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.