“Who Rules the Night,” Written by Chuck Dixon, Pencils by Graham Nolan, Colors by Adrienne Roy
Edited by Scott Peterson
By John A. Butz
“Here is your hero and protector. Take him and bury him.”
It is often said that the true mark of a man is how he deals with disaster. The same can be said of a people, or of a city. It is easy to move forward under the barrage of normal day-to-day problems. But not until we have been hit with the unexpected and truly tragic do we get to see what exactly we are made of.
The second collection of KnightFall is “Who Rules the Night,” and it details how the defeat of Batman and the rise of Bane affect a city, its hero, its people, and the men and women who knew Bruce Wayne as Batman. Some will rise to the heights of heroism; some will sink into the depths of despair. One man will willingly descend into the heart of the darkness and be filled by it, rising on shadowed wings to challenge the new master of Gotham. And one man will look into himself and see if there is anything left of the hero he once was.
Once again, Dixon and Nolan pickup the story directly from where Aparo and Moench left off in The Broken Bat. Dixon is on fire here, telling a story that is nothing like a traditional Batman caper. The reader gets the impression that Dixon is aware that he is setting the stage for a very serious story arc, one that will change the character of Batman forever and will eventually lead to Bruce Wayne and Jean Paul Valley locked in mortal combat for the right to bear the Mantle of the Bat.
Nolan is excellent as always. His lines are clean, his characters wonderful. The sense of urgency that rolls off of Commissioner Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth drives the story in a way that mere words cannot. Most impressive is the full page panel depicting Batman, broken and bleeding, lying on the sidewalk. Around him, Gothamites react with everything from horror and fear to sadness and mourning, to what can only be described as wry amusement. It is as if Nolan is saying “Here are the people of your city Batman, the people you have fought for, been broken for, maybe even have died for…and some of them just don’t give a damn.” I think it is one of the best panels in the entire run.
This issue comes hot on the heels of The Broken Bat. Bane has brought the shattered body of Bruce Wayne, still clad in his Batman costume, to downtown Gotham City. He bellows out his victory to the crowded square as he throws Gotham’s broken protector down to the streets below.
Robin, Jean Paul Valley, and Alfred arrive on the scene, disguised as paramedics, and pick up. Over the shadowy streets of Gotham, the Bat-Signal cuts through the night, calling out for the fallen hero. Jim Gordon stands looking up at the sky, hoping that his old friend will be alright, hoping that he will arrive soon and do something about Bane.
Back at the Batcave, Alfred is able to stabilize Bruce, but he tells Tim that there is no way that Gotham’s Darkest Knight will recover without a drug to alleviate the swelling in his spine. And even if that hurdle can be cleared, Bruce Wayne may never walk again.
Using the resources of the Gotham PD and Jim Gordon’s willing assistance, Robin and Azrael are able to get Alfred the needed drug. Now only time will tell if Bruce Wayne can fight through this injury and live to see another night.
There are a few story elements that bother me. The great Ventriloquist arc that had been in development for a few issues gets the final nail driven into its coffin, literally, as Socko and Scarface (the two puppets competing for the Ventriloquists’ attention) get into a bizarre shoot-out, leaving everyone involved dead. The Joker and the Scarecrow also have a falling out, holed up in a dive after their failed attempt to capture the Mayor. Joker beats the Scarecrow into unconsciousness and walks right out of the story.
I think that these two little vignettes are a way of firmly cutting off the past. The new Batman that will take wing above Gotham by the end of this arc will be defined by different villains and different struggles then Bruce Wayne. Additionally, he will be a Batman for the modern age of comics, one that the writers would feel the need to oppose with harder, more violent foes. Funny men in costumes will be less and less important to Jean Paul Valley. Personally, this is one of the issues I have with KnightFall, as I am a fan of the Silver Age as interpreted by authors like Dini, Loeb, O’Neil and Miller.
There is a plus side here though, and I think it is a very important one. With Batman out of the picture, we get to really see the strengths of the supporting cast. Alfred is not just a butler with a wit as dry as the Sahara; he is also a clever and resourceful man with experience as a combat medic. Robin is not just a sidekick; he is a vital teammate and a person willing to act under pressure. Jim Gordon is not just a stuffed shirt cop; he is a man deeply worried about his fallen friend and the future of the city that is now solely under his protection.
Dixon does a wonderful job putting the spotlight on these other characters. Without the shadow of Batman to vanish behind, they are forced to shine. Dixon gives them a full three dimensional treatment, assisted by Nolan’s wonderful art and Roy’s excellent colors.
Most impressive is that Jean Paul Valley is still kept mysterious. We don’t really understand what he is thinking yet. We aren’t sure how the events of the book are affecting him. We don’t know what he wants and we can’t see yet what he will become. In fact, for a series that is ostentatiously about Jean Paul’s rise as Batman, the first three books are nearly devoid of anything that gives us a hint of the shape of events to come.
Who Rules the Night is a really exciting book. The stakes are incredibly high, and there is no doubt that the status quo has once again shifted under us. The Arkham escapees are still at large, Bane is now free to bring Gotham under his iron fist, and there is no one strong enough to stop any of these events. In the face of all of this, we want to know what will happen.
We want to know how Bruce Wayne will fight free of this. We are desperate for the people of Gotham City and we are afraid of the ravages Bane is sure to bring to them. Things are once again in motion, with the same break-neck pace that we are familiar with. Everything is in the balance.
“There’ll always be a Batman. Always.”
Previously: The Broken Bat
Next: Two Face: Double Cross