Edited by Scott Peterson and Dennis O’Neil
By John A. Butz
“All men have limits. They learn what they are and then learn not to exceed them. I ignore mine.”
Running the gauntlet is an ancient form of military punishment, with origins reaching back to the Roman Empire. Variations of it appear in a number of cultures and military traditions. Less lethal variations are part of modern military traditions, and are practiced even to this day.
A gauntlet usually consists of a double row of men, armed with clubs or whips. The condemned is lead between these two rows as the armed men bludgeon the prisoner. In some traditions, if the one being punished survives the gauntlet, they are allowed to live. In others, they must run the gauntlet until they die.
No Rest for the Wicked is Batman’s personal gauntlet. Chuck Dixon pounds away at the Dark Knight Detective physically and mentally, probing the extreme outer limits of his endurance. The story opens as a torrent of water sweeps Batman and Mayor Krol deeper into the ruined Gotham River Tunnel. Despite his exhaustion, Batman deploys a combination of his wonderful gadgets and his amazing athleticism to affect a daring last minute escape. There is no subtlety to this. It is the desperate efforts of a man driven to the ragged edge of his ability.
Having escaped certain death beneath the crushing waters of the river, the Dark Knight collapses at a nearby dock yard. His impromptu rest is broken by the sudden attack of Bane’s minions. Trog, Zombie, and Bird take on Batman one by one, testing the Caped Crusaders’ fighting abilities and the limits of his arsenal. Seriously injured and finally completely exhausted, Batman triumphs over each of the attackers. Returning to Wayne Manor, he drags himself up from the Batcave only to be confronted by a scene from nightmare…Bane is here, in his house, ready to fight him to the death.
Dixon is spot on. He only wastes one page of this story. The rest of it is laser tight and sharply focused. I really enjoy the internal monologue that he gives Batman. This is a Batman who, though he may be exhausted and worn thin and injured, is still in the fight. He still has some scraps of control in place and he is not going to lose. This will make a great counterpoint to the internal monologue of the final episode of the series, where we will see the Batman finally break.
The page that Dixon wastes is devoted to the Ventriloquist, who finally manages to find Scarface. Unfortunately, it is obvious by this time that this subplot is going to be allowed to rot on the vine. It will eke out a few more panels in the early issues of Who Rules the Night, but I am saddened to see an otherwise promising storyline be put out to pasture. This is one of the downsides to the serialized nature of comic book storytelling. Sometimes a good idea doesn’t get the traction to survive.
As for the art, Graham Nolan is excellent. He gives the Batman a grim, determined demeanor and illustrates him in the midst of some of the best action scenes in Broken Bat. His flow of motion, clever use of panels, and excellent facial expressions make the whole book pop. My favorite scene is a close-up on Batman mercilessly pummeling Bird, his gauntlets torn, his knuckles bleeding as he screams his defiance at the falconer. Simply wonderful.
This is probably my favorite book in Broken Bat. With the exception of the still-born Ventriloquist panel, there are no wasted moments. The art is wonderful. The Batman is driven and tough and resourceful, unwilling to give up. The ending is shocking.
This is as close to a perfect Batman story as you can get in KnightFall. At this point in time, we all know how the story is going to play out. There are no attempts at subtle themes or interpretations. Instead Dixon and Nolan give us a no-nonsense, high-adrenaline action story. By avoiding any attempt at pretense, they are able to clearly highlight the character of Batman and build him up only to tear him down in the end.
I really enjoy the way these last stories in the collection are done. The handoffs between Moench/Aparo and Dixon/Nolan are seamless. The four men seem to be of one mind. They are able to build on each other’s work and create some really fine comics. In the last three episodes of Broken Bat they manage to take the breakneck pace of the book and somehow increase it even further, so that by the end we have this sense that Batman has lost all control.
There is only one book to go now, one final moment before Batman meets his inevitable end. I can only imagine what the reader of the original run must have felt as they reached the end of this book, only to find that they would have to wait till next time to see how this last conflict would play out.
“I left him alive. It is not your underlings I want…it is you!”
There are nine and sixty ways of constructing a Batman story, and every single one of them is right.
Next time – The end, for now.