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Bane and Catwoman are in The Dark Knight Rises. They’re also on this cover. How about that. – Batman #498

July 13, 2012

I’ll hold off on commenting on the most recent onscreen depictions of Bane and Catwoman until next week. Keep my powder dry. Will The Dark Knight Rises trump the stellar Avengers, or sink down to the maudlin depths of The Amazing Spider-Man? We shall see. But, to help us ring in the final week of anticipation for the culminating chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, I thought it would be a good idea to go back to Bane’s initial arc, the infamous “Knightfall,” and him crossing paths with Ms. Kyle. And here we are.

Remember “Knightfall”? That entire “Batman Goes Down, New Batman, Return of Old Batman” multi-part tome dragged on forever. Seemingly spurred on by the craven impulses stemming from the “Death of Superman” receipts and a BIG ANNIVERSARY ISSUE EVEN NUMBER on the horizon, the Bat-titles were roped into a storyline that seemed to stretch for years. I remember seeing the trades now and then in bookstores, and the spines were like phone books. I mean, Dragonball Z plots unspooled at a faster pace. GLACIAL. Tolstoy without Tolstoy. But hey, we got goofy new batsuit armor with claws and a new pumped up villain along the way. Huzzah.

Last year, as the direction of Rises started to coalesce and we learned that Bane would be the big bad with Catwoman along for the ride, the above cover kept popping into my head. I probably hadn’t read the book itself since it came out, but the Kelley Jones frontispieces from this run, which seemed obsessed with augmenting Bane’s trapezius muscles with every issue (and adding more and more ab-ribcage globules as well), stuck. I wasn’t nuts about them back then. I’m still not. They were a little too cartoony for my Bat-palate, though, to be sure, I have no beef with Jones’ art. The collected Sandman tomes which feature his work sit proudly on my home’s bookshelves. But when it was clear that Bane and Catwoman were the dramatis personae for Nolan’s final chapter, what you see up there was what sprang to mind with the quickness of a word association test. For better or for worse.

And as for the comic, it’s now or never in terms of ever again cracking it open. If not now, when? I offer no grander commentary on the “Knightfall” arc, other than that I found it a boring waste of time, as there might as well have been a countdown at the bottom of every page for the inevitable return of the original Bruce Wayne version we know and love. I’m just making some observations about this one single book, taken on its own. For what that’s worth (not much, I know). And there’s actually some significance to this issue, a part of the lead-up to the big deal OMG ISSUE 500, and a few things that merit our attention.

You know what? This chapter, from scripter Doug Moench, penciller Jim Aparo and inker Rick Burchett, could be a lot worse. But it’s not. It’s actually, in a mild miracle, halfway decent. CALL THE VATICAN.

There are pro forma storyline beats, like Bane establishing his control over Gotham’s underworld — not with his guns (Venom-pumped biceps), but with his guns (guns):

(On a side note, did Marvel’s lawyers ever get ramped up over Bane’s Spider-Manish eyes and his use of a substance called “Venom”? I can’t recall. One wonders.)

There’s a ton of “Sad Batman” on display in these pages, as the out-of-the-woods Bruce Wayne enters into the full-on depression stage of his long (LOOOONNNNGGGG), painful recovery. His musings on how Bane kicked his weak little ass are too much for the overwrought Robin:

I don’t think any of us like to see Batman whiney, in a neck brace and on his back (in two years Christopher Reeve’s riding accident would bring a terrible reality to superhero paralysis), and Tim Drake’s tears probably echoed the reactions of many people in the reading audience. Which makes Alfred’s Airplane!-esque SNAP OUT OF IT advice to young Master Tim applicable on a meta level:

Off they go, inventing the cover story for Bruce’s injuries (a car wreck), setting up an in-house medical ward and calling in a private physician (Sondra Kinsolving) to care for him. As for Bane’s violent consolidation of the criminal element? He ropes in a skeptical Catwoman by issue’s end:

The most important part of this book is Batman’s other protegé of the time, Azrael (Jean-Paul Valley to his friends), donning the cape and cowl so that Gotham won’t feel abandoned in her hour of need — all with Bruce’s blessing. It’s apparently good enough to fool Jim Gordon, at least at first glance:

I think I once remarked that, as much as I love Aparo’s Batman, and I do, his male characters often had a sameness to them. I realize the cowl doesn’t leave a great deal of room for facial differentiation, but the Azrael-Batman looks EXACTLY like Batman-Batman. This isn’t a huge complaint, but it is kind of funny. Of course, this is a universe where a suit and a pair of glasses makes one an UNDETECTABLE MASTER OF DISGUISE, so…

I have terrible memories of “Knightfall” and everything about it. As soon as it started, I wanted it to end, because you could tell from solicitations where it was headed, and the concurrent Superman/Doomsday sturm und drang was leaving a bitter, pointless taste in my mouth. All that hazarai and you’re right back to where you started, you know? And God forbid any of the “major changes” to these flagship characters had actual permanence, like the real Superman being that snotty little earring-wearing punk Superboy, or the New Batman wearing embarrassing, garish armor that would make Tony Stark blush (WHY BOTHER WITH THE CAPE?). That would suck even worse.

