Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Assistant EditorDennis O’Neil, Editor
By John A. Butz
“Feel so bad I want to die…and now…he’s here in Wayne Manor…ready and willing to grant my wish.”
The grand finale. The big show. The end.
If beginnings are a challenge to write, endings are a nightmare. End too soon and you miss important events and leave too many things dangling. End too late and the impact of the story is lost, softened by indecisive inability to close the deal. Any number of things can go wrong as you come to the end of a thing.
There is further complication in trying to end a story in a medium that is constructed around the idea that the story never ends. Comic books are serial publications. If you stop selling books, you are no longer making money. Because of that, authors confronted with the end of a particular story arc have the unenviable problem of having to leave enough doors open for the story to continue. When this is done well, it is a beautiful thing (Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil is full of wonderful segues, distinct endings of one story arc that fold neatly into the next). When done poorly, it results in massive ret-cons, implausible explanations as to how events transpired, and a bare minimum of one Doom-bot.
The comic book author has some distinct advantages over the traditional print author. For starters, there is a hard limit on the amount of space that an ending can take up. A comic book runs about twenty-two pages, give or take. Whatever you plan to do, you have to do it fairly briskly. This prevents dawdling and mucking about, things that can absolutely kill an ending. Just look at many of Stephen King’s works…brilliant stories with brilliant characters that just putter away for a bit and then simply stumble to an awkward stop.
The flip side of this defined length is that the writer has to fill those twenty-two pages. No stopping too soon allowed – even if the material sucks, you have to put the allotted amount of panels and pages into the book. While this can lead to a short and sweet ending being stretched a little further then it can bear, more often it allows the writer to hit the major events in the story arc, resolve them, and leave enough open for the next issue.
Perhaps the most powerful tool in the comic-book writer’s arsenal is the editor. An author may be working on several titles, with wildly different casts of characters, at the same time. They are juggling storylines, information, and changes in continuity, and all the while they have to keep producing issues. The editor is able to stay abreast of all of the details, feed the author relevant information, and steer the story from one step removed. Even a mediocre editor can be an asset to a writer struggling to keep up with producing monthly titles. When you have a Dennis O’Neil in your corner, a mediocre writer can do great things, and a great writer can make magic.
Looking at The Broken Bat as an individual issue is nearly impossible. It is too tightly bound to the work that has come before it. While you could pick up The Freedom of Madness or any of the first two or three issues of KnightFall and not be lost, coming to The Broken Bat as an isolated event is an exercise in futility. Too many writers and artists have been at work since those opening moments, laying a foundation and building a framework for a new sort of Batman story. This is an ending done properly – definitive, crisply written, memorable, and yet leaving enough unresolved to give some depth to follow-up work. And most importantly, there is no doubt that this book will change the face of the Batman comic titles forever.
Appropriately, the men who kicked this party off get to bring it to a close. Doug Moench and Jim Aparo seamlessly pick up the story that Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan left them. They then proceed to make a really interesting issue out of what is, essentially, twenty-two pages of Batman getting beaten up. It is a story that plays to both men’s strengths.
Moench gets to use his talent for writing fast paced action, and his penchant for introspection and wringing deeper meaning and metaphor out of the events of the story. He not only shows us the devastating beating that Batman receives at the hands of Bane, but also shows how badly damaged the Dark Knight’s psyche is by this unexpected and total defeat. Along the way he gets to talk about the way that Tim Drake and Alfred Pennyworth react to Bruce being in danger, and how much they obviously care for him.
Aparo gets to draw the wonderful weakened and battered Batman that has defined his prior work on the title. He also gets to summarize the back-story of the entire series up to this point with flash-back panels interspersed between the action. He takes the fight to the Batcave itself, a location that always makes for a wonderful arena in which the Caped Crusader can battle his foes. Surrounded by the mementos, trophies, reminders and memorials of a long career, Batman is annihilated by Bane, a foe unlike any he has ever faced before.
Aparo’s iconic panel of the actual moment where Bane cripples Batman is a full-page masterwork. Violent action and savagery are frozen in a moment of horrifying finality as the Venom-infused giant snaps the Dark Knight over his knee. In context, the instantly recognizable panel is made worse, as the reader knows that Batman is unconscious prior to this definitive blow. Defeating the Dark Knight was never enough for Bane, and his symbolic breaking of Batman’s will is punctuated with this, the explicit breaking of Batman’s body.
The dialogue is powerful. Moench has been consistent with his action writing throughout KnightFall, but his efforts at exploring deeper meaning and creating metaphor have been a bit hit and miss. In The Broken Bat, Moench manages to create both subtle metaphor and strong dialogue. I am particularly fond of the moment where the beleaguered Bruce Wayne dons his cowl and throws himself into futile battle with Bane. The lines that precede this moment are some of the best of KnightFall, and manage to sum up the nature of this series and the nature of the two men at the heart of the conflict. Batman begins the exchange by asking Bane a question.
“You’d kill just to “rule” this city? Just for—“
“I’d kill for anything. I’d kill to silence a grating voice. To darken the light in eyes that dared look at me.”
“Then while you revel in it, Bane, I’m sick of death – sick of blood – sick of the chaos and horror you’ve brought to Gotham – and right into my home.”
This is a fine and fitting way for the arc to end. I like the fact that, much as in The Freedom of Madness, the status quo has been shockingly changed. The next collection will be very different Batman stories, as the members of the extended Bat-family and the citizens of Gotham City deal with the fall of their hero and the rise of a new darkness that seeks to oppose the man who broke the Batman.
Over the course of these reviews, I have focused extensively on the writers, artists, and editors. Before I move on to Who Rules the Night?, I felt it would only be appropriate to acknowledge the many hard workers and talents behind the series. It takes a great many people to make a comic book. Though the artists and writer’s tend to get the lion’s share of the glory, there is no way that they could produce the sheer volume of work that is required to turn out a new comic book every month. Colorists, inkers and letterers are the engines that drive the comic book machine. So, without further ado, here is the complete list of those who worked on this title.
Writers: Doug Moench and Chuck Dixon0
Pencillers: Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan, and Jim Balent
Inkers: Scott Hanna, Norm Breyfogle, Jim Aparo, Tom Mandrake, Bob Wiacek, Josef Rubinstein, and Dick Giordano
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Letters: Richard Starkings, John Costanza and Tim Harkins
In the limited space I have, there is no way I could discuss the contributions of all of these individuals, but without them this amazing comic would have never been written.
Stay tuned! There is still quite a lot of KnightFall to review, and I plan to review it up through Jean Paul Valley’s final fight with Bane. Keep watching this space!
Next: Who Rules the Night