Batman: Knightfall Vol. 1

Batman: Knightfall is not a story of vengence or betrayal.  It is not a story of murder, nor one of resurrection.

Knightfall is the story of the man who broke the bat.

Bane, the iconic villain who was featured in The Dark Knight Rises film, is shown in all his merciless glory in this trade.  In fact, the first issue collected here is Bane’s first appearance, and details his origin and what led him to Gotham.  Without giving away the details, suffice it to say that Bane led an incredibly rough life, and by the time he reached Gotham and set his sights on Batman, he was a well-honed killing machine.

Bane’s physical prowess and strength are counter-balanced by Batman’s increasingly weak performance.  Exhausted and burnt out, Batman pushes through the pain and continues to battle the villains of Gotham, despite his body’s desperate need for rest.

Batman is put to the ultimate test as Bane releases every crazed madman from Arkham.  As Batman shoulders the responsibility of bringing in each and every one of these lunatics, Bane remains in the shadows and waits patiently.  His lackeys do not share his vision, and think the time is ripe to attack Batman, to which Bane calmly replies:

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Bane waits for the absolute opportune moment to strike, when Bruce is at his weakest and about ready to collapse.  The two engage in a fierce battle, but Batman’s failing strength is no match for Bane’s venom-induced power.  Although Batman fights until the very end, he eventually succumbs to his ever-growing weakness, with Bane issuing one final, crushing blow that seems as though it will end Batman for good.

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Bane does not kill Batman, although at this point it would have been all too easy.  As he explains, this would have made the Bat a martyr, something he wished to avoid.  Instead, he destroyed the man and the symbol, breaking Bruce’s back and leaving him to his pain.

Rescued just in time by Robin and Alfred, Bruce clings to life and must ever-so-slowly attempt to regain use of his legs, having been paralyzed after his battle with Bane.  Bruce soon realizes that the symbol of Batman is more important than the man behind the cowl, and selects Jean Paul Valley, a.k.a. Azrael, to be his stand-in while he attempts to recover.

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At this point the story shifts, with focus being put on Azrael as he adapts to the role of the dark knight.  Unfortunately, Valley is arrogant and now believes he is the Batman, not simply a place-holder.  Pushing Robin away and becoming increasingly violent with street hoods, this new Batman creates his own code.  We see little of Bruce, who is still slowly attempting to recover and doesn’t seem to concerned with the details of what the new Batman’s been up to.

This first volume of the storyline closes with a pretty monumental issue, not because of its story but because of its numbering:  Issue 500 of Batman. As I read and realized I was approaching a pretty significant milestone, I grew excited to see what the writers would do for this issue.  Unfortunately, once I read it I found it a bit lackluster.

Bruce is shown very little, having traveled to an island with Alfred to rescue his doctor and Robin’s father.  The primary focus of this issue is on the new Batman and his desire to fight Bane, while Robin ponders what to do about this slightly unhinged Batman replacement.  Valley designs an entirely new costume for himself, looking almost like a version of Batman but really something entirely different, and squares off against Bane, whom he somehow manages to defeat. (Yes, I’m sure he’s not really gone, but the fact that Valley came closer to ending him than Batman did is distressing.)

I suppose the point of the story was to show Bane defeated with a victorious Batman standing over him, but the story felt hollow.  For such a momentous occasion as the 500th issue, I would have expected a more touching story involving Bruce’s redemption.  Instead, the true Batman was hardly featured at all.  Perhaps the writers were trying to pave the way for a new generation, or perhaps even a new Batman, but I simply didn’t buy into the story, and found myself wishing Bruce would just come back already.

Granted, this collection is only the first of three volumes in the Knightfall storyline, so I’m sure the comic will eventually renew my faith  and bring back our rightful dark knight.  Until then, I suppose I’m stuck with the insufferable and cocky Valley.  I can only hope his hubris proves to be his own downfall as Bruce makes a triumphant return, donning the cowl once again as the true and rightful Batman.

-Jess

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