Crossed Eyes, Dotty Teas
Credits: Doug Moench (writer), Norm Breyfogle (artist), Richard Starkings (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)
Summary: The Mad Hatter robs a hat store and arranges for a meeting of Gotham’s underworld. He pressures them into wearing the hats, which are rigged with circuitry that allows him to control their bodies. Suspicious of the falcon that’s been following him, Mad Hatter sends Film Freak to locate its owner. Film Freak soon traces it to the hotel room shared by Bane and Bird. Bane confronts Film Freak in the street as Batman and Robin arrive to apprehend Mad Hatter. Batman and Robin defeat the mob, while Film Freak is killed by Bane. Batman overhears his death through Mad Hatter’s receiver.
- As you can see on the cover, this is the first chapter to officially be labeled “Knightfall.”
- Robin mentions that Bane “busted up” Killer Croc earlier. This occurred in an issue not reprinted in the trade paperback, even though the events of the story will play a large part in Azarel’s motivations later on. The Bane/Killer Croc fight did make it into Bane’s first appearance on Batman: The Animated Series, however.
- Dr. Flanders (later given the first name “Simpson”) makes his debut. Flanders is a pop-psychologist who appears on various talk shows, rationalizing the actions of the escaped Arkham inmates.
I Love the ‘90s: When Sgt. Bullock complains that the motives behind the Arkham breakout are unknowable, Officer Montoya tells him that not every day can be Hill Street. This was already a dated reference, since Hill Street Blues ended in 1987.
Total N00B: I’ve never heard of Film Freak before. Apparently, he was considered disposable enough to be used as cannon fodder for Bane.
Review: And here’s where I complain that a 600+ page book of comic book reprints doesn’t have enough in it. I realize that the editors wanted the book to end with Batman #500, the double-sized anniversary issue that debuts Azarel’s new Batman costume, but cutting out early chapters of the story in order to hit that mark undermines the impact of later stories. Batman #500 isn’t necessarily the best chapter to close the book, anyway (even if it might be the last one with "Knightfall" on the cover). Azarel assumes the Batman role in Batman #498, which works just as well as a cliffhanger ending. This is supposed to be the complete “Knightfall” collection, yet it’s missing Robin’s first encounter with Bane, and the incident between Azrael and Bane that inspires their rivalry (Azrael’s furious that Bane dismissed him as not being worth his time).
DC really should collect all of the stories leading up to “Knightfall” in one collection. In addition to the Batman and Detective Comics issues that set up the event, the original “Venom” arc from Legends of the Dark Knight could be included, along with the Sword of Azrael miniseries. Apparently, DC let this one go out of print well over a decade ago, which is surprising. Is DC trying to erase Joe Quesada’s tenure with the company?
As for this specific chapter, it’s a fairly standard Batman story, although Batman at this point is supposed to be increasingly unhinged following the Arkham breakout (and some other vague events that preceded that event; again, stories not reprinted in the book.) In practice, Batman’s mental state has no real impact on the plot. He’s still searching out criminals and punching them out, only he’s grimacing more than usual. And Robin’s annoyed with him, because Batman only wants him as backup because things are getting too dangerous. Why exactly the Mad Hatter’s mob of mind-controlled thugs is even more dangerous than any of the other menaces Robin’s faced, I don’t know. Moench’s trying to up the stakes, but the plot isn’t doing much to sell the concept. What does work particularly well is the ending, though. Cutting in-between Batman and Robin’s brawl with Mad Hatter’s thugs and Bane’s murder of Film Freak does show a jarring contrast between Batman’s traditional opponents and the new threat Bane represents. Allowing Batman to overhear the murder also helps to create suspense for their upcoming confrontation. So, Bane’s still being set up rather well, even if the individual plots are somewhat dull.