Debriefing #8: ‘Knightfall: Broken Bat’

Knightfall (1993) Part 1 (Broken Bat)
Writers: Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench
Artists: Norman Breyfogle, Jim Aparo, Jim Balent, Graham Nolan
Colorist: Adrienne Roy

Note: This is a discussion of the 2012 release of Knightfall Volume 1. Given the length of this volume we are discussing the first half of this book, the story arc known as Broken Bat which ends with Batman #497.

A new threat enters Gotham City. The man known as Bane unleashes the inmates of Arkham Asylum upon the city, leaving Batman on a never-ending crime-fighting spree as he tries to stop the all out war waged by his rogues gallery on Gotham.

Edgar: Knightfall holds a strong place in Batman lore. It is one of those books for which a singular moment defines not only its story, but ended up being a defining chapter in the career of the Dark Knight, one that fans remember vividly almost twenty years after its publication. The story is quite long, as exemplfied by the fact that the first volume (of three!) is basically 600 pages. James, my question to you is, considering how lengthy the story concocted by authors Dixon and Moench is, do they earn all those bountiful pages of exposition, mini adventures, subplots featuring side characters, and tie all that in nicely with what you and I were probably anticipating the most, that is, the orignial comic book depiction of Batman’s contest versus Bane?

James: Yes and no. On the one hand, Bane’s big plan to bring down Batman gives the writer’s a strong conceit to have these episodic stories. Bane assaults Arkham Asylum and releases all the inmates and Batman has to capture all the inmates. That leads to some great episodic issues while also contributing to this behind the scenes plan Bane has. However, it also leads to some issues that are redundant. The fact Batman has to spend several issues trying to bring down Firefly felt like a waste to me. I get that it was supposed to show Batman was so worn down at that point he couldn’t even catch a C-list villain, but all that time spent on Firefly was time the story could have spent with a much, much better villain. I think that’s where the weakness of this structure begins to appear. What are your thoughts?

E: Batcave Debriefs followers (assuming we have any at this point) should note that you and I are discussing but the first half, sort of, of Knightfall vol 1, which concludes with the Batman/Bane showdown, and to summarize my thoughts on this first section, I was really, really disappointed. First and foremost is the episodic nature, as you put it, of this portion of the story. A whole bunch of it felt like time wasting. We get hints of side plots, like the Jean-Paul character who is training (although that means nothing to anybody not familiar with that character), and even when the book is trying to be important, in terms of drama or action, is feels like it is just stalling. It isn’t as though readers have forgotten that Bane is out and about, planning something nefarious for Batman, and yet the authors, both of them, just keep delaying the inevitable. There is no surprise. Batman is not going to fail against bloody Firefly. He is going to encounter Bane at some point, we know this instinctively. I did not like that at all. All that being said, what about the man behind all the chaos, Bane. So far in the story, what do you make of him?

J: I don’t care for Bane. I appreciate that he plays as a mastermind in this story–he constructs a smart plan to wear down Batman–but as an actual character with personality, he doesn’t have an interesting hook. He’s a tough guy and also a deep thinker, he spends years of his days in prison reading books, but he comes across as bland. Also, I don’t buy his motivation. He has some vision with a bat in in and then hears about Batman in Gotham and decides it is his mission to destroy Batman.

E: The entire first issue of this grand scale story is hit and miss. I loved how he was born on a small Central American island (fictional, of course), that he was condemned to dwell in it for the political sins of his parents. It’s a great way to create a villain. Bane is bad despite that he never even had a chance at being good by the nature of where he grew up. Nurture immediately took over from day one. On the other hand, what ever comes of his intellectual side? Where does that play out at all in the story? I didn’t see that on the page, if you will. Secondly, his motivation to destroy Batman, his nightmarish visions or hallucinatoins or whatnot, that’s so cheesy. I was honestly a little stunned that the writers hadn’t come up with anything deeper than that. It was piss poor in my opinion, pardon my language. He also lets a trio (if I remember correctly) of thugs hang around as well who help him along the way. What did you think of them?

J: I was indifferent to them. I didn’t think they were terrible. I thought it was better than having the kind of generic minions you might thrown into the story, but I didn’t find them to be memorable even though they do end up laying a lot of the groundwork for Bane and we spend almost more time with those characters than with Bane. What did you think about Bane’s actual plan and how it affects Batman?

