Thursday, August 2, 2012

Thursday Review: Batman Knightfall

By now you've probably already seen The Dark Knight Rises and you've maybe even read my review of it.  So now I think I can talk about the story that at least partially inspired the movie without feeling like I'm "spoiling" things for people.  Though really when I talk about the Knightfall comic book series I might mush it together with the novelization I actually read first.  There are some things in the novelization not in the comics and vice versa.

Anyway, even though until 1993 or so I'd read exactly one Batman comic in my life (it was this one where he fights some hockey player guy; somehow a tattered copy of it ended up in my closet along with part of a '60s Superman comic where he goes back in time somehow) for some reason I became obsessed with the Knightfall story.  Not obsessed enough to actually BUY any comics.  I mean back then I was like 14 and the only money I had came from mowing my grandma's yard (10 big ones!) or if I embezzled my lunch money, which was maybe another $5.

Which actually makes me wonder where the hell I'd even heard what was going on in Batman comics in the first place.  I mean this was before Al Gore had invented the World Wide Web so I couldn't even go to Wikipedia and read about it.  It was probably from going to Waldenbooks (remember when that was a thing?) or the used book store.  Though now that I think of it, I remember they ran a story on it on "Today" back when I still watched that on occasion.  That might have been what got me started.

Anyway, I think what fascinated me was the idea of the hero LOSING.  And not losing because he sacrifices himself to save a bunch of people or something like that but losing because the bad guy actually outthinks and outmuscles him.  In other words, the bad guy actually bests Batman.

So when I got around to reading the novelization (I realized later the writing is crap but the story is good), I fell in love with it even more.  The basic story goes that in this crappy Latin American island prison called Santa Prisca is this guy named Bane.  He breaks out of prison and goes up to Gotham.  He finds out from his minions (three dudes with goofy names:  Bird, Trogg, and Zombie) that Batman is all the shit in Gotham.  Bane does a little studying on the Batman and comes up with a brilliant way to destroy Batman.  [Incidentally, the full backstory of Bane is in the "Vengeance of Bane" comic that I'll review in a couple of weeks.  Because I can.]

The first thing he does is stage a raid on Arkham Asylum where most of Batman's old foes are: the Joker, Two-Face, the Riddler, and so forth.  (But not the Penguin, who was in Blackgate Prison I guess.)  Batman manages to catch a few of the crazies during the raid but the worst ones get free.

So now Batman has to go around chasing after all these bad guys at the same time.  Needless to say this gets pretty tiring.  After one of these battles, Bane watches the Batmobile and figures out which neighborhood it's going to.  Then he deduces that Bruce Wayne is the Batman.

From there he busts his way into the Batcave, where Bruce was trying in vain to get a little shut eye.  There's a somewhat anticlimactic battle between them, where Bane just whoops the hell out of Batman.  Finally, he lifts Batman up and then brings him down over his knee, breaking Batman's back.  In the novelization it says at the last second Batman is able to turn a little so his spine isn't like completely severed.


To add insult to injury, Bane takes Batman into Gotham and then chucks him into a crowd or something.  In the novelization it's kind of funny because he takes Batman to this street corner where there's only one old lady who witnesses him declaring himself the king of Gotham.

So there you go, our hero has lost.  Batman is defeated, and pretty handily too.  Of course like many comic book villains before him, Bane made the mistake of leaving Bruce Wayne alive instead of just killing him.  I mean it probably would have gone differently if he had killed Bruce before he could tap a successor.

Probably the biggest contrivance in this whole storyline is that Bruce doesn't tap Dick Grayson (Nightwing, formerly original Robin) to replace him.  Instead he picks this Jean-Paul Valley guy, who was an assassin known as Azrael.  [I'll talk more about him in 3 weeks.  Again, because I can.]


Anyway, so Jean-Paul becomes the new Batman.  He has problems like he doesn't know how to drive well, he hates Robin (score one for him!), and he struggles with Batman's whole not killing thing since Azrael was an assassin who obviously killed people.  Also when he tangles with the Scarecrow and gets a whiff of fear gas he starts to go nuts, thinking he hears this phony St. Dumas (the patron saint of the Azrael people) talking to him.

But thanks to going crazy he designs a new Batsuit that is wicked cool.  I have him standing right on my desk as I'm typing this.  The new Batsuit was designed more like the Azrael suit, which is more armor-y or kind of robotic-looking.  It has these cool dart guns and even flamethrowers.  Yes, flamethrowers!  Instead of a cape he has all these kind of partitions that form wings.  The problem at least with the new Batsuit (AzBats as some people call it) is that it's really top heavy.  To get him to stand on a stand I took from the Nite Owl II Watchmen figure I bought I have to bend his knees to give him more balance.

And here reenacting Knightfall are my Batman action figures.  You have old Bruce Wayne Batman on the ground with Bane standing over him.  To the left is the new Batsuit Jean-Paul designs.  This was the latest (and most accurate) figure.  To the right are two older versions of AzBats that I bought at some point.  The little blue one I got in about 1996 as part of a Legends of Batman two-pack along with Viking Batman (not pictured).  The red one was part of some set I bought online that included the old Batman on the ground there, regular Superman, and "Superman Red" which was part of a cheesy late 90s plot where Superman was some kind of energy being.  Anyway, the AzBats figure in that set actually had a blackish cape and head, which made no sense since that was never how it was depicted in the comics.  So I repainted it red, which sort of matches how he looks at the end of the Knightsend series.  Also, for the Bane figure I bought a Legends of the Dark Knight version from the mid-90s but the head was really stupid-looking (it had long hair and the mask didn't look right) so I chopped off his head and then online I found a replacement head from the newer figure (in the same set as the AzBats on the left) that you could only get complete if you bought all six figures in that set, which would have been a lot more expensive.  His pants should really be black and the tubes bright green but the hell with that.  So that should give you an idea how deep my obsession with this is.


