Friday, April 19, 2013

BATMAN #498 - August 1993

Knights in Darkness
Credits:  Doug Moench (writer), Jim Aparo (penciler), Rick Burchett (inker), Richard Starkings (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)

Summary:  As Bane takes over the Gotham underworld, Dr. Shondra Kinsolving is called to treat Bruce Wayne in his mansion.  She reluctantly agrees, intrigued by the secrets he’s keeping.  As they  grow closer, Bruce ponders revealing the truth to her.  In response to the city’s violence, Bruce has Robin ask Jean-Paul to replace him as Batman, on the condition he stays away from Bane.  Jean-Paul dons the costume and heads out on patrol with Robin.  Meanwhile, Bane and Catwoman form a partnership.

Irrelevant Continuity:  Bruce instantly dismisses Robin’s suggestion that Dick Grayson, now Nightwing, take his place because Grayson is his “own man” now.

Total N00B:  Alfred orders Jean Paul to beef up the mansion’s security with Sal Fiorini.  No clue who that is.  Later, while coming out of his coma, Bruce babbles about a “box of blood,” Commissioner Gordon’s wife turning him against Batman, and Vicki Vale leaving.  All storylines that I’ve never read, but apparently played a part in Batman’s fractured mental state during this era.

Review:  And we’ve finally reached Azrael’s debut as Batman, in landmark issue number…498.  I don’t want to imply that issue #500 isn’t a commendable anniversary issue (it’s significant for its own reasons, and I certainly enjoyed it as a kid), but I still don’t understand why the debut of Batman’s replacement happened in such a low-key manner.  Relatively speaking, of course, since this entire storyline was a media sensation almost from the beginning.  Just from a marketing standpoint, it would seem as if the debut of the new Batman should come in the giant anniversary issue with the easy-to-remember number; and of course comic fans have been trained to view anniversary issues as the “important” ones, anyway.  You don’t expect a replacement Batman to debut in issue #498, you just don’t.  

Regardless, here we are.  This is a little more emotional than Chuck Dixon’s follow-up to the “Break you!” issue, and it’s one of the stronger Doug Moench chapters I’ve read so far.  Bruce is humanized in a way that doesn’t resort to just making him dangerously obsessive or unstable, and there a few nice scenes with the supporting cast members.  Jean-Paul’s characterization is simply odd, although I’m assuming that’s intentional.  It’s amusing to see him go from sheer awe at the prospect of replacing Batman to arrogantly declaring that he’ll be a better Batman in the course of one page.  

I have to say, it is somewhat annoying that we’re over fifteen chapters into this crossover and Jean-Paul has a) barely appeared in this storyline so far, and b) has yet to be properly introduced to anyone who hasn’t read Sword of Azrael.  Many new readers would also probably like to know why Batman isn’t calling upon his “old chum” Dick Grayson to replace him.  There’s just a one-line explanation here, which might make perfect sense for anyone familiar with Teen Titans continuity, but wouldn’t fly for the vast majority of the public that’s familiar with the classic Batman/Robin relationship that goes back to 1940.  Surely Jim Shooter would not approve.  


Steven said...

Sal Fiorini was the head of security at Wayne Enterprise/Wayne Tech., whatever they were calling it at this time. In the two issues of Detective before Knightfall, Bruce had him give Jean Paul a security job there. So right there you have two issues that help that make sense, and give you more background on Jean Paul, so of course they aren't included.

Señor Editor said...

It's incredibly stupid that they didn't include the 'box of blood' thing in this trade. I thought it was one of the most memorable scenes from the beginning of Knightfall (I consider it the actual beginning of Bruce not feeling so great;)). Basically, it was a scene where Bruce goes on to meditate, as he apparently often does, and while he's getting all zen, visualizing just pure white nothingness, something black appears on it. It changes from a dot into a box and the box starts flowing red and Bruce gets startled by it. It's obviously supposed to be an omen and all, a silly thing but I thought it was awesome as a kid. Stupid that they didn't include it.

Teebore said...

It's funny, because even though you're absolutely right that this is the debut of Azrael as Batman, even as a kid, I never really considered this issue as such. Even though he debuts here, it still feels like #500 really is his debut as Batman.

Likely it's some combination of that being the debut of his armor (and thus, the debut of the Batman this whole story was ostensibly building towards) and, as you said, my expectation that anniversary issues are BIG DEALS in comic, but it's still odd that to this day I never really consider this issue to be that big a deal in the course of the story.

Bruce instantly dismisses Robin’s suggestion that Dick Grayson, now Nightwing, take his place because Grayson is his “own man” now.

This bugged me as a kid, and it's only bugged more the older I've gotten (and the more DC stories I've read). I get that at the end of the day, this whole storyline (including the parts that follow "Knightfall") was about a darker, grimmer Batman ultimately failing to live up to the original, and that wouldn't work if Dick was the replacement, but I still wish they'd come up with a firmer in-story explanation for why Dick was never asked and barely considered beyond "he's his own man now".

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