What we’re looking at here is the start of an epic storyline that encompassed all of the Bat-titles and changed the character forever. In the wake of the Death of Superman storyline, Batman was not left out of the mix. Knightfall pitted Batman against nearly all of his rogues gallery and introduced us to the might of Bane. Bane really did what no other villain was able to do to the Dark Knight. He broke him physically. It was to the point that Bruce Wayne had to pass the mantle on to someone else, namely John Paul Valley. Whether or not he was a good or terrible Batman is most certainly for debate, but the fact remains: He took Batman in a direction that Bruce Wayne was unwilling to do. I’m getting way ahead of myself here, so let’s take a look at how the most popular Bat storyline of the ’90’s really started. Let’s look at Batman #492.
Here’s how it starts: Nearly everyone that Batman has put into Arkham Asylum has been set free by a man called Bane. The focus turns to Mad Hatter, a rather prominent rogue in Batman’s gallery. At the Gotham Zoo, Hatter sets his chimpanzee free from it’s cage. As this crazy reunion takes place, Batman and Robin (Tim Drake at this time) are looking over a display at the Batcave. It has everyone: Joker, Zsasz, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Scarecrow, and many more lesser villains. They’re all crazy, but more importantly, they’re all very deadly. It’s hard to focus on just one, so instead of going after the mastermind behind the release of Gotham’s worst, they hit the streets in search of whoever they come across first. In this case, the Mad Hatter.
I’m most familiar with Doug Moench’s writing on Moon Knight, and though I was not nearly impressed on his nearly full series run there (30+ issues) here, it fairs well. It’s slow to start, but then again, this is the start of a massive storyline that encompasses all of the bat-titles. It’s huge, and to be a part of this is such and undertaking. As I said, for the start of the story, it’s slow, but it does serve a purpose. We do focus on Mad Hatter here, but we also get to see a piece of Bane too. Bane has people watching all over town for Batman and well as the many villains he’s set onto the city. I think Moench writes results a little too easy here, but overall, the story flows. We have to remember though, this issue is only the tip of the iceberg, and we’ve yet to see the likes of Joker, Scarecrow, Penguin, or any others. Mad Hatter is nothing to sneeze at, but here, I think Moench makes everything too easy. Overall, it’s decent, but not mind-blowing. As I’m taking a second thought at this, it’s kind of a letdown for such an epic storyline to start. I would have expected just a little more bang for my $1.25. It is what it is though.
As for artwork, Norm Breyfogle really sets the tone visually. Where Dough Moench lacks in the script, Breyfogle picks it up in the artwork. It is definitely a product of it’s time, being knee deep in the ’90’s at this point. His artwork looks a little flat, and not as full of life as I’ve seen from other artists of the time. He does convey emotion very well, especially in Mad Hatter and also with the fatigue that Batman is only just starting to suffer from. Bats has a long road ahead of him, and Breyfogle brings that across in his artwork. Some of it lacks though: Close-ups of Bane for instance. They look like something I would draw, and I can’t draw. Aside from that, it’s nice, solid work.
I can remember DC just coming off the “Death of Superman” storyline, and “Reign of the Supermen” starting to go into full gear. Knightfall, I think, was taken to a much more personal level. With Superman, he was portrayed as unbeatable, unstoppable, and most importantly, heroic. You had to beat him by wearing him down physically. Doomsday was able to do that. With Batman, it wasn’t so much his body that yo had to break as it was his mind. Here, it’s developed over many is quite well, and even this falls into place nicely. The Bat is only now starting to suffer from a lack of sleep, food, and stress from all of his villains loose on his city. He’s used to one, maybe three of them at a time, but all of them? How much can even he take before he cracks? Knightfall shows us just that. Bane may be best known for breaking the bat, so to speak, but he’s also very much a part of his mental breakdown as well. Let us not forget what the rest of the rogues put him though, but Bane needs a large amount of that credit. Not only did he break Batman’s back, but he also broke his mind. That, in itself, is a very difficult thing to do.
With Bane as the central villain in “The Dark Knight Rises“, it’s only natural that people would be curious as to where he came from, or more importantly, the story that brought him to us. Knightfall is that story, and though it’s long, we go through the same thing Batman does. We suffer with him, we watch him as he goes from one evil-doer to the next. No break, no rest, no time. Only then will Bane strike, and only then can he beat him. Here is where it starts. Here is that first chapter. Sit back, and enjoy.
Parental concern: Not much. It all falls within that nasty comics code.