E: As far as Bane’s plan is concerned, the overall goal is not especially different what most of the Gotham Rogues gallery desires. It is either the destruction of or control over Gotham City. That is not exactly a fair point of criticism though. After what, what else are these bad folks going after if not Gotham destruction or the control over it? Regarding how he goes about, what with the release of the criminals from Arkham Asylum, I think that is where the real issues start arising in the writing. It’s an interesting notion, Bane wanting to study Batman before he encounters him, but, first, it takes too long (and we don’t see enough of Bane during that time) and, second, I think it forces the authors to commit their biggest mistake: it cheapens the eventual Bane Batman fight in a big, big way. Did you have any problems with how Bane studied batman as much as I did?

J: Actually, I thought that was where the book excelled. Watching Batman have to chase down all these villains while Bane studies him made for what I thought was a great buildup to that fight. We see how Batman slowly degrades and becomes more and more weary as he spends all his time chasing down villains who don’t have the patience and restraint of Bane. I think that’s where you see the intellect of Bane appear: just through observing Batman he figures out who he is which leads to that great moment at the end of the first half of the book. I thought it made the fight a bit more interesting because you feel the mortality of Bruce Wayne because he’s not on his a-game and the battleground is his own home. I’m curious how you think it cheapens the fight. Did you think it was too clear that Bane would win so there was no suspense or was it something else?

E: Ah, excellent question, and a very fair one too. To say that the big fight felt cheapened is harsh, I will admit to that. I will also admit to finding the location of where the dual occurs a very cool touch. I honestly did not think Bane would infiltrate Bruce’s own home. That made the battle all the more personal. Where my problems lie is in what you suggested in your previous reply, that there was no suspense. You argued that Bane’s intellectual side is depicted when he Batman running all around gotham chasing after smaller villains. Maybe, although the fact of that matter is that Bane has been built up so much in that first chapter, and occasionally in other ones, that readers know the two will fight. Bane is huge, he is a mountain. Seeing Batman fight against him is mouth watering, but the more Batman was growing tired, the more a creeping thought haunted me . ‘Oh no, Bane is just going to crush this poor sucker after tiring him out!’ A smart way to outdo the Bat? Sure, I’ll give you that much, but not worthy of so much buildup. Not at all in my opinion. I think this was one of those circumstances in which turning the expectations on their heads was not the right decision.  To tackle another topic, there are not one but two writers doing the job here. Did you notice any major differences in quality as the issue flip flopped between the two?

J: Honestly, not really. I have a feeling that they probably sat down together and figured out the large arc, but I didn’t find myself thinking that Detective (which Dixon wrote) or Batman (which Moench wrote) was consistently better than the other. Both had good issues and bad issues and they also flowed together quite well. I didn’t realize there were separate authors until I looked it up after I read the book. Did you notice any distinction between the two?

E: That was in fact the reason why I brought that up. Now, obviously, my problems with the story up until now speak to a lot of issues for which I believe both authors are at fault, but for some reason I felt, at the very least, that Dixon’s pacing and especially his dialogue was crisper than the stories Moench wrote. I don’t quite know how to pinpoint my issues with Moench’s writing, but something about it rang cheap to me. There are some issues with Robin, and Robin being a more smart alecky character, goes for some quips, and I thought all of them were terrible. Maybe this criticism is stemming more from my overall issues with the book and I’m inventing even more problems? I could be crazy. Well, we Batman chase after a bunch of criminals before meeting Bane. Are there are you thought earned their spot? Good sub plots? interesting use of whatever villain?

J: As I mentioned before, Firefly felt like a waste and while I like Mad Hatter a lot, I didn’t care for the story he had in his issue. I did like seeing Zazza, that is one of my favorite issues of this arc, it was an interesting hostage situation and I like how the police and Batman interact in that issue. Scarecrow and Joker were also done well, although we’ll probably talk about them more in the second half of this discussion. I also like how Killer Croc and Bane end up having their squabble. It’s cool to see that there are villains who also don’t like Bane. Oh yea, I also loved how Scarface just kept cropping up in the story and then that whole arc ends up resolving itself in a really interesting way without Batman’s intervention. I’d say I found more I liked in the rogues gallery overall, but there were a few bad apples in there which I could have done without. You have any differing thoughts?

