Some comic book storylines are memorable for a single event. Sometimes a character dies, other times a new character might debut. Sometimes it’s the passing of a torch that sticks in readers’ memories. But for this week’s Weekend Binge, we’re looking at a Batman classic that features all of that and so much more! Bane! Azrael! The Batman rogues both old and new! It’s the timeless saga that’s influenced everything from The Dark Knight Rises to Harley Quinn, and for good reason. This weekend is the perfect time to experience Batman: Knightfall!
The set-up, brilliant in its simplicity, is this: Arkham Asylum has been destroyed and Gotham’s super-villains have run rampant throughout the city. Only Batman and Robin stand a chance in bringing them down before their reign of terror proves too much for the city to handle, but behind it all lies the question of who is responsible for the breakout. The answer proves to be Bane, a master tactician with super strength thanks to the steroidal compound known as Venom. Carefully observing Batman’s pursuit of Gotham’s many criminals, Bane waits in hiding as the Dark Knight is run through the wringer, thoroughly burning himself out. Finally, when Batman’s at his most vulnerable, he strikes, utterly destroying Gotham’s protector.
But the story doesn’t end there. After Bane bests Batman in brutal combat, a successor must be chosen to save the city from the strongman’s wrath. Enter Jean-Paul Valley, a.k.a. Azrael the Avenging Angel. Found by Batman after learning he was an inheritor of the mantle of Azrael from the Order of St. Dumas, a religious sect that stems from the Knights Templar, Jean-Paul masquerades as Batman and works with Robin in bringing Gotham back to order. However, Paul grows too attached to the role and becomes violent, abusive and overtly aggressive. As he falls further into a demonic pastiche of what the Batman is supposed to be, he rejects Robin’s help and pursues Bane on his own, an action the now-paralyzed Bruce Wayne strictly forbade him from taking.
Let’s Talk Talent:
This story, which originally played out across a number of Bat-titles, couldn’t be as action-packed and thrilling as it is without the megastars who were working on the Batman books at the time. In the pages of Batman, Doug Moench penned Bruce’s creeping fatigue as it bloodily builds to a painful conclusion. Classic DC artist Jim Aparo showcases his stellar design work on the classic rogues, while Shadow of the Bat artist Norm Breyfogle provides guest pencils in Batman’s clashes with the Mad Hatter and the fearsome Amygdala.
In the Detective Comics chapters, the classic team of Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan continue portraying Bruce’s deteriorating condition, mixed with Robin’s solo investigations and Jean Paul’s ferocious attacks on Bane’s men and the Gotham mobs. Other guest pencillers include Catwoman artist Jim Balent brandishing a dazzling high-rise fight between Bane and Killer Croc, and Bret Blevins pitting Jean-Paul against the Scarecrow in a trippy and horror-tinged three-parter.
A Few Reasons to Read:
- One could sell this storyline solely as the introduction of Bane, who immediately became a top-tier Batman villain. More than just a scary looking bodybuilder, Bane’s calculating nature and keen intellect made him one of Batman’s most formidable foes, and his presence loomed large over Gotham despite the sheer number of notorious criminals out on the loose. The battle between Bane and Bruce Wayne is nothing short of a beatdown, and the fights between Bane and Azrael are absolutely gripping.
- Seeing Bruce Wayne at his mental and physical limits is something to behold. Often a Batman adventure tests his mettle in several ways, but with this story, there’s always the relentless question of what’s next. Can Bruce predict the next crime in time? Is he up to facing these villains without stopping to rest? If he’s the only one Gotham can rely on to save the day, how long can he last when he’s beyond exhausted even before his meeting with Bane? For fans who appreciate the Dark Knight’s human struggles, this is essential reading.
- Jane-Paul Valley is a terrific character and seeing him sucked into the role of Batman is in many ways horrifying. He means well and tries to not let the mantle down, but his lack of compassion and refusal to commit to the art of detection works against the good he wants to do for the city. Furthermore, his rejection of Robin just makes you want to see him go up against Bane all the sooner, for the pure catharsis of truly seeing how good of a Batman he can be.
- Speaking of Robin, this is early in the career of Tim Drake and he has plenty of moments to shine. From being caught in the middle of a Bane/Croc fight to going up against the Riddler on his own, everything that makes Tim Drake one of DC’s greatest characters is on full display. It was during this time that he was given his own ongoing series, which ran for over fifteen years.
Why It’s Worth Your Time:
Understanding what Batman can do best is a realization one can only make when he’s at his worst. Additionally, with the introduction of a new villain and the succession of his mantle by a violent usurper, this story makes the case that only Bruce Wayne can be Batman. (The fact that this is debatable just makes reading it more valuable—it’ll either convince you it’s true, or allow you to sharpen your argument that it’s not.)
Knightfall is a grand saga, full of action and suspense, and is a longtime classic for a reason. If you haven’t yet read it, it’s time you change that, and there’s no better time than now as we make our way to this year’s Batman Day.
Batman: Knightfall by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon, Jim Aparo, Graham Nolan, Norm Breyfogle, Jim Balent, Bret Blevins and more can be read in full on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE. It's also available as a series of omnibus graphic novels at your local comic shop, bookstore or library.
Donovan Morgan Grant writes about comics, graphic novels and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @donoDMG1.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Donovan Morgan Grant and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.