Batman In Print – Knightfall(1993) – Dark Angel 1: The Fall

Batman #500, “Dark Angel, Part 1: The Fall”  Written by Doug Moench, Art by Jim Aparo

Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Assistant Editor, Dennis O’Neil, Editor

 

 

By John A. Butz

“There is no place for kid gloves now—evil has lost it’s patience.”

Way back in The Freedom of Madness, I had expressed some doubts about Doug Moench and Jim Aparo.  I wasn’t sure they had the chops to tell stories with any depth.  I didn’t know if they could carry a major title on the quality of their work.  I didn’t like how they handled some of the members of the Batman Rouge’s Gallery.  In short, I didn’t know if they had the stuff, the moxie, the special and undefinable thing that separates the work-a-day comic book writer or artist from the truly legendary talent.

One of the best things about having reviewed these collections is that I have been able to watch these two men’s work improve.  I have seen them become strong in areas I considered them weak, add depth and nuance to their game, and grow into their roles as the mainstay guys on this title.  They have not only lived up to their reputations but have continued to improve and become talent that is truly worthy of the title.  And this first part of the finale of Who Rules the Night? allows them to prove it.

The Fall is a very simple story at heart, which means it would be incredibly easy to screw up.  Opening on the indecisive conclusion of last issues battle between Jean Paul Valley and Bane, the initial action follows the resolution of the fight and the escape of Bane.  Wounded and losing blood, the massive brute makes his way to the jail where Zombie is being held.  The cadaverous minion directs his boss to a cache of Venom.  Revitalized by the powerful drug, Bane sets out to hunt down the Dark Knight, and challenge him to a final battle to the death.

Meanwhile Mayor Krol tells the Gotham Police Department to stay out of Batman’s way.  The Mayor’s experience as a captive of Scarecrow and the Joker has given him a unique perspective on Batman’s activities, and he has no issues with the new, harder line that the Bat is taking towards criminals.  He wants Bane put down hard and he knows that only Batman can do it.  Gordon is full of doubt about the type of man the Dark Knight is becoming, however, and he is afraid of what the change portends for his city and for his friend.

The AzBat

While the city decides how to handle this new Batman, Robin confronts Jean Paul Valley.  In the depths of the Batcave the Boy Wonder engages in a debate about methods and ethics with the former Azrael.  In the end, the two heroes go their separate ways.  The new Batman is too extreme for Robin, and has little use for partners anyway.

The strongest part of this story is the amazingly well executed transformation of Jean Paul Valley.  Before this issue, there was little to differentiate Jean Paul from Bruce Wayne.  Both men wore the same costume, and though they had different builds and posture, a casual observer wouldn’t be able to tell one from the other.  There was no way to determine who was the new Batman and who was the classic.  Behind the cowl, Jean Paul was a completely different person than Bruce, but there was no way for the reader to see that.

In the previous episode, Jean added the new gauntlets to his costume, the first step on the long road to the full suit of armor that Dick Grayson would refer to as “AzBats”.  But the exterior is a reflection of the interior.  The clothes, as they say, make the man.  But the man chooses the clothes for particular reasons.  This episode establishes that Jean Paul Valley doesn’t feel that the Batsuit and utility belt is enough to do what needs to be done.  He is unable to overcome Bane while so armed and attired, and he is aware of the fact that this equipment and method was designed for a different man.  In order to step out of the shadow of Bruce Wayne, Valley has to step fully into the System and embrace what he was.  In doing so, he will become a new protector for Gotham, and condemn himself to infamy in a singe decision.

The subtext to The Fall is that Valley is simply not good enough to be Batman…at least not the Batman we have come to know.  He is bored by detective work.  He has no control over his temper.  He has very little experience.  He is unfamiliar with the workings of Gotham City.  He has no friends here.  He doesn’t know how to work with partners.  He was raised to be an assassin and a killer, and now he finds himself in the role of a protector.  And he is inadequate for the task.

Batman #500 variant cover by Joe Quesada

We won’t see his response to the feeling of inadequacy till the next issue, but the setup in this issue is brilliant.  From the indecisive conclusion of Jean Paul’s battle with Bane, to the questions Tim Drake and Dick Grayson raise about Bruce’s decision, to the final gambit by Bane to force this impostor Batman into a confrontation, everything in this issue is designed to highlight Jean Paul’s differences and weakness, to show us what kind of a man he is, and how he solves problems.  We know Bruce Wayne.  We know how he was shaped on that long ago night in Crime Alley, watching his parents die in a senseless act of violence and robbery.  We are familiar with this man and his story, and we feel his absence as we try to get a handle on this new, untried Batman.

In The Fall, we see the moment of genesis for Jean Paul Valley’s Batman.  He is forged in the fires of failure and defeat.  He is a reaction to a powerful foe he can not over come.  He is a thing armed with edges and blades, armored in a steel skin, cut off from the world by a technological wonder of a visor.  He is a Dark Knight in a sense entirely devoid of the chivalric code that drives Bruce Wayne.  In the next issue he will emerge from the cocoon he has spun full formed, but in this episode we see him start to change.  And the process is glorious.

Moench and Aparo are just amazing as writers and artists.  They leave nothing on the table.  This is the last time they will touch the story of Who Rules the Night?, and they make sure that the next pair that takes the helm will have a rich canvas to add to and a colorful palette to draw from.  This is a wonderful penultimate episode.  It takes all the work that has been put into this title and wraps it up nicely.  It provides a platform for the finale.  It leaves us on a clean climax, with an obvious jumping off point and and clearly defined conflict.  In short, this is a masterclass on writing comic books, and specifically on writing comic books wherein the story and art is shared amongst several teams.  Moench and Aparo make the guys who follow them look good, they make the guys they picked the storyup from look good, and along the way they tell a damn fine Batman tale.

“No pain.  Let him come.  Let him suffer the same fate — as the first Batman.”

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