Knightfall – He Broke the Batman

As I stated in my introduction, “Knightfall” is the first story line that I will be discussing. To give some historical background, it was published from April 1993 to October 1993. Characters such as Bane and Jean-Paul Valley were introduced earlier, but reading those stories aren’t necessary to understanding “Knightfall.” However, I would recommend reading Vengeance of Bane because it introduces the character of Bane, giving the reader some insight into him and his background. 

Last summer, I reread Vengeance of Bane in the trade paperback “Batman: Knightfall-Volume 1.” This particular book includes Vengeance of Bane, Batman #491-#500, Detective Comics #659-#666, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #16-#18, and relevant stories from Showcase 93 #7 and #8.

I would highly recommended this volume, not only for its relevancy and quality graphic storytelling, but also because it looks pretty darn good on a shelf.

Over twenty years ago, I didn’t read Vengeance of Bane. It wasn’t until years later that I read that book. In fact, I think it was in the late 1990s. In any event, Vengeance of Bane as a prelude to the entire “Knightfall” saga is a perfect setup. There isn’t much Batman at all in this book, allowing the story to flow at the pace required to set up Bane as Batman’s eventual breaker. The story details his early life and training in the Santa Prisca prison, which is more than enough time to become the enemy, and the only one, to break the Batman, both physically and mentally. Bane is patient, intelligent, physically unparalleled, but has one quality that Batman doesn’t have, a ruthlessness that the world has never seen. His goal is to break the Batman, and we all know that he did.

In Batman #491, a scary bunch of villains escape from Arkham Asylum. Needless to say that it was part of Bane’s plan. Part of Bane’s brilliance is allowing these villains run rampant in Gotham, and as the story progresses through the various titles, taking down each villain and figuring out what all these villains are up to takes a toll on Batman. He can’t handle everything, so good thing Tim Drake as Robin is there to assist in all of this. Robin’s prominence in this story arc sets the stage for the first Robin ongoing series, which will also be discussed in future pieces of this column.

Since the point of this column isn’t to go into depth on the stories, nor is it a review, I will leave it to our readership to explore the story. If you are of my generation, you will appreciate looking back and noting the talent of the writers and artists that were prominent at that time. Some of these writers and artists are still active today, and some are not. Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench as two of the main writers of this story, and Graham Nolan and Norm Breyfogle as two of the primary artists are real storytellers, and it shows in “Knightfall.”

If you are new to this era of comics, I highly encourage you to read this story. These were the days before computer art, and to a certain extent artists of this time were hampered by not having a full color palette available. Despite these “limitations,” these artists had to pencil and ink knowing that it would be colored a certain way. But you know what? True artistry shows in this story. These artists and writers didn’t need a panel filled in with stuff in the background of the panel. In many panels, scenes are shown against a panel of brown or green. This allowed the reader to focus on what was actually important. Don’t get me wrong. There are many, many artists and writers working today that are just as talented, and I don’t want to take anything away from them.

And did I mention the surreal, yet somewhat over-the-top covers by Kelley Jones? I didn’t, so I will do so now. Jones’ art is amazing, and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves in my opinion. He isn’t for everybody, but some of those covers of his are borderline nightmarish.

Perhaps I’ve gone on a tangent on this subject. I blame the fact that this is a the first real article of this column, so I expect less reminiscing in future articles. I don’t want to go on a nostalgia trip with this column, less readers younger than I will just roll their eyes.

So what’s the relevance to the modern reader in reading “Knightfall,” either for the first time or as a reread? From a comics continuity standpoint, the story is so important to the legacy of the character of Batman that, when the “New 52” was launched in 2011, early issues of Batman: The Dark Knight mentioned the event. If I recall correctly, Bane was featured early in the New 52 Batman: The Dark Knight series. My guess is that if DC Comics had decided that the “Knightfall” story was no longer continuity, it would have turned off a lot of readers that may have gotten back into comics when the New 52 was launched. Getting readers from the 1990s back into comics was one of the objectives of the New 52 relaunch. Keeping the “Knightfall” story intact as continuity was a “no-brainer.”

In short, “Knightfall” is as relevant now as it was in 1993. The story is still interesting and well-plotted. From the beginning of the story, it’s clear that there is an end in mind, an ultimate goal, but the necessary end of the story doesn’t hamper other plot events that don’t directly relate to Bane breaking the back of Batman over his knee, one of the most famous scenes in all of comics history.

“Knightfall” is history itself, and takes its rightful place in, not only the Batman canon, but in the canon of comic books themselves.

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