will handle heavy hitters like the Joker, Two-Face, Scarecrow. My favorite part is the Joker/Scarecrow team up. They kidnap Mayor Krol and force him to request bizarre favors and implement plans that will cause chaos with the city. Its these actions that help other villains cause major damage and destruction, overwhelming Batman and first responders to their breaking point.
Speaking of breaking point, Batman reaches his when Bane ambushes Bruce at Wayne Manor, after Bane figures out his secret identity. Batman #497 sees a fight for the ages between Batman and Bane, which ends with Batman having his back broken by Bane. The next issue sees Bane holding the broken Batman high above Gotham. Bane says the city is mine and throws Batman off a building to the street below. Alfred, Robin, and former Azrael Jean Paul Valley rescue Bruce and spirit him back to the Batcave to treat his injuries. Its after this issue that crossover hits a bit of a lull. There is a two-issue flashback featuring Two-Face’s plot to put Batman on trial for his crimes against city. I can see why they had these issues during the original release – it was meant as a breather after the first twelve issues and to tease the cliffhanger of Bruce’s condition and if he will live or die. This definitely helped derail the momentum of the story in the collection. After a small blip, we see Bruce hand over the mantle of the bat to Jean Paul Valley. He is told not to fight Bane because Bruce wants another crack at the man that maimed him. Jean Paul won’t be told what he can or can’t do and he eventually faces off with Bane and their first encounter ends in a draw. Batman #500 is the first appearance of Jean Paul’s new and improved Batman costume and his rematch with Bane. Jean Paul defeats Bane and this is where the story ends for now.
Halfway through this volume, I ordered a used copy of Batman: Knightquest to see Jean Paul Valley’s next steps as Batman and how his relationship with Robin continues, since it was shaky from the start. I am also interested in seeing what will happen with Bruce and his recovery.
This may not seem like a glaring blind spot to some, but I am glad that I was able to read Knightfall and cross it off my reading list. There are a lot of early 90s comics that I missed out on because I was too young to buy the comics and not mature enough to understand the breadth of the story. I know Knightfall won’t make the list of best Batman stories, but it still deserves to be read and have some love and praise heaped about it. We get to see Renee Montoya and Bullock work together as a team for the first time and although they are both very different people, they are both crusaders for law and order. This is the first time we see Batman falter and fail and witness his vulnerability as a man. Although many see Batman as a tough and violent vigilante, we see how crazed and obsessed Jean Paul Valley becomes once he dons the cape and cowl and how Batman’s confidants (Jim Gordon, for example) are the first ones to take notice. Bane deserves more respect as a villain because he is the anti-Batman, the version Bruce would have become if he wasn’t raised by Alfred. Some see Bane as a one note villain/steroid freak but you need to dig deeper to see how chilling and cunning he really is over the course of this crossover.
If you have some free time and are looking for something to read over the Labor Day weekend, you should add Knightfall to your list. It doesn’t have to be at the top of your list, but you should give this storyline a chance. It may not be a seminal story like Batman: Year One but it’s a story that deserves a first look and definitely needs a second chance.