E: You know, I have to agree that on the whole, Firefly is such a crap villain when placed against the Dark Knight, but I find him very appealing visually. His costume, the artwork that went into depicting the destruction he caused. For that alone I was glad the authors (and artists of course) gave that antagonist a little bit of love, but I agree he is silly for the most part. Zazza, as you call him and I will will too cause I don’t remember his actual name, was a neat little scheme. That villain is pure evil, not afraid to take lives, and I like the palpable sense of danger whenever he shows up. He’s a lot more terryfying than most of the other bad guys who make me go ‘Oh, cool, that bad guy shows!’ rather than ‘Oh crap, now I’m afraid…’ I was not a fan of the Scarface episode though. I don’t get what the heck that was supposed to be. More stalling if you ask me. What did you make of the fact that Batman’s allies don’t seem to help him that much, oftentimes because Bruce doesn’t want them too?

J: It’s not for lack of trying on their part. Robin does end up doing a lot of the detective work while Batman brings in the badguys, but I think it shows the downfall of Batman being a loner and putting it all on his own shoulders. It’s what makes the breaking of the Bat much more potent, because he brings it on himself. If he was more of a team player and willing to rest and stay strong he might have stood a chance, but instead he seals his own defeat by pushing help away. I liked that part of the story a lot because it explores the consequences of that mentality.

E: You touched on something that only fleetingly crossed my mind as I read the story, the idea that that breaking of the Bat is more of Bruce’s own doing. I’m starting to wonder if that was not the intention of the writers all along and I may have read the story incorrectly. Maybe I was not supposed to expect something too grandiose after all. Bruce is too steadfast in his loner vigilante career that when he goes up against Bane, he won’t be a match and that will entirely be his own fault. Maybe that even plays into the intellectual side of Bane’s plan too. Maybe Bane anticipates that. It’s a fair assessment and I am glad at least one of us got that out of the book. I still wish I had felt that as I read the book initially. It still felt to me as though Bruce was making those decisions so the fight would be easy for Bane, so we can eventually get another one (I’m sure. I haven’t actually read past vol 1) at some point in the future. It seems to me Bruce should realize that he is not up to the task. Just tell Robin and Nightwing to cuff some of these suckers while Bruce prepares for Bane. I don’t know. I think maybe want I wanted in perhaps conflicting what perhaps what the authors intended? I’m confused!!! LOL. What did you make of the art in this book?

J: The art in this book is in an awkward place. It feels like it’s between the transition from the newsprint schema of the 80s and the more modern art we’re used to that would soon emerge. The result is that the colors in this book feel a bit bland to me in conjunction with this kind of drawing. It feels very traditional and average, it doesn’t have the atmosphere, detail or stylization to make it feel distinct. It’s safe by playing into this middle-ground. I honestly didn’t ever find myself allured or impressed by any frame in this section of the book.

E: I think I understand what you are saying, in particular regarding how bland some of the schemes are. The colours used throughout are very basic colours, there is not that much nuance in them, which feels somewhat at odds with the tone of the sort the authors are attempting to give the readers. It feels, vaguely, like a slightly more advanced artwork of very old Batman comics colliding with a very dark story, which did not always sit well with me, save, incidentally enough, when Firefly is all, well, fired up. I think we are pretty much in agreement here. Anything else you want to talk about?

J: I think we’re in general agreement that Broken Bat ended up being a disappointment. I think I ended up liking it more than you. I like the gradual degradation of Batman over time and thought the climax was quite fantastic. However, a lot of the issues along the way felt poorly paced and incorporated characters that didn’t work. It certainly has the feel of one of Batman’s most epic stories, but the story takes way too much time and follows too many side plots along the way.

E: Heh, I’m pretty certain you liked this more than me. Broken Bat is very, very anticlimactic. You may have helped me understand the more intellectual side of Bane’s plot, which I can respect, sure, but I think the buildup of his physicality leads, or may leave I should argue, some readers astray into expecting something different.  know I was, presuming it was the intellectual side that supposed to drive the story all along. So, no, I don’t care for the story much at this point.


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