It just seemed like a lot of wheel-spinning. Money-making wheel-spinning. Still does.

But, if you carve out this one comic from that whole, it actually has some quality. Batman’s dire straits, while extreme, do grab the reader. Moench’s script doesn’t set the world ablaze (the dialogue in the Bane-Catwoman sequence above isn’t exactly Mametian in its pop and intensity), but it doesn’t give you a headache, like a terrible Todd McFarlane script that makes you feel like you’re living inside a goddamn bass drum. And Aparo, though he was losing his fastball at this point (there’s a stiffness to the sequencing that I can’t quite describe, but I know it’s there), is still the definitive Batman artist of my generation, and his visual conception of everything in that orbit will always be held dear. Really, could anyone draw a stern, glowering Caped Crusader better? Even if the person behind the mask is (supposedly) different?

And Bane and Catwoman. I didn’t care about either of them then. I really don’t care now. Does this bode well for next week? We shall see. Maybe we’re all ready for a fresh take. YOUR MOVE, NOLAN.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian Stanley permalink
    July 14, 2012 12:24 pm

    I agree completely that Knightfall seemed like a waste of time in 1992, 1993 and 1994 and even moreso in retrospect.

    Even in that pre-internet age, i remember DC intimating Batman would be the next character to undergo massive changes, just as Azrael and Bane were introduced in their own special issues (mini-series) and then focused on more than villains and associates who’d been around for years.

    You didn’t have to be the Darknight Detective to figure out where the focus was going. Especially after Jean-Paul (you immediately knew anyone with a handle that foreign to American adolescents would never be a permanent secret identity) went through a brief fight with each member of the rogues gallery as the Bat-Stand-in.

    I haven’t re-read the series, but I remember it seemed like a video game. Stumble on Scarecrow and Black Mask robbing a bank, fight them both for two pages, now Jean-Paul has history with them. A page of someone discovering Mr. Freeze and Two-Face settting a bomb that acts like a cutscene. Jean-Paul fights them for two pages. Now he has history with them. And repeat.

    Then after the die-cut, foil cover issue 500 gave him “the cowl”, Jean-Paul began isolating himself from the supporting characters and acting a little batty. I wondered if a millionaire playboy could miraculously recover in a world where technology used by Vic Stone and Lex Luthor existed.

    But while Bruce convalesced, Jean-Paul faced Abbatoir (still remember the first time i ever opened a dictionary to read the rest of a comic book) who didn’t want to take over the world with his superpowers. He was just a psycho who enjoyed killing regular people. Why make him as evil as possible? The same reason he was invented- so Jean-Paul could kill him.

    Or at least, not prevent his death, which Bruce believes crosses the line when he somehow learns about it. If Az-Bats had let the Penguin or even, Black Mask perish, they’d be missed. The unreedeeming, unremarkable villain who was just introduced-not so much.

    So Bruce needs to come back and heal, which means Dr. Shondra Kinsolving has mutant healing powers but will have to be sacrificed after they’ve helped Bruce. So the price turns her into a woman-child mentally and emotionally.
    I never liked Dr. Shondra Kinsolving (she reaches Bruce in a way Selina or Vicky never has? That’s the morphine talking.) But that was a pretty harsh way to get her out of his life.

    And then Bruce has to fight Jean-Paul. Guess who the true Batman is after all.

    I realize your post was about Knightfall and i think i’ve criticized Knightquest and Knightsend here more, but my point (as i believe yours was) is that this crossover never seemed to end and was frustrating because you knew none of these drastic changes would last so it seemed our time was being wasted.

    I was a teenager when Knightfall came out and probably would’ve shifted my focus to girls and music anyway. But what that series showed me is you can step away following a series for years and if you ever choose to come back be surprised at how little actually happened while you were gone.

    All of the Batman and Detective Comics that have been published in the last 20 years have done nothing to change that opinion.

  2. July 14, 2012 3:34 pm

    I’ve often looked at the collected tomes of Knightfall in the bookshops thinking ‘maybe’ and leafed through them and thought ‘nope’. Now I’ve read this post, I am convinced. Don’t like Knightfall – and I’ve never read it! Good service, this blog.

  3. bluekatt permalink
    November 12, 2012 4:55 am

    it gets even worse with those huge phoenbook sized knightfall books
    because dc in their infinite wisdom chose to LEAVE issues out

    more specifically the three batman issues before the series kicks off proper which establishes a fight between jean-paul and bane and where bane breaks crocs arms

    a couple of “minor” happenstances the story keeps referring to !

    book 2 does it even worse dc decided ti woudl be a great idea to cut off the whole search for tim drake’s father mini series
    the mini where bruce’s back is healed as well ….just a minor plot point that

    probably so they can hawk it seperatley

    these books are already closing in on 700 pages a few comics more wouldnt hurt

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