Anyway, with his kickass new suit, AzBats goes out looking for Bane, even though Bruce Wayne told him not to.  There's a climactic fight, where of course the new Batman wins.  Hooray!

Except you know that Jean-Paul's reign couldn't last.  I mean they made the dude crazy and gave him a French name.  So they pretty much set him up for failure right there.

Anyway (yet again) I loved this storyline.  As I said at the beginning, I think it was a different way to look at things.  Also, though, Bane was a great villain in the comics.  He was not only really strong but he was smart too.  One of the many things that disappointed me with "Batman & Robin" was that they made Bane this idiot henchman for Poison Ivy.  I suppose a lot of the problem was being super strong it was hard in 1997 to cast someone who could look the part.  (That and Joel Schumacher is a moron.)  I mean back then if you wanted someone with lots of muscles they couldn't really act.  (See Bane's co-star Ahhh-nold Schwarzenegger for an example.  Or Lou Ferigno in "The Incredible Hulk.")  Of course nowadays with computers you can make a regular-sized guy look huge, which is how Mark Ruffalo can be the Hulk in "The Avengers."  At least in "The Dark Knight Rises" Bane gets his balls back, even if you can only understand half of what he's saying.

If you ever buy the paperback reprints of the series (I had to buy at least one used because it was out of stock or just really expensive on Amazon) it comes in two volumes.  The first volume deals with Bruce Wayne being broken and the second volume deals with Jean-Paul kicking Bane's ass.  What sucks though in volume 2 is a sizable chunk of it is actually a flashback to when Bruce's Batman fought Two-Face.  That seemed kind of dumb; why didn't they just put that in volume 1?  I think too the story in the comics might not have been quite as epic as I'd built it up to be in my own brain, but it still makes for fun reading.

And you know if you just saw the movie, you might want to see how the original went, right?

If I ever publish the entire Scarlet Knight series, the sixth story (which incidentally is my favorite) is largely inspired by Knightfall.  Part of it is set in an alternate future where an aging Emma gets whupped on by a new breed of Black Dragoons.  One of them severs her spine so that she's left paralyzed.  Her daughter Louise then hears "the Call" to become the next Scarlet Knight and like Jean-Paul she struggles with the superhero gig and her predecessor's legacy.  Though unlike him she isn't crazy, so she's got that going for her.  Maybe its close relation to Knightfall is why I like it?  Hurm...

Next Thursday I'll ramble about the Knightsend saga, which was a battle between the Batmen.  Who wins?  Um, duh, who do you think?  Then after that are the two Vengeance of Bane comics.  And the week after that a post on Azrael.  Then after that a post on the Batman: Venom series.  So basically I'm dedicating all of August's reviews to stuff relating to Knightfall and indirectly to "The Dark Knight Rises."  (Because I can.)

In the meantime, Tuesday is another Two-Fer...

10 comments:

  1. I own all these original comics. I wonder if someone would pay a couple bucks for them yet. What a waste of money. Worthless.

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  2. Again, "hurm" as an expression was already claimed by a psychopath who managed to take down the world's smartest man after his own death. Tread carefully, Mr. Dilloway.

    This whole saga has been reprinted into gigantic trade paperbacks, which you can easily find in your bookstore or online retailer of choice. It's also worth noting that most of the essential Bane stories have also been reprinted. Again, check your favorite outlets.

    If you're referring to the Denny O'Neil novelization, I hope you know you're insulting a legend. If you're referring to the simultaneously released children's version, then you got what you paid for.

    One of the many reasons Bruce would have passed over Dick Grayson at the time was that the first Robin was still very much self-alienated from the Batman family at that time. In fact, he only really returned because of the whole Bane thing. Not so long after, he did have his first crack at the cowl.

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    Replies
    1. You know I've been saying "Hurm" since that movie came out and you're the only one who got the reference, or at least who referenced it. Should I keep using it? Hurm...

      As for Denny O'Neil, the writing of the novelization is very pedestrian in terms of actual writing technique. I do enjoy the story but the dude isn't exactly William Faulkner. Nuff said.

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    2. Nuff said belongs to Stan Lee! I guess I only caught on to your using "hurm" pretty recently.

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  3. Great summary of a silly but iconic moment in Batman history. I'm really impressed with your dedication to the realism of your action figures. I'll bet you have some great stuff.

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  4. That was great and all, but that was the longest caption for a photo I've ever seen. Well done. That's all I can think about now.

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  5. Went to see The Dark Knight Rises over the weekend and I'd give it a C-. It was really boring. Batman wasn't on screen nearly enough and the villain was really lame. He looked like Darth Vader without the helmet. And what was going on with the voice? He sounded like that comedian who does the Sean Connery impression on SNL where he's on Jeopardy. Some of the magic returned at the very end but by then it was too late for me.

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  6. Barnes had a copy on display for the movie, and seeing batman's face when he sees Bane in Wayne Manor. Hard to forget.

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  7. Thanks for stopping by the blog, PT. I've updated my post based on your feedback. :)

    I haven't seen Dark Knight yet - I know, I know, shame on me - so I have to save your post for a later date. Just wanted to stop in and say thanks!

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