Thursday, May 16, 2013

BATMAN #500 - October 1993 (Part One)

Dark Angel I:  The Fall
Credits:  Doug Moench (writer), Jim Aparo (pencils), Terry Austin (inks), Ken Bruzenak (letterer), Adrienne Roy (colorist)

Summary:  Batman drops off the scaffold and maneuvers his way to the ground.  He lands in a fountain, but there isn’t enough water to protect him from injuries.  Bane escapes.  Later, Robin confronts Batman about his methods, but Jean-Paul refuses to listen.  That night, Nightwing arrives and discovers Bruce Wayne is no longer Batman.  He advises Robin to trust Bruce’s judgment and allow Jean-Paul to continue as Batman.  Meanwhile, Bane replenishes his Venom supply, as Jean-Paul designs a new Batman costume.

Irrelevant Continuity:  We learn that Harold has been living in a hidden room (apparently attached to the Batcave), spying on Jean-Paul.

Total N00B:  I’m assuming the dog that briefly appears in the Batcave this issue is the ‘90s Ace.  He walks away from Jean-Paul and is then fed by Harold.  I read this issue as a kid and had no idea what to make of that scene, but I understood that I was walking into a huge event and my knowledge of certain areas of Bat-continuity was spotty.

Gimmicks:  A foil-enhanced alternate cover by Joe Quesada was also released for this issue.

Review:  I can still remember Denny O’Neil appearing on The Today Show, promoting this issue in the summer of 1993.  He didn’t drop the façade for one second; anyone watching that interview would assume DC had created a new Batman for the gritty ‘90s and that Bruce Wayne was now retired.  Issue #500 is the obvious issue to use as the lynchpin of a major marketing campaign, which likely explains why this is the issue that finally shows Dick Grayson’s response to the events of “Knightfall,” and provides at least a brief flashback to the past of the new Batman, Jean-Paul Valley.  (Only existing readers would understand that scene with Harold and Ace, but it’s a mere two pages out of a double-sized comic, so I doubt anyone was truly bothered by it.)  

I had been reading comics enough years to be cynical about major changes to the status quo by this point, but I have to admit that the prospect of a darker, more violent Batman appealed to me in my early teens.  I didn’t necessarily want to see Bruce Wayne replaced by a new character, but I didn’t object to the prospect of Batman himself becoming colder and more willing to kill.  (This is fairly consistent with Tim Burton’s portrayal of the character from the movies, which were inanely popular at the time.)  The speech Jean-Paul gives Robin about meeting your opponent on his own terms and “chivalry is just a handicap” seems tailor-made to appeal to a teenage boy’s bloodlust; I remember reading it and thinking that it made perfect sense.  And if you’re still wondering why Christopher Nolan ventured into ‘90s continuity when making his final Batman film, another line from the speech might provide a clue.  What’s Jean-Paul’s response when Robin tells him that he’s becoming like Bane?  “Maybe so.  And maybe Gotham will fear and hate me when I’m done.”  Is this the origin of Nolan’s bizarre theory that Gotham must hate Batman in order for him to fulfill his role?  That Gotham is not only willing, but eager to turn on Batman?  

As I’ve said before, knowing in retrospect that this was all done to prove a larger point about heroism and reaffirm the true Batman’s value system makes the whole affair seem genuinely remarkable.  The adolescent readers (and adult readers with adolescent attitudes) got their nasty, faux-Miller Batman for a year or so, and then Bruce Wayne returns to set things right and show why this thinking is all wrong.  Of course, DC couldn’t leave well enough alone and couldn’t resist making Bruce Wayne increasingly unstable and antisocial years after this event had made its point, but that’s a rant for another time.


wwk5d said...

Hmmm, my memory must be hazy. Didn't Jean-Paul defeat Bane in this issue? I have the version with the JQ cover, and I remember him finally taking on and defeating Bane while the entire Gotham PD watched.

wwk5d said...

ok, just saw you were doing this in 2 parts. ignore my comment.

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